How Photographing Your Local Area Can Help You Make Money and Improve as a Photographer

How Photographing Your Local Area Can Help You Make Money and Improve as a Photographer

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.

It's not the most impressive skyline, but most Clevelanders would find this a more meaningful image than the New York City skyline.

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.

You can work a location at your own pace and try out tons of different ideas.

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. 

Conclusion

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!

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4 Comments

Chris Beckett's picture

Great piece. Great idea. My town is pretty small but the area or region is big.
I will make this a project as I develop my skills.
Thanks

Mark B's picture

I've been shooting my city since 2006 and have thousands of pictures of the landmarks and popular areas. I have about 600 of them published to my website. I don't often sell prints (by choice), but I frequently license the images for a variety of uses including tourism and business development agencies, private businesses, and local and national editorial publications.

It can be a challenge in a relatively small city where you find yourself shooting the same things over and over to still walk away with a compelling image, but that challenge is often what can make your image stand out compared to someone else's. I consider this to be a never ending personal project. The work I create here helps me improve my creativity and problem solving skills, it generates income, and has put my pictures in front of people who later became regular clients.

Tom Reichner's picture

Alex,

This is a great article with some very good practical insight.

Travel to great photography destinations, or photograph things in your area? Well, I have found a couple of ways to combine the two.

I grew up in the Philly suburbs. Surrounded by traffic, housing developments, highways, and people ....... cars and people everywhere. Hard to get totally away into the kind of natural area where you will never encounter another human. Even if you drive a few hours out of the city, there are still signs of development, and people around. Hardly a great place to live for one who aspires to take wildlife photos in remote wilderness.

So how did I handle this dilemma? I moved! I moved to a very remote area in north-central Washington state, where I am surrounded by - literally - millions of acres of National Forest a Designated Wilderness Area, and the vast Colville Indian Reservation.

So now, I photograph the area around where I live, but that is an awesome area to photograph wildlife in. This way, I don't have to compromise. I can become expert at photographing the things in my locale, yet that locale is one that offers truly great opportunities to photograph the things that I want to photograph.

The other thing I have done is that when I do travel somewhere to photograph wildlife, I stay for a long enough period of time that I can get to know the area and its wildlife in depth.

I found a good place in Colorado to photograph deer. So instead of just going for a week or two each year, I get on Craigslist and look for apartments or suites to rent for a month and stay for the entire month of November - the peak of the deer mating season. Then I also visit the same place with the same deer once in June or July, and again for a week or two in September or early October.

I spend at least 40 days a year at that location with those deer, despite the fact that it is 1,300 miles from where I live. I have done so fro three years now. By doing this, I can develop the kind of local expertise that you speak of, even at an area that is so far from home.

I have done the same thing with an area in Montana, 350 miles from where I live. Over the past 12 years I have spent a total of 258 days photographing the wildlife in that particular wildlife refuge in western Montana. Again, it results in a combination of local expertise and experience with a world-class venue far from home.

Two years ago I took an 8 day trip to Barrow, Alaska. Had a great time and some world-class photo opportunities with species I never get to see down here in the lower 48. But, as your article describes, I lacked that in-depth knowledge that comes with daily familiarity. So the next time I go to Barrow, I will plan to live there for 5 or 6 weeks, so that I can have the best of both worlds!

Jurgen Cornelissen's picture

I live in the north of Belgium, the middle of europe, but as an european I am used to having everything close to me.
If I drive 2 to 3 hours I'm in a completely different area (more hills, or the sea etc) and I'm already on the other side of the country or over the border. So I don't know what you mean when you say your local area, but I tend to stick very close to home, not drive more then 30 minutes...