I’ve got a special treat for you today, a feature interview with landscape photographer extraordinaire, Ian Plant.
Ian’s work is simply outstanding and his beautifully designed instructional photography eBooks are definitely some of the best looking and most informative titles around. If you love landscape photography, you’ll definitely want to check them out or look into attending one of his workshops.
It was a pleasure to speak with him on the phone and I’m looking forward to meeting him the next time he visits Alaska. Check out Ian’s website at www.ianplant.com and read my review of his latest eBook, Patagonia: Behind the Lens.
First of all, where do you live and how old are you?
I’m 39 and I live in Virginia.
How did you get started and when did you turn pro?
I like to think that I took the scenic route to my nature photography career. I’ve always been involved in outdoor activities like backpacking and rock climbing, and always had a love of the outdoors. I picked up photography during my first year in law school and was immediately hooked. I started taking my camera along with me during my outdoor adventures and instantly knew that I wanted to try to make my living with photography somehow.
As soon as I started law school, I realized that I had made a mistake, but I stuck with it and ended up working for eight years as an antitrust lawyer in Washington DC to pay off my debt. Essentially, I helped big companies buy other big companies and become even bigger companies. It was soulless work.
Then one day, I got up and quit and went full time with my photography.
What gear do you use?
I use Canon cameras and lenses. My main body is the Canon 5D Mark II, but lately my favorite lens is the Nikon 14mm-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S that I use on my Canon bodies with a special adaptor made by Novoflex. I’m able to please people on both sides of the aisle, especially when I give talks and workshops. (Laughs)
I’m definitely a wide angle shooter; I like to get in close and juxtapose the foreground against background elements. I’d say that 60-70% of my images are made with the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8. Other lenses in my bag include the Canon 24-105mm f/4 USM, Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS USM and Canon 500mm f/4L IS USM.
Who are your biggest influences with photography?
My biggest influences are the traditional landscape shooters like David Muench, Jack Dykinga and Tim Till. I always looked towards the large format masters instead of the 35mm guys like Galen Rowell and Art Wolfe. In fact, I started out as a large format shooter, but I switched to 35mm about five years ago when the quality of digital improved.
Are there any contemporary photographers that you admire?
There are definitely a lot of really good shooters out there. However, I find that I look at other people’s work less and less these days. I’m very busy with my own projects, and I find that if I’m spending lots of time online, I don’t have time to get everything done that I need to do. I try to be focused on working on my own style and I don’t want to be too influenced by other people as I continue to dig down into my own creative process.
Tell me about your photo workshops.
I’ve been doing my Creative Vision Photo Workshops for about 3-4 years. One day, I put together a few photo workshops and promoted them on my website and through the camera club circuit where I did slide shows and presentations. The first one only had three people. These days, I promote them on my blog, my Facebook page and on other social media. (Follow Ian on Twitter @ianplantphoto.)
I often work with two other photographers, Joe Rossbach and Richard Bernabe. We team so that we can ration the number of people per instructor. Typically, we’ll have 12-14 students and two instructors in a workshop, which allows no about 6-7, no more than 8 students per teacher.
I try to run no frills workshops. I’ll travel to a new place to scout locations and figure out the best places to go for photography. Then I look at options for lodging and logistics. Generally, everyone shows up with their own cars and we take them around to the best places to shoot. Of course, when I run workshops in places like the National Parks or in international locations like Patagonia, obtaining permits and figuring out the logistics and travel becomes a much bigger issue.
The workshops are the most profitable aspect of my photography and they’re definitely growing more than other areas of my business. The unfortunate reality is that while I certainly enjoy doing the workshops, teaching all the time is not exactly how I ultimately want to make my living.
Do you shoot assignments or license your images as stock?
I haven’t had any really big stock sales or photo assignments, at least not in the traditional manner. When I first turned pro, I went into business with another photographers. We started a publishing company called Mountain Trail Press, where we self published our own calendars and books. Eventually, we reached out and started publishing books by other photographers as well.
I actually left the company last year to focus on my own photography. It was never really a big part of my business, but it has produced a small portion of income each year.
What I’ve found, at least for me these days, is that the only way to make money with nature photography is to teach workshops and be an educator. Unfortunately, all the old ways of making money have all but disappeared. Stock sales and editorial assignments are virtually non-existent these days.
The interest in digital photography has exploded during the past few years, and right now there is a growing supply of nature photographers. The amount of great imagery has exceeded the demand, and so prices have dropped. Digitization has changed our world and the traditional outlets for nature photos have been scaling way back. Everyone is moving towards web content and less on print media. Demand and prices are falling as magazines find ways to get cheaper images with more constrained budgets.
And what about your eBooks and articles?
I currently have 6 eBooks and a number of other titles in the works. They’re another growing aspect of my business. They’re doing quite well. I don’t see gangbuster sales, but it’s a significant supplement to my income. Promotion is definitely the key. I’ve been experimenting with some different promotional ideas; lately I’ve bought advertising space on some other websites.
Occasionally, I’ll get discovered by another website or forum, and suddenly I’ll see a spike in sales that month from the members of the site. It really varies from month to month, but at this point, it’s steady enough to pay my mortgage every month.
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
Filthy rich from my photography. Actually, it would be nice to make enough money so that there are no concerns about travel and expenses. I really want to be able to be a photographer, find a way to go the places I want to visit and strike that balance between being a businessman and being an artist. Unfortunately, you can’t pursue the artistic side unless you have the money, so I hope to keep growing so that I can do this for the rest of my life.
What are you plans this summer?
I’m coming up to Alaska this summer for a workshop that I’m doing with Richard Burnabe at Redoubt Mountain Lodge in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. After the workshop, we plan to do some sea kayaking around some of the Fjords and glaciers up there.
Check out Ian’s highly acclaimed, best selling eBook, Visual Flow: Mastering the Art of Composition. This 287-page PDF book is the comprehensive manual on how Ian creates his imagery.
Any nature and landscape photographer who is looking to take their creativity to the next level would do well to study the techniques and compositional processes that Ian describes in this book.