My Journey Into The World of Fine Art Photography
A Journey of A Thousand Miles Begins With A Single Step
When I began my photographic journey in 2008, I had no idea that it would change my life in so many ways. I was obsessed with photography from the moment I picked up my first camera. The career I had at the time afforded me a semi-flexible schedule and the ability to pay my bills, with enough left over to put some gas in the tank, but not much else. The newfound excitement I discovered (to see more and to travel further) was hindered by my lack of available resources. They say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I decided to find out if this was true.
For the next three years, I took every photography job I could find on Craigslist; Portrait sessions, birthday parties, corporate events, and weddings – anything I could do to land a new lens here, or a road trip there. In early 2011, I began offering on- location workshops to other photographers.
As the quality of my work improved, I began printing small images to be given as gifts to friends, family, and co-workers. I made a few connections with retail companies who licensed my images for print, calendars, and tourism. Despite some level of success, I found nothing as satisfying as seeing my work in print. I was working full-time, operating an aggressive workshop schedule, and producing personal work the remainder of the time. Somehow in the midst of all this, I met and cultivated a relationship with my future wife Lisa, whom I married in 2013.
What A Difference A Year Makes
On an otherwise ordinary day in June, my world changed forever when I found out I would be a father. Instantly, all my priorities shifted. What had already been a full plate would soon overflow. I knew something had to give, so I dropped my entire workshop schedule in anticipation of this new chapter in our lives. I wanted to continue to progress my photography career, but wasn’t sure what that would look like with a full-time job, a marriage, and a baby on the way. With what seemed like no other option, I decided to put every ounce of effort into selling photographic art.
What I was attempting to do was nothing short of impossible. I knew very little about printing, nothing about starting or maintaining an online business, could not afford to open a gallery, and had no time to travel the art show circuit. What I did have was hope and determination.
I spent countless hours researching, educating myself, and most of all, thinking outside the box. I learned how to edit images for print and researched what types of images sold well. I learned everything I could about SEO and operating an online business. I tried, failed, got back up and never gave in. I transformed my entire identity and brand as it related to photography and announced my first limited edition print in 2014....and my work began to sell!
Believe in Magic
I’ll never forget the first time I sold a large print to a stranger through the internet. I was both excited and scared to death. As my work continued to sell, fear transformed into dedication. In a relatively short period, I began selling a print every few weeks, then two or three every two weeks. My confidence grew as I began to truly believe the dream was possible. I doubled down on what was working and continued to try new things. Every day I put effort towards building my business and my brand.
Two years later, I had completely sold out an edition of 200 of that first print. I was selling larger prints more frequently and regularly by this time. My business continued to grow, doubling my annual sales every year for the next four years in a row, increasing to well over a quarter-million dollars. This level of success had given me the confidence that I could continue to build on this dream. In 2017 our son was born. Confident that I had what it takes to work for myself, I went out on parental leave and never punched a clock again. In the three and a half years since that day I have doubled my annual sales to a half million dollars and been able to spend every single day of my son's life home with him and the rest of our super awesome family. :)
Today, I have a large base of collectors around the world. I sell high-end, limited edition acrylic prints ranging in size from 36 to over 100 inches wide every week, all directly through my website. My work is represented by international art galleries in some of the most affluent markets in the world. The greatest gift of all is that I am doing what I love, and they were right: it doesn’t feel like work at all.
A Photograph’s Destiny
In the early years of photography, the ultimate destiny of an image was to produce a beautiful print from the negative. Today, despite having achieved amazing technological advancements in both the world of photography and printing, the art of the print is getting lost. The vast majority of photographers today have cameras capable of capturing incredible detail, many of whom then blend multiple images for even greater detail, then meticulously process the image in Photoshop, all so they can create a final image for Instagram.
It is sad that we go to great lengths to capture the grand beauty of nature, only to reduce it to the size of a postage stamp for likes and virtual back-patting. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your work produced as a large print. I encourage anyone reading this, who hasn’t done so, to place it at the top of your to-do list. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
First Things First
In preparation for producing the best image file possible for print, there are important steps to take with your workstation. The first and most important is to calibrate your monitor, paying attention to your brightness levels. Monitors today come from the factory far too bright for image processing. For example, my workstation consists of a 27” iMac Pro and a 32” BenQ SW321C. The brightness on the BenQ is set to 42. The iMac is set to approximately 50%.
With these settings and correct editing of my image file, I can rest assured that my print will not be too dark or too bright. Secondly, you should set your Lightroom and/or Photoshop workspaces to one of the two light-colored themes. A darker theme can visually throw you off during the editing process. Finally, you should always edit your work using the same workstation, in the same room, with the same lighting conditions to maintain consistency.
It’s the Little Things That Make Big Differences
Several equally important visual elements come together to produce a beautiful print. Of course, it all begins with a well-exposed, high-quality image file.
Aside from the overall subject matter, it is important to pay attention to the depth of field and focus in the image, the exposure level and shadow detail, highlight retention, white balance, and contrast. Each of these elements come together to bring life into a photographic print. It is important to keep them in mind during image capture and throughout the editing process.
The final output size of your image file is the next important consideration to be made. For example, an image file that has been edited producing an 18” print, will need to have adjustments made to the resolution, black and white levels, targeted areas of detail and contrast, and final output sharpening, to produce a high quality 60” print.
When I edit my work, I create a master file that is unsharpened and original resolution first. I then adjust and produce additional image files at various output sizes from this “masterfile.” These are just a few of the important steps to take when producing a high-quality file for print. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but this isn’t meant to be a how-to article. My goal is simply to inspire you to create prints of your work that you can be proud of and can share with those you care about.
A two-dimensional, digital screen is a poor replacement for our dynamic natural world. While digital images can be quite beautiful, I can’t help but feel the loss of magic in many ways. Ultra- sharpened, high contrast computer screens are no comparison to a beautiful photographic print. The visual depth, subtle tones, contrasting colors, and natural feel of a printed image all come together in a way that reproduces a bit of the magic that was there when the moment was captured.
I sincerely hope you have found this article informative and inspiring. I would like to think the entire team over at Really Right Stuff for allowing me the opportunity to write it for the latest issue of Light & Shadow. If you would like to learn more about me and my work, you will find many other articles here on my blog. If you are interested in working with me to build your own brand and learn what it takes to build a business in the world of fine art, I offer a number of resources for photographers including a 1:1 Mentoring Program specifically for nature photographers unavailable anywhere else in the world.