Myths About The Photography Buisness

Photography studio
The most profitable areas of photography are not always the most obvious - photo by Thor

The question I get more than any other is about what it takes to make it in the photography business.  The answer sounds flip, but it’s not meant to be.  To make it in photography, all you have to do get paid for taking pictures.

To make money in the business, the skill that will be most useful is finding new customers.  That brings us to our first myth about the business.

Taking Good Pictures Will Get You Business

Taking bad pictures will cost you business, but it takes more than being a good photographer to stay solvent.  The most underrated skills in photography are marketing and business savvy.  Knowing how to find new customers, price your product, and understanding contracts.

Almost anyone can learn to take good pictures, not everyone can learn how to market that skill.

The Best Money Is In Traditional Markets

Not always true.  Sometimes specialty markets pay the best and provide the most regular business.  High speed photography, industrial photography, infrared, and other areas of specialty imaging can provide a better long-term income.

It’s not the sexy side of the business.  Industrial photography jobs are frequently in places that are dirty and occasionally dangerous.  You won’t get any prizes, and your work won’t show up on anyone’s mantel, but you’ll make a living.

You Can Shoot A Wedding Without A Spare Body

Doing so borders on the irresponsible.  Twice I’ve lost pictures once-in-a-lifetime pictures: Once was a card failure when I grabbed my camera heading out the door, but not my bag with a spare cards.  Now I keep them taped to my camera strap.  The other was the day I noticed a smudge on my sensor when out in the field on a space shuttle launch.  It was a long hike from the parking lot and I didn’t want to haul a bunch of extra gear, like a spare body.

You Can Teach Yourself The Business

A few people have managed, through years of practice and a relentless dedication to learning.  Most of the time you’re going to need to take at least a few training classes.  I recommend classes on lighting and portraiture first.

Top 4 Lenses For Nature Photography

The Nikon AF-S 600mm in the wild with photographer Al Haley
In nature photography it’s not unusual to see someone drive up in a beater car that barely runs only to have the shooter pull out an $8,000 lens.  It is not a hobby for the financially faint of heart.
Getting enough light at those magnifications means a big barrel, and a big barrel means a lot of expensive glass.  For these lenses most photographers buy a dedicated body to use with them.  The cost of the camera is almost inconsequential compared to the lens.These are my four picks for the best in nature photography.


Quick and accurate auto-focus driven by high precision, ultra-quiet motors.  You’ll need a quality tripod to hang this bad boy but it’s worth it sit at a comfortable quarter mile away to get your shots. The color and clarity can only be described as amazing.

Canon ef 500mm
With ultra-fast and rock steady focusing that almost jumps to the subject, you’ll see this lens on a lot of the sidelines of sporting events as well as nature photography.500mm with a 4.1 degree horizontal angle of view for full frame sensor models like the 5D MKII.
If you’re not into brand names, you can save some money looking at brands like Sigma, which run closer to half what the Canon and Nikon glass costs.  There are concessions like weight and weather proofing you’re giving up, but you won’t have to trade your car for one, either.

Sigma 500mm
A little heavier than its more expensive cousins, but not that difficult to pack around and still delivers high quality images.  You’re giving up weather sealing at the lower price point, so carry a bag cover with you at all times.

Sigma 50-500
This zoom is heavy, but offers a long, flexible zoom range.  You are giving up a fixed aperture on the zoom, but considering the price point, that’s an inconvenience I can live with.

HDR Made Easy

HDR photo example
High Dynamic Range photography is made easier with helpful software - Photo by Abphoto

HDR, or High Dynamic Range, photography is a technique for combining multiple exposures of the same scene into a single photo that has a higher dynamic color range than your camera would be capable of producing on its own.To capture the HDR bracket photos, you can either do it manually, or some cameras support a function called AEB, or Automatic Exposure Bracketing.  AEB isn’t really made for HDR photos, so most of the time you’ll be better off bracketing manually.

Merging the layers and doing the tonal mapping can be accomplished in any of the major photo editing programs commonly in use today like GIMP and Photoshop.

Another option is to go the easy way and buy a program specifically tailored for the job.  If you’re going to be doing a lot of HDR work, it’s well worth the money.

One option is a program called Photomatix by HDRSoft.  It comes in two flavors: Photomatix Essentials for $39, aimed at users new to HDR and Photomatix Pro for $99 which has a function called Exposure Fusion which makes natural looking HDR photos a breeze and is available for Mac and Windows users.

Mac users have the option of trying HDRtist.  It’s a fairly simple program in terms of operation.  Just drag your bracketed photos into the program and use the slider to adjust the exposure overlap.  The basic version is free and pro version is $29.95.

Another option is HDR EFEX Pro by Nik Software, but at $159.00 it doesn’t seem to offer enough advantages to justify the price difference with Photomatix Pro.

Sony Unveils New Camera/Binocular Fusion

Video camera? Still camera? Binoculars? All of the above
Are they binoculars that work like a camera?  Or a camera shaped like binoculars?  Either way you want to look at them, Sony’s new Dev-3 and Dev-5 camera/binocular fusion devices sport HD video capabilities, 7 megapixel still pictures, auto-focus and image stabilization.Aimed primarily at nature enthusiasts and bird watchers, the Dev series records full 1080/60p HD video in AVCHD format, with audio, and has options for both 2D and 3D video.  The Dev-5 adds options for optical zoom mode for still images and GPS functionality.

On the inside the Dev series offers dual ¼ back-illuminated CMOS sensors, a multi-use card slot that accepts Sony Memory Sticks or SD/SDHC/SDXC type memory cards, HDMI output and headphone and microphone input jacks.

Whether you’re out on a backpacking adventure, hunting, bird watching, or just taking in the wildlife at the beach the Dev-3 and Dev-5 bring a lot to the party in one convenient package.

The advantage for bird watchers or law enforcement on stake out is being able to leave the heavy equipment behind and take one unit that will handle all the functions they’ll need without a second camera.  The NP-FV70 lnfoLITHIUM battery pack is good for up to three hours of 2D video recording.

Sony also incorporated their SteadyShot image stabilization in Still mode, which should smooth out some of the bumps.

The price tag for the first models is a little steep.  The Dev-3 MSRP will be in the neighborhood of $1,400 and the Dev-5 will come in around $2,000.  The real test will be how they perform in low light.

Sony Dev-3 side view
The Dev-5 adds electronic zoom and GPS capability

Attack of The Mirrorless Cameras

Olympus Pen E-P3
Olympus Pen E-P3 one of the new breed of mirrorless cameras

For as long as most photographers have been taking pictures with SLR cameras the process has been familiar, whether they were shooting film or the newer all digital cameras:  Push the button and the mirror would flip up out of the way, the shutter would fire, then the mirror would drop back into place allowing you to once again see through the viewfinder.  That second of blackness after pushing the button has been there as long as most of have been in the business.That’s about to change with the advent of a new breed of mirrorless cameras.  Not long ago “mirrorless” meant either a small sight lens on one side of the camera or using the LCD screen on the back to frame the shot.  Now comes the trend of TTL electronic viewfinders that may someday do away with flip-up mirrors all together.The missing mirror assembly gives manufacturers the ability to make smaller cameras that still sport a big chip behind good glass without a complicated mechanical mechanism for moving the mirror.  The new mirrorless cameras are smaller, lighter, faster and still take amazing pictures.

One of the new upstarts is the Olympus Pen E-P3, sporting one of the new micro 4/3’s chips that Olympus jointly developed with Panasonic.  The E-P3 is smaller, lighter and faster than its big brother DSLR cousins, but is handicapped by the $899 price point, which puts in the same price range as the Canon T3i.

The Sony Alpha NEX-C3 sports an APS-C chip behind interchangeable glass on a small frame camera.  At $600, the Sony hits the sweets spot between portability and price.  You get all the advantages of the smaller frame, electronic viewfinder, at price point that’s below the intro level DSLRs from Canon and Nikon.