Expect the Unexpected
When I began my photographic journey in 2008, I had no idea that it would change my life in so many ways. Like many others who came both before and after me, 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 had discovered in photography, coupled with a growing desire 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 odd job I could find. I did portrait sessions, birthday parties and shot corporate events, all through gigs I landed on craigslist. I even photographed weddings for a couple of years in a row. Anything I could 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 grew, I began printing small images, usually giving them as gifts to friends, family or 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 more satisfying than seeing my work in print. I was working full time, operating an aggressive workshop schedule and shooting for myself the remainder of the time. Somehow in the midst of all this, I met and cultivated a relationship with my beautiful wife Lisa, who I somehow tricked into marrying me.
What A Difference A Year Makes
On an otherwise ordinary day in June 2013, my world changed forever when I found out I was going to be a father. In an instant, my priorities all shifted. What was already a full plate would soon be overflowing. 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 the progression of my photography career but wasn’t sure what that would look like with a full-time job, a marriage, and a newborn baby on the way. With what seemed like no other option, I decided to put every ounce of effort I had into learning how to sell 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 buckets of hope and determination. I spent endless hours researching, educating myself and most of all, thinking outside the box. I began to learn 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 transformed my entire identity and brand as it related to photography and announced my very first limited edition print halfway through 2014….and almost immediately, 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 at the same time. As my work continued to sell, my 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 that this dream was possible. I have photographs of my then one-year-old daughter, propped up against a print in our dining room that dwarfed her by comparison. I doubled down on what I thought was working and continued to try new things. Every single day I put forth some type of effort towards building my business and my brand. Just two years later I had completely sold out an edition of 200 of that very 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. While the percentage of growth has slowed in the years that followed, I have been fortunate to increase those sales by 10-15% each year since. In 2017, our son was born. I went out on parental leave and never punched a clock again.
Today, I have a large base of collectors around the world. I sell high end, limited edition acrylic fine art nature photography prints ranging in size from 36, to over 100 inches wide every single week, all directly through my website. In addition, my work is represented by international art galleries in some of the most affluent markets in the world. I teach countless other nature photographers to follow in my footsteps in the hopes of helping them to realize their dreams as well. The greatest gift of all is the priceless time I am able to spend home with my family and that I am doing what I love. They were absolutely 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 to me 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 I have to get you started.
It All Begins With The Images
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 particular 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 approx. 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 your overall subject matter, it is important to pay attention to the depth of field and focus in your image, the exposure level and shadow detail, highlight retention, white balance, color and contrast. Each of these elements come together to bring visual 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 of course the 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 make adjustments to 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 today was to simply inspire you to create prints of your work that you can be proud of and can share with those you care about.
A Simple Truth
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 feeling 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. When it comes to large fine art printing, you truly have the opportunity to provide a window to the natural world for your clients.
Think You Have What It Takes?
I offer a 1:1 comprehensive business consultation package to aspiring photographers around the world looking to break into the fine art nature photography market. To learn more about the experience and guidance I have to offer, have a look for yourself and reach out with any questions you may have. I hope all of you are doing well during these uncertain times and that you take my advice and produce a few prints of your work. Give them to your loved ones and brighten their day or simply hang them near your workstation as inspiration for what's next!
You can see my entire body of work in my online images galleries here. For those looking to add a piece of museum quality fine art photography of mine from their collection, please mention this article for a ten percent discount as a welcome to the family. :)