Shooting for the Stars

Photography: Jerry Lodriguss and John Martinez

There are a million and one reasons to try to generate income from photography. The amount of money you can earn is certainly one of them. With skill, talent and determination, the sums you can pick up depend only on you. But there’s a much better reason for attempting to turn your camera into a cash dispenser.

Photography is fun.

When your photographs sell, you’ve achieved the enviable goal of turning an activity that you’d pay to do into something that pays you. There’s no feeling in the world like that — and no limit to the ways you can do it.

Perhaps the best way though is to focus on photographing something you love.

We’ve already seen how Andreas Reinhold was able to combine his interest in cars and photography with the marketing power of Flickr to win commissions from leading auto magazines. Jerry Lodriguss has been using his love for astronomy to do something similar.

Since 1971, he’s been taking pictures of the stars and selling them as stock for magazines and textbooks. He publishes them in dedicated volumes which he sells on Amazon and through his website. And he’s also written a guide that teaches other photographers how they too can take pictures of the night sky.

So What Star Sign are you?
It’s not an easy niche to work in. Just as an understanding of cars is necessary to shoot vehicles well, so knowledge about astronomy — as well as photography — is necessary to take pictures of distant galaxies and star systems.

“Knowledge runs on a continuum,” Jerry told us. “To do the highest quality work, you need a lot of specialized knowledge.”

What you might not need, at least initially, is lots of specialized equipment. While it’s possible to find yourself shooting with computer-controlled tracking mounts and cooled astrophotographic CCD cameras eventually, Jerry recommends starting with nothing more complex than a tripod.

“Start simple. Learn as you go,” he says. “Don’t buy a telescope until you really know what you are doing.”

The first part of that advice could apply to just about any branch of photography, of course, but with astrophotography, even the simplest shots can yield spectacular results. Many of the images on this page, for example, were taken without a telescope, and the photograph that gives Jerry the most pride doesn’t depict colored clouds of space dust or spinning discs of distant galaxies, but his two sons watching Comet Hale-Bopp cross the night sky.

Photography: Jerry Lodriguss

Clearly though the best images are always going to come when you know where to look in the sky and at what time of year. While Jerry’s online guide provides a ton of technical information about how to shoot and process astrophotographs — and his book offers even more — you’ll still need the sort of astronomical understanding that can only come with a love of the subject.

Relying on the Weather
And a little luck too. According to Jerry, the biggest challenge of astrophotography isn’t collecting the right equipment or understanding the science. It’s the opportunity and the weather.

“I wait for clear skies on a night with no moon and on a night when I don’t have to work,” he says.

Fitting in time around work for a hobby — even one that pays — is always a challenge but interestingly, Jerry’s job is also photographic. He’s a professional sports photographer, a career he started after he began taking pictures of the sky. While having a day job that involves taking pictures is likely to have helped him develop a familiarity with cameras that helps his night work, there’s also a good chance that it has helped him to monetize that hobby too. Jerry’s sells his astrophotos as stock through Photo Researchers, a niche company that specializes in scientific images.

Whatever you love to shoot, there’s a good chance that there’s a niche stock company catering to those types of images too, giving you a very valuable opportunity. And if there isn’t a specialized stock site like that, then you have an even more valuable opportunity — you can start one.

Ultimately, the best way to approach photography like this is as an opportunity to take pictures of a subject that thrills you. The pleasure of the shoot should always be your first goal. Turning those pictures into money by selling usage licenses, marketing books or even — as Jerry has done — creating a guide that teaches other people how to do the exact same thing, should be a secondary goal… but one that makes the whole thing even more enjoyable.

Read Jerry’s introduction to astrophotography here.

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