My Book! PLUS: Why You Should Start a Personal Photography Project

My Book! PLUS: Why You Should Start a Personal Photography Project

So over the last couple of months, throughout this whole coronavirus lockdown, I’ve gotten not a small amount of messages from people who have been feeling a little bit befuddled by this whole situation. They haven’t been feeling that inspiration, right? It’s really hard to want to get out and shoot when the government is telling you, no, you gotta stay at home. And I totally get that. This whole situation is just nuts. It’s so weird. It’s hard to know what to do. Those kinds of uncertainties. Don’t leave a lot of room for our creative hobbies. A lot of times. So people have been sending me these messages and saying, well, how can I stay creative? How can I stay inspired? How can I keep shooting during this weird coronavirus lockdown? When I can barely leave my house? And the answer that I always give to every single person is the same start a photography project.

And this could be anything from a three 65 selfie project to taking pictures of your dog every hour of the day, or exploring your backyard from, you know, three inches off the ground. It really doesn’t matter what it is. The idea is you just create a project and that project gives you structure. That structure gives you a reason to shoot. It’s kind of like going to the gym. A lot of times, it’s hard to motivate to actually leave the house to get there. But once you do it, once you just leave the house, you drive to the gym, you get on your Spanx. That’s what I work out in any way. Then, you know, you get your workout done. And the photography projects are the same thing. You have. The structure takes so many questions out of the whole situation. You don’t have to ask yourself, should I be shooting?

Where should I go? What’s the weather going to be like, is it going to be good? You know, all those things that we second guess ourselves about all the time, those go away, you have the project. The project means you shoot. And as soon as you start shooting, I guarantee you inspiration is going to Stripe. So for me, I decided to take my own advice and start a photography project. And what I’m doing is documenting this amazing place mono link. And what I’m going to do is I’m going to create a coffee table photo book that had project in my head for a couple of years now. And I’ve kept putting it off and putting it off. I’ve been chasing photos in New Zealand and South America and things like that. But now I’m here. I’m here in California. And I feel like there’s absolutely no better time to get working on this project.

Now the honest truth is I really have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never made a photo book before. I don’t know where to begin, nor do I have any idea what I actually want the theme of the book to even be it can’t just be pictures of mono Lake. No, no. It has to have some kind of a defining structure, but the fact that I don’t know how to make a book and I don’t know what the theme of the book is. Honestly, I don’t even care about that right now. I trust that that stuff is going to appear in time. What’s important to me right now is simply to have a reason to get outside the motivation to go shoot. And the reason that I chose Mona Lake is it is an utterly fascinating place. And I think that most landscape photographers, especially if you’re from North America, you’ve heard of Mona Lake, but probably the only thing you’ve ever heard about Mona Lake is the famous tufa towers, which are just down the beach right over there.

But the truth is mono Lake is so much more than just tufa towers. It also has volcanic craters and resident wild Mustangs and freshwater marshes and nesting ospreys. It is the world’s largest breeding colony for California goals, which are these guys right out here. It’s a major destination for migrating birds of all kinds. And it has a really incredible history that goes along with it, not just the natural history of this place, but also the human history that the fact that the Lake level a hundred years ago was maybe a hundred feet higher than it is today is all because of human intervention. The water in the creeks that flow into mono Lake are being diverted now into the LA aqueduct to provide drinking water for the city of Los Angeles. So the fact that we can even get to these amazing places like the two photographers is due in large part to the human interactions with this place.

And even on top of that mono Lake is so emblematic of the environments that you find here within the Eastern Sierra, that if you ever want to understand the ecosystems in this part, California, you have to understand mono Lake. So that desire to understand, to probe a little bit deeper and to discover these places around the Lake that are new to me is a huge part of what’s driving this project. And the reason that I’m telling you guys this now is because the project is still in its infancy. Like I said, I haven’t even figured out what direction I want to take the book yet, but I figure if I tell you guys, if I tell thousands of people, then I have that accountability. Like I said, I have just started the project. I’m only a couple of weeks into it, but I’ve already uncovered some amazing stuff, some incredible moments and some really unusual places that I’d never seen before.

Even though I live only 30 minutes down the road from the Lake last night, for example, I went to a place I’d never been before PanAm crater. And I climbed up to the top, the check out all the cool volcanic rock that’s in the area. And it provides this monumental overlook of the entire mono basin. And there were thunderstorms flowing through the Northern skies and rain falling through the Southern skies. It was a pretty awesome moment that I got to experience just because of this project because of the impetus to get out of the house and shoot, or like a week ago when I was driving around the East side of the Lake through the eight inches of sand on those back roads. And I stumbled across herds of hundreds of horses grazing on the grasses or when I was photographing at South tuba, the most classic spot here at mono Lake, but there’s always something different happening in the sky.

And as the sun went down that particular night, this crazy beam, this column of light came a repelling out of the Western sky. And I’m fortunately I was in a terrible place to get any good photos of it. I have no good compositions of this, but I want to show you the shot anyway, just because of the unusual quality of light. So these experiences are coming to me and this deeper understanding is starting to develop now, just because of this project, the reason that I’m here tonight in this spot, kind of in the middle of nowhere, is to try to experience another one of those unusual, incredible moments. You see the full moon is going to be rising over there over South tufa in about two minutes. So that’s why I got this big beast ready to go. Now it’s pretty cloudy over there. I don’t actually know if I’m going to be able to see the moon as it comes up over the two foot, but there’s a chance. And that chance is all you need to be excited about in photography. So I’m really excited about this. I’m going to keep you guys updated as the project develops, as I figure out what the book’s going to be about and how I’m actually going to make it. So until the next video have fun and happy shooting. 

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5 Reasons You Should Never Turn Nature Photography Into a Career

Ah, the life of a nature photographer: gallivanting around the world, enjoying the planet’s most beautiful places, and getting paid to take pictures! Was a better job ever created?? Unfortunately reality often doesn’t live up to this romantic notion of what it means to be a working nature photographer. Here in 2018 I love what I do with a passion, but for the first four years after I left my stable engineering job to pursue photography I honestly doubted if it was the right decision. And even to this day I don’t think nature photography is a great career for most people, even if they love photography to death. Here’s why:

Reason #1: You Get to do Photography a lot Less!

This one surprised the hell out of me once I took the plunge into full-time photography. I assumed that I would be out shooting all day every day. But, oh crap! How does that actually EARN any money? Nature photography is a weird thing; unless you are really lucky you probably aren’t going to have any clients paying you to go out and take pictures. Instead your income comes from marketing your photos after the fact, whether it’s through stock, prints, tours, or other means.

And that marketing takes a TON of work! With stock you’ve got to organize, edit, keyword, size, upload, write descriptions…. and then you are still just playing the odds that a buyer somewhere will select one of your photos. With prints you need do the printing, matting, and framing, shop around to local galleries or arts festivals, package and ship sales, invoice customers, deal with returns and damaged prints. For tours you have all the thousands of hours of scouting beforehand (if you are a diligent leader anyway), then the logistical work begins: getting permits and insurance, creating an itinerary, finding transportation, hotels, food, creating a website, finding clients, dealing with their questions and issues, etc.

Instead of spending your weekends shooting you could be spending them like this.

Oh, and regardless of which financial avenues you choose you will have website maintenance, editing photos, emailing customers and clients and manufacturers, blogging, tracking finances, etc. For most pro photographers actual shooting time comprises somewhere between 1% and 20% of their working hours. And it’s important to note that there are many times you’d like to be shooting, but you just can’t because the business comes first. Whereas if photography is a hobby you don’t have these constraints; you can shoot as much as your other life duties allow.

Reason #2: You Will Work Harder Than You’ve Ever Worked in Your Life

Speaking of work, building a career as a photographer will take every ounce of ingenuity, determination, and grit that you have. Especially in the beginning when you are building your name and reputation. No longer will you have the freedom to clock out of your 9-to-5 and enjoy your life completely separately from your job. That distinction doesn’t exist anymore. Goodbye nights. Goodbye weekends.

Owning a small business is an incredible challenge (especially if you start with no business experience like I did) that requires you to work your butt off even if you don’t see any lights at the end of the tunnel. If you have a business partner that can help tremendously. Otherwise every job that is required to maintain a successful business falls squarely on your shoulders, and your shoulders alone. Expect 14 to 16 hour workdays 7 days a week as you are starting out.

Yes, the rewards can be great, but the struggle to get there is real.

Reason #3: You Will See Your Friends and Family Less

One of the main reasons I left my engineering job to pursue photography was to have more time to spend with family and friends. Then one day in 2011 as I was sitting in my booth at an art festival in Walnut Creek it hit me: I hadn’t seen my family or friends in months! Much longer than when I was working a regular job. And what hurt especially about that particular weekend: all my best friends had rented a cabin and a boat in Tahoe to celebrate one friend’s birthday. Why on Earth was I sitting in a booth in Walnut Creek by myself??

In those days I was spending all week preparing prints for arts festivals, and I didn’t have time to socialize. Then on the weekends I would be locked into those arts festivals trying to sell enough prints to make the experience financially justified. What the heck was I doing with my life? This was not what I wanted.

Can be a little lonely out there as a nature photog.

Since then I have stopped doing arts festivals and moved on to other income sources that have allowed me to reclaim my free time. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m free to spend every waking moment with the people who are important to me. Picture this scenario: it’s Friday night and your friends are meeting up for dinner and drinks. You’d love to join but there are thunderstorms brewing over the mountains and you think there’s a great chance for an incredible light show. So you have to choose: friends and socializing, or doing what it takes to get the shot? I’ve been in this dilemma more times than I can count.

When photography is your career and getting paid and building your reputation depend on you creating the best possible imagery, then you have to start making some tough choices about your priorities and how you want to spend your time.

Reason #4: Relationships Can Be Very Hard

Building on that last point, nature photography can make it extremely difficult to build solid long term relationships because of the huge amounts of travel involved. I have a few friends who have successfully navigated this hurdle (typically because their partner is also a photographer and they travel together), but aside from a few examples I know very few pro nature photographers who are in long term relationships. Even Art Wolfe, one of the most legendary photographers of our time (and a damn handsome silver fox to boot) has said that he has never been married simply because his travel schedule makes it impossible.

Another solo trip.

I myself have also experienced two relationships which failed in part because I wasn’t around to nurture the bond in the way it needed to be. So if having a solid relationship is something that’s important to you, you need to think long and hard about how to make that fit with the lifestyle of a nature photographer.

Reason #5: A Thing You Love May Become a Thing You Hate

Finally, consider this: when photography is simply a hobby it is a very pure thing. It’s done entirely for enjoyment and you don’t have to please anyone except yourself. Whether you take a picture at sunset or simply enjoy a beer with your friends doesn’t have an impact on your bottom line. But as soon as you switch gears and bring money into the equation things change.

All of a sudden this beautiful thing that was purely recreational is now the primary cause of stress in your life. Instead of being able to explore your own artistic expression perhaps you start to photograph things you otherwise wouldn’t because those images will sell better. Perhaps now instead of having a personal experience with a place that is particularly meaningful for you you are responsible for the care and enjoyment of a workshop group you’ve brought there.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I still love and adore nature photography; more every year in fact. But not everyone is so fortunate. Taking something you love and putting a huge amount of pressure and expectation onto it is a surefire way to change your relationship with that thing. Are you willing to accept that risk when it comes to your photography?

~Josh

But wait!! Nature photography isn’t all dark rain clouds. Be sure to read this next:

5 Reasons You Absolutely Should Turn Nature Photography Into a Career

If you enjoyed this article be sure to join me on my newsletter and you’ll get more like it sent right to you. I’m not going to spam you with a bunch of crap, and I’ll never sell your name to anyone else. Join the thousands of people getting photos, inspiration, tips, and more delivered right to their inboxes.



About the Author

Josh Cripps is a wilderness landscape photographer living in beautiful Mammoth Lakes, California. He shoots campaigns and gives presentations for Nikon. His work has been featured in publications like Outdoor Photographer, Pop Photo, and Landscape Photography Magazine. Josh also runs photography workshops, teaches online courses, and runs the popular YouTube channel Pro Photo Tips. Sometimes he talks like a cowboy and can grow an enormous beard when the need arises.

You can read more about Josh here.

5 Reasons You Absolutely Should Turn Nature Photography Into a Career

In many ways nature photography can be a dream job. Sure, it’s a ridiculous crap ton of hard work to make it sustainable as a career, but here are just a few of the reasons you should make a go of it.

Reason #1: Incredible Freedom

One of the best moments of my life happened in January 2004: I had just bought a cheap used car in Auckland, New Zealand, and I was driving south out of that big city at the start of what would become a 19-month round-the-world trip. I had no plans, no deadlines, no commitments. And as I realized that I had the means and the time to go anywhere and do anything a powerful wave of exuberance came erupting out of me. I started shouting at the top of my lungs and pounding the ceiling. I had never felt better in my life. That sense of utter freedom gave me a massive rush and I’ve been chasing that same sense ever since.

So for me the best part of being a full time nature photographer is, hands down, the freedom I have to live where I want to live, travel where and when I want, work when I want, and play when I want. There’s no boss to please (except myself and I can a pretty demanding jerk), and no schedule or deadlines except for the ones I create myself. And the freedom of being able to choose exactly how I spend each moment, every single day, is one of the greatest gifts in life.

On a photography work trip in Peru.

Reason #2: The Beauty. Oh Sweet Baby Peaches, the Beauty!

I hate to say it, but the world is a pretty ugly place, and it totally sucks to explore it. Uh, not! Are you kidding me? Our planet is so utterly, gobsmackingly beautiful that it’s honestly hard to comprehend. There are so many unique environments to see that it would take 100 lifetimes to understand what’s truly out there.

Stirling-Falls-Milford-Sound-New-Zealand

I have been fortunate to explore a decent chunk of the world (though still just a tiny fraction overall) and I’ve witnessed some incredible moments. And just when I feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see some monumental place or some magical experience will come along and knock me right back on my ass.

Doubtful-Sound-Reflections

As nature photographers it’s our job to go out into the world and uncover these beautiful moments, to capture them, and to share them with others. There is almost no better feeling than showing someone a shot from your latest trip and seeing their eyes bug out, and having them exclaim, “WHAT?! I had no idea something like that could even EXIST!!”

Reason #3: Sharing Your Passion

It’s no question that people are drawn to passion. When you choose nature photography as a career you are shouting from the mountaintops about your love for Planet Earth. You will draw people to you and you will make deep connections that last your whole life. You will connect with other photographers and plan trips together, inspire each other, and share stories.

You will meet passionate amateur photographers and help guide their path through the world of photography. You will help teach people and see the lightbulbs turn on inside their heads. You will share your most sacred places with people who also want to celebrate their beauty, building deeper bonds with those places and those people in the process.

photography-connection

You will sell your work to others who appreciate the natural world. And when you think about it that’s an extraordinary thing: someone likes what you did so much, they so appreciate your vision and your craft, that they want to bring a part of that into their own life. More connections, more bonds.

So much of our happiness is tied up in building strong bonds with other people who share our values, and nature photography is an amazing catalyst to make that happen.

Reason #4: An Opportunity to Give Back to the Planet

Humans are takers. We always have been, we always will be. We take what we need from the planet in order to get our own needs met. And even if you love our planet, love the environment, and love the outdoors, you have an impact on Earth. After all we travel to see beautiful places, spewing tons of C02 into the air in the process. We buy snacks and food to take along, creating more plastic waste. We encourage our governments to create roads and cut trails into the wilderness so we can access these locations.

As a professional nature photographer I, ironically, have a disproportionately high impact on the natural world. I travel far more than the average person. I encourage others to travel and get out into nature. On the road I consume more and produce more waste than I do at home.

BUT!! I also have a platform to call for change. And so will you if you take on nature photography as a career. You have the opportunity not only to lead by example, but to encourage others to conserve and protect our natural resources.

We can all start by looking hard at our lives to see what actual changes we can make to reduce our footprints. You can do things like choose to have one fewer children, take one fewer trips this year, eat less meat, use reusable packaging and water bottles, and invest in carbon-sequestering projects (plant a tree!). I am far from perfect in this regard, but I am doing what I can. Having the discipline to make these small, incremental changes is hard, but it is so much easier than the drastic wake up call we’re going to experience if we don’t make changes.

Reason #5: You’ll Be Excited to Get to Work. Every. Single. Day.

Ok, raise your hand if you like doing accounting! Nobody? Nobody? Bueller? Well guess what: when you turn your nature photography into a career you are going to start to love accounting. Why? Because you are doing it for YOU in order to make your business successful.

And not just accounting, but everything that goes into running a successful business. From taking the photos and editing them, to writing blog articles, to invoicing clients, to emailing customers, to answering questions from students, you will be incredibly excited to go to work, every single day. I’ve been doing this about 10 years now, working like crazy all the time, and each day when I wake up I still think, “Ok, what do I GET to do today.” I am always excited about my current projects, as well as things on the horizon. I’m excited when I get to shoot. And I’m excited when I get to stay home and work on my website. I’m excited when I get to travel, and I’m excited when I get to read a new book about newsletter marketing.

Of course there are a lot of tedious tasks that go into maintaining a business, but there is something so satisfying about doing these tasks when you know you are doing it for yourself. You will want to work, and there’s no better job than the one you wake up wanting to do.

So if you’re thinking about turning nature photography into a career I encourage you to roll your sleeves up and dive in! There is an amazing world waiting for you.

~Josh

But wait!! Nature photography isn’t all rainbows and puppy dogs. Be sure to read this next:

5 Reasons You Should Never Turn Nature Photography Into a Career

If you enjoyed this article be sure to join me on my newsletter and you’ll get more like it sent right to you. I’m not going to spam you with a bunch of crap, and I’ll never sell your name to anyone else. Join the thousands of people getting photos, inspiration, tips, and more delivered right to their inboxes.



About the Author

Josh Cripps is a wilderness landscape photographer living in beautiful Mammoth Lakes, California. He shoots campaigns and gives presentations for Nikon. His work has been featured in publications like Outdoor Photographer, Pop Photo, and Landscape Photography Magazine. Josh also runs photography workshops, teaches online courses, and runs the popular YouTube channel Pro Photo Tips. Sometimes he talks like a cowboy and can grow an enormous beard when the need arises.

You can read more about Josh here.