Nature Photography is Dead – Long Live Nature Photography!

I am sure that title got a few folks attention. I think that play on the old, “The king is dead, long live the king”, is actually quite appropriate today. Photography as a whole is changing a lot. Newspapers are laying off long-time photojournalists. Photographers in every market type are struggling with the economy. Publications are cutting back pages or going out of business. Users of photography are changing how they buy photography — I just got a promotional calendar from Audubon that had every photo from cheap stock places like iStock.

I think there is no question we nature photographers all need to look at what and how we are working. The way things were in the past are gone, never to return, yet I hear a lot of baby boomer photographers who want that past to be here. It’s not, it won’t be, so harsh as it sounds, get over it. But I also don’t believe in pure doom and gloom. I believe new things are possible.

I do a lot of workshops … or did, before the economy tanked. Most pros are finding the same thing. I think there is still a great need for photo instruction, but I am convinced we must to adapt to new needs, not just follow past routes. I am not sure about all of what we need to do, so this will be a time of transition, but I am convinced that photographers can be very creative when they put their minds to it. We need to be creative. I met a couple of Australian photographers ( recently who are doing some phenomenal things with workshops. They are not nature photo workshops, but they definitely represent a creative approach. Check out their “film noir” workshop which is not about film noir photography, per se, but about a way of helping photographers learn about things like lighting.

As to nature photography itself, I believe we must find ways to stand out from others because fresh ways of seeing the world are always welcome, but that freshness must come from something unique inside each of us. It is now impossible to be “better” than others. Everyone has access to phenomenal gear and great instruction. Plus, a lot of amateurs have the time and income to really explore photography in some outstanding ways. Good, no, great nature photography is everywhere. Yet, I believe there are things that are unique to each of us that go beyond simply being a bird photographer or a flower photographer. I am a big fan of the author, Seth Godin. His books, Purple Cow, Tribes, and Lynchpin, to name a few, are radical and will change how you think about these things.

The challenge for the pro or pro-in-training is finding a way to market that, but I also think we need to be creative about that and not, as some folks want to do, simply complain that the world is not what it used to be. Sure, I would love to have a marketplace like John Shaw had years ago or Lenny Rue, but that no longer exists and it wastes time and energy thinking about it, time and energy that could be spent on creative approaches to today’s challenges.

A few years ago, I was one of the few people working in and writing about digital. I became a de facto “expert” because I had to.  Now everybody works in digital and my voice in the area is drowned out. I could complain and say things aren’t what they used to be, but that does no one any good, especially me. Digital photography is as it should be today. Experts come and go as needed.

I cannot say what everyone needs to do in today’s challenging world, but I can say a little about what I am doing. I am going back to my roots. I have long felt very strongly about nature (I studied it in college) and photography (I built a darkroom when I was 13) — not simply nature photography (which can be more of a consumptive exercise than a contemplative activity), not simply about nature (I do love nature, but I love photography, too) and not simply photography (because nature must be a part). I started my new blog, to explore these things, but also to help me make the transition into a new phase of my career, and hopefully, help me think creatively about working in today’s challenging photo market.

I am excited about possibilities. Examples: I just saw a new HDR program from Nik Software that will be out this fall and it will be game changing. It will increase possibilities for that type of photography and help us see nature in new ways. I am also doing a lot of video now and loving the experience.

When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” ~Alexander Graham Bell

Long live nature photography!