Sunday Snippet: Marsel van Oosten

“If you want to become a professional nature photographer, you have to be better and different. Nature photography is not a 9-to-5 job. You have to give 200% and even then you have no guarantee that you will make it. The biggest mistake that people make, is that they copy what’s already out there. To survive as a professional nature photographer, you have to realize that what you like to photograph is not necessarily what you should photograph. You have to think long and hard about what you’re going to photograph, why you’re going to photograph it, and then how.”

You’ve surely heard the old saying that you should do what you love and the money will follow. Unfortunately, this is very rarely the case and you really have to work at turning your passion into a viable career. I know that it can be a struggle for freelance writers like me, but it may be even more challenging for professional nature photographers. And yes, this is even true if you are an utterly amazing nature photographer.

The quote above comes from Marsel van Oosten, who you may remember from a What’s Up Wednesdays speedlink a couple of weeks ago. He was the one who shot the Japanese snow monkey using an iPhone while submerged in a hot spring. It has become an iconic image and it clearly demonstrates the importance that Marsel van Oosten puts on being unique and being different (in a good way).

It’s not like there aren’t already photos of snow monkeys out there. It’s not like there aren’t already photos of snow monkeys in hot springs. As van Oosten points out, “There are already millions of photographs of lions, deer, elephants, bears, and penguins, so demand for new images of the same subjects is extremely low.”

That is the critical challenge of being a nature photographer who aims to sell those pictures to different publications, especially in the age of inexpensive stock photography. This is an entirely different beast from, say, wedding photography where the clients want you to capture their special day. This is why you need to dare to be different to stand out from hobbyists and wannabes… and even your fellow professionals.

Not everyone can make it as a wildlife or nature photographer, just as not everyone can make it as a freelance writer, actor or musician. The barrier to entry may be relatively low, inviting an increasingly high level of competition. When it comes to creative professions, you really have to ask what makes you special and why someone would hire you (or buy your product) over the next guy. You need to be better. You need to be unique.

You have to seek out the photo of a snow monkey using an iPhone… except that has now already been done.