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A Week in the Life of a Professional Nature Photographer

Max Waugh: Professional Nature Photographer.  I’m lucky.  I do what I love as a career, and that career involves traveling all over the world to exotic locations, finding amazing animals and being creative, all rolled into one.  Pretty sweet gig, huh?

I hear, “you have my dream job” a lot.  And based on what I described above, I don’t blame folks for thinking that.  But there’s much much more involved with this business than just adventure.

A week in the life of a professional photographerThe photography industry has changed quite a bit in the past decade.  Digital photography and improvements in amateur and prosumer level camera gear have made the process of “image making” much more accessible to the masses.  That means more competition for the pros.  Even I started as only a semi-professional photographer, holding down a separate full time job for a decade while running my small photo business on the side.  Add to that a tanking stock photo industry (due in large part to non-pros giving image usage away for pennies or even free… though Getty hasn’t exactly helped themselves or their photographers either), and professional photographers have been forced to scramble and adapt, finding new ways to make a living.

I know a number of full time photographers that spend time in Yellowstone, and it seems like all of them are finding different ways to earn their keep.  Some still have success licensing images.  Others sell a lot of prints, either online or in galleries.  Others have traveling photo exhibitions or do art shows.  Some, like myself, lead photo tours, but even that can vary.  While I sprinkle a few longer tours throughout the year, some of my peers focus on doing dozens of shorter workshops, lectures or classes throughout the year.

Whatever it is that we do to earn a living, there are very few professionals that get to spend the majority of their time out in the field and behind a camera.  Unless one is fortunate enough to have few other obligations in life or has a lot of financial freedom and flexibility (which helps when it comes to hiring interns and assistants to lighten the load), it’s impossible to avoid all of the processing and paperwork that inevitably creeps up between shoots.

 

My Work Week

I wanted to give you a sense of what a typical “work week” looks like for me.  Below, I’ve listed all of my photography-related activities recorded during a seven day span in late summer.  Before we get to the list I should mention that 2015 has been slightly different compared to past years.  For the first time ever, I actually spent more time on the road than I did at home over a six month stretch (thanks in large part to a month in India and six weeks in Yellowstone).  That’s not really normal.  Typically I’m traveling for maybe two weeks at a time on average, with much more time at home in between trips.

So what you’ll see below is representative of about 42 weeks of my average year, the times I am not on the road taking pictures.  Keep in mind that none of my non-photography work–management of our rental cabin, moving/selling our house (a big reason the activities below diminished in the latter of half of the week) or other personal errands, etc. that were also taking place–is listed below.  Note how much actual photography or even photo editing took place during this stretch, and then decide if this job still sounds as romantic and exciting as you expected.

Day 1:

  • Check email
  • Respond to tour information request
  • Prospective client phone call
  • Arrange for tour booking
  • Post new image on Facebook
  • Work on insurance paperwork
  • Contact framer
  • Write/edit blog article and accompanying images
  • Accounting
  • Call Africa regarding scouting trip
  • Pick up photo prints for customer

Day 2:

  • Check email
  • Edit/publish blog article
  • Post new image to Facebook
  • Answer questions regarding calendar printing
  • Send tour paperwork to prospective client
  • Correspond with Costa Rica tour partner
  • Send off insurance paperwork
  • Upload new image to Flickr
  • Send update to print customer
  • Work on insurance paperwork
  • Register domains
  • Answer questions regarding upcoming tours
  • Correspond with African companies regarding scouting trip
  • Check on charity auction fundraiser results
  • Edit website

Day 3:

  • Check email
  • Post new image on Facebook
  • Upload new photo gallery to website
  • Write blog article announcing addition of new gallery
  • Respond to tour information request
  • Banking
  • Pick up mail
  • Accounting
  • Read up on business strategy
  • Answer questions regarding image licensing and photo equipment
  • Send tour confirmation to client
  • Correspond with Costa Rica tour partner
  • Edit website
  • Work on this article

Day 4:

  • Check email
  • Moderate blog comments
  • Post new image on Facebook
  • Respond to tour information requests
  • Upload new image to Flickr
  • Client meeting and consultation
  • Mail off auctioned photo gear

Day 5:

  • Check email
  • Send tour booking materials to client
  • Post new image on Facebook
  • Order photo gear
  • Invoicing
  • Accounting
  • Pack gear
  • Respond to tour information requests

Day 6:

  • Check email
  • Edit website
  • Post new image on Facebook
  • Send tour confirmation
  • Correspond with tour partners in Canada
  • Banking

Day 7:

  • Check email
  • Answer client questions
  • Correspond with prospective tour client
  • Edit Yellowstone tour website
  • Follow up on past tour inquiries
  • Contact Costa Rica to help a prospective client with travel planning
  • Respond to blog comments
  • Make lodging arrangements for 2016 trip
  • Tour marketing
  • Edit Costa Rica tour website

Did you see that?  No photography and not even any basic photo editing, though I promise the latter does normally take place as I scramble to try and work on my backlog of images from the last few years’ worth of trips.

As I said, I love what I do.  But there’s definitely a trade off when it comes to enjoying all that adventure and fresh air that comes with being a professional nature photographer.  Maybe it’s time to start looking for an intern. 😉

 

Postscript: Several weeks after I wrote this (I’ve pushed back the publishing date a few times due to other more pressing topics), an acquaintance pointed me to this excellent piece by Mark Manson about “finding your passion.”  It relates in some ways to what I’ve discussed about my “dream job” above, and is really worth a read.  Read Manson’s piece here.

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