How to become a professional landscape photographer
Landscape photography aims to capture the outdoors in all its glory. While people often think of landscape photos as consisting only of natural landscapes without much human intervention, this type of photography encompasses many other kinds of images. For example, urban landscape photography and even social landscape photography, capturing the interaction between humans and the environment, can be considered niches within the broader genre.
How much do landscape photographers make?
A landscape photographer’s income can vary dramatically based on factors such as geographic location, client list, audience size, experience, quality of work, and more. While it’s difficult to provide a tangible figure to answer this question, there are ways to find out what you might expect to make working professionally as a landscape photographer.
Landscape photographer salary.
In the US, ZipRecruiter places the average salary for a landscape photographer at $41,225 per year, with top earners in the 90th percentile earning over $60,000 per year. Of course, top photographers can earn well over this amount, but they are in the minority.
While some landscape photographers may be able to work full-time shooting only landscapes, others may wish to supplement their income with other types of photography. For example, they might try to fill half of their year with landscape photography assignments and be available for travel during that time, while the other half of the year is spent on more lucrative photography jobs in their local area.
Demographic data from survey.
Landscape photographers live and work all over the world. According to Zenfolio and Format’s 2022 State of the Photography Industry Report, landscape photography is the second most popular specialization for professional photographers at 11.4%, only surpassed by portrait photography.
Of the 3,398 photographers surveyed for the report, 71% indicated that they are either full-time or part-time self-employed as photographers (the remaining respondents were hobbyists). This indicates that thousands of photographers around the world are finding work, whether on a full-time or a part-time basis, as landscape photographers.
Landscape photography equipment.
Landscape photography requires navigating some unique challenges. Photographers need to travel to their shooting location, which can sometimes be remote. They need equipment that is rugged enough to be used outdoors, relatively portable, and capable of shooting at distances and wide angles. Here’s the best equipment to consider when building out your landscape photography kit.
Best lens for landscape photography.
should look for the widest lens possible in order to capture large scenes, but this can introduce all kinds of unappealing distortions. Most landscape photographers consider a focal length between 16 and 35mm with a full frame sensor to be wide enough without distorting the image. You can always add a wider lens to your kit later like the very popular ultra wide angle zoom: 11-24mm
Getting a zoom lens will provide more versatility in different shooting locations and you can get away with carrying one lens instead of multiple primes. However, if getting an ultra-sharp image is a high priority, primes will outperform zooms.
Best lens filters for landscape photography.
Before Instagram filters, there were lens filters, and they remain a great tool in your kit today despite all of the post-processing that is now possible in Photoshop. A great collection of lens filters can elevate your landscape photography practice and save you lots of time in post-production.
The number one filter you’ll want to have in your bag is a neutral density filter. This reduces or modifies light across all wavelengths without impacting color, so you can capture longer exposures or use wider apertures even when it’s bright. You can get both solid and gradual neutral density filters, the latter being useful when the lower part of your image is a lot darker than the top.
Other filters to consider are circular polarizers, which are especially handy when shooting water, and light pollution filters, which are a newer development that makes shooting urban landscapes easier.
Best cameras for landscape photography.
Given that landscape photography can involve trekking into remote areas, you might not want a very heavy camera bag. This means prioritizing compact and lightweight, without impacting performance, is often the strategy landscape photographers take when choosing their cameras.
To that end, mirrorless digital cameras are becoming increasingly popular. They have come a long way in recent years, and new models offer exceptional image quality in a body much lighter than a DSLR.
Best tripod for landscape photography.
While in-camera stabilization is really impressive these days, allowing landscape photographers to get away without a tripod in many scenarios, a good tripod is still a must if you’re going to be shooting in the great outdoors.
You’ll be able to find a tripod for every budget on Amazon and at specialty photography stores. The features to look for that will come in handy for landscape photography are a lightweight build that won’t weigh your bag down too much, sturdy construction that can handle a bit of wind and other rough conditions, and a ball head or pan-tilt head for control of the composition. Since you’re likely going to be in some remote locations it’s also a good idea to get a tripod with spiked feet so you can get a more secure footing in snow, ice, and loose ground.
Best light meter for landscape photography.
A hand-held light meter will always be more precise than a built-in meter. It can help you get perfect exposure every time, saving you grueling hours in Photoshop.
When choosing a light meter, look for one with an easy-to-read display and simple-to-use buttons. You don’t want to have to fuss with your light meter too much when you’re on location ready to shoot.
Look for light meters that can get readings at a 1 degree angle: in practice, this means ultra-precise readings so you can perfectly expose for the main subject in your scene, even at a distance.
Best landscape photography backpack.
Your backpack is one of the most important pieces of landscape photography equipment since it can have a huge impact on your comfort when shooting, or traveling to your shoot location. The last thing you want is to arrive at your shooting location grumpy and with a sore back from the wrong bag.
A backpack is ideal for landscape photography since you’ll want to feel balanced enough to be able to hike on rugged terrain if required. Look for something weatherproof that will protect your expensive camera equipment in inclement weather.
How to get started in landscape photography.
Whether you’re brand new to landscape photography or you’re a hobbyist who’s ready to take it to the next level and start making money with your skill, there are some steps you need to take to get your business started and set yourself up for success.
If you have access to any landscape photographers in your community, consider reaching out for a coffee chat. People who have real-world experience in the field, especially in the same area as you, will be able to offer valuable insights that are hard to get elsewhere. Alternatively, joining photography communities online can expose you to plenty of working landscape photographers from whom you can learn more about making this your career.
No matter what kind of landscape photography you do or where you’re located, these steps are essential to get started as a professional landscape photographer:
- Build up a portfolio.
An online portfolio of your work is an absolute must if you want to work as a photographer of any kind, including a landscape photographer. It serves as a virtual space where visitors can become familiar with your style, see your best work, learn more about you, and easily get in touch with you.
Having a social media presence is also important and can be a good way to build up an audience and connect with your audience and potential clients. But just because social media is where more engagement happens doesn’t mean you should neglect the importance of a portfolio website if you want to be taken seriously as a pro.
On social media you might showcase some work mixed in with behind the scene shots and other content, while a portfolio website enables you to curate your best work, showcase it at higher quality, sell prints, maintain a blog, and more.
- Create a business plan
Photographers may feel more comfortable with the creative side of things, but to operate a successful business, it’s important to remember the various considerations that any entrepreneur must think about when starting a new business. A business plan is a perfect way to do this, since you’ll have to think about every part of your business in depth in order to complete it. This is particularly important if you want to make landscape photography your full-time gig.
In the process of creating a business plan, you’ll research your market, consider your product offering, plan for all of your expenses, and create sales targets. If you ever want to obtain a loan for your business, you’ll likely be asked for a business plan. Even if you don’t, your business plan can serve as a North Star that you check your performance against to see if you need to rethink aspects of your business.
- Set up your business.
With your portfolio website and business plan ready to go, look into what the requirements are in your area to operate a business. You might need to register for a business license or obtain a tax number, for example. You should also set up a system for bookkeeping and accounting.
These activities might not feel very important when you’re just starting out and only getting small gigs here and there, but as your business grows, you’ll be grateful that you took the time, in the beginning, to properly set everything up.
In addition to the legal and financial stuff, you will want to look into insuring your photography business. If you’re spending a small fortune on equipment so that you’re able to do your job, insurance can give you peace of mind that you won’t have to break the bank if something gets stolen or damaged. Business insurance will also protect you against liability in the event you accidentally injure someone or damage property while working. And of course, if there are misunderstandings or contractual disputes with clients in the course of doing business this can get very costly and indemnity coverage can protect you.
- Get in the habit of pitching.
Your business is set up and you’re ready to start getting those amazing gigs. Unfortunately, very few photographers can say the best jobs fall into their laps. To get started as a professional landscape photographer, you’ll need to make a regular practice of pitching clients. Even once you have a solid client list, pitching will remain a regular aspect of life as a professional photographer.
So, what kinds of clients should you be pitching your services to as a landscape photographer? Local tourism boards can be very lucrative clients since they’re frequently in need of images that showcase natural and urban landscapes in their area. Magazines and digital publications should also be on your list of potential clients. In some cases, you may be able to sell images you’ve already taken, while in others you may be assigned a shoot. Look for publications about nature, travel, or even general photography publications.
Finally, submit your work to contests. Some contests have cash prizes, but even if they don’t, they can get your name out there and give you bragging rights that you can share on your portfolio website.