Building a Successful Landscape or Fine Art Photography Business | Part Two
One of the things you’ll find about successful pro photographers is that they are most often self-taught in their craft. They started as amateurs and proceeded to learn the craft through a combination of written and online tutorials which they added to trial-and-error experience. Whether you are working in a full-time or part-time job as they did before going pro – I hope you will find some real guidance in knowing more about their rise to the next level.
There are three pro photographers whose careers guide my own thinking in what it means to be a successful professional photographer. Art Wolfe, Thomas Mangelsen and Steven Oachs each found their own path to becoming pro photographers and make an excellent living from their photography endeavors. Each has superb photography and post-processing skills, but equal to those has been their ability to craft successful on-going businesses.
In this series, I’m going to walk you through the business strategies of these pro photographers to help you see how they got to where they are today. While each works mainly in the landscape/fine art area of photography, each came into photography in different ways and created their own unique path in building their brand and how they deliver their photography. Creating a successful photography career means much more than the ability to craft interesting images in the hopes people will find you and buy them. It means building a foundation based upon marketing, administrative processes, networking, diversification and using social media platforms to deliver your work across a wide number of outlets. Something each of these photographers has done in their own unique way and by knowing more about how they have done it I believe will help you visualize your own options for doing the same. In Part Two of this series I’m going to continue with Steven Oachs of San Francisco, California.
Stephen Oachs is an award-winning photographer and successful entrepreneur, who began his journey into photography after getting a Beagle puppy . Say what? At first he was enjoying shooting images of his pet Beagle, Tucker, with a point and shoot camera. Not liking the images he was getting he invested in a DSLR and began teaching himself how to use it. During the first four years of learning with his camera he was doing a lot of shooting of his travels, sometimes even traveling to specific destinations to shoot – but it was just a hobby at that time. Other than sharing his images online with other photography enthusiasts he didn’t really do anything else with them. Then encouraged by his friends and family he printed some of his best work and showed them at a local Art & Wine festival where much to his surprise he sold a lot of what he brought. Inspired by the success of his first show he began entering other art shows and selling his work. Over the next couple of years he shot more images, refined his presentation skills and continued to sell his photographs at art fairs. Building upon the experience he was getting in capturing images that sold he slowly ventured into photography instruction after a friend asked for help and began taking small groups of photographers into the field to show them how to take better images. He began by creating an on-location workshop with four people that featured a full day of shooting in San Francisco. Over the next 8 months he sold out one workshop a month and he raised the cap on students to 6 per workshop. Still, he was having to turn people away and his business mind saw an opportunity to grow more. With his workshops capped at 6 people there was just the right ratio of students to instructor so he could give individualized attention and make it a great experience for everyone. So he could add more people and do more workshops he brought in a friend and fellow photographer to increase the size of the classes and still give the individualized attention he wanted to provide. As the number of workshops and students increased he realized it was time to create a business plan and create financial forecasts on what it would take to reach the next level – the opening a combination photography gallery and learning center. Here I think is one of the best business concepts I’ve ever seen for a photographer who shoots landscapes and fine art images.
Creating a bricks-and-mortar store for selling fine art photography has been the undoing of several top nature photographers as the overhead is hard to support with just the sale of images. Many have tried – many have failed. The idea of creating a gallery space which can be repurposed for a variety of uses with his images as the background provides for the opportunity to create multiple income streams. Smart, very smart!
In 2009, Stephen acquired a retail space in a local mall with 10-foot glass wall openings to the mall and built out the 4,000 square foot space from the funds saved from workshops into an art gallery featuring his photography and dedicated a part of it to the creation of Aperture Academy – a photography school that teaches both in-class and on-location photography skills. If you walk into his gallery you will find a dedicated area for holding classes off to one side and the rest of the space is all gallery.
In doing so, he has added an additional income stream to the space which also houses his fine art prints. In the first year of business after opening the gallery Aperture Academy had 864 students that attended its classes and workshops. The following year saw the combination gallery/classroom enrollments grow by 478%.
One of the key design elements of the gallery is that the displays where his large prints hang can be moved. By doing this he can rearrange the gallery space and open it up as an art-filled rental space for meetings and events – thereby adding yet another income stream to the same space.
By virtue of the meeting space’s ability to hold a large group he also exposes his work to people who may not have heard of him before. “Attention to details in the gallery is huge” he says. “I’m very particular about presentation and the experience people have when they come in. The visual is most important, but we also work hard to tempt their other senses with great smelling candles, relaxing music and large, comfortable sitting areas where they can relax and enjoy the photography.” With a return rate of over 30% of workshop attendees taking additional courses the balance of income streams between gallery sales, workshops and event rentals helps build a steady and growing income.
Key Business Strategies:
Build a business plan and begin with an idea of where you want to end up.
Look for opportunities to branch out in related areas.
Deliver an experience along with a valuable service or product.
Develop multiple income streams based around your photography or specialty.
Up next, in Part Three: Art Wolfe’s career and multiple income stream photography gallery, television broadcasts, stock photography and workshop business.