If you’re dreaming of a career that combines adventure, travel, and photography, nature photography is a field to take a closer look at. As a nature photographer, you might travel all over the world, capturing everything from breathtaking landscapes to exotic animals in their habitats.
- What Does a Nature Photographer Do?
- How to Become a Nature Photographer
- Nature Photographer Salary: What to Expect
- Jobs for Nature Photographers
- How to Work as a Freelance Nature Photographer
What Does a Nature Photographer Do?
Nature photographers use their knowledge of photography to capture elements of the natural world, including landscapes, animals, and plants. For some photographers, this can involve traveling all over the globe, depending on what they want to photograph—like rare wildlife in Antarctica or breathtaking mountainscapes of Patagonia. Some nature photographers specialize in a particular type or style of photo, like underwater images or photos of a particular species of animal or bird.
How to Become a Nature Photographer
There are many paths to choose, from pursuing a formal degree, to taking a nature photography class, to teaching yourself. Whichever route you choose, it’s essential to get behind a camera and start building your portfolio.
For most nature photographer jobs, experience and a robust portfolio generally carry more weight than a degree. However, pursuing a degree in photography can be an effective way to learn the fundamentals and begin building your experience. Many universities offer a fine arts degree in photography, which covers basics like lighting, composition, and editing. However, some schools, like the University of Texas at Arlington, offer specific wildlife photography electives.
Experience in Place of a Degree
While a solid education in photography can serve you well, it’s more important for nature photographers to get out into the wild and gain real-world experience. By jumping in and taking photos outdoors, you’ll begin to understand how to work with different lighting conditions (e.g., the low light of early dawn or the intense sunlight of midday), how to capture wildlife without disturbing it, and how to navigate new terrains, like mountains or wetlands. And that experience will inevitably allow you to expand your skills and build your portfolio.
Nature Photography Courses
If you aren’t ready to pursue a formal degree program but want a little more guidance, you can also take photography courses. You can find a variety of online photography classes, but you may also be able to find local in-person wildlife photography workshops led by experienced nature photographers.
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Nature Photographer Salary: What to Expect
Your salary as a nature photographer can vary widely depending on your type of employment. On average, nature photographers earn about $40,000 per year, while top earners can make close to $70,000 per year.
Jobs for Nature Photographers
While most nature photographers work on a freelance basis, some full-time jobs are available.
Magazine or Publication Photographer
Many nature photographers’ ultimate goal is to work for a publication like National Geographic, which is known for its breathtaking photos of landscapes and wildlife. While National Geographic generally uses freelance photographers for its impressive spreads, some publications do hire full-time photographers.
Established nature photographers may also opt to teach other rising photographers. This could take place in a formal learning environment (e.g., becoming a professor for a photography degree program) or a more casual setting, like in-person photography workshops.
How to Work as a Freelance Nature Photographer
Whether as a freelancer or on an assignment-by-assignment basis, nature photographer jobs can include taking photos for magazines, selling photos to stock libraries, or curating your own collection of photos for a gallery exhibit.
Shoot What You Love
To cultivate your career as a freelance photographer, it’s helpful to focus on what truly inspires you, whether you like to shoot mountainscapes, horses, wildflowers, or even aerial landscape shots. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself—you can certainly continue to branch out and try new things—but showcasing your specialty can help you gain a reputation for certain types of photos, which can make your work more desirable to publications and other potential clients.
Sell Your Work to a Variety of Outlets
Especially as you’re building your portfolio, make sure to approach many different outlets about using your photos. Consider offering your photography services to magazines, newspapers, stock libraries, and conservation societies. Displaying and selling your work at local craft fairs can help you build your reputation and begin earning income.
Make Your Work Known
To create a successful freelance career, you need to promote your work to the public. You will need a website, of course, to house your portfolio. You can also use social media to showcase your photos, as well as behind-the-scenes views into your life and work. Social media will allow you to connect with peers, fans, and potential clients—so it’s worth investing the time to establish your online presence.
Join a Professional Organization
You can learn a lot from your colleagues, and networking can also help you find work. Consider joining the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) and the Photographic Society of America.
Turn the Great Outdoors Into a Great Career
If you love photography and the outdoors, learning how to be a nature photographer can combine your passions into one fulfilling career. It takes discipline and practice, but when you’re able to capture a breathtaking moment in time, it all becomes worth it.
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