Saturday, May 25, 2013

How to Shoot Yourself in the Foot with a Camera

Even before retiring from the telephone company, I had a dream of becoming a professional wildlife photographer. It was only wishful thinking at that point, but I could easily see myself traveling the highways and backroads with my pop-up camper, visiting every national park and wildlife refuge in the country, all the while adding quality images to my files. I would hook up with a photo stock company and make enough sales to supplement my meager pension from Ma Bell, i.e., beer money. I had no illusions of becoming rich and famous, far from it. Photographing wildlife was and always will be my passion; making a profit was simply icing on the cake.  
I stayed on track the first couple of years, visiting and photographing in such places as Yellowstone, Glacier, and Arches N.P. to name a few. I hit wildlife refuges from Maine to New Mexico. I submitted to and was accepted by two stock agencies.  All was roses.

Another year passes. Total image sales? About 4. Profit/loss? We won’t go there. One of many unforeseen factors was the amazing technologies going into the new cameras; auto focus, auto exposure, auto flash, more frames per second, and then came digital. Suddenly, those once in a lifetime captures were becoming common place. The grizzly bear catching a salmon in midair was now ho-hum. An eagle swooping in for a fish had become dime-a-dozen. The pros had gone from selling photos to leading tours and workshops to make a living.
Oh, I had my moments. I sold to a few magazines, a postcard company, a couple of book publishers. And once every blue moon, I would get a check for a hundred bucks or so from the stock agency. The problem was, I was getting more and more requests for free photos, donations, giveaways. “We don’t have the budget to pay you, but you will get a credit under your photo.” And yeah, that was kind of fun. Seeing your photo with your name blazoned across half a page of a glossy publication, a recognition of sorts. Made me smile.

But at one point–my dreams of becoming a pro now only a fond memory– I was shocked to get a late evening call from the photo editor of National Wildlife magazine. NATIONAL WILDLIFE BABY! Woo Hoo. Big time mag. Major player. How he got my name and number I don’t know, but he told me he needed some photos of Oklahoma’s Tishamingo National Wildlife Refuge and he needed them in a hurry. I was packing my bag and gear and headed south before the phone line got cold. Bright and early the next morning, I was shooting away at some snow geese (about the only actual wildlife I could find on short notice) but took several landscape shots. Made the 3 hour drive back home, transferred the shots to a CD, sent it Priority Mail, sat back and waited for the big bucks to roll in.
Didn’t happen. In fact, nothing happened. No thanks for your submission, no better luck next time, no close but no cigar. Well, crap.

A year or so later, I receive an e-mail informing me that National Wildlife has seen one of my photos on a web site somewhere and was wondering if I would donate it. I couldn’t resist, even though I was still pissed. It was, after all, national exposure and I granted permission.
Then, a week ago, it happened again, another request for a free photo. My reply:

 I am honored that such a prestigious magazine as National Wildlife would feel that one of my images was of such quality to be featured in one of your upcoming publications.
 I should have stopped there...but no.

 However, I would be even more honored if National Wildlife could find a few bucks in their deep pockets to pay for the damn thing. I doubt that you work for free, lady, and I don’t either.

And that my friends, is how you close out a career as a professional wildlife photographer.