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Episode #044

Starting Conservation Photography on a Tight Budget: 5 Best Places to Spend Your Money


UPDATED: May 22, 2023
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON September 22, 2020


I wish that I'd been told 10 years ago what I am about to tell you in this episode, because I think that it might save you a little bit of headache, save you quite a bit of money, and make you a more effective conservation photographer.


Where to invest in yourself (and where to save!)

If I rewind back to when I first started out in conservation photography, and ponder what advice I wish I'd heard, it would have been where to spend my money. It's an especially important bit of advice when you don't have a lot of cash to throw around and you want to spend what you have wisely.

And by wisely, I mean what investments will start you out on the right foot so you become a more effective storyteller and a smarter business person as quickly as possible.

I want to spare you the years it took me to figure out where to invest when getting started – because it's not where you think it is. Not in equipment. Not in exploring distant locations. Not in expensive workshops…


You'll Learn:

In this episode, I'm exploring why these are the best places to invest your money (whether you're a hobbyist or a pro!):

  1. A great marketing course
  2. A great public speaking course
  3. Membership to a professional development organization
  4. Attending one live event every year
  5. Insurance

I know that last one might be an eye-roller but I promise that insurance is money well spent as you spend more time in the field. It's amazing some of the stories that come back from the field so…. insurance!

There's also two places I see a lot of folks wasting money. Or rather, spending a lot of money where there's just not that high of a return on that investment.

  1. A fancy or elaborate website
  2. High-end equipment

Yep! You just don't need those two things. Not when you're starting out and often, not even when you're established! Rolling the thousands you'd drop on these two things into the five areas I list above will make a WAY bigger difference for you in the long run.


Resources Mentioned

Episode 044: Starting Conservation Photography on a Tight Budget: 5 Best Places to Spend Your Money

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/44

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)


Jaymi Heimbuch:
If I were to rewind all the way back to the very beginning, when I first found out about conservation photography and got super excited to launch into this journey, if I were to rewind back to then and think about what advice I wish that I would have gotten, it would have been where to spend my money, where to invest my money when I was just getting started, because it's taken quite a few years to figure out that the best investments for your money when you are getting started as a conservation photographer are not where you think it is. It's not in equipment, it's not in getting to distant locations or taking expensive workshops. Actually, where you can spend your money to get the most productivity and find the most success as a conservation photographer when starting out is kind of a surprise. I wish that I had been told 10 years ago. Well, I am about to tell you in this episode, because I think that it might save you a little bit of headache. It will save you quite a bit of money and it will make you a more effective conservation photographer faster. All right, let's dig into the details.

Welcome to impact the conservation photography podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place from conservation to creativity, from business to marketing and everything in between this podcast is for you, the conservation visual storyteller, who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.

I've been a conservation photographer for about a decade now, and over that time, I've learned that there are some really places that you want to invest your money right away in order to really start out on the right foot as a conservation photographer and have a certain amount of preparation and education under your belt, that makes you a more effective storyteller and a smarter business person. Now there's five places that I suggest that you consider investing your money, especially if you're just starting out. But these are really smart areas for you at any point in your career.

And there's also two places that I'm going to suggest that you spare yourself the expense to places where I see people spending money, where it's just not all that effective over the long run. So here's my five recommendations for where to invest your money. First, number one is to invest in a really great marketing course. Now I recommend this so wholeheartedly and it's not because I think that you need to learn all the ins and outs of marketing yourself as a photographer or as a business. I think that that's important. I think that what you learn from a marketing course can certainly be played out in that arena and help you over time. But the reason why I recommend a marketing course for us as conservation visual storytellers is because all of those techniques that people use in the business world in order to present themselves to consumers, to bring in customers, to establish themselves against competitors and you know, everything that you need to know in order to be an effective marketer for the consumption of goods that can all be utilized inside of conservation work.

It's how we understand who our target audience really is. It's the tools that we use to get to know that audience and understand how they think and where they're hanging out and how they behave and how they want to consume information. It's how we take that knowledge and shape our stories so that we can really reach those people because we need them to act in order to achieve our conservation goals. So there is so much information inside of a really great marketing course that you can apply to your work as a conservationist, as a conservation visual storyteller, as a photographer or a filmmaker telling stories, it teaches you how to tell the stories that make the biggest impact and how to get them out there into the world so that they can make a really effective impact. I know that if you've been listening to this podcast for very long, you know how I feel about marketing inside of conservation visual storytelling, we have got to embrace all of the techniques and strategies and insights that marketers have and utilize them inside of conservation in order to really make progress.

And I won't spend a ton of time explaining this even more, but I absolutely feel passionate that the best place that you can spend your money when you are first getting started and you really want to make a difference in conservation is to invest in a great marketing course that teaches you these essentials because they are going to come into play every single day as you work inside of conservation photography.

The second thing that I recommend is a public speaking course. Now there's two reasons why I think that having a public speaking course under your belt is going to help you immensely as a conservation photographer. First, a public speaking course is going to teach you a lot about how to present a story and how you present a story. Verbally also applies to how you present a story visually. So what you learn inside of a public speaking course can be actually applied to the way that you visually present a photo essay, the way that you approach photographing a full story.

But the second reason why I recommend a public speaking course is because as you work inside of conservation, as you really get out there as a photographer who intends to use your images to make an impact, you are not going to stay behind the camera. You're going to find yourself speaking in front of audiences, and you're going to want to be able to have a set of tools that you can draw on that make you really comfortable taking the stage really comfortable in front of an audience, and also really effective in how you communicate with that audience. If I had been told, when I first got started to take a marketing course and a public speaking course, first and foremost, I might've been a little bit surprised. I would have thought, no, I need to take something on Lightroom or Photoshop, or I need to get better with my editing skills or my shooting skills. I need to take a lighting course. Yes, all of those things are of course, important to photography or filmmaking in general. But when we're talking about conservation photography and really making an impact, these courses, these two skillsets come in handy day after day after day.

So I cannot stress enough that in my time inside of conservation photography, these skills you want to have. So if you are just starting out, I really encourage you to emphasize looking into courses for marketing and public speaking. And if you've already been in this field for a while, and you don't feel confident in these two areas, I think that pausing and taking a look at these courses is going to help you a lot. In fact, I think that they are going to absolutely transform the way that you approach stories as a conservation photographer in a really good way.

All right. So number one, marketing course, number two, public speaking course, number three, I strongly that you invest money in a professional development organization right off the bat, right? When you are first starting out in conservation photography, investing money in a professional development organization is going to light a fire under your career because you're going to be able to get access to educational tools and networking. You're going to be able to meet people and break into opportunities that allow you to kind of stretch your legs into other areas. Now, one place that I got involved pretty early on in my career was the North American nature photography association or NANPA. And this is a great organization with a lot of amazing people involved in it. They host educational webinars, they have photo contests, they hold conferences and summits so that you can meet people in person. And in fact, the next summit is currently scheduled for April of 2021. NANPA was a fantastic resource for me when I was first getting started.

So when you're looking at an organization, that's the right fit for you pay close attention to what it offers on an ongoing basis. What educational resources does it provide you? What extra benefits does it provide to help you get past sticking points or past hurdles that are specific to your work? What networking opportunities does it provide? What kind of community engagement does it provide? These are all really important things to consider when you're kind of going through and checking out what these organizations have to offer, trying to figure out which one is the right fit for you.

But I want to return to that last thing that I mentioned, the community engagement. I think that not only does a professional development organization give you these online resources, but one of the best parts about joining an organization is for the live events where you can actually meet people and build connections that is really important. And that is my fourth recommendation for where you invest money. When you are just starting out. It is a brilliant idea to budget money to attend at least one conference or summit or networking event per year, no matter how amazing our tools for social connection online have gotten, yes, we have Facebook, we have Instagram, we have ways to DM each other and spark conversations, but this is never going to be ideal, not nearly as ideal as actually attending an event. And now, of course, normally right now I would be hammering home how important it is to meet people face to face, to actually shake hands, to look someone in the eye to really get to know them on a personal level, because ultimately that really is what these events are all about.

But of course, right now, this is not possible. We've got COVID. We are in the midst of social distancing, but even, so there are still organizations putting on excellent events. I recently attended an online conference that did an amazing job. Making the audience feel really connected, thanks to chats and these virtual breakout sessions. They even provided digital swag to us beforehand, which I thought was so fun. They did a great, great job making this virtual conference feel just as connecting or, you know, as good of a job as possible for connecting us as if we were in person. And there are lots of photography and film oriented conferences happening, for instance, just next week, starting on September 28th, Jackson Wild is holding a virtual summit and it is going to be a fantastic event. Women Photograph is holding a multi-day virtual workshop in October. So there are absolutely options for you to attend a photography conference or summit or event this year and gain that fantastic sense of community and education and energy and networking.

That is so important to us. So I really suggest looking into and finding an event where not only you're going to find other professional conservation photographers and filmmakers, and that's where they're going to be, but also where other professionals inside of this industry are going to be. So whether they're magazine editors or photo editors, or their folks that run stock photography agencies, or directors or producers, no matter what, you're going to make. Some really amazing connections that are going to open up doors for you that are going to open up opportunities to advance your career later on. And there's just no substitute for connecting, like at an event like this. And honestly, right now, virtual summits are doing a really wonderful job and I'm sure that we'll return to in-person conferences and events in another year or so. So number one, marketing course, number two, public speaking course, number three, joining a professional development organization. Number four, attending at least one live event conference summit networking event per year. And number five, I completely suggest that you invest in insurance.

I know, I know this is such boring nerdy stuff, but please trust me. I can guarantee you that investing in ensuring your equipment and your business early on is very important and very financially helpful over time. I know that I have experienced it. A lot of my peers have experienced it, whether it's the elements that get your gear or wildlife, like a bear eats your camera. That totally happens. If your camera falls off the side of a boat, if your car is broken into and all of your equipment is stolen, whatever the case may be malfunctions happen, disasters happen. And it makes a lot of sense to go ahead and bite the bullet now and insure your equipment because that inevitable thing will happen and it can actually slow you down. You can indeed spare yourself a whole lot of headache and heartache and time and money by knowing that you're paying insurance now.

And when you need to, you can put in a claim and replace your equipment really quickly and easily. I know that when I left my camera on a tripod and I turned around, I was photographing a landscape when it was really blustery. And I turned around to go get something out of my bag. And I just hear this crash. And I look over and my lens is over there. And my camera body is over there. And salt air is just getting into everything. I was able to put in a claim with my insurance company. Within two days, they had paid me a check and I was ordering new equipment and my lens had been sent in for repair. And they covered that too.

So honestly, I know it seems like one of those expenses, that's like, ah, I don't really need this right now. It's not a direct payoff. I can forgo it for awhile, but trust me, it's worth it. I totally empathize with wanting to put it off. It is really hard to spend money on something as boring as insurance, but investing money in this will indeed pay off. It just makes you feel more secure when you're out in the field. It makes you feel less nervous or jittery about your equipment or your liability so that you can focus on actually making those images. So investing in equipment and business insurance, very, very smart.

All right, let's go through these again. I absolutely recommend that you invest in a great marketing course, integrate public speaking course in joining a professional development organization and attending at least one live event per year. And if you haven't attended one yet this year, absolutely. I recommend checking out some virtual summits and conferences that are happening because there's some good ones going down and finally, yep the boring, but also essential insurance.

Now I mentioned before that, I was going to tell you about a couple of places where I think that you can actually avoid the expense. There's two places where I see new photographers worrying a lot and wanting to invest a whole lot of time and money into areas. And I think that these two things are actually not necessarily the most important expenses. I think you might even end up wasting some money when you invest too much, getting started. The first place is spending a bunch of money on your website. If you're considering spending a ton of money, like thousands of dollars, hiring someone to develop a fancy website for you, or you're thinking about investing a month's worth of work in learning how to create and run this really beautiful fancy pants website. Trust me, that is not the most important place to spend your money or time right now. You can absolutely get by with an average, fairly bare bones website and still look polished and professional. It is just not the most critical part of how or why you get hired for pretty much anything.

As long as you have a website that has a few essentials, like a great about me page, and it shows your images in a beautiful display. That's what matters is your portfolio of images really beautifully laid out in a crisp, clean way. That's all that matters. You don't have to have all the latest bells and whistles. It doesn't have to have this amazing parallax imagery that scrolls in the super immersive way. That's all great and fun. And that can happen down the road. You may get to a point in your career where you want to invest that time, or you want to hire someone to do that for you. Awesome. Do that. Then it's not all that essential when you're getting started.

So I really do think that taking the money that you might be tempted to invest in a really fancy website, take that and instead put it into one of the other areas that we've talked about in this episode, that's going to be a really smart move that's gonna pay off later on. Now, the second place that I see a lot of people worrying about spending money that doesn't actually pay off all that much in the beginning is high end equipment.

When you are starting out, it is far more important that you learn how to take beautiful, amazing images with whatever it is that you have have in front of you, because it matters how your images are made. Not what it is you're making them on. Amazing images are made from the heart and from the head, there is no amount of equipment that is going to shoot these images for you. You have to learn how to take amazing images, and you can do that with basic equipment. You do not need to get fancy equipment when you're learning how to tell really compelling conservation photo stories. There are plenty of pros out there right now who are doing really amazing work, who are not using the latest and greatest camera equipment. In fact, when you look at a lot of camera trap imagery, a lot of times that's done with some pretty basic camera bodies, because why are you going to put a really expensive, fancy camera into a camera trap and risk that right?

Those images are made on lower end bodies. And they're fantastic because it's about how you think about where to put that camera trap and the lighting that goes into it, and being really thoughtful about composition and getting an image in camera. Really nice equipment is something that you will absolutely want to invest in eventually. But I don't want you to think that you have to have that from the get go. There is so much opportunity for you to learn and to develop and to grow and to be seen as a powerful conservation photographer before you ever even get to the point of needing really high end expensive equipment. So if you're thinking, Oh my gosh, in order to succeed right away, I need to start saving up in order to buy the newest camera body or the best glass or whatever that might be. That's not the most important place to spend your money.

Now, if you're looking into specializing in a certain area of photography and you need some specialized equipment to do that, that's a whole other story. That's not what I'm talking about right now, right now I'm talking about thinking that you need the latest and greatest in order to do a good job in this field. You don't, you just don't, you're absolutely capable of creating exceptional stories with what you've got on hand. It's more important learning how to tell visual stories, how to compose an image, how to capture the moment right now, and then you can upgrade to really fancy equipment later on once you develop those skills.

So when you're starting out, where you may end up wasting money is on a fancy pants website, that is more than what you possibly would ever need. And on fancy pants equipment that is not going to teach you how to be an amazing visual storyteller.

But where you do want to spend your money, and I'm going to go through this list one more time, is a great marketing course. That's going to teach you all about audience and making an impact with something about really planning out how you tell a story in order to get audiences to think differently, invest in a really great public speaking course. That's going to help you think more critically about how you're telling a story visually as well as give you all those skills that you absolutely will need to speak in front of audiences or in front of funders or stakeholders invest in a professional development organization that is specific to photographers and even better specific to conservation photography, because you want to find an organization that has resources specific to what you need as a conservation visual storyteller invest in at least one live event for photography every year. If you haven't done one yet this year, there's still some really cool virtual events that are going on in the fall and five, I know it's boring, but please trust me, it pays off, invest in insuring your equipment. And if you have a business entity, some business insurance, that stuff just settles down your nervousness, your jitters, and if the worst happens, you're covered. Now, I hope that I surprised you just a little bit, at least in what I recommended that you invest your money in when you are just starting out. And maybe even where I recommend you do not invest your money when you're just starting out. Now, as you dive deeper into your research, into figuring out exactly which courses or which organizations or which conferences you want to go to, I hope that you have a blast exploring and that you find all kinds of things that you might be able to invest in and utilize inside of your conservation photography work that you might not have expected. I am sure that you're going to discover all kinds of amazing things out there. And meanwhile, I will talk to you next week.

Before we wrap up, I would love to ask you to do one quick thing. Subscribe to this podcast as a subscriber. You'll not only know when each week's episode goes live, but you'll also get insider goodies like bonus episodes. You might miss them unless you're subscribed. And I don't want you to miss out on a thing. So please tap that subscribe button. And I will talk to you next week.


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