When asked what it takes to be successful, my first response is “read.” Read everything. Junk mail, posters on walls, newspapers in their kiosks, magazines at doctor’s offices, anything you can find to read – read it all. People tell me they don’t have time to read. Then I watch them reach for the newspaper. We all read consciously or unconsciously. Change the habit to a conscious one and choose what you put before your eyes.
The more you read, the more you know. The more you know, the more you read. It sounds circuitous, but it’s the truth.
How does this help us with nature photography?
Reading is good for the soul of the photographer. Pick up a book and it often consists of both words and photographs. By studying how the two are related we learn how to take pictures which match stories and articles. By studying the photography used in magazines, books, newspapers, posters, and everything else, we learn how to photograph for those different markets.
Not even nature photographers live in a vacuum. The art of nature photography is not just about nature and wild things. It is about the food chain and about how everything is related. It’s about how to tell the visual story of those relationships. We photograph trash piled in a natural place, forest fires caused by a careless smoker, and people’s responses to natural events. Many add the “human element” when photographing a sweeping scenic, giving the viewer a sense of perspective. We are all impacted by fads, fashions, and gimmicks associated with human interaction with nature. Therefore, it is important to know what is going on in society.
Teenagers in the early part of the century put posters of celebrities on their walls. An environmental awareness rose in the 1970s and the celebrities were replaced by photographs of eagles, whales, and endangered species. The stationery market, including veteran Hallmark Cards, started producing note cards, calendars, and other products with images of wild animals and natural scenes on them. Along with the stationery market, environmentally sensitive magazines began hitting the market to meet the great demand by the public to understand and learn more about nature. Many nature photographers went from hobbyists to professionals with this change in society. By paying attention to what is “hot” and in the news you can be ready with your images to meet the market’s changing demands.
Junk Mail Speaks
Junk mail is a window into the soul of consumers. Mail order catalogs can tell us more about our society than just about any survey or government report. Over the years there have been dramatic changes in catalogs. Nature images and subjects have been on the rise in popularity over the past twenty years. Nature oriented jewelry was one of the first fads. Then came clothing decorated with animal skins, frogs, dolphins, whales and more. “Natural” products soon filled the store shelves with labels crying out “never been tested on animals.”
With the growing interest and enthusiasm in nature, mail order catalog layouts have changed. From early cartoon drawn caricatures of products to the full color layouts of today, many catalog designers are using natural images as backdrops for their products. It is now common to see earrings framed against a stock photo of mosses and lichens and sunrise images of Yosemite in snow behind warm weather clothing.
Open recent bits of junk mail and find Art Wolfe’s work in REI’s catalogs, Frans Lanting’s in Travel Smith Outfitting, and Darrell Gulin’s prints for sale in the Coldwater Creek catalog among the clothing and jewelry. Natural images are used to promote mail services, government agencies, travel agencies, meat and cheese products, liquor, cars, telecommunications companies, and anything else you can think of. We’ve provided a listing of nature photography, travel related, and other magazines to help you detect the trends.
Inspiration and Motivation
Do you need inspiration for your photography? Dig through junk mail and magazines or pour through your favorite picture books. Or just hang out in Barnes and Noble for a while, or browse from your home on Amazon.com, which now lets you look “inside” the book. Ideas, hints, tips, and suggestions fly off the shelves. What is hot? What is selling? What are buyers buying? How can you improve upon this idea, or that? Make lists, fill up notebooks, get motivated and inspired to go out there.
Picture books about your favorite subject can ignite fires in your imagination as you research the images and books available. Into bears? How many ways can photographs show the bears feeding at Brooks Falls in Alaska? Are there other ideas out there? Other ways of showing bears feeding? What about bears interacting with each other? Take notes about the images you are seeing and come up with new ideas. Then, go out and get them.
Books without pictures can also be inspiring. Recently, in Patricia Cornwell’s book, From Potter’s Field, about a coroner who solves mysterious deaths in Virginia, the phrase jumped out: “The wind flailed trees and swamps, and snowflakes were flying.” From the pages leapt this vision of a storm. Two days later, storms bashed our trailer in Denver, and I looked outside and “saw” the manifestation of those words and dashed for the camera gear. You never know where inspiration will come from.