How to Quit Your Day Job and Become a Nature Photographer
Your favorite nature photographers likely aren’t on assignment for National Geographic. But they are likely on this other thing we call Instagram. Whether you’re snapping pics on an iPhone or a Canon DSLR, if you learn about light and composition, you’ll not only improve your general photo skills, but you’ll start finding natural beauty no matter where you live or travel.
This week, in our How to Quit Your Day Job series, we’re talking to two stellar photographers who are making a name for themselves with drop-dead gorgeous pics of nature — but don’t just call them nature photographers. Both Laura E. Pritchett and Ben Giesbrecht are testaments to self-taught skills and major photo chops which aren’t exclusive to nature photography, but they certainly have an eye for capturing all of the oohs and ahhs of Mother Nature.
The Photo Pros: Laura E. Pritchett and Ben Giesbrecht
Laura grew up in Delaware and is most often snapping pics of trees, fields and delicate details of the East Coast. Oh yeah, and she paints too, because she’s a total boss.
Up in Vancouver, Ben keeps an Instagram account that’s a go-to if you’re looking for photos of crisp climates that look equally serene and refreshing. No matter if Laura or Ben are taking pics of familiar places or taking journeys into the unknown, both of these pros’ pictures make you feel like you’re really there.
Stick With Your Passion. For both Laura and Ben, their passion for photography started early. Ben started in high school and picked up tips from his dad and his friends. Laura started young as well, but at first she was a bit hesitant to take the plunge into a creative profession. She said, “As a teenager, I just wanted to paint. Although my parents encouraged me, I quickly learned that most other adults didn’t like to hear a kid say that they want to be an artist when they grew up.” Both Laura and Ben were pretty much self-taught, figuring out what worked and what didn’t work with a lot of practice and inspiration.
Shoot What You Know (and Love). If you live in Vancouver, then beautiful, snow-capped mountains are right within your grasp, but that’s not the only kind of nature out there. Even in New York City, you can go macro on some flowers in Central Park or explore the Botanical Garden. For Ben and Laura, nature isn’t the only thing that they photograph, but scrolling through their Insta feeds, it’s obvious that they’re definitely drawn to it.
Nature has always been a big part of Laura’s life and an inspiration for her creativity. Having grown up in Delaware, she said, “I’ve spent most of my life wandering the woods, rivers and fields around me, so landscapes and wildlife are ready models. I don’t like to limit myself to one direction in anything that I do though, so I definitely experiment with capturing a variety of subjects in my work.”
Ben would love to venture into more portrait and fashion photography, but he said, “Nature is just the most accessible for me right now, especially living in Vancouver.”
Don’t Wait for Opportunities. Make Them. Most self-driven creative careers don’t come easily. Often, people don’t want to pay you enough or at all, and you’re always asking yourself if, or when, you should quit your day job and make money doing what you love. For both Laura and Ben, the key to their success thus far has just been hard work.
Laura said, “I never waited for someone to hire me to start anything, I just created what I wanted and (to my surprise) other people wanted it too.” She said she was a little worried about seeming inexperienced in the beginning, but when your work looks great, people don’t care as much about how long your résumé is.
Even if photography can’t fund your life just yet, you can still make it work. Ben worked in a power plant for half of last year and made enough money to dedicate the rest of his time traveling and shooting. That way, he’s not stuffing all of his photo practice into weekends. His advice for getting started? “Go outside and shoot photos. Lots and lots of photos.”
Uncertainty Is a Part of It. When you’re your own boss, you’re kind of doing multiple jobs. You’re looking for work, planning jobs and then actually doing the work. It’s liberating in some ways and in other ways it’s totally terrifying. But when you’re making your best work and putting yourself out there, Laura says that you’ve got to believe that the work will come. She said, “Every time a job is over I’m sure it was my last. It’s really hard to have faith that another one will follow, but they do.”
What kind of sacrifices do you have to make as a self-employed creative (besides office birthday cakes)? Ben says that the main things are a steady pay check and the stability. Laura said that for some it may even bit of a lifestyle sacrifice depending on what stage of your career you’re in. She said that she’s a low-maintenance person, but she’s decided to do without things like expensive clothes and cable to get some more stretch out of her income.
Be Patient. Be Thoughtful. We’ve all been in one of those Insta-spots that everyone and their mother has already taken a photo of, so how do you capture something unique and new in a picturesque place? Even for Ben, he said that with so many talented photographers out there, it can be hard to stand out.
It helps to first, think about what it is you love about it. Laura said, “My philosophy has always been to take my time to quietly absorb and enjoy a moment and then photograph what I loved most about that experience.” That’s what will make your picture look personal to you.
Laura tries to make all of her photos feel free, natural and genuine. For Ben, his goal is to create images that are simple minimal and clean.
Explore. Nothing can inspire you or make you come to realizations quite like traveling. Ben recently got back from a trip to Central America and said, “It made me realize that I’d way rather be in the forest or on a mountain than a tropical beach. I love getting out in cold cloudy weather and climbing up to somewhere new.”
Some of Laura’s favorite spots to photograph have been Jinja, Uganda and Alberta, Canada. Norway is next on her list.
Take Instagram Seriously. For photographers, Instagram is way more than a place to post their #TBTs. It can lead to a large audience and some serious career opportunities. For both Laura and Ben, it’s contributed a lot to getting their names out there, connecting to peers and finding work. Their tool of the trade is the VSCO Cam app. Ben shoots images for his feed on his iPhone and on 35 mm film. Laura sticks with her iPhone and her DSLR, and sometimes she’ll edit in Lightrooom and Snapseed as well.
It’s a Business, So Treat it Like One. Take it from Ben: “The photography part is easy; the hard part is the self-promotion, accounting, scheduling etc.” But the more ways he puts himself out there, the more business he can rake in by word of mouth.
Process, Process, Process. The basics are the same: plan, shoot, edit, publish. But nailing down the specifics of your personal process and figuring out what works best for you will go a long way to make sure your quality is tops. Before she even picks up the camera, Laura envisions the photo in her mind while trying to explore other outside-of-the-box angles. Even when she’s editing a photo, she’s trying to recreate the mood of the place where she took the picture. Before she publishes she likes to run her photos by someone else (usually her husband @nicholasjared) to get another perspective.
Keep Searching, Growing and Learning. For those days when you’re feeling like you’ve seen it all or like there’s nothing left to photograph, you should first know that there’s always more to photograph. Ben likes to hit Flickr feeds to get inspired, but it’s not just about scrolling. He said that in addition to finding other people’s work you like, “break down what you like about it so you can start to apply those traits to your own work.”
In the same vein, Laura told us, “I try to learn from just about everyone and everything I encounter really. I think creativity is about soaking up all of the moments — both striking and mundane — and then pouring out the unique mixture of what they mean to you.”
Perfect Your Skills
Whether you’re a total rookie or you’re looking to hone the skills you have already, there’s no better way to get inspired than with a class. Here are some to get you started.
1. An Introduction: If you want to get a gist of the ins and outs of nature photography from picking lenses to finding your subject, this class covers all of that and more. Art Wolfe is a photo pro who’s going to teach you right into loving photography even more. ($59 for a 12-part course)
2. Know Your Lighting: In photography, the sun can be your best friend or your worst enemy. This class teaches how to embrace the light (or lack thereof) from sunrise until long after the sun sets. ($96 for annual Skillshare subscription to view all classes)
3. Go Macro: Chances are, your camera can do way more than you give it credit for. With the right lens and the right perspective, you can get a close-up view of nature to make you feel like you’re one with the flowers. ($35 for a 7-part course)
4. Get Some Perspectives: It’s time to look beyond that sunset photo you’ve taken from your window a dozen times. This Skillshare class covers four key perspectives to capture to get the full scope of a place. ($96 for annual Skillshare subscription to view all classes)
5. On Your Smartphone: Even pro photographers rely on their little smartphones to capture big moments. It’s the camera you use most often, so why not learn to make the most of it? ($96 for annual Skillshare subscription to view all classes)
Now, go forth and capture your surroundings. We’d love to hear any photography tips you have and who you follow for inspiration.
What passion would you like to see covered in your Live Your Love Series? Let us know in the comments!