Building a Dream Photography Career in Five Years

Photography: Scott Leggo

Some photography jobs are better than others. Few photography jobs though are better than those won by Scott Leggo. A former officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, Leggo’s work is now divided between aviation photography and landscape photography — and sometimes a combination of the two. His prints are bought by both businesses and individuals, and his commercial assignments take him to some of the most beautiful places on earth often for clients patient enough to understand that it might take a few sunsets to capture the right image. Usually, he can be found in the wilderness, with his camera, waiting for the weather to give him a perfect shot. It’s the ideal photographic life, and it took Leggo just five years to build with no formal training and a background in aviation, not artistry.

That background though may have contributed in at least one important way to Leggo’s success. His military experience, Leggo says, gave him a strong belief in preparation and planning, a discipline that he extends to his photography.

“Getting started in this business was no different and I spent (and still do) plenty of time on the business planning,” he told us. “This was just as important to building success as learning photography and getting out taking photos.”

The preparation begins with shoots. To capture “Snow Solitude” (shown above), for example, Leggo first visited the region around Mt. Hotham, an alpine resort in Victoria, in the summer when it was easier to hike around and identify scenes and subjects that would look good after a snowfall. On his first return visit, he found that the tree was indeed buried but the weather wasn’t right. He returned over several days, tramping across the snow, through strong winds and heavy clouds, in snowshoes — and then had to wait several hours for the fog to lift before he could capture an image that he had first envisioned the previous summer.

Even the spontaneous shots, the images captured when he happened to be in the right place in the right weather, require Leggo to be ready enough to shoot them.

What Isn’t Seen Isn’t Sold

But the preparation isn’t just about knowing what to shoot and when, but knowing how to show those shots to a public that might want to buy them or hire a photographer to shoot them.

“A big lesson I have learnt is that if no one has seen your photos, they won’t even know you exist and so can’t buy your photos,” he says.

When Leggo first began building his photography business he was sure to let as many people as possible know what he was planning to do. More importantly though, he also leveraged local businesses in the areas where he had taken pictures. Those businesses then became advocates of his photography, Leggo explains. Because his images were helping to promote their area and make their businesses look good, it was a win-win situation for both sides. As more individuals and companies learnt about his photography and engaged him to shoot their own images, word spread further.

That work for the first small businesses who hired him led to more work with companies and bodies in the tourism industry, allowing Leggo’s commercial work to evolve.

The website helps to spread the word too but it’s not a complete solution to the problem of marketing a photography business, Leggo warns. Although no client has ever hired him without first looking at his site, few find him by googling for a “landscape photographer.” If they don’t reach the site directly, they might have searched for his name, having already seen his prints or heard about his work.

“In my experience SEO is overrated in this respect because the sales I generate are from those who already knew about me or have heard about me,” he says.

The site then takes leads “over the line,” either by persuading them to purchase prints through his online store or by engaging Leggo to undertake some commercial work, but it’s not the first point of contact for a new client.

The Art Supports the Commerce

Those two sides of Leggo’s business — the commercial shoots for government departments and large businesses who want promotional images of their winery or their new development, and the artistic shots that Leggo sells as prints — work together surprisingly well. Leggo often wins commercial assignments from companies that have already seen his calendars or limited edition prints and want images with a similar look.

“That gives them confidence to engage me as they already understand the style of work and how this could support their promotion, advertising or marketing efforts.”

In turn, the commercial work provides more opportunities to create images for another line of limited edition prints. It’s a relationship in which the two arms of the business support each other. (The same is true of Leggo’s aviation photography which can draw on his landscape photography. Next month, for example, Leggo will travel to Tasmania to shoot for a new air charter company that uses a floatplane to fly tourists into wilderness areas.)

The predictability that Leggo’s artistic shots promise to commercial buyers then is a vital aspect of his success. Leggo describes himself as a specialist. His goal was always to travel and spend time in nature, and he doesn’t shoot portraits or weddings. His dedication to the natural subjects he photographs even extends as far as his ‘Plant-a-Tree’ Partnership with Trees for the Future. Leggo has committed to plant a tree for every limited edition print or other product he sells as well as for every new fan of his Facebook page and follower of his Twitter stream.

When Leggo began telling his colleagues that he was thinking of leaving his job to set up as a photographer, he was greeted, he says, with “gasps of horror.” Few could understand why someone want to give up a successful government career with plenty of security to chase a dream with no guarantees. Although it hasn’t always been easy and not all of his marketing efforts have worked out successfully (some he says, were “financial disasters”), Leggo has no regrets. He’s now more relaxed and happier than he’s ever been, he says — which probably makes his job the best of all.

3 comments for this post.

  1. Chris Aiken Said:

    I appreciate the level of dedication and personal business sense it takes to make it as a photographer, and that is exactly what I am working on, the freedom of artistic creation.

  2. Brisbane Wedding Photography Said:

    Thank you for the article. Photography is my dream and I want to pursue it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and tips.

  3. Javier Salcido  (@javiersalcido) Said:

    Building a Dream Photography Career in Five Years via @photopreneur

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