The Business Side of Adventure Photography

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All images by Darren Hamlin. Used with permission.

Quit your day job, pack your stuff up, put it in a backpack and go shoot adventure work–that’s the dream for many of you, right? Photographer Darren Hamlin lives the dream, so to speak. We’ve talked to him about his Northern Lights photos, but he’s much more than just a Northern Lights shooter. Darren also goes out shooting and hosts workshops–which makes him quite busy when it comes to business.

In fact, we talked to Darren about the business side of adventure photography. And most amazingly, he tells us that 90% of his time is spent not actually shooting.

Phoblographer: Think back to your earliest days in photography and trying to sell your work. How did you go about selling your first image?

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Darren: Well, it coincided with me moving to where I live now, Åre, in Sweden. It is a ski resort and also has a great bike park, so the village as a whole is pretty well tuned into photography. There are quite a few really really good photographers here! I would normally have considered that a problem, but to the contrary, it’s been great, as photography is at the forefront here, it is never far away. I had my website up and running, along with my Facebook page and Instagram. Prior to this i was taking photographs for fun, for myself. People asked to buy some prints through my website, and it kind of went from there. In the beginning there was no big plan as such.

Phoblographer: How much of your time is spent shooting vs getting business, sales, negotiations, licensing, etc?

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Darren: Probably a 90% to 10% split in favor of not shooting, on paid jobs anyway. You have to put a lot of leg-work in. Making cold calls, building relationships, and just being a bit cheeky sometimes. More often than not you get the knock-back, but you only need one to say “yes”.

Phoblographer: Where does most of your profit come from? Sales? Licensing? Why do you feel so?

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Darren: A bit of both. In an ideal world I would like it to be sales, as then people are buying into your vision. Being brutally honest it is a very competitive field, and the dream job does not come around for everyone. I also shoot corporate work and weddings to bring money in, to reinvest in equipment and bank-roll personal trips or projects. I look at personal projects as an investment in myself, making them as great as I can, and then they will act as an advert for future clients.

Phoblographer: What are some very important things that you have in your contracts that you feel always need to be crystal clear?

Darren: I have struggled to some degree with this and will probably go against the grain of a lot of “advice” you will read on the internet. For me an email conversation stating the price, date, time and hours will normally cover a lot of the details in the first place, as it is documented should you need it later. I have a basic contract stating these things, along with licence rights etc, but I like to be personal, talk to the client, feel each other out and be open from the start. Of course, you must have agreements in place, but some of the contracts I have seen are obscene.

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However, price and image rights need to be crystal clear, along with the delivery date.

Phoblographer: What are some of the biggest hardships about running a business that you’ve had to learn and get over since you’ve started?

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Darren: Thinking about it, none. It’s a challenge, but a good one. Can I say there have been hardships, no, not really. If you believe in yourself, then go for it. One caveat here though–Learn about business, learn a lot, because that is what is is in the end, especially if you want to go all in. Learn about what is available locally for you to tap into, courses, government help, any resource that will help. You will be running a business first, and a photographer second.

Phoblographer: Talk to us more about your business model and how you go about making money, saving it for taxes, etc.

Darren: The big adventure photo assignments are few and far between, and you are competing with really great well established photographers. One thing I have read a lot is that you should specialize in your genre, which is theory is great, but in practice I struggle with. The “cream” jobs if you like, are the expeditions, adventures, for magazines and outdoor clothing and equipment companies. They don’t come around so often. There are very few photographers that can do only this kind of work and make a living. I also enjoy shooting weddings, and they pay well. I made a decision to push the wedding and wedding videography side of my business. My plan is that this will bring money in to supplement the outdoor/adventure photography, but will also be putting me out there, showing my work.

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SEO and my blog are also very valuable tools, and a big part of my plan for the coming year is to work on both.

When it comes to taxes, this one is easy. Let someone who knows what they are doing do it. Get an accountant.