The Galapagos islands, scattered across a sparkling blue ocean, are home to strange and wonderful wild creatures with species found nowhere else on earth. Blue-footed boobies dance, marine iguanas bask on the beach, and giant tortoises pose in front of my camera. What more could a wildlife photographer want?
The wonderful thing about being a stock photographer is that I can turn my memories and photos of cruising the islands into money to put toward my next adventure.
As an aspiring photographer, I was advised that it’s more profitable to focus on commercial subjects rather than wildlife if you want to sell stock images. However, wildlife photography is what I love, so I continued to spend time in nature in addition to shooting other subjects.
I’ve since found that my wildlife photos sell as well as anything else I shoot. Wildlife images make up about 40% of my portfolio and 50% of the sales. The moral of the story is: do what you love and figure out a way to sell the photos.
Following are a few tips I’ve learned along the way about how to create saleable wildlife photos.
1. Know the subject.
I read, talk to experts and guides, and observe the animals carefully. The more I learn about my subject, the more I can anticipate and be prepared for bursts of action. The knowledge also helps me to caption and keyword effectively, which improves sales.
2. Photograph behavior.
Capturing behavioral images is at the top of my priority list. Funny expressions, grooming, feeding, courtship displays, and mothers caring for babies are all in demand among buyers.
3. Pay attention to backgrounds.
When observing wildlife, it is very easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. I often need to remind myself to think about the background, too. I quickly run through the following questions when composing the image.
Does the background enhance the photo? I included a turquoise lagoon and towering mountains in Chile as a beautiful setting for a guanaco walking along the shore, and my image was later used in a calendar.
Does the background add information to the photo? Clearly showing the animal’s surroundings increases sales potential when a customer is looking for a photo to illustrate habitat, such as “rainforest wildlife” or “urban wildlife.”
Does the background detract from the photo? If so, I’ll do my best to put it out of focus or change my position.
Blue skies, beach sand, water, and other uniform backgrounds provide copy space for text, often sought by clients.
4. Start local.
Wildlife photography is an endeavor that definitely improves with practice. I’ve benefited tremendously from repeat sessions near home to learn what works and what doesn’t. Then, when I’m halfway around the world, I can focus on the experience rather than my camera settings.
Another advantage of working close to home is that I can return to the same location often to build up a portfolio of different behaviors and seasonal shots. I’ve had a lot of fun meeting my wild neighbors, including a beaver family living in the center of the city.
When I photograph wildlife, I often find myself thinking that there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be in that moment. What amazes me, as I scroll through my list of stock photo sales each month, is that I’m actually getting paid for those magic moments.