Three months ago, I decided to take the leap to turn my long-time hobby into something more and see what happened. There are a few philosophies in monetizing your work, and here, I go over my thoughts, progress, and revenue streams so far.
Before we dive into my stats, monetization, and everything in between, I need to get a few things out of the way first. There are multiple ways to turn landscape photography into a career, I've narrowed it down into essentially three different paths but you certainly are not limited or restricted into doing these:
- Workshops and Paid Videos: Grow a large enough following through different outlets such as social media, advertisements, or your local area to run workshops consistently and sell instructional videos.
- YouTube: Start a channel to make tutorials, in-the-field adventures, or anything in between.
- The Old-Fashioned Way: Visit trade shows to grow your name, open a gallery, or somehow continually get published. Personally, this route is incredibly unlikely for most modern day landscape photographers. Yes, there are still photographers out there selling prints to pay their bills. but to start now. it's nearly impossible to do without one of the other methods mixed in.
These are not strict paths. but they are generally what I've witnessed over the past few years of researching how others turn landscape photography into their career. Are there other ways to do it? Of course, take Fstoppers own Elia Locardi. who didn't necessarily follow any of these methods. but he has clearly found success taking his own path. Also, many of these can blend together eventually as well, meaning a YouTube personality with a large enough following can start running workshops or someone who has grown a huge following through social media can start a YouTube channel. Again, these are not strict paths, but they are general starting points for nearly every modern landscape photographer I know or follow.
If it isn't obvious, the path I have taken is to make YouTube videos, and yes, before you ask, that means you could consider me a "YouTuber" rather than a landscape photographer, but there are hundreds of hobbies that people turn into work by using YouTube. One reason I decided to take this path is that I have a background in video work and have a considerable amount of equipment and experience to be able to make videos. Do you need everything that I have to start? Of course not. You can get away with the very minimal investment when it comes to filming yourself out in the field, and it's highly likely the camera you take photos with would be great to shoot any tutorial content in your home office; you might just need a little lighting and a microphone. It just so happens that I've been shooting video content for almost a decade, making the transition from just shooting photos in the field to also filming myself while I take photos quite straightforward.
The biggest reason though is that I genuinely enjoy making videos. Even in the little amount of time I've been making them, not only does it push me to just go out and shoot more, it's also quite rewarding — rewarding in the sense that I can wake up for sunrise and get absolutely poor conditions for a photo but still turn it into a constructive and educational video, leaving me feeling a lot more accomplished in my work. It's a ton of extra work trying to film yourself taking photos, but being able to combine my love for film work and landscape photography into one medium was a dream and continues to be my dream.
Here were my goals starting out:
- 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year
- Stay consistent and make one video a week
- Don't burn out and enjoy myself
I basically had one concrete goal of trying to reach a certain amount of subscribers, make sure I stayed consistent, and ultimately just make content I'm proud of.
Stats and Progress
In this section, I want to highlight and go over my progress so far. I must include the fact that I didn't publish my very first video three months ago. Roughly three years ago, I tried to start making YouTube videos, and after five videos, quite a few things happened in life and I stopped making them. March of this year, I tried to get back on the train and made two videos before life sucked me up again. Throughout that time, I got roughly 18,000 views and had around 300-350 subscribers, which you can see in the stats above. Those numbers are mostly insignificant, but I want to be completely transparent. It wasn't until three months ago that I really dedicated my extra time and effort to consistently making videos and was able to stick with it. One last thing to keep in mind throughout this is that I still have a full-time job, and all of my extra time goes into making content, basically working 60-80 hours a week to turn this dream into a reality.
Over the last three months, I have published 20 videos and gained roughly 12,500 subscribers, which has been absolutely incredible. From what I understand, the first 10k can be the biggest hurdle when developing a channel, but I'll be honest and say I haven't done a bunch of research into any of that and tried to focus on simply making content I was proud of.
Taking a deeper look into the numbers, you can clearly see the first 45 days were slow and ultimately what I expected when starting out. There are a lot of dynamics to gaining traction on YouTube that could be an entire article series in itself to explain, so I won't go into every detail, but I think having a consistent video presence gives more reason for someone to hit subscribe, which is why it was one of my main goals for this period. If these numbers continued, I could hit my year-end goal, or so I thought.
The second 45 days look completely different than the first, and it's all thanks to one article/video I posted on November 7. I posted my article on Lightroom calibration, and it blew up. This happened for a few reasons; the first being that the title was quite strong. I try to avoid clickbait unless I truly believe in what I'm saying and that video is a perfect example; it did actually change my editing forever when I learned about it. Another reason I think that video has done so well is it's quick and easy to understand. The article did well here on Fstoppers, and that push got YouTube to start suggesting it to new users.
This is where the magic happened. The graph above shows impressions, meaning the number of times a video was suggested to a user browsing content on YouTube. Notice the astronomical difference in numbers here from the first to the second video all because it did well for YouTube's algorithm. The most important factor here was not that I was getting views; it was that those views were translating to subscribers at a very decent rate. This is a good sign that people not only enjoyed how I presented information but also they want to see more of my work in the future, all signs that the effort I was putting in was working in some way or another.
Much of the above success is attributed to my ability and privilege to write articles on Fstoppers. If I were just making videos and hoping YouTube would start suggesting them, it would take a lot more time to grow. This is an extremely important topic for anyone reading or thinking about doing this. You cannot just make videos and hope the right people see them. How did I start writing for Fstoppers, you ask? Here are what I did and some suggestions:
- Don't reach out with an idea. Do it and then reach out to show what you have done.
- Make good content. It's that simple.
When I reached out to Fstoppers a few years ago, I had a few published videos on my channel, I had written a review for a product on my own website, and I had a developed portfolio. The key was doing the work to show what I was capable of to get noticed. This applies to any outlet you might have an interest in working with.
If you don't have any interest in writing, you can send videos to websites as well; Fstoppers is always accepting great content. The key is that the content needs to be good and stick out to get noticed. You won't get published if your work doesn't meet the standards of other creators being published, and this can be a huge hurdle for some people. Once you reach a point where you feel your content is strong enough, don't hesitate to deliver it to some of your favorite websites with the hopes that it gets noticed. Everything I've said above applies to anyone you are reaching out to; it absolutely does not have to be Fstoppers. That was just the path that I took and how it worked out for me.
Alright, so now that we have established the numbers, how much is actually translating to money in my pocket? Considering I am still working full-time my goals have been more about establishing a following and creating good content rather than focused on monetizing my work. That said, going over the initial numbers is still important and you must keep in mind that you must have multiple revenue sources to make this work. You cannot just rely on YouTube AdSense, at least not starting out.
To make any money from YouTube, you have to become partnered, which requires 4,000 watch hours of video and at least 1,000 subscribers. I reached that milestone roughly around November 10 and applied to become a partner. Once I was approved, I started making revenue on November 16, which you can see in the graph above. So far, I've made around $950 through YouTube AdSense. Also, I have turned off all ads besides pre-roll ads in my videos. Nearly every video I have is over 10 minutes, so I could be making more if I included mid-roll ads, overlay ads, or ad cards, but personally, I hate those types of ads and just don't want them on my channel.
Other sources of revenue thus far are:
- Fstoppers Articles: I write roughly four articles a month and the return I make is dependent on how well they are received; this averages out to a few hundred dollars a month.
- Affiliate Links: I started creating affiliate links around November 17. These are links I provide on my videos and my gear page that generate a very tiny amount of revenue if you buy anything after visiting the links. This has been about $25 overall so far.
- One-on-One Session: This is just a one-on-one session to personally educate, help, or discuss photography-related topics with someone at an hourly rate. I have not advertised this or mentioned it at all yet, but one person reached out to have a session, thus I'm including it here. This has earned $100.
- Review Item: This isn't direct revenue, but for me, it basically was. I was about to purchase a filter set for the camera I use to record video and instead reached out to the company to see if I could review their product instead, and they happily said yes. This review is in the works and will still be completely honest; otherwise, I wouldn't accept them. This was roughly a $200 value.
Altogether, it's roughly $1,775 over the course of three months. It's much more than I expected to start out with but also certainly not an amount to live off of. Also, keep in mind all the costs involved in making these videos; for example, I bought a Fuji XT-4 and a Shimoda X70 during this time, which technically negates any revenue, not to mention all the other equipment I use in making videos or travel expenses.
There are more ways to earn revenue that I'll be working towards in the next six months, such as sponsorships, but my main goals will continue to be to make quality content and enjoy myself. It's a lot of work, and if you get lost in the numbers of making money, you'll certainly lose sight of why you started things. It should be obvious no one should ever start something like this unless they are passionate about it, because not a single person who's turned this into their career started off by having their main goal be money.
Conclusion and Future Goals
I'll be the first to admit that the first three months turned out to be much better than I expected. In my mind, I didn't think I'd reach the number of subscribers I have until sometime next year yet here we are, and I couldn't be more appreciative. My goals for the next three months remain quite simple:
- Reach 20,000 subscribers
- Make at least one video a week
- Try to find sponsorships
- Start a website newsletter
- Explore other ways to monetize content
Overall, my main goal is to just keep making content I enjoy, but I will be upfront and say that I am likely losing my current full-time job sometime next year. I have enough saved up to survive for another six-month period once that happens, but by that point I absolutely need to be making enough to pay bills. It's a tough balance and something every person struggles with when they turn their passionate hobby into a career. Balancing your enjoyment of something with the pressure and anxiety of monetization can ruin what you love. My goal is to find a balance and build upon doing what I truly enjoy while turning it into something that can put food on the table.
As always, thanks for reading or watching, and I hope this content was an insightful look into what it takes to "make it" as a landscape photographer. I look forward to the next update in three months and would love to hear what you'd like to know in the future.