Life as a Professional Landscape Photographer

It has been a year since I left my old job become a professional landscape photographer. Here are 10 things that I have learnt in the past 12 months.

Landscape Photographer Chris Sale on the summit of Hallin Fell

Many people dream of being a professional landscape photographer. Travelling to exotic locations. Experiencing the beauty and grandeur of the natural world first hand. Indulging in your passion on a daily basis.

But is that the reality of life as a professional landscape photographer?

Here are 1o things that I have learnt since going full-time 12 months ago.

1. You Have to Work Hard

I used to think that I worked hard in my old job. I was sadly mistaken.

For this last 12 months it I have worked an average of ~72 hours a week. 12 hour days are the norm and 18 hour days are not unusual.

I also find myself working at the weekends.

However, the thing is…

When you love what you do it doesn’t feel like work.

2. You Don’t Earn Much Money

Before I made the switch from IT to photography I was well aware that my earning potential would be significantly reduced.

In the first year I set myself some modest targets and despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic I have achieved them.

However, when I recently reviewed my targets for year 3 it’s fairly obvious that I was being very, very optimistic.

With a few notable exceptions this is a career that you choose for the lifestyle. If you have a taste for grand houses and fast cars you should probably consider something else.

3. You Must Diversify

It is just bad business practice to put all your eggs in one basket. I learnt this the hard way.

When I started my business I had some early successes offering photography tuition on location here in the Lake District. I made the decision that in the first year at least this was where I would concentrate my efforts.

Then, when on the 23rd March 2020 the government UK announced extreme movement restrictions in response to the growing coronavirus crisis my business was all but wiped out.

Since then I have been working hard to produce a diverse range of products and services.

My long term goal is to develop 10 income streams each generating 10% of my income. Ultimately some of these may have nothing to do with landscape photography whatsoever.

4. You Must Prioritise

Fortunately when it comes to diversifying there is so much opportunity.

And so many people have had suggestions for how I could generate an income. The tricky thing is knowing what to focus on first.

I have chosen to initially to concentrate on offering a variety of different services to my existing audience, which is mostly made up of photography enthusiasts.

However, once I have built a solid foundation I will start to target other clients with products and services designed to meet their specific needs.

5. Marketing is the Key to Success

In recent months I have become very aware that my success will not be solely based on my ability to meet the needs of my customers.

For the past year I have focused on creating as much content about landscape photography as I can in order to raise my profile within the industry.

This approach has brought me some success. However, it has not been as effective as it could have been.

I have invested too much effort in producing ineffective content.

For the year ahead I have devised a new strategy for YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and my blog that is more focused on adding value and solving people’s problems.

6. You Spend Most of Your Time Running Your Business

One of the biggest surprises that I have had has been just how much of my time is taken up running my business.

I estimate that approximately 80% of my time spent on tasks that do not directly generate an income. Tasks such as keeping track of my accounts, responding to emails, creating marketing content, etc.

Not all of this time has been well spent. For example, I estimate that I spend ~8 hours a week responding to comments on YouTube. And yet views on my channel have fallen by 1/3 in the past 4 months.

If so much of my time is spent actually running my business I better make damned sure that time is being used effectively!

7. Your Work Will Improve

Part of the reason for me wanting to turn professional was to be able to dedicate more time to my photography.

Before I went full-time I only had 1 morning a week to shoot. Now, on average, I shoot between 3 and 4 times a week.

That has had an inevitable impact on the quality of my work. I am now producing work that I am happy with on a far more consistent basis.

I have put a lot of effort into improving my use of foreground and shooting in black and white.

For the next 12 months I want improve my long lens landscapes and my intimate compositions.

8. Not Everyone will Like Your Work

It is a plain fact that in a creative industry such as this there will be some people that do not like your work.

If you try to please everyone you will end up pleasing no one.

Most people find it difficult to deal with criticism. It is definitely something that I continue to struggle with. I am getting there but it is a work in progress.

The worst mistake that I made was allowing other people’s opinions to influence my work. When the criticism I was receiving had me at my lowest point I stopped taking risks and my work suffered.

Today I have people who week in, week out try to undermine my philosophies and chip away at my confidence.

But I have learnt a lot in the last 12 months and my self belief is growing. I am also far more prepared to stand up for myself.

I am not the easy target that I once was.

9. Your Relationships will Suffer

One of the knock effects that I was not prepared for was the impact that this move would have on my relationships.

I’m not talking here about the really important relationships in my life. My wife and parents, etc. Those relationships could not be better.

Before I went full-time I invested a lot of time and effort in building relationships with other photographers (mostly other YouTubers). I did this by supporting them as much as I could which largely involved consuming as mush of their content as possible.

Today I hardly watch YouTube. It always feels as though I should be doing something else. Something more constructive to help my business to grow.

As a result I have lost contact with all of the other YouTubers.

In hindsight this was inevitable. A relationship requires input from both parties. If one party isn’t committed ultimately the relationship will die. I have no one to blame but myself.

The one exception to this has been Julian Baird.

When I made the jump to being a full-time photographer my biggest regret was that Jules would not be coming along with me for the ride.

In reality he has been there every step of the way.

10. It is the Best Job in the World!

You might think that the long hours, low income, constant trolling and the loss of many of my friends would cause me to regret my decision.

You could not be more wrong.

I have never been happier.

It feels like after 45 years I have finally found what I am supposed to be doing with my life. I can honestly say that building a life around my passion is every bit as rewarding as I hoped it would be.

Every Sunday night I go to bed excited at what Monday morning might bring.

And let’s be honest. Who here wouldn’t want that?

10 thoughts on “Life as a Professional Landscape Photographer”

  1. A year it took for you to succumb to the ‘N x Things that……..’ haha

    You do hear a lot of full time photographers trying to express how much time you spend not actually taking photos but it’s probably one of those things that you don’t truly get until you’re doing it.

    It’s no small achievement that you are in a position to make that list, so well done.

  2. Chris,

    I think you were very brave to have made the jump into the risky unknown, and despite the challenges and hard work you should be very proud of a very successful first year. I have been watching you enviously from afar (Saudi Arabia) and Iā€™m most impressed with your determination and growing talent, your videos are always first on my watch list and I greatly respect your honesty while enjoying your images and capture process. You clearly have learned a lot and I am sure you will emerge from the troubles of 2020 with the rewards and ongoing happiness you deserve.
    Keep up the great work!

    Best wishes

    Nigel

  3. Hi Chris

    Don’t forget Number 11 – ‘Be proud of what you have achieved’.

    You are one of the best landscape photographers in the business and the work you produce just gets better and better.
    You have inspired and helped countless other photographers improve their skills either through social media or your workshops and 1-2-1’s.
    Your brilliant YouTube videos have promoted our beautiful county of Cumbria, in particular the Lake District, to a world-wide audience.
    The past year has undoubtedly been the toughest for any business, never mind a fledgling business such as yours and you have survived, re-adjusted your plans and have come out even stronger with a real passion to succeed.
    Here’s wishing you all the success for the future. You deserve it.

    1. Thank you Stephen – the thing that I am most proud about is the people that I have helped to get more out of their photography. I am so thrilled when people that have attended my workshops or 1-2-1s share photos that they are themselves are proud of. That is always a special moment for me.

  4. Well done Chris on your first year. If you can survive everything that the past 12 months have thrown at you then you will probably be OK. As you have discovered, self-employment is hard work – but as you say in your final comment, ‘you’ve never been happier’ and this is what counts at the end of the day.
    Keep going and hopefully we can meet up again soon.

    1. Thanks Gordon – so far it does seem as though the rewards for being self employed far outweigh the downsides. I doubt I’ll ever be able to return to full-time employment. Hopefully if I keep working hard I won’t have to.

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