Building Your Landscape Photography Portfolio
Deciding to become a landscape photographer full time can leave you with more questions than answers. The work and it’s payoffs are often unpredictable, sporadic, and frequently means many months on the road. However, the end result of all that hard work can be very rewarding.
It gives you the freedom to choose which subjects you shoot while providing you with the opportunity to travel the world and experience many different cultures. What more could you ask for in a career?
Shooting In Your Backyard
My advice to photographers just entering the industry is to shoot in your own backyard as much as possible. Perfect your skills so when you do visit the big “money-makers” you return with many high-value photos. This will also give you the opportunity as a photographer to think outside the box.
Photographing familiar places forces you to look beyond what is right in front of you, and inspires you to look at the scene differently. You might not think there are any breathtaking landscapes within driving distance of your home, but therein lies the challenge. A good photographer has the ability to see the potential in any scene and translate that potential into a spectacular photo. It’s all about discovering and developing your own unique style and putting your signature on it.
Once you have mastered your immediate geographic area, then it’s time to add some new locations to your stock list. When photographers consider expanding their archives, they usually plan a few “vacations” to popular tourist destinations. I use the word vacation loosely because as any landscape photographer will tell you, most trips are anything but relaxing. It usually means waking before dawn and shooting in less than ideal situations. This doesn’t leave much time to simply enjoy what the destination has to offer.
When making travel plans, try to allow for a few “off” days (or even just hours!) to truly enjoy your surroundings. Just remember to be flexible! We’ve all experienced mishaps outside our control when travelling. Things can come up, the weather can be uncooperative, etc. It is in your best interest to roll with the punches!
Okay….let’s talk destinations. Tuscany, Machu Picchu, and the Grand Canyon are frequently at the top of any photographer’s must-see list as far as destinations go. At the surface, this makes perfect sense. There’s a reason why they are the most photographed landscapes in the world – they are some of the most astonishing and interesting scenes our earth has to offer. Some have an unbelievable history, while others have amazing geological features or are known for their stunning sunsets. And some have all of the above! But consider this: How many times have you seen the same photo of Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite National Park, from the exact same vantage point? Now, ask yourself why a photo buyer should license your image when there’s a million more just like it available?
Off The Beaten Path
When you look at it this way, it’s not difficult to realize the importance of setting yourself apart from your competition. Rather than (or maybe, in addition to) the traditional wall calendar shot, find another perspective. Instead of hiking the most popular trails, take the less beaten path. Literally. Using the same popular subject, but with a less-traditional viewpoint, is a sure way to draw attention to your work while still allowing you to shoot the most marketable and in-demand destinations.
Framing your image through some beautiful foliage (such as prairie grasses, wildflowers, or leaves) is an excellent way to put a twist on the usual composition. Even just getting a little closer to your subject for a different perspective can do the trick! The idea is to use your surroundings and the tools readily at your disposal to compose an astonishing yet original photograph.
Other than changing your perspective, one of the best ways you can shoot the most sought-after destinations while producing truly unique results is to choose a less popular time of year to visit. We all know how breathtaking the New England autumn leaves are, but what about winter? Or spring? Also beautiful, but much less photographed.
Fresh winter snow can produce some really amazing photos if you learn how to capture it correctly (this is an excellent skill to master in your own backyard before travelling). Considering peak autumn colors only last a few weeks, but somehow images of this season compose the vast majority of the photos on the market, it would be advantageous for a photographer to spend some time documenting the other seasons. As an added bonus, you’ll score some amazing off-season discounts on travel!
Finding Your Niche
Some photographers have a definite specialty in terms of which geographical areas they shoot. They either photograph where the live or travel to the same destinations frequently. Other photographers find diversity is the best business model for them. These such photographers go on multiple trips each year or even each month. Some have no limits: they shoot everything from the streets of Vietnam to the Galapagos Islands and everything in between. And don’t limit yourself to just landscapes! While you’re there, snap some shots of the people/culture/architecture/wildlife. You get the idea. Many photographers have found their niche in shooting a specific country or continent. Almost all shoot where they live when they are not travelling.
The key is finding where you fit in the market. It’s usually best to start small and get a feel for the market before booking multiple expensive vacations. Begin with your immediate area, expand to a few domestic locations, and go from there. If you are selling most of your images in the US, most likely that is the subject you will have the biggest return on your investment. And don’t be afraid to ask! Check with a few of your clients, see if there are any holes in the market you could fill. Most would be more than happy to give you a few suggestions.
It might also be a good idea to look into some of the most popular images on various photography sources. Blogs, magazines, and websites like 500px are great places to start. Not only will this give you ideas as far as what to shoot, but it will keep you on your toes regarding different styles of photography that are drawing interest and selling well. There is a plethora of information out there just dying to help you grow your skills as a photographer. Use them.