The Soul of The Artist…….The Eye of The Beholder

I had a friend from a bird picture mailing list that I have long belonged to, send me an email yesterday.  We’ll call him Paul.  He accidentally happened upon this blog and cruised through a dozen or so posts. He was complimentary, which told me he didn’t read any political/social commentary posts.  He mentioned that on at least two occasions I wrote that wildlife photography is not art.  Landscapes, flowers, buildings, etc. yes, but not wildlife.  My reply consisted of first noting that art is an opinion. We all have one. Secondly I told him that I consider much of the wildlife photography I see to be art.  What I have written is that I do not consider MY wildlife photography to be art that I created.  Any art contained in my wildlife images was created by my subjects.  My job is to “see it” and share it.  Even my low light intentional motion blurs of wildlife were created because of the subjects, not me.  My job is to create viewer involvement in the image through my use of composition and timing, but the art is purely the domain of the subject.  Now if you would like to give me the credit for any art you may find in my landscapes, or flowers, or trees, I will be happy to accept.  I love those subjects too, but they do not perform for me like wild animals. They are special to me but not always sacred as are the wild animals. This is just a personal philosophy of mine.  Any and everything to do with art is personal…..and ultimately an opinion.

With some people if you create an abstract, it is art.  I mean there are people who view abstracts as automatic art, by their very nature.  It is sort of an “I don’t really understand it, so it must be art” concept.

Say there are two abstract painters.  Painter #1 is an expert on spatial relationships and contrast.  He carefully selects colors and tones.  He layers one value over the next. He uses rhythms  and patterns to create musical flows.  He cautiously creates different brush strokes with each layer. He is meticulous and works extremely hard at his painting.

Some people will like his work, and some will not.  As I try to envision this painter that I created, I am still not sure.  Art or not?

Painter #2 has a different technique. He tells his hired assistant to go to the home improvement store to buy some paints. Which kinds and colors are up to the assistant.  He does set up a huge canvas in his studio.  He instructs his assistant to open all of the paint cans, and set them next to his stool.  A few on each side, or whatever the assistant prefers.  He picks up a can without looking and heaves a splash of paint while aiming somewhere near the canvas.  Than another and another.  He finally has used up all of the paint.

Many people will not like his work.  While he is the painter that I created, the chance is good that I will be among them.  Painter #2 will however, gain a group of followers.  They will say he is a genius. His use of a  free-flowing inner self is like a magical baby still in the womb.  He has discovered the child we can never be. He is deep and the one true artist today.  Some (maybe me?) will not buy those observations.

What do you think?  Can you see their paintings?

I believe art is in the eye of the beholder and we all have a right to our opinion, and that art is not necessarily directly related to effort.  I also believe that there is “a sucker born every minute”  P.T. Barnum.

Stating what is and isn’t art in photography is even more difficult. I think the birth of the handheld 35mm generation in the early 1950s created many lazy photographers with little insight and no connection to their subjects, but that does not mean that I don’t recognize that some individuals from that group, did have an emotional connection to their subjects, and in their own way put as much effort and insight into their street photography as did Brett Weston did when he hefted his 4×5 camera on a tripod.

Art is not only in the eye of the beholder, it is in the soul of the artist.5HorD8002 067

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So you want to be a pro?

You love photography, especially nature, you’re good at it and now you want to be a full-time pro.  You see those websites out there.  You’re a member of Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.  There are so many people earning their living at this, now I want that. Let’s start at the beginning.  There are very few photographers earning their living at this.

Just the facts please.

Making a true living out of selling prints on a website, selling prints in galleries, or selling stock photos to publications, or any combination of those things is difficult and almost impossible.   I know that you see all of these pros on social media.  Firstly you have to separate those that are still working a day job and doing this part-time.  I have done that and if you have the time and energy, this is a great way to be a nature based photographer.  I do understand however, that you are speaking of fulltime professional photography.  Here’s the truth.

Most full timers have other money.  Many have a second income from a spouse, a friend, a parent a, child or something.  They are indeed full-time but they only need a “second job” type income.

Many of those you see are retired from high income careers.  They may be in their 60s, or 50s, or 40s or even their 30s.  Outdoor photography has long been the hobby of doctors, lawyers and Indian Chiefs.  Those hobbies become full-time when they retire.  Remember they have fat bank accounts, investments and sometimes lucrative pensions.  They have time and they can afford to travel the world.

Then there are a lot of middle income retirees.  They may have a small pension, social security and a house that is paid in full.   They do not need a lot of money.  They have the time and enough money to travel around the nation they live in. They make a lot of pictures.  Photography is a full-time endeavor but they do not need much money.

There are those that have a paid for house, social security and an inheritance.  It might be a bank account and/or insurance money.  Photography is a great outlet for these people, but depending on the size of their inheritance it can be tough, but it is doable.

Then there are those who are financing their business with credit cards.  If they continue to pursue only website and gallery print sales, and/or stock photography, it will catch up with them.  You don’t want to travel this path without a well thought out plan

Wow!  So nobody actually earns their living at nature based photography.  Not true.  Some do and some even do pretty well at it.

In 1992 I was working my day job, and operating a part-time nature/auto racing stock photography business.  That was over 20 years ago and it was already clear that getting other photographers to pay me to tell them what I know, is the biggest source of income I will have.  The vast majority of all full-time pros earn the bulk of their living teaching workshops, giving seminars and leading photo tours.  There is livable money doing this, and for some, there is very good money.

So you want to teach workshops/photo tours?

In the beginning, you generally will start locally or regionally, and you will have to actually teach photography.  If you do not truly know the nuts and bolts of photography, and hopefully something about composition, light, and info about your subjects, start learning.  You are a long ways from being a celebrity where people will pay just to hang out and make pictures with you.  Knowledge is worth money.  If you are able to market yourself and your imagery as being the stuff stars are made of, you can then begin the process of national workshops/ tours. Be prepared to be able to explain at least the rudimentary aspects  of photography, while sharing usable knowledge about the more artistic aspects of photography.

Do not dismiss the fact that many would be photographers buy workshops because it can be a fun group activity. For some they are a form of entertainment.  The more entertaining you make it, and the more the word spreads, the more those people will partake

When you begin to teach workshops locally, do not over look your value as a field guide. If you know where the flowers, birds and other subjects will be, and when they will be there, that can be half of your workshop.  Knowing where non-nature subjects exist can also be valuable.  Even “want to be” nature photographers, are usually up for other subjects.

I did a few Door county, Wisconsin workshops with a partner several years ago.  Door county is a lakeside county that is well-known for scenic possibilities, historic lighthouses, and in spring (when we did ours), flowers.  We always knew which lighthouses and scenics we would use, but through our day before the workshop personal tour, we knew literally where every blossom in the county was.  Door is well known for its roadside Yellow Lady Slipper Orchids, but we found one remote blossom of the Pink Lady Slippers.  That is exactly what one participant wanted, and we delivered.

Blossoming at workshops takes time and experience.  Teach low-cost workshops while you learn your craft.  Your price can go up with your experience and with the value of your name.

So “almost nobody” that we see on the internet is actually earning a full living from pure nature photography?  That’s true but as you can see from the above paragraphs there are ways to do this “sort of” full time.  Never, ever dismiss the money that others who want to know what you know, will give you to learn those facts.

The paragraphs above were not written to cast aspersions on photographers who may seem to be earning a living at this but are not.  They are doing what they love, and in many cases are on the road to bigger things. I would absolutely never, try to suggest that you should not be all you can be.  That you shouldn’t follow your dreams.  What I am suggesting is that you know the facts, and make your  journey with a mix of knowledge and heart.  Don’t take my suggestions as gospel either.  I can assure that I am not smarter than you.  I can only say that I have already made the journey.

I appreciate all of these years of patronage of the Earth Image’s blog/website and newsletter.  I have tried to be different from the rest.  That usually comes easy to me.  If I have entertained you for only a moment, or shared with you one bit of usable information, I will have been a success.

Thank you, and travel a blessed road wherever it may be.                                                  Wayne

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