By freelance travel writer and photographer, B. Howard in Cleveland, TN
You know, when I first started out in photography, closing in on 20 years ago, I began just as most budding photographers begin. I shot landscapes, buildings, city scenes, mountain scapes, waterfalls, flower gardens, and beach scenes.
I was looking for the quintessential piece of art I could hang on my wall and maybe sell a copy or two. Selling photographs to magazines and newspapers was the furthest thing from my mind.
For more years that I can remember, I always wanted those scenes to be pristine and uncluttered. I didn’t want people in my pictures. In fact, I would wait for what seemed like hours for people to walk out of my pictures, or for cars to drive in and out of them. And I am not – was not – unique. Every beginning photographer I’ve ever met goes through this “get rid of the people” phase.
For almost a year now, I have been leading — with my good friend, Rich Wagner — Great Escape Publishing’s photo workshops. We have taught budding pro photographers in Paris, Washington, D.C, and next month The Bahamas. And, just like I used to do — almost without exception — the attendees want to shoot their images without people in them.
That, my friends, is possibly the single biggest mistake you can make as a fledgling professional photographer.
PEOPLE SELL PICTURES! It took me almost five years to learn that lesson. By itself, it will enable you to sell more pictures than you ever thought possible.
I know, I’ve sold more than 3,000 photographs to more publications than I can count, and the number grows by the month. Today, more than 90% of the photographs I sell have people in them.
To illustrate the point, I’d like you to pick up a magazine — ANY magazine — and leaf through it. Count the number of pictures with people in them. And then count those without people in them. I guarantee: The photographs with people will outnumber those without by at least 9 to 1.
People add interest to a picture — ANY picture. Don’t wait for people to leave the scene; wait, instead, for them to enter it.
Better yet, put some people of your own into the scene and pose them a little. No, I don’t mean have them stand and grin at the camera. Instead, have them looking out over the ocean, across the fields, toward the mountains. Have them sitting on the park bench holding hands, or walking hand-in-hand along a country lane. Have your wife sit on the sand facing the ocean. Take the dog along, and have one of your kids take it for a walk.
Visit the local car body repair shop and shoot men at work. Go downtown and photograph the people window-shopping. Go shoot the men fishing on the lake shore or beach. Shoot that old lady pushing her supermarket buggy full of all the important memories of her life.
All of these pictures have one thing in common: human interest. And human interest is what most photo buyers are looking for.
Here’s how I used to do it: For years, I used to drag my eldest daughter, Jenny, out with me into the countryside. There’s not a country lake, lakeshore, mountain trail, stunning mountain vista, or state or national park in East Tennessee that she hasn’t been a part of.
It got so bad, at least as far as she was concerned, that she often tried to refuse to go. But I wouldn’t have it. “Come on, Jen,” I’d say. “Grab the dog and let’s go.” She used to kick and object, but in the end she’d always come along. Today, she laughs when I mention those expeditions out into the countryside.
But you know what? I’ve sold pictures with her and her backpack to Walking Magazine, to Tours & Resorts Magazine (in several different articles), and my younger daughter is featured in my Bahamas guide, and my New York stock agency has a couple dozen of those images, featuring both my kids, on file (one has sold several times). I have shot kids in their school classrooms and sold a half-dozen of them. My best-selling image is of an American Airlines engine mechanic at work at Nashville airport. That image has sold eight times to date.
Yep, people do sell pictures.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]