This is a question I get asked quite often and it's also a question I cannot fully answer, because until just recently, I hadn't gone full time with my landscape photography. This changed on November 1st, as I quit my job to give landscape photography a more serious effort. So the question I want to answer in this article is how I got here, why it took me so long to make the leap and why I think it’s a healthy approach to becoming a landscape photographer – even though it might just be temporal for me.
For the last 13 years I have been practicing landscape photography next to my main job as a software engineer. In that time I have seen many other photographers transitioning into full-time photography or directly making the leap at the get-go. I would lie, if I'd tell you that I didn't think about how it would be to go full time back then. Especially, when you read and hear everywhere that you should follow your dreams and make your passion your profession you start asking yourself: Why don't I?
For me the answer to this question was simple. I had already made one passion my profession, which is writing code. Landscape Photography came later. It started as a hobby and only as I spent more and more time doing it, the internal question, if I should make it my main profession, started bubbling up more often.
One important reason why I didn't do it till now is, that I didn't want to loose my joy for it. I had gotten my taste of how it can feel, if I start making the number of good photos I get out of a photo shoot or a photo tour the main measure of its success. During my travels around the world back in 2016 after a few months of travel without good photo conditions I became quite frustrated instead of enjoying the journey.
Especially with landscape photography there are many variables I cannot control. Yet they can dictate the outcome of a photo shoot. Light and weather are an essential ingredient for a great photo and even though there are many tools available today that help with their prediction, more often than not I'm at the mercy of mother nature during my photo travels.
The last years I learned not to care so much about the number of good or great photos I take during my travels. I rather focus on the experience, the joy I have when I'm out taking photos. If I get a great photo out of it, that's the icing on the cake. It took me quite some time to get there, although landscape photography was just a side hustle and I didn't have to earn a living from it. So in the end the stress and pressure I experienced during my travels around the world were really just self-inflicted.
Now, if it happened to me then, what would have happened, if I had actually been relying on landscape photography to pay my bills? How much joy would have been left?
And that's the reason why I think that, if you want to become a landscape photographer, you should be patient and give it some time. It doesn't have to be 13 years, but it's still important to gradually build the business and learn how to preserve the joy for it while relying more and more on the results you get. I think the approach taken by Ben Horne is a very healthy one. It's a near linear shift from one profession into the other.
For me it's a bit different. I basically remained a full-time software developer until now and the shift is quite abrupt. But in reality it's not, because I used the time to create a financial buffer that will allow me to ramp up my photography more slowly in the next months. This worked well, because I like software development and thus, although there were times where I would have rather been traveling and taking photos, I also enjoyed my main job.
So my biggest tip for someone asking me, how to become a full time landscape photographer would be: Find a job that you like, which is not landscape photography, but allows you to make time to get better at it. Exploring your boundaries in landscape and travel photography with a conventional job paying the bills is much more relaxed.
That being said, this is certainly not for everyone and it's obviously my personal experience. But if someone were to ask me the question in the title, this would be the advice I'd give.
There are alternatives to my approach, one of which would be becoming a full-time photographer early on, but not with a singular focus on landscape photography. Photographing weddings, studio work or other forms of photography that can create a solid income stream might be something to explore. So the job that you like, which is not landscape photography, could still be photography related.
And there are also many people who made it work right from the start and you might be one of those. So don’t let this article hold you back, if you are convinced that you have what it takes. In the end it’s a very personal decision and all the advice you receive should be filtered and questioned.
For me the real journey begins now and it will be interesting to see how I can develop my landscape photography business now that I invest more time in it. The next 12 months will tell me, if I can keep the joy for it plus start earning a living – at least move into the direction of it, because it's unrealistic to get there within one year – or if I only keep the joy. Earning a living from it without joy is no option for me.
Which is why going back into software development after one year is currently not only a backup plan, but the actual plan. I approach this year as an experiment to learn what it takes to practice landscape photography full-time, if the only variable I change is time invested. I do not intend to make other changes to my business. I will rather keep working on my current income streams and be open for new opportunities that fit my philosophy when it comes to landscape photography, which is: Quality over Quantity.
So in the end it seems I'm still not really a full-time landscape photographer and not at all a person to ask for advice in that department. On the other hand, who said that you are not allowed to have a backup plan. I often read this holds you back. I rather think it frees my mind to fully immerse myself in the experience for now.