Conservation photographers are crucial in raising awareness and inspiring change through visual storytelling.
But let's face it – making a living in this field can be challenging.
However, opportunities abound for those who know where to look!
In this article, we'll explore six effective ways to transform your passion for conservation photography into a sustainable income.
(TIP! I've utilized every one of these strategies in my career. They're each fantastic in their own way. But they're not all for everyone. When considering what to try, take into account your personality and what lights you up the most!)
Do you have to go full-time to be a conservation photographer?
Not at all!
All conservation photographers, whether working just a few hours a week or making it a 24/7 on-location lifestyle, play a vital role in protecting the planet's health.
Many professional conservation photographers have full-time jobs outside of their photography work. Most who've turned it into a full-time gig started out working part-time in the field. You likely will too, and that's great!
Part-time and full-time schedules offer unique benefits and challenges. Ultimately, it's about finding the right route for you.
Working part-time as a conservation photographer has the advantage of the flexibility to follow your curiosity, exploring stories you're drawn to at your own pace.
Additionally, a part-time schedule allows you to maintain a steady – possibly more lucrative – job outside of photography. That means added financial stability while you build foundations in this field.
A downside is that it can be challenging to establish yourself when you're not fully immersed in the field. Though, if you're doing conservation-adjacent work, you could very easily use those connections to benefit your photography work down the road.
Also, you may not yet have access to the same resources and support as full-time photographers, making it harder to secure outside funding for your projects.
As a full-time conservation photographer, you'll primarily focus either at home, working on visual storytelling projects from your home base, or taking on projects that require more extensive travel or other significant time investments.
Keep in mind, though, that finding consistent work can be tricky, especially in a niche field like conservation photography.
So, for many full-time conservation photographers, work comprises multiple “part-time” roles in the field.
For example, imagine that you spend about half your time on client projects while also earning an income through image licensing, making some money through a collaborative project with a local nonprofit, and leaning on the financial support coming in from your Patreon patrons, a few of which have even attended the photography workshops you occasionally offer.
That's the multi-revenue-stream-juggle that full-time work often is.
We're not saying to take on ALL those career hats, but each has value and potential.
Let's take a look at them one by one.
Photo shoots for specific clients can be fun! You might create portraits for websites, product images, visual stories for marketing materials, and more! Working as a volunteer with a conservation organization lead to client work for companies including Ruffwear.
1. Client Work
To navigate these waters successfully and make a living, you'll need to:
- Develop a striking portfolio reflecting your passion for conservation, technical skills, and storytelling abilities.
- Build a solid client base through networking. Attend conferences, workshops, and events to connect with like-minded professionals, organizations, and potential clients.
- Be responsive, open, and genuine when discussing your work, goals, and client needs. This will help establish trust and rapport, making people want to collaborate with you.
- Experiment with different pricing models to find the sweet spot that reflects your expertise while remaining competitive in the market.
- Explore different outlets like publications, exhibitions, and collaborations with environmentalists, artists, or organizations.
- Develop an online presence through a well-designed website and engaging social media profiles, making it easy for potential clients to discover your work and get in touch.
In this ever-evolving world of conservation photography, staying up-to-date with industry trends and techniques is vital.
Attend workshops, read articles, and follow leading photographers to improve your skills and knowledge constantly.
As you refine your craft, your brand identity will emerge, setting you apart from the competition.
Types of Clients
The most common types of clients that will come to you for help are environmental nonprofits, commercial businesses, and community organizations. Each has its benefits and challenges, but by gaining experience with a broad range of clients, you'll build your portfolio and connections.
Nonprofits are often at the forefront of environmental conservation efforts and need talented photographers like you to help tell their stories.
The catch? Their budgets are usually tight.
While you might not score a hefty paycheck, working with nonprofits offers some unique benefits, including:
- Meaningful connections. You'll collaborate with passionate individuals who share your love for the environment and make lifelong connections.
- Portfolio building. Nonprofit work allows you to hone your skills and create a diverse portfolio that showcases your ability to capture compelling images on a budget.
- Greater reach. Your work may be featured in campaigns that reach a broad audience, helping you build a strong reputation in the industry.
To find nonprofit clients, consider volunteering at local events, joining online forums, or contacting organizations directly to offer your services.
❂ Commercial Organizations
Commercial clients may seem like an unlikely source of conservation photography gigs, but many companies embrace sustainability initiatives. These organizations typically have larger budgets than nonprofits but may also have more stringent requirements for their shoots.
Here's what to expect:
- Higher stakes. With bigger budgets come higher expectations. You'll need to deliver top-notch images that align with the client's branding and messaging.
- Usage rights negotiations. Commercial clients often require extensive usage rights for your images. Be prepared to negotiate terms and pricing accordingly.
- Networking opportunities. Working with commercial clients can open doors to other industry professionals and potential future gigs.
To connect with commercial clients, attend industry events, engage in online networking, and showcase your work on professional platforms like LinkedIn.
❂ Community Organizations
Grassroots community organizations are often unsung heroes in conservation efforts. Partnering with these groups allows you to make an impact close to home while earning an income.
Here's what working with community organizations can look like:
- Flexible collaboration. Community organizations may offer more creative freedom and flexibility during a shoot than commercial clients.
- Local reputation building. Establishing yourself as a go-to conservation photographer within your community can lead to word-of-mouth referrals and steady gigs.
- Supporting local causes. You'll have the satisfaction of knowing that your work directly benefits the environment in your backyard.
To find community organization clients, attend local meetings, join social media groups, and network with other photographers in your area.
Recommended: Check out episode 34 on the Impact podcast: “Think “Laterally” to Build a Smarter Conservation Photography Business with Kika Tuff” for more about building a strategic photography business, including designing full packages for clients.
Image licensing can provide an evergreen source of revenue. You can license images yourself or through a stock agency. Often they'll be used for publications like books and magazines. This image was licensed to Outdoor Photographer magazine for a fun short article.
2. Licensing Images
Once you've clicked those awe-inspiring images, how can you turn them into a sustainable source of income?
Here's where licensing swoops in, providing an effective way to generate revenue from your work.
Several factors come into play when determining how much to charge for image rights. Because setting your rates requires careful consideration and research, we strongly recommend using a fee calculator to ease the process and develop a fair – and profitable – system for determining consistent, industry-standard usage fees for your photos.
In setting your licensing rates, remember that the images are your product, and producing them isn't free.
From the travel expenses incurred to the equipment you purchase and insure, the revenue from selling the product – your images – helps fund your business.
So, don't be shy about charging a fair rate for your work.
Calculating photography licensing fees requires weighing several factors. Let's summarize quickly what to consider in determining what to charge for image licensing:
- Rights-managed or royalty-free. Rights-managed licensing allows a client to use an image for specific use while adhering to agreed-upon criteria. With royalty-free licensing, a photographer charges a one-time fee, and the purchaser can use the photo multiple times for multiple projects. With royalty-free, the photographer (or stock agency) charges less for each license but does a higher volume in sales.
- Exclusive or non-exclusive. In selling an image license exclusively to one buyer, you can charge more for the photo; conversely, if you make an image non-exclusive, you can sell the image to multiple buyers, but typically at a lower price. Whether you want to sell your photos for exclusive use by one party or offer their use to multiple users depends on your customers' needs and which avenue provides you more profit based on the specific photograph you're selling.
- Duration of use. Suppose the image is licensed for just a short period of time. In that case, the fee is lower compared to a license that grants access for a longer period or indefinitely.
- Rarity and/or difficulty. When determining what to charge for the use of your images, the rarer, more difficult, or the more technical the shot, the higher the value.
- Usage. The ultimate usage dictates how widely and for what purpose the image will be used, so, say, an image purchased for a large-scale commercial campaign typically warrants charging a higher fee than one for personal or internal use.
Strategies for Image Licensing
Licensing your images is a crucial step in safeguarding your creative work while generating income from your efforts. In the exciting realm of professional photography, there are two main pathways to license your images: independent licensing and working with publications or stock agencies.
❂ Independent Licensing
When you opt for independent licensing, you're in the driver's seat. You manage your image rights, negotiate fees, and handle all the finer details of the licensing process. This approach offers more control over pricing and terms, as well as the potential for higher profits since you won't be sharing revenue with an agency. However, steering this course alone can be time-consuming and requires a good understanding of licensing agreements, copyright laws, and strong negotiation skills.
❂ Licensing to Publications
Now, let's discuss partnering with publications. Imagine your work being showcased in magazines, newspapers, or books – that's what collaborating with publications can offer. These partnerships often bring prestige and exposure to your work, helping you reach a wider audience. The trade-off? Publications might have specific requirements or topics they're looking for, so you'll need to adapt to their needs while staying true to your artistic vision.
❂ Partnering with Stock Agencies
On the other hand, stock agencies serve as a bustling marketplace where clients come to find the perfect image for their projects. By joining forces with a stock agency, you'll gain access to a larger pool of potential buyers, and the agency will handle the marketing, sales, and legal aspects of licensing. Keep in mind, though, that in exchange for their services, agencies take a cut of your earnings, leaving you with a smaller share of the profits.
To thrive in the world of publications and agencies, start by researching reputable organizations in your niche and create a captivating portfolio that highlights your unique style and expertise. Build connections with fellow photographers by networking at industry events, joining online forums, and engaging with professionals on social media platforms.
Finally, establish a strong online presence with a personal website or blog to showcase your work and share your experiences in the fascinating field of conservation photography.
🔥 Hot tip: Use a licensing fee calculator. Fee calculators let you adjust variables to make a well-founded pricing quote and help you customize estimates based on your client's specific needs. They simplify the process, save time, and promote pricing transparency. Hello, headache-free photo pricing! Here are the calculators we recommend >>
Photo stories are one of the most fulfilling revenue streams for conservation visual storytellers. You can create your own stories to pitch, or be hired for assignments by publications. This image is from an assignment for Audubon magazine for a story about marbled murrelets.
3. Photo Stories and Assignments
The secret sauce to earning a living in this field lies in crafting compelling photo stories and taking on assignment work that resonates with the heart and mind.
This is a critical skill in all areas of earning an income, but of course it's also a revenue stream in and of itself as you pitch photo stories to publications or gain assignments.
A photo story is a series of interconnected images that, when viewed together, reveal a larger narrative about an important conservation issue.
By weaving these visual threads into a compelling tapestry, conservation photographers can inspire change and raise awareness about the subjects they're passionate about.
You can come up with and create photo stories to pitch to publications or clients. Or, you can get assignments for stories.
Assignment work is like being handed a treasure map by a client, guiding you on a journey to capture specific images or stories that align with their vision.
These projects are commissioned by various organizations, such as NGOs, wildlife organizations, government agencies, or magazines, and sometimes offer higher paychecks than photo stories you pitch for publication.
To build a photo story, you'll research extensively, delve into the depths of environmental or social issues, and uncover hidden stories waiting to be told.
During the planning phase, you'll map out the journey, identifying key locations, subjects, and moments that will bring their story to life.
You can then pitch your photo story to publications, getting your beautiful work out in front of the audiences that need to see them.
With enough experience with photo stories, you'll start to gain assignment work as editors see what your skills and style are as a visual storyteller and know what you're capable of creating for them in the field.
Assignments may be for story concepts you pitch and are then hired to create, or they might be concepts a publication or organization is already working on and they hire you to turn it into a visual reality.
Getting started with stories and assignments
For either photo stories or assignment work, start by honing your skills, developing a unique style, and building a portfolio that showcases your passion for the cause.
Network with fellow photographers and photo editors at industry events, join online communities, and engage with professionals on social media platforms.
Before you know it, you'll be creating visual masterpieces that spark conversations, challenge perspectives, and ignite change for a better world.
Visual storytelling skills are something you'll use in most aspects of your work as a conservation photographer – not JUST pitching or assignment work.
Yet, it's not easy building these foundational skills – from knowing how to spot a great idea to shaping it into a compelling story to getting the shots you need and putting it in front of editors. It's a lot!
If you'd like a step-by-step roadmap, our Conservation Photography 101 course may be the perfect fit for you.
Tours and workshops are exciting, especially if you love teaching and travel. You can organize your own workshops or work with a tour company as their photography guide. This image was from a photography-focused tour I guided for Oceanic Society.
4. Leading Tours and Workshops
As a conservation photographer, your passion for capturing the natural world on film fuels your adventures into the planet's wildest corners.
But did you know you can channel your expertise and love for photography into leading tours and workshops?
By sharing your knowledge with budding photographers, you create a source of income and contribute to the growth of a community dedicated to protecting the planet and all its inhabitants.
Conservation photography tours and workshops come in various formats, catering to different skill levels, interests, and locations.
Let's explore a few ways to turn your talent for conservation photography into a fruitful venture facilitating photography tours and workshops.
Lead a group of photography enthusiasts on a wildlife outing where your attendees can hone their skills while capturing the beauty of animals in their natural habitat.
Guide participants through stunning landscapes such as national parks, forests, or coastal areas, teaching them techniques to capture the essence of these environments.
Organize an immersive experience that combines classroom instruction, fieldwork, and critique sessions, allowing participants to learn new techniques, practice them in real-world settings, and receive valuable feedback.
Focus on specific aspects of conservation photography, such as underwater photography, bird photography, or macro photography, catering to specific interests.
To stand out from the competition, finding a niche that highlights your unique skills and expertise is crucial.
Consider these factors when defining how you'll stand out:
- Location. Is there a specific region or ecosystem you're intimately familiar with? Capitalize on your local knowledge and connections to offer exclusive access and insights.
- Subject matter. Do you have a specialization, such as photographing endangered species, documenting conservation projects, or capturing the effects of climate change? Offer workshops that delve into these topics and share your experience.
- Skill level. Are you adept at teaching beginners, advanced photographers, or both? Tailor your workshops to suit the needs of your target audience.
Once you've designed your photography tours and workshops, it's time to spread the word and attract participants.
Here are some marketing strategies to consider:
- Build a strong online presence. Create a professional website showcasing your work, tour and workshop offerings, testimonials, and contact information. Use social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to share captivating images and stories from your tours, engage with potential clients and promote upcoming events.
- Leverage your network. Attend photography events and conferences to network and establish credibility within the community. Reach out to past clients, fellow photographers, and industry professionals to help spread the word about your tours and workshops.
- Collaborate with other businesses. Partner with local travel agencies, hotels, or photography equipment stores to cross-promote your services, offering exclusive deals or discounts to their customers.
By sharing your passion for conservation photography through tours and workshops, you create a viable source of income and inspire others to join the fight for our planet's future.
Embrace this opportunity to turn your talent into a fulfilling revenue source and help nurture future photographers.
Collaborations can be highly fulfilling, and working with other photographers is a great way to gain even more creative inspiration or opportunities that you might not get working on your own. This image is from a collaborative project I ran called Urban Coyote Initiative.
As a conservation photographer, your camera is a powerful tool in the fight to protect our planet's fragile ecosystems and threatened wildlife. But making a living from your passion can be as challenging as capturing a fleeting moment in nature.
The solution? Collaboration!
By teaming up with fellow creatives and environmentalists through participating in shared revenue projects, you can turn your love for conservation photography into an income source.
Collaborations can be short-term projects – like creating a short film, crafting a series of articles to pitch, or a specific media campaign for a client. Or, they may be long-term projects, like working on an ongoing multi-media effort, a book project, or even building a photography-based educational initiative.
Let's delve into the world of collaborative opportunities and how you can make the most of them.
The first step in monetizing your passion is finding like-minded individuals or organizations to collaborate with.
Here are some tips for identifying potential partners:
- Network. Attend industry events, join online forums, and participate in social media groups to connect with fellow photographers, writers, filmmakers, and conservationists.
- Research. Explore websites, blogs, and publications focused on conservation to identify potential collaborators whose work aligns with your interests and values.
- Connect. Don't be afraid to initiate contact with potential collaborators – send a personalized message expressing your admiration for their work and suggesting a collaboration.
Once you've found the right collaborators, it's essential to establish clear expectations and agreements.
Consider the following during negotiations:
- Division of responsibilities. Outline each party's roles and responsibilities within the project, ensuring everyone's contributions are valued and accounted for.
- Revenue sharing. Discuss how any income generated by the project will be divided among collaborators, considering factors such as time and resources invested and the perceived value of each party's contribution.
- Intellectual property. Clarify ownership and usage rights for any content created during the collaboration, including photographs, written materials, and other creative assets.
- Timeline and deliverables. Develop a project timeline, including milestones and deadlines for deliverables, to ensure that all parties are on the same page.
- Signed agreement. Once negotiations are complete, formalize your agreements in writing through a legally binding contract. This document will serve as a reference and safeguard throughout the collaboration.
Types of Collaborations
The opportunities for collaborative income generation in conservation photography are vast. Here are some ideas to consider:
❂ Revenue-sharing projects with nonprofits
Collaborate with nonprofit organizations on projects that generate income through product sales, fundraising campaigns, or licensing fees. In these partnerships, the photographer and the nonprofit share a portion of the revenue.
❂ Joint workshops and tours
Team up with fellow photographers, conservationists, or travel professionals to organize and promote photography workshops, eco-tours, or expeditions. By pooling resources and expertise, you can create unique experiences that attract participants and generate income for all involved.
❂ Book or magazine publications
Collaborate with writers, editors, and designers to produce a book or magazine on a conservation-focused topic. Share responsibilities such as content creation, editing, design, marketing, and distribution, and split any profits generated from sales.
Finally, to ensure the success of your collaborative endeavors, keep these best practices in mind:
- Communication. Maintain open, honest communication with your collaborators, promptly addressing any concerns or challenges to avoid misunderstandings or conflicts.
- Flexibility. Be prepared to adapt and adjust as the project progresses, embracing new ideas and opportunities that may arise.
- Commitment. Stay dedicated to the project's goals and your collaborators, investing the time and effort necessary to achieve a successful outcome.
In collaborating, embrace the power of teamwork, and together, you'll generate income and amplify your work's impact on protecting the environment. The world is waiting – to start building partnerships that will change the conservation landscape!
Memberships are more popular than ever. The sky's the limit on the type of membership you might craft and how or where you host your community. I've had the joy of running several memberships, including currently heading up our Academy's Storyteller Accelerator.
One increasingly popular method is using membership platforms.
These platforms allow users to create a community of dedicated supporters who contribute financially in exchange for exclusive content, experiences, or perks.
It's essential to understand the unique features, benefits, and limitations of the options out there. So let's look at just a few to help get familiar with the pros and cons to watch for.
Patreon allows creators to offer tiered subscription plans with various perks, such as early access to content, behind-the-scenes updates, or one-on-one consultations. However, Patreon takes a percentage of your earnings (5-12%, depending on your plan), which may not be ideal for some photographers.
Podia is an all-in-one platform that enables you to sell digital products, online courses, and memberships. While it offers robust features and customization options, Podia's pricing plans can be more expensive than other platforms, starting at $39/month.
Ko-fi allows fans to support creators through one-time or recurring donations, known as “buying a coffee.” It's free to use, but you can upgrade to Ko-fi Gold ($6/month) for additional features like custom branding and the ability to offer commissions. While it lacks some of the more advanced membership features found on other platforms, its simplicity makes it an attractive option for those just starting out.
SIDE NOTE: I've personally used
- Patreon for building community and financial support for a long-term photography project
- Mighty Networks for my previous membership community, Wild Idea Lab
- Circle.so for our Academy's Storyteller Accelerator group coaching program
I love and recommend, each of them – but for different reasons and uses. For instance, Patreon is simple and straightforward for tiered membership, while Circle.so has unparalleled features for community engagement. All this underscores the importance of thoroughly researching each platform based on the type of membership you want to run.
To make the most of a membership platform, consider the following:
- Choose the right platform. Evaluate each platform's features, fees, and user experience to determine which best aligns with your goals and preferences.
- Create compelling content. Offer exclusive, high-quality content showcasing your conservation photography expertise and keeping your audience engaged.
- Establish a pricing strategy. Set realistic pricing tiers that reflect the value of your content and perks while remaining accessible to your target audience.
- Promote membership. Use social media, email marketing, and collaborations with other creators to spread the word about your membership offering.
- Engage with your audience. Foster a sense of community by interacting with your supporters through comments, messages, or live events.
Membership platforms can be a powerful tool for conservation photographers looking to generate revenue while pursuing their passion projects.
By carefully selecting the right platform, creating compelling content, and actively engaging with your audience, you can build a thriving community of supporters who value your work and help ensure its continued success.
So, consider exploring these platforms and unlocking their potential for your conservation photography career!
By diversifying your revenue streams, you can build a stable foundation that allows you to continue capturing shots that inspire you – and inspire the world.
Unlocking financial stability in your conservation photography career may seem daunting. But with the right approach, you can help create a brighter future for both your career and the ecosystems you cherish.