We would all love to become better photographers and make more money from our work. If you want to become a better photographer, make more money, and have more subject matter to shoot, you should consider shooting around your home area more.
As photographers, we certainly love to fantasize about epic trips to faraway places — the sort with vast mountain ranges and dramatic waterfalls. Of course we want to go to such places — they are beautiful and a dream for most photographers to visit.
I do not live in such a place (Cleveland). Don't get me wrong; I think Cleveland is a beautiful place, with one of the largest lakes in the world and dense, rich forests, but with our relatively flat elevation profile, we do not have the sort in-your-face landscape features common to a lot of popular images. That does not mean you can't take worthwhile shots here; it simply takes an understanding of what you are working with and what the environment is conducive to instead of trying to work against it. And while I certainly love taking the occasional trip with my camera to some place far away, I firmly believe that in the long run, building the majority of my portfolio from locally sourced images is the best thing for my work. Here's why.
Selling to People Who Value That Area
Let's be honest. The Grand Canyon is beautiful, but there are also tens of thousands of professional, high-quality photos of it. And while you might be able to take another professional, high-quality photo of it, it will still be another among thousands and difficult if not impossible to stand out. As such, if you want to sell that print, you will have a hard time convincing people that yours is the one they should choose, especially when they can go online and find a range of alternative options.
On the other hand, imagine you take photos of local landmarks. They might not be as epic or dramatic as the Grand Canyon. But on the other hand, I am willing to bet that more people who live in your area have a personal connection to those landmarks than to the Grand Canyon. For them, that small waterfall on the creek that runs through town holds fond memories, and they will more likely feel a strong connection to that than they would a print of the Grand Canyon. What is even better is that you will have far less competition when it comes to that creek versus the Grand Canyon.
In fact, one of my proudest moments was when the Cleveland Cavaliers contacted me for just such an image. I have formed some decent connections across Cleveland and knew some of their art staff. They were performing significant renovations on Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse and were sourcing photographs of local landmarks to decorate the building with. I had lots of such shots, and one of a local lagoon resonated with them. They ended up purchasing it, and now, every time I go to a game with friends, I can point to my work hanging on the wall.
Now, that lagoon is not anything special on the global scale. However, it is well known to Clevelanders and sits in an area of rich cultural history. And for any organization wishing to promote Cleveland, that history is crucial. And that has a knock-on effect. People hang your prints in their home or business, and other locals see them, and they resonate with them too. That helps you build your brand and become established in your local community.
You're an Expert
Think of the Grand Canyon. Can you tell me the best possible places and angles from which to photograph it off the top of your head? Can tell me any secret spots that provide a unique view?
Now, pick a landmark local to you, and ask yourself the same questions. I bet you are much more knowledgeable about the local spot. Knowing your local area gives you a leg up because you can apply that expert knowledge to create better photos or even photos only a few knew possible. For example, I know of small local waterfalls hidden in the parks and forests that are too tiny to appear on maps. You would only know them if you spent a lot of time in those woods and parks, exploring each detail. And while they might be small, I have learned that you really do not need much to create a compelling photo; it comes to your technique and composition. You can leverage that specialized knowledge to your advantage in creating images.
It's Easy Practice and It's Cheap
Even if the pandemic wasn't happening right now, it would cost me about $1,000 for a long weekend trip to the Grand Canyon. Would it be a fantastic experience? Absolutely. Can I afford to take trips to every beautiful location around the world just to build my portfolio? No.
On the other hand, I can afford to drive out to the local national park and spend an afternoon hiking with my camera. It is also far easier logistically. If the weather does not want to cooperate, it is no problem; I can wait until the forecast brings what I am looking for and make the short drive. That is a great thing, as I don't feel the pressure to get the shot before I have to be on a plane back home. I can explore a location and work it from every angle I please; I can take time to try new ideas that may or may not produce worthwhile results. The benefit of that luxury should not be overlooked; it provides you the ability to work at finely honing your craft, both from a technical and creative standpoint.
Photographing local landmarks and features might not be as exciting as those epic mountains and the like that we see on Instagram and across the internet. But there is a lot of potential in those nearby locations, both for improving our photographic skills and for building our business. And given the current situation, there has never been a better time to explore your local area. Find your favorite spot and get to work!