Making Your Photographic Hobby Pay in 2011

I thought I’d repost this article from early 2010 since the economy and market hasn’t really changed all that much (sad but true). – Enjoy!

Making Money at PhotographyA friend sent me an email last week posing an interesting question for all amateur photographers namely, “How do you make your photographic hobby pay for itself?”.

At first I was tempted to tell him it’s impossible because gear lust tends to overcome common sense in most amateurs (and many professionals). The manufacturers keep adding features to keep us dishing out money for new cameras every year. If we fall into this trap (we’re all guilty of this folks) then it’s impossible for amateurs or most professionals to break even, let alone make a profit.

Successful professionals understand this reality very well and look at their gear as capital equipment that depreciates over time. No small business replaces capital equipment before it’s fully depreciated and the key to making money as a small business is watching your cash flow like a hawk.

However, somewhere along the way, serious amateurs begin to realize that their 10 megapixel 20D or 12 megapixel D300 is really all they need to achieve consistent image quality. They come to the realization that a good photograph has a lot more to do with the photographer than with the camera. It’s a profound and humbling realization for most and it’s the time when they sets aside their gear lust and begin their search for knowledge. It’s the time when serious amateurs seek out teaching professionals at workshops, seminars and photo-tours.

It’s also the time when many begin to give back to the photographic community as a whole. This is where many folks really begin to grow as photographers and discover that sharing knowledge freely with others multiplies their opportunities to connect with potential customers, sponsors and other photographers that share their passion.

The next steps amateurs take to make their craft pay for itself depend greatly on the personality of the photographer.

Selling fine art prints or coffee table books to the general public is hard work and most amateurs know very little about their regional market for such images.

Microstock photography is one possible revenue stream but a quick search on sites like iStockphoto turn up thousands of incredible images from very talented amateurs and professionals. (Face it. The stock photography market today is already flush with talent.)

Getting commercial work as an amateur is extremely difficult, given the fact that so many top-notch professionals are already out of work due to the ailing economy and the rapid decline of print media. Competing in the commercial arena means going up against the likes of David Tejada, Tyler Stableford and Kirk Tuck. Not for the weak of heart.

Some how do you make your photographic hobby pay for itself?

  • Control your gear lust and stop spending money for the latest & greatest stuff! The easiest way to break even is to stop spending your hard-earned money on a new camera every year.
  • Volunteer at your church, your local food-bank or your local civic center. NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations) in your local area may well need the services of a photographer to document their work. But please don’t under-bid your local pro who needs all the work he can get.
  • Sell to small, local companies that won’t usually hire a professional photographer to shoot their widgets, facilities or staff but want new images for their web site every so often. (Just don’t do this in Sugar Land ;-))
  • Sell your services to local folks that need a simple but professional head shot for a blog, Twitter or Facebook. You don’t need a studio. Make house calls using your minimalist “studio in a box” on-location lighting kit.

If you’re good and can find a local niche for your work, your photographic hobby has the potential to pay for itself. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll have gained valuable experience that most hobbyists never dream of.

“Give, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Basin Ridge

Basin Ridge

Basin Ridge – Big Bend National Park, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 32mm, f/14 for 1/8th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Adobe Photoshop CS5.
Click on the image above for a larger version.

Desert Sunset

Never Let a Sunset Go To Waste!

So what are you waiting for this evening? Get out of that chair and go grab some photons.

Desert Sunset

Desert Sunset – Big Bend National Park, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 47mm, f/14 for 1/8th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Adobe Photoshop CS5.
Click on the image above for a larger version.

What a Drive!

Exploring the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive in Big Bend National Park at sunset is a treat for the senses. Around every turn lies another scene of immense beauty and wonder. What a drive!

What a Drive

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive – Big Bend National Park, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 36mm, f/14 for 1/25th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Adobe Photoshop CS5.
Click on the image above for a larger version.

Oak Spring Trail – Big Bend National Park, Texas

Oak Spring lies right below the Window, Big Bend‘s best known landmark. The high, rock slopes of Vernon Bailey Peak and Carter Peak guard this beautiful spring like two soldiers standing at attention. The trail head lies about 1-1/2 miles from the Sam Nail Ranch parking lot along a rough two-track dirt road. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended but unless you drive this after a heavy rain, any good two-wheel drive car can make it.

Oak Spring Trail Map

Most times of the year, Oak Spring is the only open water for miles and miles along the western slope of the Chisos Mountains and hikers will often encounter wildlife during their short hike and climb to the spring. Hiker’s will often overlook the short stretch of unimproved park road just north of the trail which leads higher in the surrounding hills. As you can see, the view of the Window from the approach is nothing less than spectacular!

Oak Spring Trail

Oak Spring Trail – Big Bend National Park, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 26mm, f/14 for 1/40th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Adobe Photoshop CS5.
Click on the image above for a larger version.

Wet & Dry

It’s hard to believe but the drought here in Texas continues to get worse and worse. Almost every single county is under a “burn ban” and most are under severe water restrictions. Out daily temperatures have exceeded 100F for several weeks and our normal afternoon thunderstorms have yet to appear. The lakes are down to their lowest levels in years and the creeks and bayous are fast running dry. Even the ducks seem a little “parched” this year.

Dry

Dry – Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 7D set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM + EF 1.4x Extender hand-held. The exposure was taken at 560mm, f/7.1 for 1/200th of a second at ISO 100. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

Wet

Wet – Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 7D set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM + EF 1.4x Extender hand-held. The exposure was taken at 560mm, f/7.1 for 1/200th of a second at ISO 100. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

Product Photography Post Capture Magic

If you remember a few months ago I wrote a short tutorial called One Light Product Photography which described the setup I generally use when photographing small products such as firearms. After publishing that post in June I received a lot of email asking for a more detailed explanation of how I performed my post-capture “magic” to make these products look so clean and sharp. And while none of these techniques are magic, I thought I’d share a bit more detail about the tools I use in my digital darkroom.

Post-Capture Cleaning
Most small products are photographed up close using a medium zoom lens or with a macro lens. Making a product look “clean” at this resolution means eliminating all dust, dirt and microscopic debris from the product before your shoot, during your shoot and after your shoot. On the set, this means using a microfiber cloth and compressed air.

In the digital darkroom this means using the new Content Aware Spot Healing Brush in Photoshop CS5 just like you do to retouch a portrait. In fact, all of your portrait retouching techniques can be applied to the post-capture processing of product images including dodging, burning, cloning and blurring. But the most widely used tool today is the incredibly powerful content aware healing brush.

Before Healing Brush Magic After Healing Brush Magic

 

Take this image below for example. After processing normally in Lightroom 3 there was still a lot of dust, dirt and debris clinging to this all black firearm. Click on the “After” photo below to see a larger version where you can see in detail just how well the content aware spot healing brush really works in this situation.

Before “Cleaning” in CS5
Kimber Super Carry Pro Before Retouching

After “Cleaning in CS5”
Kimber Super Carry Pro After Retouching

Kimber Super Carry Pro Series 1911 Pistol – Sugar Land, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on manual using an EF 24-105m f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. Lighting was provided by natural light through a 1-stop diffuser and with a single 580EX II with a soft-box for fill and highlight. Post capture processing was done n Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Adobe Photoshop CS5.
Click on the image above for a larger version.

Post Capture Processing

  • My first step is to choose an image that is tack sharp and well exposed and to set the proper White Balance for the overall scene. A gray card is the best tool use for this.
  • My next step is to increase the images contrast using Lightroom’s Tone Curve settings and by adding significant sharpness using the Detail settings. The goal is to add definition to the handgun’s lines and highlights without creating digital noise in the background.
  • My next step is to export the image to Adobe Photoshop CS5 and to use the Content Aware Spot Healing Brush to clean up the surfaces of the objects, removing any white specks of dust, dirt or other debris.
  • The final step is to clone the background layer and sharpen it using the High-Pass Filter settings and then blend the layer into the background by selecting the Overlay mode. This adds an “edgy” quality to the images and brings out much of the texture and details in the firearm.

Conclusions
Every product shot requires significant post capture processing and photographing firearms is no exception. Luckily, between Adobe Lightroom 3’s develop module and Photoshop CS5’s content-aware retouching tools, this doesn’t have to take hours and hours.

River Road Rainfall – Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Here’s another shot of the same storm a few hours earlier and fifty miles farther west. We tracked this illusive rain across Big Bend Ranch State Park from Ft. Leaton to Lajitas and finally into Big Bend National Park before we found any rain actually hitting the ground.

It’s pretty amazing to be standing directly under falling rain and to be perfectly dry since none of the rain is hitting the ground. What a great place to track a rain storm through the desert!

River Road Rainfall

River Road Rainfall – Big Bend Ranch Park, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 28mm, f/14 for 1/25th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Adobe Photoshop CS5.
Click on the image above for a larger version.