Surely there must be some professional landscape photographers out there?
Yes, there are multiple. Just search on youtube and you will find multiple people who live solely as landscape photographers. But, and there is a but.
They aren’t really making any money out of landscape photography, not the pictures themself.
Do another youtube search for landscape photographer money, you will come across a couple of videos. Few contains real numbers, but some of them actually disclose their income. Here’s one:
That’s Mark Denney. He runs a fairly popular youtube channel with around 100k subscribers, and what did you know his main income is from youtube not print sales or commissioned work.
The most interesting part about Marks videos is that he reached out to a lot of tourist boards about commissioned work, and didn’t manage to land a single one. And this is what I want to discuss and do a little speculation around, why aren’t there any market for professional landscape photography.
Supply & demand
Like most things, supply and demand dictate most of the open market. If you want to keep it really simple that’s all there is to it. There are way too many out there photographing landscapes, and way too few willing to buy those images. But how did we end up here? Let us speculate a bit about these two parts, starting with the supply part. How come there is such an abundance of landscape photographs available.
Cheap good cameras
The most obvious reason is the same as for the whole photography industry. The rise of the cheap, easy to use, and competent camera. For once your mobile-phone camera takes incredible images, straight out of the box. You don’t need to learn anything, just point it towards something pretty and press the screen. If you then enjoy taking pictures there are plenty of great cameras available at a pricepoint that is widely accessible for many people.
This isn’t anything new by the way. Its something that’s been going on for years and decades. The camera manufactures want to sell cameras to as many as possible, making small, affordable and easy to use cameras have been around for decades. As the technology matures the more accessible it becomes.
The thing is landscape photography doesn’t require any especially good cameras. Even though many of us landscape photographers spend way too much money on gear. The thing is you pay a lot of money for the last 10 % of performance, 90 % (and probably more) of landscape photography can be achieved with modest cameras.
Accessibility to locations
It’s easier to get around today. Travel is cheaper and cars are more common. To be able to get to locations is today accessible for a lot of people, in a way that was unthinkable half a decade ago.
On top of that, it’s easier than ever to find locations to photograph. Do an Instagram search for an area, do some googeling and you can find good locations to visit. There are even guides easily available for almost all parts of the world.
If your anything like me you like to share your images with the world. Wich you do over the internet, and your not alone. There is an abundant of landscape photographs available online. If you for some reason need an image of something there is probably one available online. A couple of bucks on Shutterstock and you own a digital copy of the image you need. Or if you can’t afford that there’s always sites like Unsplash where it’s free.
On top of that the internet has made it easier today to buy a photograph taken by a local hobbyist for a few bucks or in exchange for some exposure.
That’s the supply, which is vast. How about demand?
Who buys landscape photographs?
That’s the big question. Who are the buyers?
This is where things get tricky, the reality is there has never been a huge market for landscape photography. Looking at the commercial side of things there are few that need landscape images. You have some magazines, travel agencies, the odd add for something outdoorsy, and… That’s about it. Which makes the comment from Mark Denney much more interesting. He reached out to a lot of tourist boards and didn’t get a single sale, even though he’s a very good landscape photographer. Not a single sale! And that’s one of the most obvious customers, and I’m not surprised. Tourist boards don’t have a lot of spare cash lying around. It’s probably easier and faster for them to go the stock photography route or just DM someone on Instagram about a picture they already have taken.
Magazines, online or print, are probably the only still viable commercial option for landscape photographers, and still, that’s a business that is shrinking.
The private buyers
So there are few commercially viable options to sell your landscape photography. But how about the artistic side of it? Surely someone would want to hang that amazing shot of the waterfall I took last year?
I’m afraid not. Going back to Marks video, he made 1–2 sales a month, even though he tried marketing it. If you’ve been around youtube the same goes for many of the landscape photographers there. The ones outside youtube? Well, there aren’t many. The truth is, ones again, very few actually buy prints.
The reason is very simple. Many whom would consider buying a landscape print are probably the same people that enjoy being outside. Chances are they, themself, are landscape photographers, who much rather photograph something themself to hang on the wall.
I myself is one of those people. I have never bought a photography print! Even though I love photography especially landscape photography. I have however bought a couple of photography books, which I enjoy very much. But I buy maybe 1–2 books a year! And I’m probably buying more photography books than most people.
There is hope
Being a pure landscape photographer and living out of it? I’m sorry to say the chances for that are very slim. Perhaps, there are a few out there, but they are surely easily counted.
There is hope though!
There’s a lot of income opportunity for landscape photographers. They consist of two things
Youtube is the place to be for this. I, and I suspect many with me, enjoys watching photography vlogs of landscape photographers. I watch those video not for their educational merits, but for entertainment.
As I work a normal day job, I can’t go out and photograph every day. I’m a weekend warrior when it comes to landscape photography, and when I do get out I’m limited to my area. I can drive a couple of hours, but I can’t fly to Iceland every weekend. If I’m lucky I could take a photo trip to some exotic location once a year. If I’m lucky! As many I have a limited amount of vacation days and money, and I have a significant other who doesn’t share my passion for landscape photography.
Therefore it’s lovely seeing places that I wouldn’t otherwise see, and from the eye of a fellow photographer. That’s value for me.
The second part is the educational bit. Teaching how to take better images. There’s a value in that. I myself have bought both online- and offline courses.
And again youtube tutorials or even written tutorials can bring in some sort of revenue for a landscape photographer.
Workshops are another area where there is money to be made. The thing is most workshops aren’t about mastering the craft, it’s about ensuring that you get the most out of a photo trip. If you’re lucky enough that you can make a trip just for photography to an exotic location, you want to make sure you end up with some decent images. Having someone there to guide you is invaluable.
There are many more venues where you can sell services that relate to landscape photography. Either by video, writing or person to person. As long as you can add an education and/or an entertainment value you can sell that service. There is no shame in doing so. I would argue the same goes for a lot of art forms today, many need to at least supplement their income to pay for the art.
That’s my speculation. Most of this is based on watching one too many youtube videos about how landscape photographers and other photographers make their money.
Some links to some of the photographers youtube videos which this article is based on, firstly three I’m actively following:
Thomas Heaton: https://youtu.be/0P3jFKHCsqc
Chris Sale: https://youtu.be/m1pVqjfCAgM
Evan Ranft: https://youtu.be/kuRUXigBxoM
Perhaps the best breakdown of income from landscape photographs I came across recently is by Michael Breitung: https://youtu.be/Mr1Xah_EFbg
First and the only video I seen by him though.
All links were up and working as of 20–07–15
In this article, I only shared images from Unsplash. And yes that’s to prove a point.