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Art Wolfe’s Insights into Selling Nature Photography

Photo by Art Wolfe Renowned nature photographer Art Wolfe has been photographing the natural world for the past thirty years. His work has taken hi...

Photo by Art Wolfe

Renowned nature photographer Art Wolfe has been photographing the natural world for the past thirty years. His work has taken him all over the planet, and an estimated one million images make up Art’s body of work. He has received numerous awards and recognition, including Outstanding Nature Photographer of the Year by the North American Nature Photography Association. With such a far-reaching career, Art has a particularly keen sense of the nature photography market – which is one reason we interviewed him for our Selling Nature Photography Guide.

Art’s passion for photography came from documenting his rock climbing trips. Because he was more familiar with the outdoor world than the fine art one, Art approached gear stores like REI, The North Face, and Eddie Bauer – lobbying in-store space rather than in galleries. “It didn’t take much convincing to allow me a little space on the walls. So, behind a rack of jackets there would be an Art Wolfe photograph.”

Photo by Art Wolfe

The visibility worked, and Art started pitching to editorial publications, too. “I cobbled this piecemeal work into a living, submitting photos to magazines such as National Geographic, Audubon, The Smithsonian; and got my work into stock agencies like WestStock, AllStock, and The Image Bank.”

For Art, just as for a lot of professional nature photographers, stock sales have declined in recent years. But, he says, “it’s still crucial for the well-being of my company.” Art learned early on that he had to maximize his output, which means shooting many projects at once. It also means being able to produce multiple types of sales.

Photo by Art Wolfe

Even with such a successful and well-established business, Art actively works on self-promotion and marketing. Though, he says, “My own stock site hosted by PhotoShelter has been an essential tool in the dissemination of my imagery. It’s great being able to easily upload directly to the site while I am on location and generate embeddable galleries for my blog, or share galleries of images with photo editors.”

Art believes that it’s been his ability to “let go of certain aspects of projects” and delegate them to others that has helped him become successful. “I have the confidence that the people who work with me will honor my mission. I let them do a lot of the things that perhaps other photographers would want to keep close to the vest. For example, post-processing and final tweaking of an image is something that I’ve let go of, simply because I don’t know the intricacies and subtleties as well as other people might.”

Photo by Art Wolfe

Of course, Art knows that nature photography is a daunting market to get into. Regardless, he would offer words of encouragement to someone with a passion for it. “It is a tough industry to break into, much more so than when I started out. However, I wouldn’t let that stop anyone who truly has the drive to work in this field.”

Tips From The Field: 

  • Work on more than one project at once: if you’re shooting a story on assignment about birds and a stellar sunrise catches your eye, it might be an amazing image for your stock library.
  • Even if you have a big staff, be prepared to work long days.
  • Bringing people with you into the field can help them get a sense of your vision, mission, and workflow. This can be useful if you’d like to delegate editing to them later on.
  • Approaching outdoor-focused businesses to showcase photographs can be a substitute for placement in a gallery. It can’t hurt to ask.
  • It’s OK to let go of control over certain aspects of your business production. If editing isn’t your strong suit and you have the means to hire someone who is better at it, do it. Whatever it takes to keep your business sustainable or growing is probably a good thing.
  •  Even a successful business needs consistent marketing.

Art Wolfe is just one of five professional nature photographers we interviewed for our Selling Nature Photography guide. Check out their tips on how to market your work and bring clients through the door, plus insights from photo buyers like National Geographic and German GEO Magazine.

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