The Art of the Personal Project: Beth Galton

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Beth Galton

Cut Food

Classic food photography involves the right people with talent and taste. Choosing the props, preparing the food in an appealing way, and lighting it so that it’s appetizing and beautiful creates a successful image.

My training has been as a classic food photographer; understanding the need for creativity and collaboration between the food and prop stylist and myself to produce an appetizing and beautiful image. For an assignment, we are tasked to photograph the surface of the food occasionally taking a bite or piece out but rarely a cross section of a finished dish. The goal is to make it appetizing and beautiful- to make the viewer hungry or influence them to recreate the dish.

This series was inspired by an assignment in which we were asked to cut a burrito in half for a client. At first, I thought it unappealing but soon realized the potential for a whole new perspective for looking at food. Cross sections are not new- a cake half eaten shows it’s interior. When applied to food items which are unexpected yet commonplace, even easily recognized within our food vocabulary, we move past the simple appetite appeal we normally try to achieve and explore the interior worlds of these products. In collaboration with the food stylists, we chose subjects which we felt were iconic symbols within our Western food culture; classic items that many of us grew up eating. As we shot each subject, it became apparent that some images needed to live in pairs such as the soup cans and the pints of ice cream. Shown together they create a stronger statement about their symbolic nature.

After testing various options, I came to realize that placing these subjects against a black background with a singular hard light helps focus the viewer on the hard reality of each interior; the texture and surface quality allowing each subject to reveal its own unique world within. There is a pictorial quality harkening back to magicians with rabbits coming out of black hats. My premise was to create imagery which looks as if it is happening magically, but as real as possible. Our approach is very low-tech using gelatin, glue, Crisco, scissors, and saws while fabricating each object. When necessary, some compositing was utilized but my background is of capturing everything in camera on a single sheet of film. I wanted these images to look this way.

It is important to mention the collaborators involved in these images. Without them, these images would not exist. Food stylists: Charlotte Omnès and Michelle Gatton. Retouchers: Daniel Hurlburt and Ashlee Gray.

To see more of this project, click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

Photo Editors, How Much Do You Make?

I currently work for a company (150+ mostly full time) in the women’s fashion/retail industry with a very small creative department. There are four employees in our photo department (including me), backed by a handful of freelancers.

I work 260 days in a calendar year (minus any PTO. I currently have Unlimited PTO).

I oversee all photography for both Ecomm and Marketing content. We have an in house ecomm photographer but also book freelancers weekly. For marketing, I book 2-3 shoots a month. With the pace at which we are booking/shooting – I lean towards booking photographers who understand my process, the turn around time, the budget and they are of course, on brand and can bring something fresh to the product and content.

I you want to get into my line of work I advise that you practice patience, stay organized, and learn how to manage many personalities and budgets. Stay assertive and take initiative!

Best Advice: Keep up! I lived in NY for majority of my career and if you want to stay in the competition, you have to keep up with the pace and everything evolving with it.
Worst Advice: Ive already forgotten it!

I am often happy to hear from a photographer whether its a quick hello on instagram/email just to keep their name on my radar. I am always saving and bookmarking photographers, agencies and photography I come across. But it’s also important for photographers to understand there is one of me in my current role/company, and thousands of you. I think transparent communication is important and I do my best to respond to a lot, but I don’t always have the bandwidth to respond to everyone. It’s not personal, it’s just the nature of the beast.

But also, I want to approach photographers with the same respect and consideration that they would give me. Some of my closest friends are photographers in the industry and I highly value photographers, stylists, set designers, etc. work and skill set. I want them to see that I come from that approach. I do my best on my end to make sure they are also excited about the project and are getting the most out of it. Any time a photographer (or crew member) leaves a shoot happy, gives me positive feedback, appreciates how organized or respectful me or my team is on set, that’s the most important to me at the end of the day!

Instagram is now my main source for finding photographers, I also use agencies, and recommendations from creatives I’ve worked with.

My advice to photographers is to be personable but stay professional!

The Daily Edit – Sara Hylton: National Geographic


A local carries fishing nets, made of plastic materials, which are often used only a few times and then disposed of, on May 14, 2019.
The ghats of the Ganges in Patna, Bihar on November 15th, 2019.
Vinod Sahni along with his family members and helpers prepare for an evening of fishing out along the Ganges. They spent several hours this day repairing their plastic fishing net before departing from the village of Rasalpur, Dharnipatti, Bihar on Nov. 14, 2019.
Fish for sale at a local fish market in Ayeshabag on May 16, 2019.
Sita Ram Sahni’s grandchildren play at their home in a makeshift swing in the village of Rasalpur, Dharnipatti, Bihar on Nov. 17, 2019.
Sita Ram Sahni’s grandchildren attend school in the village of Rasalpur, Dharnipatti, Bihar on Nov. 16, 2019.
Young boys play near a pond close the Meghna River on May 14, 2019.
Babu Sahni, 30, and his son Himanshu Kumar Sahni, 8, fish along a bank scattered with waste on the Punpun river, a tributary of the Ganges in Fatuha, Bihar, on Nov. 19, 2019. T
A wholesale flower market in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh on Nov. 23, 2019. The majority of these flowers are sold for religious purposes and though many vendors use cloth bags, some flowers and garlands being sold contain plastic ornamentation.
Rajan Baba, a sadhu, poses for a portrait at Manikarnika ghat, his main location of meditation in Varanasi, India on Nov. 25, 2019. Rajan Baba believes that nowadays “people are spending less time exploring god and more time chasing after things…I’ve been born and brought up in Banaras, a lot has changed…[the Ganges] used to be much wider…as the waste has increased, the water has shrunk…what else would I want but that the water becomes clean again?” he said.
Municipal employees collect waste from Manikarnika ghat, the main cremation ghat in the holy city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh on Nov. 26, 2019. The cremation site runs 24 hours a day and hundreds of bodies are cremated. The ritual of cremation relies on textiles often made of synthetic fibers and religious offerings and garlands containing plastic. Though the municipal corporation collects some of the waste, much of it still ends up in the Ganges. President Modi has committed to cleaning up Varanasi, his constituency, but many believe that the clean-up is just surface level. However, according to municipal employees, some of the solid waste collected along the ghats is taken to the Karsada waste-to-energy plant, waste that is converted to electric power.
The ghats of the Ganges river in Haridwar, Uttarkhand, India on Dec. 7, 2020.
At Maitri Sadan ashram in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India.
Swami Shivanand bathes and prays at the Ganges.
Har Ki Pauri ghat in Haridwar, Uttarakhand at sunrise.


Photographer: Sara Hytlon
National Geographic: Visual Story Editors: Alice Gabriner and Dominique Hildebrand.

The team of scientists and researchers was led by two incredible women (and the team itself was mostly women). More information on the Ganges: Sea to Source expedition can be found here

Heidi: You were in India for 12 years, what brought you there?
Sara: I was in the middle of studying a Master’s degree when my father passed away suddenly. I knew he would have wanted me to finish my degree, so I pressed on without really having the time to grieve or process what had happened. When I completed my studies, my best friend and I decided to travel to India for a few weeks. We were both going through big transitions in our lives, and we wanted to travel somewhere that took us out of our element and gave us some space. Funny, India doesn’t have much space. The idea of going to India during a crisis is an absolute cliché and I knew that from the start, but the Western notion of India is partly true, it is a very magical and spiritual place, and I say that while also acknowledging its deep issues and biases. I had planned on spending three weeks.

Were you planning on staying that long; did you speak Hindi?
I had no idea that this initial visit would involve me meeting two loves of my life – a man and photography. I had no plan to live there or spend long in South Asia. But it was a place that understood life and death in a way that made a lot of sense to me. The way South Asians see the world is both incredibly practical and poetic all at once. I felt completely thrown into chaos, but also held. I was hooked. I slowly built my photography practice, and my network to a point where I felt I could really make it my home. I have taken intensive Hindi classes over the years and used my broken understanding of the language to delve deeper into the culture. It was always one of the things that bothered me the most though – that I could never get to a place with my Hindi where I could make jokes or get angry. Indians have such great, cinematic humor. 

What did you learn about reverence for the Ganges?
When the roots of a culture believe that everything is a manifestation of God, and even the Ganges is revered by Hindus as a Goddess, how do you begin to visualize something that is believed to be so sacred and yet practically environmentally vulnerable? And how does one reconcile their own conditioning and culture so they can really see it? 

I’ve learned that the concept of “progress” and time is completely different. In the West, we are always rushing to get to the finish point, to have something to show for our efforts so we can quickly move onto the next thing. We miss the whole process of getting there. I have felt that so often in India while working. That if I do this one thing, this other thing must happen as a result. It just does not work that way. Nothing is linear, people aren’t there when you think they’re going to be there, and everything is basically an unknown. People don’t have time for you and you are not that important. But once they start to trust you and maybe even like you, they would give you the shirts off their back. It’s honestly the most humbling place I’ve worked. You are constantly being challenged on a professional and granular level. Broken down until your ego is nothing. And that’s when you start to make the work that matters. It’s a beautiful thing. So I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that if you show your patience and your authenticity, the thing that you need will happen, but probably not when, or the way you expect it to. Also, never refuse a cup of chai or prasad, you’ve ruined it already. 

Your last project for National Geographic was three years in the making and so much terrain to cover. What were some of the adventurous moments/biggest obstacles that you encountered? India is so full of rich surprises especially with COVID and the political unrest.
Traveling across the Ganges through Bangladesh and India was one of the most memorable projects I’ve ever worked on. We went through some terribly rough waters in Bangladesh because of cyclones. At one point, the bottom of our boat started to flood with water and it was so rocky people were getting sea sick. Then there was the extreme heat waves where we could only work very early in the morning and late at night, it was actually quite dangerous if we tried to push it. Then there were the absolute moments of elation and joy where the team would dance to Punjabi music under the rain and laugh hysterically. As a freelance photographer I’m really used to working alone, but this was such a different type of project that started off with a group of female scientists that I was fairly integrated with. We traveled a lot of the time together and this made navigating the adventures and challenges a lot less daunting. My favorite moment on the trip was when I was in a small village outside of Patna, Bihar (about a four hour drive) and my film camera broke. I didn’t have a backup with me, but miraculously someone from Mumbai (where I was living at the time) was able to transport the backup to Patna, and exchange the broken camera to get fixed. I ended up with both cameras in a few days, but it was a terrifying moment.

Were there any circumstances/interactions that moved you the most while making the work? India has a way of exploding your heart.
There are way too many moments to count. That’s what I miss about India the most. When you’re feeling hardened, angry, assertive, something always happens that just blows your heart wide open and you are instantly reminded of your humanity. Oh, I remember a funny moment when I was bitten by a baby goat and everyone went out of their way to make sure I was okay and even found me a doctor to get rabies shots. Then there was the time where me and my collaborator were in a village and it became very late at night (and we had quite a drive ahead), a mere stranger who knew nothing about us offered us a bed to sleep on and gave us chai in the morning. The stories are endless. I was constantly astounded by the generosity of people and lack of pretension. India has my heart and always will.

There are both advantages and disadvantages of being a westerner in India. You certainly earned trust for your portraits, Demigods of India. How did that project develop/evolve?
I had been wanting to do something with the Hijrah community in India for many years but I think I didn’t have the courage or the understanding of the community to really do it with integrity. I had spent several months meeting with NGO’s and organizations that worked with the community across Mumbai. Two helpful friends and amazing photographers – Zishaan Latif and Anushree Fadnavis – helped me navigate the project, and it wasn’t until I had their help that I really felt it was possible to make photos with sensitivity. Anushree was particularly experienced and was so generous in her willingness to help with translating and gaining access with the first community I worked with. At first the community was fairly closed off and ambivalent about photography, so I showed up and visited often before I even began to make photos. I met one really special person, Radhika, who was the gateway to the rest of the community. Radhika trusted me, and so others trusted her. It was quite a long process, getting to the point of making portraits. But I think curiosity and showing up goes a long way.

Being a Westerner is helpful at times because folks become as curious about you as you are them. But that can only go so far. They must feel your integrity and your heart, and that can take a long time to build. The disadvantages are of course language and commonality. Being a woman is particularly tough, but in this instance, I think it helped because I could spend time just sitting in people’s homes without too many concerns.

What have you been working on recently?
I’m based in Brooklyn, New York now and continue to focus on environmental issues and vulnerable communities, especially related to water. I’m working on a multi-year project through an Explorer grant from National Geographic Society and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society on the sanctity and scarcity of water among First Nations communities in Canada. I’ll be traveling to Nepal in a couple of months to work on another grant about faith and conservation, and I’m also really excited to be working with some brands and outlets whose values really align with my own, including Patagonia and the New York Times.



Photo Editors- How Much Do You Make?

I work a standard 5 day work week with additional hours needed around shoots. I have a company 401k for retirement. I recently received a slight 3% or 4% raise only after asking several times for years.

My average work day is a mix of constant email correspondence, searching for affordable shoot locations, processing vendor paperwork, excel spreadsheet budgets, making payments for shoot production, editing images, overseeing retouching, putting together call sheets, trying to find ways to stretch out an already low budget that’s been cut yet again, and production meetings.

My advice for people who want a job like mine: Don’t. Your job will eventually get cut and the number of years experience you have in this industry only makes you less employable :\

Best/Worst Advice: “It’s way more important to know how to take a picture than use a camera.” – Olivia Bee

I want to be approacehed by photographers through email. You can DM through Instagram to ask for my work email. Then send a promo or a new project drop every few months or so. Don’t email again and again if I don’t reply. Just because I follow you on Instagram, doesn’t mean I want to hire you.

I find photographers through Instagram, other publications, Diversify Photo, and Women Photograph.

Any photographers reading this, please stop putting people in the middle in every single frame it’s so boring and I am sick of it. That is all.

Photo Editors, How Much Do You Make?

This is my salary + additional freelance photo work (per year) over the last few years.

I am a former full time freelance photographer who is now a salaried photo editor. I was making $45-60K gross when I was a full time freelancer for the first several years of my career.

I work for a mid-to-large size publication and it is mostly remote. We have enough work to hire a handful of photographers every month and can pay between $1-2K per day for shoots.

I understand that it’s easier said than done, but leaving full-time freelance work and getting a salaried job within the industry was probably the smartest thing I did financially but, more importantly, emotionally. I was not built to be a full-time freelance photographer. It’s a hard life and is very difficult to maintain relationships, have kids etc. The up and downs are too great and it’s hard to live off of the $450 day rate that the New York Times, or other publications, would occasionally send my way. It was the absolute worst not getting work for a few weeks. It made me jealous of people who were getting consistent work and big advertising jobs and I did not like who I was becoming. I was always anxious and my work suffered. Being able to rely on a salary allowed me to become a better photographer since I was able to focus on my craft and get better, rather than having to constantly try to get hired and paid.

Between full-time job and freelance, I probably work 250-300 days each year.

Since getting my current job I have been able to max out my company matched 401(k) every year. I have $100K+ in savings, vast majority of which has come in the last few years.

If you are still a student – intern anywhere you can. Work for photographers, see what their world is like. Work for museums, see how they operate. Work for publications and see what life is like as a photo editor. The stakes are low and you will likely hate some of them, but that is incredibly valuable information for you to take with you.

If you are already a working professional – Don’t wait to get hired to start making the work you want to make. If you want to, for example, photograph protests for the NYTimes, don’t wait for them to hire you. Photograph it anyway and put it on your instagram. Treat it like an assignment and ask your friends for feedback in how you can improve. The best thing to do is always be shooting. If the work is strong enough, there is a good chance the right people will eventually see it. If you are not making work, you lose any chance of getting seen.

Best Advice – Shoot what you know.
Worst Advice – Any advice I received from professors in college who hadn’t been a working photographer in decades. They had no knowledge or desire to learn about how the modern photography industry works.

Instagram is the best way for photographers to approach me- If you follow me, I will at least look at your work. If I like it, I will follow you. If you’re looking for freelance work, please put where you’re based in your bio.

I find photographers everywhere: friends and I talk about who is making interesting work, instagram, reading magazine/newspapers and checking credits, being online too often…

You do not have to go to photo school to be a successful photographer, especially in this day and age and especially if you would have to assume substantial debt in order to go. This is not to say photo school is not valuable or doesn’t give students a leg up. Some of the best photographers I’ve met either didn’t go to college or studied something else before becoming a photographer.

The Art of the Personal Project: Chava Oropesa

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Chava Oropesa

Con Mucho Cariño

A soul-warming collection of my Mon’s recipes.

Let me tell you why this project is so important to me. My mom was a great cook, she was a full-time home maker and made all our meals from scratch. She created a handwritten cookbook with all her recipes, and some handed down from her mother and grandmother. There were over 120 recipes and my dad, being an engineer, created a way of organizing and indexing as my mom continued to add new recipes to her book.

The recipes are so delicious and remind me of my life in Mexico while living with my parents. Both of them have passed on, and for a few years I have been thinking of a way to honor them by cooking my mom’s recipes and photographing the process. I am also hoping this project will help keep some of these wonderful recipes alive.

Why “Con Mucho Cariño”? Because that’s the way my mom would sign off her letters when writing to me: “With lots of love”.

I also believe her recipe’s secret ingredient was that too, lots of love.


I’m Chava, an Oakland based Photographer and Creative Director whose love for photography and food, and even the packaging it comes in, has transformed into my life’s passion.

Growing up in Mexico City filled my life with colorful culture which has deeply influenced both my design style and photography.

To see more of this project, click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Art of The Personal Project: Jennifer MacNeill

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.


Today’s featured artist:   Jennifer MacNeill

The farm auction project grew from childhood memories of attending the liquidation sale of my stepfather’s family dairy farm and my current interest in local history and desire to gain entry into old barns and homes that surround me in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We have some of the richest farmland in the United States and so often our farms are being replaced with housing developments, warehouses, and shopping centers.

When I started working on the project in 2021, I had little idea that the private worlds I would gain entry into would be filled with so much mystery and tinged with sadness. Many of these auctions are used to settle the estate for a farmer who has passed. They lived a hidden life many of us never even think about.

There is a secret thrill in exploring these old houses and barns with little restriction. Studying the architecture, disrepair, and personal belongings to learn about the history of the area in properties dating back well over a hundred years. Mingling with auction-goers and engaging in conversation to further investigate the lives of the people who once lived there, to get a sense of who they were.

Through my images I seek to piece together clues showing how the farm owners lived, the process and people that attend these auctions, and visually preserve a vanishing history.

To see more of this project, click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Daily Edit – Conveyor Studio

Conveyor Studio

Co-founder & Creative Director: Christina Labey

Co-founder & Production Manager: Jason Burstein

Heidi: You recently published a gorgeous book Moemoeā by Brendan George Ko, along with photography the book included unique type design, illustration, and an essay. What was the essence of creative direction as the photography honors sharing Polynesian knowledge of celestial navigation.
Christina and Jason: When we start a project, I always ask the artist to provide their inspiration as a point of departure for my research rabbit hole on the creative direction. One of Brendan’s inspirations for making this project was a book called Vikings of the Sunrise by Te Rangi Hiroa, so when we started the project I bought a beautiful hardcover copy on eBay. We used the lettering and illustrations from this as a point of departure, alongside a haul books and ephemera we’d recently bought at a used bookshop in Hawaii.

Our designer Elana Schlenker brilliantly suggested that we commission Sophy Hollington—who uses linocut, a relief printmaking process—to create the lettering and illustrations throughout. The geometric patterns on the covers of The Spell and The Story were inspired by Hawaiian tapa designs, a form of printmaking typically made from hand-carved bamboo stamps. In The Story booklet, instead of page numbers we used the phases of the moon to illustrate the passage of time through the book as a nod to celestial navigation and tracking time though natural elements. The illustrations are set in a vibrant vermilion that echoes the color of Hōkūle‘a’s sails and Hawaii’s iron-rich volcanic soil.

The book includes a wire bound and a singer sewn booklet. Why did you choose these particular binding styles for the two parts The Story and The Spell? From the start, we knew the book would have a hardcover case but wanted to something that felt unique to the project, so we chose to wire bind The Spell to give the feeling of a nautical logbook. Practically, we wanted an option that would lay flat and allow us to occasionally insert iridescent paper stock to emulate the sheen of the ocean’s surface or the night sky.

For The Story, the booklet reminds me of a small field guide or scrapbook that provides an objective and historical account after The Spell, which is more of an experiential book. The singer sewn binding allowed us to bring some color into the binding edge and the center spread, it also recalls the color and stitching of Hōkūle‘a’s sail which appear as the opening image.

Roughly, how many books do you create and print annually since you are a bespoke studio honoring craft?
We publish two or three artist books each year in addition to Mercuria, an experimental magazine that explores art and science in chapter form. We typically release one book with an artist we haven’t published before, this takes form in a more ambitious, research-based project that includes significant text and custom design elements. The other books are usually something a little more informal, little to no text, and experimental from one of the artists on our publishing roster.

We went on a bit of a hiatus during the pandemic, it was ideal for reflection and research, but not so great for connecting with our artists, editors, and designers. There is something irreplaceable about in-person design meetings, creative brainstorming, pulling out all the material swatches, and reviewing proofs and prototypes together.

In retrospect, the long pause was beneficial because I allowed myself to embrace the fact that I work slowly. I put a lot of time and thought into each project, when there are a lot of events I feel the pressure to launch new things, but once you publish something it’s forever. Our books will outlive us in libraries and collections, so it’s important that I feel happy with it, and most importantly that it represents the artist’s project in the best possible way. This was the case with Moemoeā, which slowed pace during the pandemic and ultimately took an extra two years because we wanted to commission an essay to include historical and cultural context, we also added a lot of extra production embellishments. In the end, I’m so happy we waited until it felt completely right.

Same Sum is a lovely interactive book full of surprises, what were the challenges with the unique shuffling of the sequences?
It was a really strange experience to try and sequence a book that would also be sequenced by both the reader and by chance as every shuffle and flip-though is bound to be different. It started with the initial edit, narrowing it down to 120 photographs from 400. I find that as an editor you become really familiar with a photographer’s patterns, compositions, and motifs, you start to see how they experience the world through their camera and then present that to the reader. The edit embraces the patterns I find in Peters photographs and lay the groundwork for the reader to make their own connections between images. For example, many images have a central circle or strong angles in the composition, certain pops of color that resonate, a repeated spiral theme, or very similar images made moments apart that occur several times on different panels of the book. It seems random, but it was very considered.

The challenge came when we started to print proofs and prototypes, after I finished a sequence we would immediately print and bind it because it wasn’t possible to experience it on screen, no matter how much we mocked it up to mimic the real thing. We went through five or six rounds of sequencing this way: revise, print, bind, flip, repeat. When we were on press with the final, there were still surprises that popped up from the fact that one book was bound on the left, the other on the right, which shuffled the images further and blew our mind a bit.

What inspired this type of book?
When Peter pitched this project to me, it included 400+ photographs culled from his daily life that were both mundane and magical. He’d experimented with different ways of installing them and was curious if we could make a book from the project. When we begin a new book, the artist fills out a questionnaire—brilliantly created by our long-time collaborator Liz Sales for I Write Artist Statements—so we can identify the themes at the heart of the project before putting together a design proposal. In describing the project, he said “I’ve never been able to effectively lay out the entire deck, extras are always left in small bundles on the table, so while every picture is tangibly together the contents of all pictures are not visible. In this way, the project feels like an epic deck of cards that can never be fully dealt.”

From that moment, I knew I wanted to nod to magic tricks and a card deck, there is a certain sleight of hand that goes into framing and photographing. I also liked how he described the process as a cycle of practice and playing feeding off one another, this made me think of spiral binding and the double-bound format was inspired in part by Amber Gambler by Dylan Nelson.

We published Peter’s debut monograph Half Wild, so I knew this could be a more playful sequel since our audience was already familiar with his work. I also knew that he would be open to experiment with format so long as it doesn’t distract from the heart of the project or the photographs—a principle that is important in all of our publications.

How does the digital age intersect with your work?
The digital age is what makes this all possible, from the Indigo (our digital offset press, which allows us to print books essentially on demand) to social media for sharing our projects or collaborating remotely with artists and contributors. But it does feel like the hours are spent on the screen are endless and never enough, from answering emails, designing books, researching projects, and documenting our work (studio photography and a lot of retouching). We have an amazing team, but we are also still a small studio, so we are hands-on with all aspects!
I think this affects our personal life in that we are drawn to activities that don’t revolve around the screen, our weekends or travels revolve around being immersed in nature or the studio. Our personal studio practices have also evolved away from digital; our foundation is in photography and even though we both shoot film, there is so much time spent on screen from scanning and retouching to designing books or installation ideas. We find ourselves exploring other more tactile and meditative mediums—woodworking for Jason, watercolor and natural pigments for myself—and also thinking about how they can intersect with photography, for example experimenting with custom frames, different materials, and installation ideas.

How has your own artistic background informed your practices at Conveyor Studio?
In a way, my personal practice and my Conveyor Studio practice are so interwoven that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish, they continue to constantly inform one another. When we opened the studio I was just starting the MFA Photography program at Parsons and only beginning to find the direction of my own art practice. Simultaneously, we started experimenting with publishing and started Conveyor magazine, it was my first experience with editing and curating yet it felt really natural. This idea of arranging started to trickle into my personal work which takes form in installations and artist books that mix of images and text, curated from archives and my own writing and photographs. Whenever I start a new project, I inherently think about it in book format, from scale to tactile and temporal experience.

It happens with research topics too, at some point I became very interested in both science and the metaphysical, so naturally the themes for each issue of Conveyor magazine began to reflect similar topics like Alchemy and Time Travel. This continues even further with Mercuria, which explores art and science and is mercurial in format. I wanted the ability to play with the design and format of each booklet, not fit each issue into the same mold. The next volume is going to have the theme of Botany, which is currently a main focus in my own research. I like to think that if I’m going into it with a lot of passion and excitement, it will reflect and spread to the readers.

I also find that design commissions and our publishing projects, even though they aren’t explicitly my personal work, for experimentation and collaborations that are inspiring. I’m lucky in that I get to choose both my design clients and the projects we publish, and usually there is some kind of overlap in areas of research or interest so that I both learn something from their work and can also bring a uniquely, informed element to their book.

As artists, what compelled you to have a studio that celebrates print?
Jason trained as a darkroom and digital printer at Lightwork while studying at Syracuse. He has an extensive knowledge of color management, this combined with his family’s longstanding history in book design and production in the New York City area, started to carve a clear path toward print. In addition to photography, I studied graphic design and art history, which all lend quite well to publishing.

We started Conveyor Studio in a small annex in the book printing and binding factory in Hoboken, New Jersey. Initially, we were just tapping the resources available to us and dove headfirst into printing, publishing, and even curating exhibitions in the space. In the beginning, it was as much about building a community of artists as it was a love of print, and amazingly those things have just continued to grow together over the last decade.


The Art of the Personal Project: Zach Anderson

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Zach Anderson

The Millennial zeitgeist is ever shifting, though there is one thread that weaves its way through the fabric of the cohort: acceptance and admiration of uniqueness. Amplified even more by Gen Z, it’s hard to ignore the pursuit of a sense of self among this group.

Zach Anderson strives to share his experience and perspective in his photography, including his friends as subjects. His coming of age has shaped his visual aesthetic and can be seen through the attention to color, freshness, and youthful communication through his imagery. And as a Millennial, telling stories of identity through his art is a priority.  

Combining his love of distinctive color to communicate emotion, music as a barometer for feeling and his celebration of the queer community, Zach’s new project highlights Drag Queens in Boise, ID. Sense of self and acceptance at the forefront of this art form, Zach aims to emphasize the talent and effort that goes into each performance.

To see more of this project, click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Art of the Personal Project: Kremer / Johnson

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Kremer Johnson

“Palm Springs Bears” – Capturing the Soul of Palm Springs’ Bear Community”

In the vibrant oasis of Palm Springs, a unique culture thrives, embracing an extraordinary sense of community, design, and humor. Within this warm and welcoming enclave, we discovered a profound admiration with a group of individuals known as “bears” – gay men who exude strength, authenticity, and a profound sense of belonging. “Palm Springs Bears” is a photo series born from our deep affection for this remarkable community, a whimsical portrayal of their lives and the spaces they inhabit.
To create this visual narrative, we searched social media, reaching out for potential subjects. The process of casting our subjects through social media platforms allowed us to connect with individuals who were not just willing to participate but eager to share their stories. Their enthusiasm and willingness to be vulnerable in front of the camera opened a door to a world of authenticity, enabling us to portray their lives in an uninhibited light.
Embracing the spirit of innovation and creativity, we rented a house in the heart of Palm Springs, a place that symbolizes a sanctuary for many members of the bear community. Within the living room of this temporary dwelling, we constructed a wall, symbolizing both unity and the protection of a sanctuary. For each subject, we adorned this unique backdrop with distinct wallpapers, carefully chosen to reflect their individual personalities, aesthetics, and stories.



To see more of this project, click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Art of the Personal Project: Sara Forrest

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Sara Forrest

Mention the state of Kansas and maybe you draw a blank and wonder “where is that state anyways” or perhaps you think of the history of the state.  The Brown vs the Board of Education case, Bleeding Kansas or even just the arduous drive passing through on I-70.  For me, it’s memories of wading through creek beds, watching the stars on the hood of the car with curious cows staring at you in the moonlight, chewing on summer clover and taking long drives to nowhere, half enjoying the ride and half keeping an eye open for adventure.  For me, the adventure always found me in the tallgrass prairies.  The land is quiet, some folks from the cities and coasts may even claim desolate.  There’s always a coyote scattering on the horizon or a meadowlark keeping an eye on you from a nearby post.  Late afternoon clouds open and close in the sky like a giant house curtain on nature’s stage.

This series of photographs are part of a larger series on family friends and communities in the Flint Hills tallgrass prairies of Kansas.  “Tallgrass prairie once covered 170 million acres of North America, but within a generation most of it had been transformed into farms, cities, and towns. Today less than 4% remains intact, mostly in the Kansas Flint Hills.” (via  Every spring, prescribed burns snake through the landscape.  Native Americans were the first people to use prescribed fire, as it attracted buffalo to the new grass for easier hunting.  Research has shown that cattle gain more on pastures that have been burned because the old grass and thatch have been removed.  Without these burns, invasive Eastern Red Cedar would choke out the native grass and use up a lot of the water in the soil.  As you walk the prairies you often see buffalo grazing in the distance.

I can not speak to the cowboy way of life, simply because I do not cowboy for a living.  The only way to really get a taste of what that kind of life is like is by getting yourself a good seasoned cow horse, a good mentor and submerging yourself into the lifestyle.  I can throw a rope off my horse and am learning to work cattle, but the demanding, often life or death work in the elements day in and out is not for the faint of heart.  The experience and the opportunity to become friends with and be welcomed into this way of life has not only humbled me, but taught me more about heart, respect, and dedication than anything I have been a part of so far.  These are a few photographs that put a lens behind a typical day of the life of a cattle rancher on the great plains.

To see more of this project, click here

To order prints click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Art of the Personal Project: Hugh Kretschmer

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:   Hugh Kretschmer


Normally, I steer clear of clichés in my work; it’s a bit of a rule of mine. But there was something about this series titled “The Perils of Being Ken” that was different. The concept relentlessly occupied my mind, inundating me with ideas. The decision to proceed was solidified when fate introduced me to Kristopher Ohlsson, a student who walked into my Portrait Class I was teaching at a local college – the living embodiment of the character in this series. It was an unmistakable sign to move forward, hitting me like a beautiful slap in the face.

This seven-image series is the only exception where my rule clashes with the creative surge. The initial concept sparked a torrent of ideas, resulting in more photos than we ultimately included in the final edit. Some worked well, while others fell short. Yet even the ones that didn’t quite hit the mark inspired new ideas that ultimately brought coherence to the project. Consequently, the shoot stretched over two days, with a six-month gap in between.

The series’ essence hinged on creating a “small world” appearance, achieved through perspective control lenses in real locations across Los Angeles. However, after testing an array of perspective control (PC) lenses on my DSLR under similar circumstances, I found the results weren’t as strong as I had hoped. Dealing with too many uncertainties, I opted to achieve the desired effect through post-processing in Photoshop. This gave me complete control over points of focus and allowed me to guide my audience’s attention precisely.

The production’s success rested heavily on the makeup and wardrobe aspects, making it essential to have the proper support. For this, I turned to the expertise of Make-up Stylist Isaac Prado and Costumer Gillean McLeod, two seasoned veterans with whom I had collaborated multiple times before. Their contributions were the linchpin of the project’s triumph, and their ingenuity and skills left me in awe.

Wardrobe, Gillean McLeod:

Makeup, Isaac Prado:


To see more of this project, click here


Hugh Kretschmer’s work has been exhibited in Paris, Berlin, São Paulo, Montreal, Serbia, New York, and Los Angeles and was the subject of a retrospective at the Hoban Museum, Seoul. His photographs are permanently displayed at the 9/11 Museum at Ground Zero and in the Library of Congress archives. His work has been recognized by the International Photography Awards, American Photography, Communication Arts, Graphis, Siena Awards, and Society of Publication Designers. His client list includes Vanity Fair, New York Times, Fortune, National Geographic, Time Magazine, Old Spice, Penn & Teller, Sony, Honda, Purina, and Evian, among others.

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

Audience with a Tree: Jana Cruder

Audience with a Tree

Photographer: Jana Cruder

Heidi: How did your connection to trees as a nature based solution to climate change and human connectivity begin?
Jana: I’d like to ask the reader to suspend their known idea of the concept and words “Climate Change“. That is simply too big to grasp and leaves many feeling overwhelmed.  The climate is constantly changing, it is the earth’s regulatory systems constantly seeking balance and self regulating. Rather, I want to encourage an update of terminology to “Environmental Degradation“ from multi-generational post industrialization. That way we can truly understand and start to shape the what, why and how.    

I’ve always had a special affection for trees, as a child I grew up in the forests of western Pennsylvania, running endlessly through them, watching the bears, deers, turkey and building forts. We as a family spent most of our free time in the forest surrounding the home I grew up in.   

In 2010 I went to Germany, that was the first time I witnessed a planted forest. I was on a train from Hamburg to Frankfurt and for what seemed like endless miles I could see straight down the lines of the forests swiftly passing by the window, these forests also void of other life, birds, deer, and other plants.   It was confusing and then I realized all the forests here are planted.  After that trip I did more research and learned about GMO forests and the less than 4% of old growth left in Europe at that time.

The inspiration for this project came in the summer of 2017 I was deep in a course learning about the ancient system of elemental theory Ayurveda. In this system of thought we are taught we are not separate from the earth that makes up our internal body systems.  I learned that our lungs are the forests of our bodies and the forests are the lungs of the planet.   Making this connection paved the way for the unfolding of this work. While attending the Spiritweavers Gathering, the founder Mea Woodruff had purchased and relocated the gathering to its permanent site amongst a towering collection of old growth cedars and redwoods. I had visited the Redwood forests before and always loved visiting Sequoia and never felt more alive then in the presence of those magnificent magical old growth trees. At the gathering I had the opportunity to meet and listen to Ayana Young speak about her passion for the forest and her then new podcast and project called “ For The Wild “.  I was so inspired by Ayana and her vision for the Redwoods project she planted a spark in my spirit.  The months following the gathering I listened to every episode she had at the time and dove deep into the challenges and stories of the Redwoods and Pacific Coastal first nations and forests.  Later that fall I relocated from Topanga, CA to the northern Bay Area and landed in a community outside Sebastopol.  I had pulled up in the driveway and left all my belongings, gear, and equipment in the car and went into my new room and fell asleep.  Around 4am my new house-mate was pounding on my door telling us all we had to evacuate. I drove to the nearest ridgeline to witness a wall of flames about 10 miles wide making its way towards the house I just moved into.  This fire would initiate a series of evacuations between Northern California and Southern California that spanned the next two years.  After the devastation of the Santa Rosa, and Tubbs fires of 2017 I went out into the fire scorched forests and cities to document the devastation.  I was never the same after those fires, it’s like my eyes opened for the first time to the magnitude of the threat to our forests and our old-growth forests and the important and intrinsic roles the old-growth natural forests play in the balancing of the earth’s climate.  I was overcome with grief mixed with curiosity, and that is when I was inspired to make this image. It is a self portrait of me on a stump scorched after the fires.

What was your first memory of a tree?
As a child, I grew up in the woods. In front of our home in Greensburg, PA are planted two giant Sycamore trees standing now well over 100ft tall and 10ft in diameter, they are about 80 years old.  Did you know the Sycamore tree is full of drinkable sap. If you’re ever out of water and you see a Sycamore tree you’re in luck. These two trees have stood as pillars for me, the memory of them so strong and so present in my life.   The first picture of me is 1986 in the woods near the lake behind our family home, the second was 1996. I’m sitting on a bucket holding my cat under that giant Sycamore.

Some of your work is based in spiritual practices and anthropomorphization of the tree, can you share more about this?
Nature is spiritual, for me I am at most alive in my being when I am in deep nature. Spend enough time in these places and you’ll understand the interconnectedness of it all. My spiritual fabric is a diverse mixture of philosophies and practices and part of what I bring to every aspect of my life.  In my early 20’s I met and studied with a Navajo medicine man in New Mexico. He started to open me to the realms beyond this physical fabric. He introduced me to the Beauty Way and Red Road, an unfolding of honor that might take my entire lifetime to fully embody.

I anthropomorphize most everything, even as a child.  Partially to create a window of engagement, the other to recognize all things as having life. It is centered around beliefs from Buddhist and also the Native American belief systems. To recognize all things as having life force, taking life force and that is to be respected and not wasted.  These philosophies are hard to balance in a culture where consumerism, and economic gain outweigh the value of other than humans and the health of the environment.

What is your hope with the immersive work?
My latest immersive experience Audience With A Tree, it is my hope that I can reconnect people with the vast  essence of these giant old growth forests. Bring about a moment of reflection and inspire reverence.

Have you ever known something so deeply as a truth in your heart, you just wait for the moment it unfolds into reality on this earth plane? That is how I felt as this project started to take shape, I knew I wanted to use my creative skills and talents for something bigger than me, it’s a walking prayer of mine. To be used, aligned and put into the right space and time for the elevation of these ideas to connect humans to nature at large.  I had at the time two other large experiential fine art installs under my belt and trees seemed like that was my next focus for immersive experience.  I read the book “ The Hidden Life Of Trees “, by Peter Wohlleben.  I was also deep into the realms of plant medicine at the time and kundalini yoga, all practices that open one up to other possibilities and shifting ways of thinking. It was on a medicine journey when I started hearing the root networks of the trees and seeing their interconnected being-ness,  they even started coming into my dreams off the medicine. It felt as if I was being summoned.  I listened and planned a trip to the giant old growth of Redwoods state park – visiting the Grandmother trees in the Redwood state forest all while documenting and listening deeply.   My first trip was a scouting trip, talking to rangers and locals, learning so much about the conflicting agendas for the forest industry, BLM and the state and national park systems. It was on that trip I also learned about the permits auctioned off and some given for free to private enterprise to access state and national lands to harvest resources. I left that trip amped and angry.  I then returned to go deeper into the woods  with my partner Zebu, he himself is a producer and artist. I was sure he’d understand the need to sit at the feet of the Grandmother Trees and listen. He and I took some mushrooms and sat on that beach surrounded by towering old growth Redwoods, that was where I had my Audience With A Tree. I prayed, cried and asked for forgiveness, I then asked for inspiration for what is needed. What can I do? It was quiet for a few moments when I heard loudly the word “ Reverence “ inspire reverence.

As for the mediums, and progression of my craft, I feel I outgrew the label of “ Photographer “ many years ago, when I was learning film and started directing more commercial multi media advertising shoots and branded content creation. I’m identifying now as a multimedia artist and creative director who uses photography and video to create experiences I and my  teams then document.  For my fine-art experience Audience With A Tree, I used both photography I captured in Sequoia National Forest before and after the devastating fires of 2021 as well as images from Redwood National Forest and other Redwood groves along the pacific coast highway. I also used video I captured mixed in with some stock images to create an immersive forest experience.

How have you tried to communicate scale and majesty with your art?
Scale is very important to me, when I created Natural Plasticity I remember when the idea came it was so simple, I wanted to make these pieces so big the public couldn’t ignore them.  That’s how big plastic felt to me, I wanted to create a disruption and for that project scale helped convey that.  I’m inspired by many great artists that have preceded me using scale to make bold statements. In my practice I’m not afraid of scale and I use it to convey feeling. These things are very big for me and visual scale is a way to communicate that. For Audience With A Tree scale is a poignant and impactful way to convey scale of the old-growth. For  the Berlin installation we chalked a 30ft in diameter Giant Sequoia stump print. This not only reflects the actual size of the Sequoias but also stands conceptually for the magnitude of their threat and to call attention to the honoring of the trees that once stood in these very spaces.   Being in California and spending time with these tree beings, I took for granted the opportunity to be in their presence. I assumed others around the world knew about them and how big they are.   While at the Berlin install I remember standing with someone when they made the connection to the scale of the stump print and the projections inside the exhibition.  They couldn’t believe it, they said to see them in a picture then to stand amongst the imprint of scale was monumental.  There was a moment of recognition that I think could not have been had with just an image.  In future installs I envision several of these stump prints making their ways through the city and leading up to the install sites, perhaps honoring various fallen old growth.

Your first proof of concept installation was in Berlin, an industrial concrete environment, are you always planning on installing in cities where trees once stood?
In 2016 I created my install Way Of The Modern Man, this got me recognition in the Vice Creators Project. From that article about a year later  I got an email in my in-box from NY/Berlin based architect Umberto Freddi.   He simply said, my work was brilliant and that he wanted to collaborate in the future.  Later that year when I was in Berlin on a photo assignment, Umberto and I met over coffee and he asked what I was interested in and working on next. I said Trees, I wanted to bring the vast essence of our old growth to dense urban environments to remind people they exist and that we need them.   I shared with him early ideas of what this experience could look like and he took out his sketch book and started drawing. Below is that first sketch of trees and scale.  We kept in touch moving the vision forward over the next many years, applying for funding, and fine tuning the idea.  The vision for me started so big and then finally though distillation and process it was able to be deduced to its essence. To the elements of impact. That is what I shaped and brought to life with the help of Umberto, Ufer Studios the PSR Kollective and The Foundation For Contemporary Arts in NY.    

At the moment I’m envisioning this to be installed in dense urban environments and available to the public to come and sit in Audience.  Installing into cities is ideal for the concept. The contrast of gray, urban, concrete is needed for the impact of the work.  In Berlin the contrast was incredible, we were in a very industrial and concrete part of the city. To have visitors come into a space where it was warm, smelled like the redwoods, with a towering canopy of nature and nature sounds provided a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was a welcomed reminder and reset space.

What tools did you give the audience to honor the trees?
I don’t want to beat people over the head with fear, the mainstream media and political and corporate agendas do a good job at that already. I’m also not approaching this challenge we face as humanity with fear. I’m most interested in opening a curious and contemplative space of self reflection. Opening a welcoming safe space for different points of view where people can come and touch into these conversations without guilt and fear.  This is a big conversation, it’s a topic we’re all thinking about, affected by and the elephant in the room.

My intention is simple, to inspire reverence. To do that I created a sacred and visually interesting space. I pulled upon the idea that in times past people would bring grievances to the attention of the Queen by requesting an Audience. In Audience With A Tree its almost a reversed request, the trees are asking the public to come and sit in audience with them and learn and listen for answers.  The immersive experience is layers of projections towering above with scents of redwood and cedar in the moist air coupled with the “ Voice Of The Forest “ a guided meditation from the Mother Tree, she brings people into relationship with the understanding of how important mother trees are to the balance of the forest ecosystems and their roles in the forest hierarchy.  When we take these mother trees aka old growth we can permanently alter and scar the health of the entire forest network.  I also brought into this experience an altar. I was very inspired by the great altars to the memory of loved ones at the San Francisco Day of the Dead, also known as Da de los Muertos.  I wanted to create an altar for trees, a space to bring our grievances and concerns about the environmental destruction and changes we are experiencing as a collective and listen deeply for answers.   On that altar I placed sacred items, sage, palo santo, crystals, sacred mala beads, flowers in honor amongst the news clippings about old-growth deforestation, clearcutting for lithium, how governments are selling resources to private companies and the impact of deforestation on our first nation peoples globally.   I worked with photographer Mike Graeme   to present some of his before and after images of the Giant Cedars and the devastation of Fairy Creek, Cayuse wilderness of British Columbia.  I witnessed people come to the altar, and sit in reflection, look around at the projections and then back to the altar. It was a gentle and poignant way to share the why. People wrote messages to the trees, offered a candle and some even a prayer.  It was so beautiful to provide a space for reflection and reverence.

How long is each tree portrait?
The experience is open and rather fluid, the guided meditation lasts about 17 minutes depending on which language it is presented in and the viewers are then invited to sit in the space and reflect. Some rest, on the giant bean bags on the floor listening to the forest soundtrack, some visit the altar. Overall I’d say the average visitor spends about 30 minutes to 1hr in the experience.

What calls you to a specific tree or grove?
It is an absolutely combination of heart and my eyes. Sometimes they come in dreams, or messages. I’ll see something, read something, learn about a group of trees and know I want to go visit them.  It all depends where I am and where I’m collecting images, films and sounds. Sometimes I’ll be driving and see them and immediately have to pull over to visit them. Other times I search them out talking to rangers and locals to find places not often found by everyone.  So far I’ve visited many old growth groves in California, Oregon and Pennsylvania as well as the Amazon in Peru.   It is a big vision for this work to continue and I hope to visit more pockets of old growth on the planet before they are gone, especially the Baobab old growth in Africa.


Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

I’m a full-time staff photographer for a quasi governmental institution. I shoot mostly corporate portraiture, events, and reportage. I started out shooting live music, portraits, and weddings. Eventually I found success doing food and beverage work for editorial and commercial clients, and did a lot of corporate portraiture for private clients as well as trade publications. In 2015, I took a full-time job doing in-house illustrative product photography and started learning video on the job while still freelancing. In 2021 I parlayed that experience into a new job with my current employer.

It’s a pretty even 33/33/33 split between portraits/events/reportage now that the “day job” is my only work. Since 2015 I’ve been slowly transitioning away from freelance work as my salary as a staff photographer has increased. This year I shut down my freelance website and sold half my gear since I no longer actively market myself for freelance jobs.

I bought my first camera in 2008 while touring with my band and went “full-time” in 2009 when my day job in the construction biz tanked after the housing crisis.

Most of my freelance clients were small to medium-sized companies based in the Midwest, but my editorial work involved a lot of travel all over North America.

I rented a dingy studio space for $1000/month in 2014-2015 but got rid of it when I took a staff job. Other than that, I’ve never had much overhead aside from the essentials: liability insurance, web hosting, software subscriptions etc. which total about $200/month. I don’t buy equipment often, and when I do I keep it for a long time. Since I don’t shoot video as a freelancer, I don’t need to invest in the latest gear. A 3-light setup, Nikon D850, and a few lenses can go a long way if you have good technique and are good with people.

As a full time freelancer, I would shoot about 200 days a year, but I was always “working”. As a staffer, it’s a 40-hour week most weeks, so 250-ish days a year.

My freelance clients ranged from individuals to mammoth companies like Energizer. I’ve shot tons of different stuff, partly to pay the bills and partly to find what I really like shooting. It turns out that I really like shooting what gets me paid.

In 2015 I took a full-time staff job doing in-house product photography for an e-commerce company. It was only $38k but I was allowed to augment it with freelance work, which I did. I knew I was being grossly underpaid, but a staff gig offered stability at a time when I was frustrated with chasing freelance work in my small Midwest market.

in 2019, I was offered a staff photographer job at a different company but my boss offered to match their $60k salary so I stuck around, even though I now had confirmation that I’d been underpaid all along. The upside is that I’d been honing my video chops along the way and continued to look for a new job.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, my freelance work evaporated. I’d been doing a lot of corporate portraits on the road for trade mags, so that was just gone. But my staff job got crazy busy. We were an e-commerce company, so business was gangbusters for the remainder of 2020. My salary didn’t reflect that increase in revenues, so I kept looking. In 2021 I found and accepted a fantastic staff photographer job.

I currently make $91k a year plus bonuses, full benefits, and even have a pension. It’s a unicorn of a job for a photographer. The subject matter isn’t necessarily exciting, but it is challenging and creatively rewarding. Besides, I never got into photography to be an artist. I wanted to do something I enjoy, and do it well for money.

For years I was a freelance photographer, busy gigging musician, and had a day job. It was a hustle, and usually it was pretty fun too. But I no longer gig regularly and have shifted away from freelance work in favor of a stable income. Getting married and having a kid influenced that a lot.

I know a LOT of photogs are able to have a family and still live that freelance life, but I never saw a way to make that work in my market. Not without driving my wife insane anyway.

An average shoot day for me is 10-12 hours of work. My fee is $1600 plus usage and expenses. Usage varies wildly from project to project.

My best paying shoot in the last few years was for an eyewear company. I got $2000 a day for two 10 hour shoot days, plus usage. It was for digital and print use and they licenses about 50 images so I netted about $30k on that job. Retouching took about 24 hours total.

The worst paying shoot I had was for a giant pet food company. $800 for 4 hours of shooting, another 4 hours retouching/editing. The big problem was that they used the photos before paying for usage. According to them, “someone” in their organization didn’t understand that there was an additional cost to license and use the photos beyond creating them (even though my contract stated there was). I had to chase down my money for months and ended up getting $2500 for usage. I’m convinced they used the photos for more than they admitted to and should have paid even more.

I’ve never shot video as a freelancer, but about 40% of my current job is video.

Since I was never chasing giant commercial clients, most of my marketing focused on building personal relationships with people within my market. I’ve never had a rep.

I’ve had great success by shooting and sharing ambitious personal projects that were picked up by local and national press. My background as a musician and salesperson means I’m a shameless self promoter, and getting press places like NPR and the Washington Post is both free and effective if you can pull it off.

I’ve contributed to a Roth IRA for years, but not nearly as much as I should have. I now have a 401k and pension. I know how incredibly lucky I am to work as a photographer and not have to worry about retirement, insurance, etc. and I fully intend to stay with this employer until I retire (in about 15 years).

Best advice: Work hard and be nice. The rest will take care of itself.

Worst advice: You can’t afford to turn down work.

Your artistry can only pay so many bills. If you want to live that unstuck bohemian life, go for it. But you better keep your living standards modest (or have a wealthy benefactor).

If you want to be a professional photographer, you have to be both a professional and a photographer. You HAVE to know how to communicate with people. The ones you’re photographing, the ones you’re working for, and the ones you’re working with. That means knowing how business works and not being a jerk to be around.

Lastly, hustle is a muscle. Build yours by returning emails and phone calls ASAP. Reach out and be proactive about stuff. Use your downtime to relax and refuel, but also to refresh and enhance your skills. Read a book about time management. Don’t wait on things to come to you, but don’t chase something that can’t be caught. And raise your damn rates. You’re worth it!

100% commercial with 50% being photography and 50% videography

My clients are mostly national beauty brands, though I have interest from some small food brands as well.

I do not have employees, I outsource my retouching and sometimes video editing.

I would say I work about 50-60 days a year.

My first working year was 2021. After losing my job right at the beginning of pandemic I decided to start over and follow my passion. My first year I made $27,000 (gross) with about $7,000 in expenses. I had no idea what I was doing and was charging very cheaply per image (I had about 17 clients). I had no retoucher until the end of 2021 and was not doing videography. 2022 was my lucky year and I do think luck plays a part, as well as collaborating with amazing retoucher to elevate my images. I upgraded all my gear and started working heavily with video. I made $121,000 gross and expenses were $20,000. I talked with a couple of photographers about rates, and realized good brands will pay. So my rates nearly tripled and I didn’t have issues securing clients. After securing a high end luxury skincare brand I had more interest, however I still get pushback from clients not willing to pay my rates. Typically if a social media manager emails me I know I won’t fit their budget, but if a producer does than I have a higher chance of securing the job. Confidence and not lowering my rates helped me secure steady clients as well. I do make some extra income from brand re-licensing my images for print or store usage.

With new clients an average shoot is a one 10hr day, with full digital rights, typically only 5 images. After retouching expenses I take home about $5k. However I don’t typically close myself in that time limit, so if I’m not satisfied with my work I will re-shoot extra days/hours. I work from a home studio so sometimes work/life balance is difficult.

I do all the styling myself and that can be a challenge that slows me down, and wonder if I should charge extra for it. If a brand doesn’t have art direction, I have told them I will charge (they usually don’t want to pay and come up with something themselves). With regular clients I tend to work 3 days, full digital rights, mix of photo/video for around $10k take home. I rarely shoot more than 15 images for one shoot. There is no consistency amongst my clients, sometimes a brand I don’t think will hire me ends up accepting my rates, so you just never know.

Best shoot was for a a 1 day cosmetic still life for a national drugstore beauty brand. Full digital usage for 1 year. After expenses (retouching) I took home about $6k ($4k day rate and $300 usage) the client originally wanted 5 images, but ended up taking 7.

My worst shoot was in 2021 when I had no idea what to charge or how to charge. I charged $1,410 for 6 images, take home was maybe around $1,000. That same brand then printed my image and used it in Sephora without my consent, I found it while shopping. I sent them a $3k bill for usage for 1 photo.

50% of my work is video, I try to edit as much myself but sometime outsource editing. I like to collaborate with other creatives.

For marketing I buy ads on IG I find I get a big influx of new followers and interest. So about once a month I’ll spend only $25. I used to cold email, however now I do not want to sound desperate so I tend not to.

Best advice: don’t undercharge, be confident in your style, and try to avoid imposter syndrome.

Worst advice is not really advice more like lack of support in the community. I have had some great connections, but I was also blocked by stylists and photographers on Instagram who see me as a threat (and I have heard this happens to quite a few photographers) I have seen this behavior from other women which is truly disheartening.

Please do not undercharge! I have seen photographers take my clients that I have said no to time and time again, and it is very infuriating. At the same time I think “am I a fool?” They have a new client every week, and I go weeks without one. However, after working over 15 years in the fashion industry being taken advantage of managers, I have no time for brands exploiting us. I didn’t became a freelance to not enjoy my work. Brands have gotten used to “content creators” working for low pay or no pay at all and for some reason think professional photographers do the same. I have no filter or patience any more for this blatant disregard for our hard work.

I would also try to read as much as possible about licensing, To this day I struggle with charging usage. If you can talk to others in the field great! Reach out and connect with as many people as possible, we are all in this together. Helps especially when it’s a slow season and you try to get motivation to keep going.

Early in my career from 2012 and up until around 2018 my editorial clients brought in about 80% of my business. In the years leading up to Covid, that started to flip more towards commercial clients bringing in 80% and editorial dropping to 20%. Post Covid, editorial has almost completely gone away.

My clients run the full scale from Fortune 500 to start-ups with 5 employees. They are mostly awesome. Some are more organized than others. Haven’t really had anything terrible come up.

I starting assisting in 2003 and been working for myself since 2012.

Very little overhead. Home office, marketing, software etc.

Shooting days avg. 40-50 per year. + marketing, pre and post production.

My income has been seemingly on the upswing since 2020 but this current year isn’t off to an awesome start. I think the unstable markets are keeping clients cautious about spending. Everything seems a bit on-edge. Hopefully it’s not long term and things will ramp up in the Fall.
The jobs vary greatly. Some are 1 day flat rate jobs with in-perpituity usage. Others are multi-day travel jobs with industry appropriate usage rates and licensing terms.

My best recent shoot was 15K day/usage rate (2 yr OOH usage U.S. only) for 4 shoot days plus production expenses totaling ~300K budget. Take home pay including any mark-ups, owned equipment rentals and day rate was 66K minus 30% rep fees on day rates = 48k.

My worst recent job was a major magazine portrait assignment. $1500 total flat rate budget. Editorial usage in-perpituity online, 1 time usage in print, unless reprinted in original context of story. Take home pay = 800.

Occasionally I shoot video, but ideally there’s a budget for a DP.

Honestly, I’ve fallen behind since Covid but I’m getting back on track with a regular schedule but I definitely think the general guidelines for marketing have changed. Pre-Covid I was doing regular mailings, following up with emails and doing in-person meetings in all major cities 4 times a year.

I have my savings for retirement but it’s a work in progress. A plan, no. A fantasy of one day not giving a fuck about getting paid for photography, yes.

Best advice: Don’t stop shooting and also keep the overhead low. Worst advice: Put that shit on your credit card.

Definitely keep shooting between jobs and pushing your skill set. Find a hobby that you love and that you can also shoot for fun and completely stress free. Spend less time on social media and more time making pictures. Keep the overhead low and pay your quarterly taxes. Invoice your clients on time and remind them when they are late to pay. Don’t be afraid to turn down jobs that don’t meet your personal ethics. Keep things simple and don’t stress the lows and don’t get too high on the highs. Ride that neutral zen state. Remember, it’s only money and most of it is not yours to keep. 🙂

Before going freelance I was employed full time as an e-commerce in house photographer making $60k plus benefits.

Nearly 100% of my income is amazon listings. I’ve been trying for years to get into higher end commercial and conceptual projects to no avail.

Graduated with a BFA in photography in 2012 and have been trying to make it work ever since. Taking odd jobs like retouching and graphic design along with interning and assisting to get by.

My clients are small individual sellers to mid size CPG companies, based all over as I shoot remotely.

I get most of my clients through a referral partner so most of my product shoots are about $900, and then I keep roughly 80% of that once you take out referral and prop costs. Not including taxes I’d then pay at the end of the year.

My overhead is mostly marketing, along with some equipment, and insurance. I shoot everything at home or on location so I have no studio. I’ve been trying my best to pour gasoline on the fire of marketing to be able to jump from low level e-commerce jobs to serious commercial clients. I’ve been in multiple directories (Found, Wonderful Machine, PhotoPolitic, Luupe, and BLVD), go to portfolio reviews often, and send out printed and email promos. All in it’s probably close to $15-$20k annually for the past two years.

Between shooting, marketing, emailing, retouching, I work almost every day. Shooting days are roughly 130 out of the year (2-3 days a week), but these are all low production gigs with no client present and little to no production cost.

I’ve been dying to get into the game with serious clients that want creativity and complex images, but all of my clients are either Amazon sellers wanting white background photos and some simple lifestyle shots for super cheap or small product based companies that are doing the same bright colored background set ups we see all the time. The good part of this sector is little to no pressure. The clients aren’t picky and are almost always happy with whatever I send them. So in that way it is easy money. However, I’m using like 10% of technical skills and it kills me that I can’t seem to get any further than that with the clients I snag.

I went from a full time income of $60k with a pretty fun little in house gig to losing that job when the company collapsed in 2020. Then my first full time freelance year was pretty busy with a lot of Amazon clients. The next year dipped a good amount mainly I think because I was focusing so hard on trying to get out of that sector and into the more produced and creative gigs.

I do a decent amount of retouching for one other photographer. That has kept me afloat and I’ve included that in my annual net numbers. I work with clients who don’t understand licensing and would refuse to pay them even if I explained it. My shoots all in get either $500, $900, or $1,400 from the client in total. The good part is these shoots typically take me 2-6 hours total for prepping, styling, shooting, and editing. I certainly wouldn’t be putting any more hours of effort into them for those prices.

The best paying shoot was $6k in one day when I actually got to shoot stills on a video set of a serious commercial client. It was a copyright buyout and was just shooting an athlete against a gray backdrop using the lighting setup the video crew had already put up. Handed over the hard drive and was done.

Worst paid shoots are common and are maybe $200-$400 for the shoot and images, but again they only take me a few hours to complete on my own at home.

I’ve been on Found, BLVD, Wonderful Machine, Luupe, and PhotoPolitic. The only one that has gotten me any interaction was Wonderful Machine where I at least got to put in two bids for large projects. I send out printed promos, email blasts, reach out to individuals on LinkedIn, ask local agencies for meetings to show my work and introduce myself, and I go to in person and online portfolio reviews as often as I can afford. The overwhelming feedback I get is “Your work is so cool, I love it! But I have no use for it”. I’m starting to realize I’m creating a product people love and no one wants to buy. It’s a very weird corner I’ve niched myself in to. People are always literally shocked when I tell them how I’m financially failing. For instance I have people contacting me pretty regularly asking to be an assistant or asking me for career advice. I hate having to explain to them that I’m literally the last person they should be approaching for that. It’s demoralizing to both parties.

No retirement plan, I’m broke, and pretty terrified about my future savings.

Worst advice I hear all the time is “you need to have your own unique style and stand out”. It’s all crap. The opposite is actually true. You need to be on trend. Whatever is popular is what’s going to be hired. If you’re different and unusual (even if they like it) they won’t hire you, either because the agency knows they won’t be able to sell you to the client, or because the client you’re pitching to wants what they’ve already seen has worked for comparable brands.

I know my submission is super depressing and pessimistic, but I think it’s important for others who are struggling to know it’s common. My view of this industry has changed so much. I’ve wanted to be creating the super creative ads I’ve seen since I was 12 years old, but now I’m thinking the industry is way less creative than I thought and that there is a lot more luck involved than anyone wants to admit. Some people get their break and some people don’t. I’ve been told by countless well meaning creative directors, art directors, producers, and photographers that I have a real future in this industry and success is just around the corner and I create amazing work with a creative mind. I’ve heard this told to me for 10 years now and I’ve not gotten any further in this industry no matter how hard I hustle. So, it may not be you. It may just be the luck of the draw and luck hasn’t landed on you to give you a break.

My clients range from large national charities and FTSE listed companies to small private businesses. Income is 50/50 between commercial and non profit work.

I try to run a tight ship with just home office, freelance assistants/stylists expenses and have become less obsessed with updating to latest kit.

I shoot approx. 50 days but treat photography as a full time job and work 5 days a week on marketing and my own projects.

I have a lot more direct clients these days especially in the non-profit arena, just about everyone I worked with at Ad agencies and design groups dropped off the radar during covid, still have some small production companies I work with.

Income collapsed during Covid, 30+ years with the ups and downs of being freelance left me well prepared for a lean spell so we survived but burned through most of savings through 20/21 Recovery has been slow with a lot of existing clients who I came up with over 30 years, being laid off or retiring. Editorial which was only a small part of income in recent years has disappeared. Projects that are coming through have generally been with good budgets. I think age may becoming a factor, I’m certainly feeling like the oldest person in the room, clients are now always younger, often much younger than me and I wonder how that is impacting my business.

There is no average shoot, they seem to sit on two extremes, commercial shoot would be 10 hour day with a minimum of a camera assistant and a trolly of kit, 2 year license and clearing £ 1,000.00 a day. Non profit at the other end £150.00 for an hour of me and camera with all uses.

My best recent shoot was pre covid, International campaign for government agency, managed entire production, casting and shoot with 2 production assistants for week of pre production, 4 day shoot, 4 days post. Shoot crew of 2 camera assistants, Digital tech, hair, make up and stylist. 8 hour days, two year all media worldwide license. Cleared 40k.

Worst paying shoots are 1 hour for non profits £ 150.00 all uses.

I don’t shoot video.

Marketing consists of monthly email newsletter, regular instagram posting and interaction and regular Linkedin posts and articles. Most effective out of that is Linkedin, anecdotally I meet with a lot of clients who refer to having seen work by me on Linkedin even though they don’t interact with the content. Only occasionally get that from instagram.

Best advice, be generous with everyone. Worst advice was to take on work for free to get a foothold.

Never be afraid to sack a difficult client and looking at the rates available in USA if your based in UK, move to US!

In 2019 I moved to a new part of the country so that was a bit of a disrupt. 2020 wasn’t great because of Covid.

What I shoot is often intertwined – a hospitality shoot for example could encompass all of the categories. Food/Beverage makes me the most money however. My clients are mostly smaller, with a few Fortune 500 a year.

I travel often for work, mostly back to NYC, with maybe one or two international shoots a year, and a few other cities around the USA. I’m working on building my network in my new home city.

I have a home office and rent studios as needed. I shoot from my home space often for remote shoots.

I work 5 days a week in terms of running my business. Number of days shooting really varies – I’ve had months with zero shoot days and months with 20 shoot days.

Over the last few years my income has stayed pretty much the same. However I am working less for the same amount of money. I used to shoot a lot of 1k/day shoots for small brands/restaurants, whereas now my minimum day rate is closer to 2.5k for the same type of brands. It’s a better work/life balance for me personally. My goal is to continue to increase my income with bigger budget jobs.

Early in my career I waitressed and assisted while building my photo career. Now, my food and prop styling skills greatly contribute to my success with smaller brands. It was VERY helpful during Covid, I was (and still do) conduct a lot of remote shoots. Because of my styling and production skills, I’m a one stop shop for brands that don’t have the budget for a full crew. When I can pocket almost their full 5k budget myself that’s great for me! I’m also good at the production side of the business – there have been many shoots, even with bigger commercial brands, that were still pretty low key – so I produced the shoot myself and retained the money that would have gone to a producer.

Average shoots are for smaller food brand or hospitality clients. Shoots are generally 1-2 days. Food shoots require 8-12 hours of pre-pro. Hospitality usually 2 hours pre-pro, sometimes none. Usually I edit these images myself and take home pay is 2-5k. Licensing is often full usage rights granted to client, I retain copyright and all usage rights.

My best paying shoot was for a repeat client who requested me, but through a new agency they were working with for a new product launch. The agency was producing the entire shoot so they just asked for my rates and preferred crew. I was told the client was not going to pay for individual image licensing, so just to submit a high day rate. The shoot was in NYC so I had to cover my own travel, but take home was ~$18k for one pre-light day, minimal pre-pro, and one shoot day. Client was granted full digital use in perpetuity. I retain the copyright and all usage rights.

A lot of my clients are asking for video so I’ve been working on Directing and video production with stylists and DPs for portfolio building. I have not yet been hired to actually Direct video, but it’s a goal and will make me a lot more valuable to clients. I do however currently shoot a ton of Gifs for my clients.

For marketing I use Wonderful Machine. Every once in a while someone reaches out who finds me there. Not sure it’s totally paying for itself, but I do like the other resources available so I stay signed up. I send out my own cold marketing emails (personalized, not mass emails) and try to stay in touch with past clients or people I’ve had meetings with. I stay reasonably active on IG as well as LinkedIn. I’ve spent a lot of time on my website SEO over the years and I receive a lot of inquires directly from my website/people’s google searches.

Put 30% of every paycheck aside for your taxes and pay them quarterly so you don’t get slammed at the end of the year.

Open a Solo 401k or SEP IRA and save for your future.

This career involves an enormous amount of rejection – don’t take it personally. There are a million reasons why you might not be the right fit for a certain job. Get what info you can about why they passed on you and use it to fuel you forward and onto the next opportunity.

Always shoot what makes your heart happy, even if it’s on the side of what’s paying the bills.

No one knows you exist until you tell or show them – don’t just sit back and think people will find you.

Figure out how to properly run the business side of the job. Lots of amazing creatives fail because they can’t successfully handle the bookkeeping, marketing, etc. part of the business.

ASSIST!!!! If you are green, this is the BEST way to learn. I owe SO much to my mentors.

Working in 4 major segments help me and my team keep busy all year.

For our work break down I would say that we are running a 25% in each category right now but during covid we were looking more like 75% Food and Agricultural work and then 25% Sports. I work with all types of clients, some Fortune 500, Some Major Sports team and brands and then a lot of medium to small companies.

All of our clients are long term clients and repeat with once or twice a year a one off job. This way we get to know how they work and we become part of their workflow and teams. My longest clients has been working with me for over 22 years now.

I have a rep but with that said I have never got a job from any of the reps I have had. This is a whole conversation that could be had as a lot of photographers/directors think a rep is the ticket to lots of work but my experience is very different.

I do have employees and they are a very, very important part of everything I do. I have a full time producer, a full time Cinematographer/editor, 2 part time assistants and many long term freelance specialists. Working together and building relationships is one of the most important things in this industry.

We have our own studio in a building we own, but we are on the outskirts of the major city so costs were lower. I own all our photography and motion gear so we have no rentals and are self sufficient. But all this does cost but a fraction of what being in the city and renting for every job would. I run a upgrading schedule/process where we keep computers and cameras for min 3 years and all gear that we buy has to pay for it self with in the first year of buying it as if we were renting it. All staff salaries are above industry rate, and get profit sharing as well to keep things going. Our core team has been together for 10+ years.

I try to keep things at a 30-35% profit margin that includes my salary.

Work life balance is a very important! For me, I take a lot of time with the kids and my wife, trying work only 8-10 months out of the year and having a lot of long weekends. My staff are all self directed for hours, so as long as the work gets done on time that is all the matters. Shoot days are shoot days and we all understand that but the other time is flex. Work from home or the studio. As a company we try to fill 3-4 days a week of production and the rest is filled with office admin and pre and post production. We do have 2-4 weeks of studio shutdown where we all take time to recharge.

Income has changed a lot over the past couple years, not only due to covid but there is a shift to bring creatives in house and has pushed my team out. But with that said it opened up new doors as well to increase client work in the form of subscription work.

I do have other business that I invest in but they all work together so it keeps things with in the realm of what I know. But the most important thing that has been a constant is my wife has a very steady income and retirement pension there for it has given me the ability to take on more risk in what I do and push the boundaries.

A normal shoot day for me is a 8+1 day with an assistant and my cinematographer, We create a lot of wholey-owned image libraries for our clients so we shoot stills and motion together. This is the same for our in studio food work or our on location sports/corp/com work. Typical shoots range from $5K a day to $10k a day with studio take home 50%-75% of that and then after Studio overhead I take anywhere from 50-30% as profit.

Some of my best paying jobs are medium sized jobs. Some that come to mind are One day image library shoots with full buy out that can rage from $15-20K billable and Take home profit of 50%. These shoots usually have one pre production day with one post production day and a 12 hr production day. They happen about 10-15 times a year for me but they are great fun!

To be perfectly honest some of the worst paying jobs are cookbook jobs, where we work a ton of hours, the publisher has full buy out and take home pay is almost nothing but they are fun! It is always great to get a finished book in the printed form.

I would say up to about 5 years ago we only dabbled in video and now I would say we have video incorporated into about 75% of our productions. It has been a great addition to what we offer and has been a major asset in the past couple years.

We all love gear but only buy the gear you need and will use all the time, if your clients don’t need massive files there is no reason to get that 100mp or 8K camera. If you can get the job done with 2-4 lights you don’t need a full lighting /grip truck. Keep your gear in good working order and only upgrade when you need to. Being good in business planning is just as important as being creative in this industry.

My experience working in various types of photography and ranges of clients, this industry is very reliant on relationships. I treat every job small or large the same as you do not know where the people working on the job are going to end up. There are some jobs that are just too small for our studio to shoot but that is where myself and my producer have kept great relations with freelancers that are just starting out and need the jobs. Finally you are only as good as the team you work with, treat people they way you want to be treated and pay people what they deserve, I have seen many people leave the industry because of low pay and or the treatment on sets so, hopefully we can all try our best to keep things going for a long time.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

These days, about 70% of my income is wildlife photography. This includes both workshops I lead and my stock photography and stock video sales within wildlife work. The balance of that is split between NGO work and photojournalism assignments.

My clients are International and all over the U.S.

Wildlife work has a lot of overhead, mostly in travel expenses and fronting the costs of my workshop side of the business. As a wildlife photographer, I have to be where the wildlife is – I control nothing about the timeline of when animals breed or migrate or anything else that makes for great visual storytelling in this genre. In 2022, I had $39,000 in travel expenses. It would have been more, but I bought a travel trailer (camper) to both give me a sense of having my own home and transfer some of my costs over to profit in 2023.

My NGO work and photojournalism assignments have very low overhead.

I work 300 days a year give or take.

I have a few different types of clients because my business has a few different models within it. For the wildlife photography workshops, my clients tend to skew age 65+ and retired, mostly retired executives, as they tend to have the most time and money. Most of them are hobbyists who have invested $25,000+ into their photography gear and don’t bat an eye at dropping another $8,000-15,000 per workshop.

My NGO clients are international. I was a staff NGO photographer and video producer for 5 years, so my network for that area of my work is fairly extensive. I love working with NGOs and am pushing to expand this part of my business.

I don’t do as many photojournalism assignments anymore, but love it when I have the chance. My clients there tend to be more regional publications or specialty publications around nature and wildlife. Honestly, most of them pay better and faster than some of the national and international publications I’ve worked for.

Moving from a staff job to being independent was a major change. I loved my staff job, but when I went through my divorce, the salary wasn’t enough to live on my own in the city in which they required me to be. I’m lucky – I have almost zero debt. No car payments, no student loans left, and no credit card obligations. It was devastating to leave a job I loved simply because it would have cost me 65% of my monthly take-home pay to rent an apartment.

Moving to my own business, my income has gone up by about 15-20% year over year for the last three years.

Wildlife photography grew significantly with hobbyist photographers during the pandemic, and I feel strongly that is what helped boost my income in the last few years. They’ve invested in their hobby and see photography workshops as a way to now level-up the hobby they fell in love with during that time.

About halfway through 2022, I launched a subscriber-based newsletter for wildlife photographers. It’s educational and a niche within a niche, and I have a monthly/annual option or a mentorship option for purchase. While still in the growth phase, I’ve managed to generate about $35,000 in sales (about $25,000 profit) in the first six months or so, with very little investment up front.

This recurring income model has definitely helped me work toward the lifestyle I’m designing for myself. It gives me a bit more balance and stability from the yo-yo income cycles.

I’m hoping to double this income in 2023.

Since most of my income comes from workshops, and I haven’t seen that discussed here yet, I’ll use those as an example.

Workshops for me require at least one week of scouting and traveling to the location one year ahead of time. I need photos from that workshop to market that workshop. Then, I arrive a week ahead of the workshop to scout the current situation and get my personal photos.

A typical workshop is 10 days and I work about 16 hours a day in that time – from before breakfast to after dinner every day. I’m not only a photographer in this phase – I’m also teaching everything from biology and ecology and why you need to know these things as a wildlife photographer to camera settings (I have to speak Canon, Sony, and Nikon fluently) to the art of composition, etc.

The other thing with workshops is the upfront costs. Most vendors require me to lock-in my dates with 100% payment upon booking. That means I’m investing anywhere from $40,000 to $75,000 to book vendors for the workshop even though I haven’t sold any spots on the workshop yet.

After expenses, I usually bring home about $28,000 per workshop. A couple of my less expensive workshops have me taking home about $17,000-20,000, but they also require significantly less work.

I also license a lot of the photo and video I take during my scouting weeks to these locations. Typically, I can get an extra $5,000-8,000 a year from each of these weeks through rights managed licensing. I have a solid list of photo editors I work with directly. Anything else that I don’t want to keep as direct-to-client licensing goes into Getty. I know, I know, I hate them, too. But since I’m already investing in these trips, I might as well get as much out of it as I can.

I think my best paying day was a private workshop for a client. It was over 3 days in a location I’m deeply familiar with. It took me about 5 hours of planning and I made $15,000 ($5k per day). Since the light is harsh from about 10am – 4:00pm in most places, I’m usually not working at that time. So I typically only work about 5-6 hours with the client for trips like this.

The worst pay comes from stock photos I license as royalty free through agencies, which won’t be a surprise to anyone. My criteria is that they have to be good enough to carry my name, but not so good that I don’t keep them for my direct-to-client collection.

My worst stock year was last year, at $2,300. But, I only had about 100 images in that collection, so statistically, it was higher than average, I guess.

Shooting video has made it easier to land assignments when I pitch. I’m lucky that my staff job turned me into a solid interviewer and storyteller with video. My video work in 2022 was about 10% of my income, but I am on track for that to be about 30% this year. I’m also a private pilot and have a decent drone setup, which adds value to my video clients, as well.

In addition to shooting stock video early on, I also focused on vertical video right out of the gate. That proved to be a smart move financially.

Email is my gold for marketing all of my business buckets, though. It’s the one area where we have complete control, algorithms be damned.

For NGO work and photojournalism, I keep my emails brief and respectfully infrequent – just enough to stay top of mind, but not so much that I annoy editors. For those larger NGOs, I’ll sometimes send email that showcase campaigns or info that’s relevant to their work. I want them to view me as someone who has a finger on the pulse on their particular industry.

I don’t really need to market my workshops anymore, but I still write a bi-monthly email newsletter. I almost never write anything marketing related – I simply keep to my brand as someone who educates others on photography and wildlife. I aim for 1,500-2,000 words per email so that I’m providing an insane amount of advice and education for free. While time-consuming at first, this keeps my email open rates well above average – I see about 75-80% open rates.

This means that any time I do want to market something, it’s almost instantly profitable for me. I’ve built trust with my list because I keep marketing infrequent. I give them a ton of valuable information, consistently demonstrating my expertise in this genre. When I launched my subscription product, I made the first $12,000 in one day from this list alone.

I used Facebook and Instagram ads to build my list. Because of my background, I have an advantage here. My best advice for building a high quality email list via social advertising is to think “psychographically,” which goes beyond demographics and taps into the psychological motivations of your target client.

For example, think about what brands your client buys – how do those brands write copy and what kind of images are they using in their marketing? What does your client read? What kind of hobbies are they likely to have? These companies spend millions and millions in market research every year, so why not take advantage of it and apply your observations of how they advertise and speak to the same client base to your marketing efforts?

In my case, I created five or six groups of people and my most successful grouping was targeting people 50+ who like national parks (I chose a bunch of specific parks), Patagonia, REI, Arc’teryx, National Geographic Travel, Lindblad Expeditions, National Geographic magazine, AND they had to also like “wildlife photography.”

There were a few other brands in that group, but you get the idea. By narrowing my newsletter ads to this audience, I got a lot of high quality email addresses that fit my niche perfectly. And, I never spent more than $.60 per email, which is well below average.

I’m working on my retirement plan. I have a savings account right now, and I put about 15-20% of my yearly income into it. I was fully vested in my retirement plan from my staff job when I left, so that is still there, too. I’m just letting that idle.

The worst advice I’ve received was to do any kind of photography to make money. While sometimes that’s necessary when starting out (we all have bills to pay), I wasted a lot of time that could have gone toward honing my skills in my niche.

The best advice I received was to build registering my images with the U.S. Copyright Office into my workflow. Because of this, I recover anywhere from $8,000-15,000 in lost licensing revenue from image theft a year without the need for a lawyer or litigation.

I was in digital marketing for 15+ years before making my career change to photography. That helped considerably in that I can “speak corporate marketing and comms” fluently when I’m working with corporate clients or NGOs. Knowing how to work those cross-functional teams and what they both will want out of an assignment makes upselling a breeze because I can usually tap into two different budgets to get more work.

Invest in setting up your business first. Hire a lawyer to write your contracts – it’s the best $1000 I ever spent. I found mine through the free Small Business Administration mentorship via their SCORE program. It’s an under-utilized resource. It’s not photographer specific, but I got incredible value from meeting with the person who ended up assigned to me. I learned a ton about how to structure my business and I think that saved me thousands in costly mistakes over the years.

Treat your business like a business. Outsource the tasks you hate because it will be less costly in the long run from a time-dollar equation perspective. Don’t be afraid to change what isn’t working or fall prey to the sunk-cost fallacy.

My personal portrait style is very moody and fashion-inspired, but my client work tends to be very clean and crisp.

The bulk of my income, probably 80%, revolves around headshots and corporate lifestyle images. Almost all of my local clients come to me looking for corporate headshots and/or personal branding images. Regionally, I have a few regular clients in the healthcare space that need regular headshots and “lifestyle” shots showcasing their employees at work. The rest of my income is comprised of editorial assignments, modeling portfolios, and product photography.

Most of my clients are on the East Coast, although I’ll occasionally travel as far as Texas for work. For the majority of jobs, I won’t have to spend more than seven hours in the car to get there. I make make most of my money from big companies that no one has ever heard of.

My overhead isn’t bad at all. I shoot a mix of commercial work and retail work and when commercial work is slower, I’ll do a lot of retail work in my home studio (individual headshots and portrait sessions) out of my garage. Most of my overhead expenses are the software I use to keep the business running, insurance, and accountant/bookkeeper fees.

I usually net at least 75% of what I bill out to my clients, sometimes much more. I’m very mindful of my profit margin and when I’m creating estimates and bidding on jobs, I’ll calculate what my take home pay will be after paying my assistants and retoucher to make sure I’m staying close to that 25% COGS margin.

As soon as I read the question about how many days a year I work, I instantly wanted to answer “all of them”. I don’t mean that in a negative way, because I love what I do, but there’s hardly ever a day I’m not working on something. Last year, I had about 50 shoot days, and probably 10-15 more days on top of that if you count travel days. Outside of shooting, I’m constantly creating content, networking with potential clients, reaching out to existing clients, and shooting work for myself.

99% of my clients are absolutely amazing to work with. I view my clients like family and I’ll go and beyond for them to make sure they’re getting more than what they need, I think they really appreciate that. Even with my larger clients, I make sure to get to know the people I work with, not just their titles and positions. When my son was born this past Fall, my biggest client mailed us a card and a gift basket and it basically made me and my wife ugly cry, hahaha. I think client relationships like that are really special and they aren’t something that happens accidentally. You can be intentional about fostering those kinds of relationships.

Since 2018 my income has increased year over year, except for 2020. But in 2021 my revenue basically bounced right back like the previous year never happened and it’s been on an upward trajectory ever since.

I offer coaching services for other photographers who want to transition into the world of commercial photography. Interest in my coaching services has really picked up over the last few years and I make a small amount on the side, but nothing substantial (a little under $10k last year). Coaching really energizes me, I absolutely love helping others overcome the challenges they’re facing in their careers. I used to be a little nervous about the thought of potential clients stumbling upon my educational content and being reluctant to hire me because of how often I talk about money. But I’ve realized that openly discussing things like fees, usage, and negotiation is a very positive thing all around. If anything, a client will see that I’m knowledgable and experienced and feel more comfortable bringing me onto a project.

An average shoot for me might be anywhere from 6 to 8 hours. Let’s say I’m shooting headshots and lifestyle images for a local plastic surgery clinic. My creative fee for the day (including licensing) would be anywhere between $3-4k and I’d bill anywhere from $25-30 per image. Historically for shoots like these, the client will choose between 25-50 images, so that’s $625 to $1,250 for the images. After paying my assistant and retoucher, I’m usually walking away with $4k, give or take.

For me, in terms of dollar earned per hours worked, I think in-office corporate headshot days have everything else beat. I recently did headshots for a large home-builder and we finished the job in two and a half hours, including the drive time. Thirty people, $4,000 billed. Take home pay was $3,500 after paying my assistant and retoucher. They’re hired me two more times since then.

The worst job I’ve done was for a very large online travel agency. Massive company. They needed to update their web assets and the job required driving around a major city a few hours away and photographing up to 30 or 40 landmarks PER DAY (three days total). They had a budget of $2,000 per day and tried to cap my assistant’s rate at $250, saying it was the standard rate in New York (that was their way of justifying why it was reasonable?). The job also required that I signed a Work for Hire agreement (not that I’d want to use those images anyway), so everything I shot belonged to them. The production team was actually really nice and I enjoyed talking with them, but the planning and coordination was an absolute shit show. It was the hardest $6,000 I’ve ever made in my life.

I’m capable of shooting talking head videos with decent audio, but I’ll only do it if the budget isn’t big enough to bring a video person on and I want to pad my pockets a bit more. These days, I recognize the value of focusing on what I do best. It’s such a better situation all around if I can bring in a really awesome cinematographer who can create something amazing for the client instead of trying to do it myself. The client gets a better product, I have less headaches and stress from trying to be someone I’m not, and the cinematographer gets a job. That’s a win for everyone.

If you are an LLC, look into electing S-Corp status as soon as it makes sense. It can easily save you thousands of dollars in taxes.

Invest for retirement. You and solely you are responsible for putting money away for your later years.

Take care of the people you work with and you’ll always get called back for another job.

2022 – $210K
2021 – $136K
2020 – $47K (worked from Dec-April only)
2019 – $190K

My income is 85% Commercial, 10% Advertising, 5% Editorial.

It’s been 10 years full-time freelance, but 16 all in – I spent 6 or so years with a part-time side gig waiting tables before jumping in all the way (it was scary but I regret not doing it sooner).

My clients are International and local hospitality/restaurant groups, and PR/Design/Marketing agencies that are primarily based in my city. I work with a lot of Creative Directors, Dir of Marketing, Dir of Branding etc. Lots of regulars with almost decade long relationships, for which I am so grateful. I tend to work with a lot of women and many of my clients become friends in ‘real life’. I have developed so many relationships being in one city for the entire time I’ve been building my career, and its been incredible to have clients bring me from company to company as they move through their careers.

I have about $25K a year in expenses – in 2022 I grossed $210K and netted $185. My biggest expenses last year: $10K in freelance assistants, $3K EQ, $3.5K travel. I have a home studio and hire freelance assistants. I am really overdue for a new set of bodies so that will be a big expense this coming year – its time to go mirrorless but Im dragging my feet because its taken me so long to collect this set of lenses and I’ve grown attached.

Always working at least a little every day! I did about 95 shoots in 2022 but I do all my own pre-pro, editing, retouching, invoicing etc so there is always SOMETHING to do.

The pandemic really shifted my career – there was not much work happening anywhere, and especially in my city. Had no choice but to accept the downtime and chill, reevaluate.

All my clients were frozen. I took on some shoots where I was cooking/styling tabletop and shooting at home with the client via Zoom. It was horrible. I am not a chef or a stylist. I was sweating my ass off, shooting a breakfast spread during the summer and I remember the client feedback was that the butter “looked cold”. Such a disaster, and such horrible budgets!

When things did eventually pick back up in 2021, I became MUCH more selective with who I would shoot for. I now limit days on location to 6 hours, where we used to do 8-9 on average and raised my minimum rate to a $2K minimum (okay, I made a few exceptions and of course no editorial has that budget).

My typical shoot is one day, 4-6 hours on location in a restaurant or bar. Working directly with the Chef or Bev Director – shooting environmental portraits, food, cocktails, action stuff, and lots of interiors. On average, I’m doing ‘Web, Press, Social, Marketing’ rights in perpetuity on about 20, 25 images for around $4K. I don’t bother to limit the duration on lots of my shoots because the nature of the images makes them obsolete so quickly, as menus and chefs change, etc.

These take me maybe 2-3 hours to edit for client review, and then around 3-4 to retouch. Usually my only hard costs are $400-500 assistant and $100 travel, so I’ll end with ~$3.5K profit/shoot.

My best shoot was for a local branding agency, taking environmental portraits for a campaign. Usage was for digital rights and a full page print ad for one year. I delivered 8 final images and shot for a total of 2 days, about 8 hrs each. I walked with $28.5K after expenses.

My largest single invoice in 2021 was probably the worst shoot of my year! It was meant to be a 3 day shoot for a real estate project with short hours, but ended up being 4 long days. After we finally got everything shot, they took 9 months to get all the selects to me, but during the course of the year, would randomly send me just a few selects and need them retouched immediately with insane, borderline insulting retouching notes. Usage was unlimited digital media and print collateral. I’d initially offered a 2 year license for this but the client balked and in a panic to not lose the project, I offered in perpetuity. I did 4 long, tedious shoot days and delivered 30 stills. $22K was my take home after expenses.

I shoot stop motion and super simple video. More and more clients are asking me for it, and I had only dabbled until about a year ago. Now maybe 25% of my clients want a handful of motion, but primarily stills are my game. I have so much to learn in video!

Theres no wrong way to take a photo. Everything is subjective, everything is a conversation. At the end of the shoot, always pack up your most expensive gear first. Treat each client like they are your most important client. Remember names. Underpromise and overdeliver.

My income is split 50/50 between sporting lifestyle, which takes me all over the world, and architectural, which allows me to stay home a decent chunk of the year with my family and still earn revenue. I’ve been working at it for 13 years but only 6 full time.

My clients range from tiny sole proprietors to $5B companies.

I have one part-time contract admin help and other than that my overhead is primarily just gear.

I shoot about 125-150 days a year.

I don’t have a bad client, thankfully. We have clear expectations and good relationships.

2020 was a stinker. Aside from that year it has gone up at least 20% year-to-year.

My typical shoot is anywhere from 1 to 7 full days. My day rate, depending on the client, is either $2000 or $2400. Some of my bigger clients will roll license fees into the day rate, sometimes taking it to as much as $6000 per day. my clients pay for my expenses and also a travel day rate of $500-$800 depending on the job.

My best paying recent shoot was just licensing for client images I had already taken and that added up to $22,500.

I don’t shoot video.

I love that you are getting the business information out there as that is what I have been trying to do with my Instagram account, as well. It’s crazy to me that you can find out how to shoot, light, or edit anything, but the business information, especially rates and licensing dealings, are so difficult to find online. It should be the opposite. the more photographers realize how much they can, and should earn, and the more they stick to their guns on those things, and valuing their own work, the more sustainable the market will be for people to be full-time professional photographers for decades, and not just for a couple of years before they get burnt out. Keep spreading the word!

The Art of the Personal Project: Stephen Wilkes

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Stephen Wilkes


I began this project a few years ago, while working on my Day to Night™.   Photographing in Italy, I visited the Vatican Museum and became fascinated by the extraordinary tapestries.  I was inspired by the layering of imagery, the narrative storytelling and color that appears throughout the woven texture of the yarn. I began to wonder if I could create a similar effect, incorporating multiple exposures, in a single image.

So began my exploration of “Tapestries”. I always say that if Day to Night™ is like a symphony where I photograph for 24-36 hours, then the Tapestries are like a piece of jazz music. Being totally in the moment and capturing the images in camera and in short periods of time.  In both bodies of work, I’m dissecting the very concept of time in different ways.

Stephen Wilkes’ work is included in the collections of the George Eastman Museum, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Jewish Museum of NY, Library of Congress, Museum of the City of New York, 9/11 Memorial Museum and many more. His editorial work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Time, Fortune, National Geographic, and Sports Illustrated among others. Wilkes awards and honors include the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography and TIME Magazine Top 10 Photographs of 2012, Sony World Photography Professional Award 2012, Adobe Breakthrough Photography Award 2012, Prix Pictet, Consumption 2014.

To see more of this project, click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Art of the Personal Project: John Dyer

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:   John Dyer  

            My love for photography comes from seeing what something looks like when it’s photographed.  The camera sees differently than the human eye.  Different lenses see differently from each other.  Shooting color (at least for me) is not the same as shooting black & white.  Placing the frame of a camera and freezing a bit of time and space creates something new, something different from what was photographed. That something has its own rules and esthetic: a transformation that I find intoxicating.  A photograph has no narrative ability so it cannot tell you what was happening at the time the shutter was released.  The photograph must exist on its own, justifying itself by the intrinsic elements that it is composed of.  Whenever all those elements are in complete balance, a photograph becomes something more, something mysterious, something fascinating.  The best photograph is an enigma that asks more questions than it answers.

            Whatever that dynamic is, I can’t get enough of it.

To see more of this project, click here

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Daily Edit – Crude Aesthetics: Kaya & Blank

Kaya & Blank

Marshall Gallery presented “Into the Uncanny Valley which featured three artists: Cody Cobb, Alex Turner and Kaya & Blank. I was confronted with a striking interpretation of something that’s all too familiar on bike rides and commutes along Highway 33 in Ventura county: Pumpjacks.
These dot the hills and neighborhoods between Ventura and Ojai. I caught up with creative duo known as Kaya and Blank about their work.

Heidi: This work revolves around the urban oil fields and refineries in Los Angeles, which image resonated the biggest contrast around consumption and boundary for you?
That might be the image showing a single pump jack in front of a massive container ship in the port of Long Beach. While the pump is stoically working, the global trade system appears in the back. Every time we look at that specific one it gives us a feeling of cause and effect. The same would be true for the frames of pumpjacks with highways or a McDonalds in the background. All of them show the extraction of a resource and the world it created. There is something very strange about these specific frames.

What drew you to nocturnal landscapes?
Işık has always been fascinated by nocturnal landscapes and all her projects are created at night, and Thomas has a background in stage performance and theatre, so both of us are drawn to dark spaces in which artificial light dominates perception. Something strange and beautiful happens with colors, and modern cameras with extreme low light performance can capture things that are beyond human perception. The sensor amplifies traces of light and the resulting images become somewhat unreal. And then the darkness of course helps to reduce visual noise, it is easier to focus on individual objects in the dark. Furthermore there is this notion that the night is the time to rest, however, capitalism is a 24/7 system. We want to emphasize that in our work.

What are your observations regarding our relationship too crude and how does that unfold in the work?
Although oil plays a massive role in the creation of every product we as humans are surrounded by today and fuels our entire contemporary culture, we never come into direct contact with the raw material itself. It is always already utilized, mediatized, transformed, or deliberately concealed. There is very little awareness in the broader public for how essential this one resource is for literally everything and therefore massively informs global politics and especially US politics. But even on a much smaller scale, the local one, it is impressive to see how little people know about Los Angeles as a place of extraction for crude oil. Showing this deep and historical connection is one of the reasons why we show the pump jacks that are basically in the backyards of residential buildings. The detachment from this resource is a huge issue, yet at the same time we as individuals enjoy the comfort that it brings and love exploring the landscape with our cars. Because our own relationship to crude is a complicated one, we wanted the work to reflect that by being haunting and beautiful at the same time.

The pump jacks take on a zoological aesthetic, how did your framing reinforce that?
Showing mostly individual pump jacks or small groups of them gives a feeling of observing actual characters. Their shape and movement has something inherently animalistic, that’s probably the reason why people also call them nodding donkeys. There is a phenomenon called pareidolia, which describes essentially what happens when we recognize a face in an electrical outlet or a human outline in a cloud. As humans we are prone to see familiar things in random shapes or patterns, which certainly helps to enhance this effect in our video.

What obstacles did you encounter photographing at night?
Working together certainly helps to feel safer at night, but it still is somewhat scary at times. At least in densely populated areas like Southern California there is no dead of night, there is always something happening, making sounds, crawling around. And that just triggers your imagination. What is out there? Is it dangerous? The biggest fear at any given moment though was that the police would come and question what we are doing, which happened a few times. Especially in residential areas we would try to be as quick as possible before we would be asked to leave.

How does your collaboration unfold in the field, are you both framing images?
Işık mostly operates the camera while Thomas scouts for different angles or pretends that the engine of our car broke down so we could film from the side of the road. We always discuss framing and decide together how or what to change in a scene, try to refine framing and check for details in the frames together. It is a very fun process and sometimes we dance or do squats while the camera is recording.

What were the determining factors for which areas to photograph?
In 2020 LA Times published an article with a map by Ryan Menezes and Mark Olalde that shows every single active and idle oil well in California. We used their map to identify clusters in greater Los Angeles that we would work our way through over the course of a night. It was clear relatively quickly that for us the most interesting frames were those that show the extreme proximity of extraction and everyday life and so we focused on clusters in populated areas. However, we did drive out to work in remote oilfields as well, closer to Bakersfield for example, but we ended up never using that material.

Tell us about the heliographs and why this was important to this body of work.
Crude Aesthetics was created as an installation that addresses the direct connections between visibility, photography, and petroleum. What is known to be the first photograph in history, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras, was created using bitumen, a naturally occurring petroleum tar which hardens in proportion to its exposure to light. To recreate this historic photographic process, we used tar collected from La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles to print photographs of the USA’s cultural elements that are deeply embedded in excess oil consumption, such as suburbs, drive-throughs, interstate systems, overcrowded parking lots of shopping malls, and Carvana “vehicle vending machines”. Fixing these images with petroleum on a polished, mirror-like aluminum surface allows the viewers to see their own reflection on this raw material and the images of a culture shaped by it.