Open your eyes and make beautiful photos where you are now

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on July 31, 2010

in This is Art,This is Business

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It’s bluebonnet time here in Texas. Wide open fields of beautiful blue flowers can be found all around the state, and photographers are out in force recording the sweet scenery.

The ‘kid sitting in a field of bluebonnets’ photo session is as cliche as they come here in Texas. You can’t drive very far without seeing a parent pulled over to the side of the road trying to get their kid to stop squinting at the sun while traffic whizzes by.

Most photographers around here have entire seasonal promotions built around the “bluebonnet sessions.” It’s predictable, the imagery is always the same, but photogs sell it and parents buy it by the pound.

First question: What seasonal outdoor shoots could you promote in your area?

Just here in the Texas Hill Country we have springtime bluebonnets, summers at the river, autumn leaves at the state natural areas, and since there’s no snow as far south in Texas as my studio is, there’s plenty of craggy, leafless trees in the winter which make a dramatic backdrop for artsy model-style photos.

Look at the work of nature and landscape photographers in your area. Attend one of their guild meetings each quarter and see what they’re preparing to shoot. They can tip you off to some of the most beautiful locations and moments to capture the unique scenery of your area. Figure out how to stick a kid or a family or a high school senior in that scene, and you’ll throw down some very salable images with Mother Nature providing the stage.

Second question: How can you differentiate?

Odds are the obvious natural scenery shots in your area have been done to death. Even if you just rinse and repeat, you’ll probably move plenty of sales.

But as always, you want to look at what “everybody” is doing, and find a way to do it differently or the entire opposite. Let your imagination run and see what ways you can dream up to turn the cliche seasonal shots into something unique and special.

I had done good, solid, dependable, typical Team & Individual shots for a local youth flag football league for years before I saw the work of a very imaginative photographer down in Corpus Christi while I was on vacation at the coast. I had always looked at T&I photos as rinse and repeat – so long as I did the same thing each year, they’d keep hiring me.

But the work I saw posted at a restaurant in Corpus opened my mind to a new way of shooting that type of photo. This photog treated T&I shoots like a corporate or environmental portrait. Location, but with strobes and dramatic lighting, strong wide angles, and exciting complimentary elements like reflections in golf club heads, baseball bats extending deep into the image, and a shower of tennis balls around a stoic high school athlete. Really unique, interesting stuff.

You think this guy’s annual contract was secure with the teams he shot? Think he could charge more (maybe a lot more) for his prints and packages than the other photogs doing rinse and repeat?

No doubt.

Apply the same level of imagination and execution to your seasonal scenery portraits and you’ll differentiate in a way that will bring your clients back year after year, checkbooks in hand.

As with any business endeavor, the more time and layers of depth, complexity, and attention to detail you apply to a project, the harder you make it for your competition to copycat.

How can you take your outdoor portraits over the top? Rent a bucket truck to give you an angle nobody else is getting, bring a bag of strobes and shoot at night, lightpaint your subject and scene, climb trees, hike away from the roadside, go urban instead of natural, get low and shoot up or get up and shoot down, bring in props and juxtaposing elements (how pretty would a nice park bench or a couch look in that field of flowers? How about a classic pickup truck with a candy paint job?), if everyone shoots in white button-ups and jeans then get your clients to wear dress suits or swimsuits, if everyone is shooting beside the river put your client in it…

Options are limitless with some imagination and the courage to do something brave and different, something outside the box or never done before – at least in your market. Your competition will be jealous and your clients will be thrilled.

Break the mold = break the bank.

Widening your network to widen your wallet

The best portrait photographers will tell you that success in our industry is a great deal influenced by relationships – making real connections with your clients, through great service and great art.

For our seasonal scenery portraits, let’s take that idea to the back end work – relationships with proprietors of choice properties can give you access to scenery that no other photographer can touch.

Here in Texas, there are lots of big acreage landowners. Mostly ranchers, some farmers, some folks who just like to own a thousand acres here and there.

Just as I like to have a good relationship with local clergy for my wedding work and business owners for my urban senior work, I like to seek out and make friends with my area ranchers and landowners whose private property is a wonderland of outdoor portrait delights.

Babbling brooks. Waterfalls. Long-stretching white fence lines. Rolling fields of tall grass and wildflowers. Dense, lush, green forests. Big red barns! Hay bales! Cows!

If you see a spot from the road that would make the perfect location for one of your shoots, don’t be shy – seek out that property owner and work on getting their permission to book shoots there. Most are flattered and happy to let you shoot there for free, or for the price of a nice print for their wall, or even a small rental fee.

Whatever the cost, odds are that unique access will give you images that no photographer in your area can get, and each location you add to your list will be one more way you differentiate from your competition.

Landowners here in Texas are as protective of their land as they are proud. I don’t for a moment condone trespassing on private property as a smart way to expand your portfolio. I unintentionally ended up shooting without permission at a private pond one time, and I was met by two men with rifles and stern words shortly after I arrived. I may not have gotten shot, but I did ruin an opportunity to land access to a really beautiful location.

Be mindful, and be respectful. It takes one knock on the door or phone call to get permission and do things the right way.

Next Steps

  • Hit up Google and research your area for its resources of natural beauty. What unique scenery pops up in your area in each season? What do the nature and landscape photographers in your area shoot and post on their web sites? Where are your parks, big and small? Where are your water features? Where are your farms and fields of crops?
  • Call up a few of those nature photographers and ask for ideas on what to shoot and where. They may even offer to give you a tour of some of their favorite spots.
  • Visit your local visitor’s bureau or Chamber of Commerce and ask what seasonal events exist related to the local scenery. Strawberry festivals, watermelons festivals, wildflower tours, birding and nature walks, state natural area fall foliage reports, etc. What kinds of specials could you run in concert with these events?
  • Get in the car, or better yet on the cycle, and explore the highways and backroads in your county. Where’s the pretty scenery at? Any public or private locations that would make for incredible photo shoots? Take notes and reach out to whoever you need to in order to gain permission and invaluable access.
  • Brainstorm session: Close your eyes and get an image in your head of the most obvious seasonal nature portraits for your area. Now, turn your imagination up to 11, and write down a bunch of creative, fun, unique ways of shooting these scenes with an attention-grabbing twist. Furniture, props, vehicles, dissonant wardrobe, different times of day and night, different angles and lenses. Jot these down and file in your Brainstorms folder.
  • What are some of your best landscape and natural discoveries during your explorations? What does nature provide your area during each season that is unique and ripe for profitable portraiture? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

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