But is it Art?

What’s a Garden Photographer To Do?

This story that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle a couple months ago got me thinking about the fate of garden photographers in the digital age. Used to be that a photographer could spend a lifetime shooting plants and gardens, keep them filed and organized and cataloged according to color, (correct) plant name, location, and any number of other categories, and hope that an editor would call and want to see some slides.  Off the slides would go, and maybe later a check would arrive.  Over time, that catalog of images would only get more valuable.  It's a retirement plan, right?

Well, it didn't work out that way.  Nowadays, as that Chron story points out, editors are all too happy to jump on Flickr and find a workable image for a fraction of the price. Amateurs are happy to pocket a few bucks, and do the readers know the difference?  I wold argue that they do–we all know the difference between gorgeous, perfect plant porn and that awful low-res garden photograph shot in garish sunlight with no plant names in the caption–but that's not what I'm thinking about today.

Today I'm thinking about Zazzle. And CafePress.  And Blurb.

If I was a photographer with an extraordinary catalog of gorgeous images, I'd be taking a serious look at Zazzle right about now.  In less than a minute you can upload an image to a notecard design and add your text to the back.  It doesn't take much longer to build a calendar.  You get fifty cents or a dollar or two dollars whenever something sells.  It doesn't sound like much, but that's about what we get in book royalties. And who wouldn't want to have cards, calendars, or even mousepads, mugs, or a cute little coffee table book, with art by a photographer like Saxon Holt or Rob Cardillo or David Perry?

(Not to pick on those three, but hey, they're amazing.  They have a fan base.)

And if I was an author with a book full of photographs I'd taken myself (think Debra Lee Baldwin or Scott Calhoun) I'd be thinking about a set of notecards or a calendar based on the book.  Take a few samples to garden clubs so they can see what they look like, and send them home with a little slip of paper that explains how to order them online. No inventory, no boxes to haul, and a little free advertising for your books moves through the garden community.  I buy twelve cards and send them out to friends–that's twelve more people finding out about the book.

In some cases, photographers don't have the rights to the images.  Let's hope that changes.  Given the state of publishing, we should all be able to retain as many rights as possible and try to make a buck.

It's also true that making money at something like Zazzle takes time and effort, but the more successful photographers out there already have a website, a blog, an email newsletter, and so forth. Why not add this to the mix?

Is anybody out there doing this?  If so, post a comment with a link and let me know if I have permission to show one of your images here at GardenRant in a future post (just in time for the holidays!)

Posted by on November 5, 2009 at 12:43 pm, in the category But is it Art?.
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19 Responses to “What’s a Garden Photographer To Do?”

  1. Thank you for another excuse to put a DSLR camera on my holiday wishlist. “See, honey, I can make money from my photos!”

  2. Laura Bell says:

    Oh, geez. Here I thought I was a decent garden photographer. Easily half my shots on Flickr are plant & garden related. These folks put me to shame. All the same, maybe checking out Zazzle wouldn’t be a bad idea ….

  3. John says:

    I work in the low-end side of publishing and this sort of business no longer has the budget for even low-end stock photos, they just harvest anything they can off the internet (copyright? whats that?). Sometimes they make an effort to alter an image in Photoshop but sometimes they don’t.

    When desk top computers hit the scene along with desk top publishing software the entire communication/publication world sank to a low level. I see some down right awful logos out there and very poor design in use (surprisingly from some big names).

    The only problem I have is that most often you get what you pay for – those calenders and t-shirts and whatnots may look fine on your monitor but they look pretty cheap when you hold them in your hand.

  4. how it grows says:

    As someone who has a flickr account claytonsnativesand”>http://www.flickr.com/photos/claytonsnatives/”>claytonsnativesand has sold a couple pictures (and donated many more to non-profit publications), I think your take is a bit one-sided. A contrary argument might be that instead of slick, unrealistic photos by an elite group of professional photographers, flickr allows for a greater variety of images and points of view. I’m not saying that’s always the case, just that maybe there are two sides to the story. I’m sorry, but I enjoy taking photos and posting them online. I’m not going to feel guilty about it. It seems like there’s room for both professionals and amateurs. There will always be a need for fine quality photography, but maybe it’s not always that critical for an situation. And maybe flickr photographers aren’t always that bad.

  5. how it grows says:

    Guess my html isn’t that great!

  6. Sounds like a win win for everybody including the amateur photographer, the professional photographer , the media publishing company and the end user.

    One of the few negatives that I have personally experienced in this stock photography venture is the lack of credit that goes to the garden creator.
    Even though I have a signed contract with a professional photographer that my company name must be attributed to the creation of the garden many publications omit this information.
    Case in point, more than 50 % of the images used for the marketing of the recent Late Show Gardens in Sonoma CA ( for their website, brochure, magazine ads) were stock images taken by a professional photographer of my personal garden yet I did not receive any credit for the images.

    In the past I’ve been surprised by seeing several of my gardens published in various magazines and the photographer is credited for taking the photo but the designer of the landscape is not acknowledged.
    Now that’s a tad bit disappointing.
    You and or a completely different publication hires a professional photographer to shoot one of your gardens and then you see the images sold to a completely different magazine and as the designer you’re not given credit.

  7. Katie says:

    I’ve been noticing recently how difficult it is to take good looking pictures of food. Like, the pictures in cookbooks that make you actually want to make and eat the stuff.

    I took pictures of my family’s halloween dinner, Spaghetti in a Pumpkin, and it looked more like barf. (‘scuse the gross imagery) Plants are kind of like that, too.

    However, I’m not a professional photographer, and I don’t have a fancy camera, but I have a mostly photo blog (linked from my name, I think) which I enjoy. I don’t copyright the images. I don’t care. It is just fun to put them up and write titles.

    random-thoughts re: pro pictures.

  8. The real killer in this category is Wikipedia which has flower photos next to tens of thousands of images all published on a commons license.

    The stock photo companies systematically reject all photo flowers. But I think there’s still some value in a well categorized collection of flowers. Especially native flowers.

    ahem, my collection of amateur flowers is on the site protophoto.com. I get a few pennies from ads on the site. Enough to pay for camera, I hope to make enough to get a new lens someday.

  9. greg draiss says:

    Not a bad idea. The digital age has made taking photos much less expensive and therefore maybe we should expert a lower return in dollars as well.

    I do photography on the side and just charge for my time. I do not have the time to catalog and look up photos at a later time when you get that call “You the shot I want, the one with me and brother at the bar”

    The TROLL

  10. Mary says:

    The losers in all of this is professional photographers who are now expected to almost give away their work because of this trend of people with cameras giving away their images for mere pennies or for free.
    Yes, good photography of any type is a craft, an art.Having an expensive camera does not equal good pictures.
    The truth of the matter is very few people are making a living wage with the istock like business models.

  11. So am I supposed to feel bad because I like to take pictures of things I grow, and I post them on Flickr so my friends and family who aren’t in my garden everyday can see them?

    Sorry, I don’t. I’m sorry that people who want to make money (or even a living) from their photos are having a hard time, but if you want to point fingers at villains, the editors grabbing bad images for cheap seem a better target than the gardener with a cheap digital camera.

  12. Katie says:

    Photography is just another medium that will have to adapt to the changing climate of publishing. It will, and everyone will be fine. Might take a lot of creativity to get the next big thing going. However, real artists *are* creative, right?

  13. Yes, it is hard to take a good looking picture of food, I know. Gardens, hmmmm….new thing for me. Let’s try.

  14. Kaarina says:

    I find it a little overwhelming how many “photographers” there are out there. How do you find the really good ones? It is just like anything these days- when you find one great photo it will lead you to more and more great ones. So cheer up garden photographers! I look at pictures all day long, and honestly when you see one done by a pro it stands out like a beautiful flower among a bunch of weeds.

  15. missy says:

    i’m not sure if i even qualify as a professional photographer anymore, but at one time i was quite enamored with the colors that emerge in the spring from the oppressive grey of an iowa winter:

    http://www.photoeye.com/gallery/forms2/index.cfm?image=1&id=180140&imagePosition=1&Door=52&Portfolio=Portfolio3&Gallery=0&Page=65

    it is incredibly hard to make a living as a photographer, be it as one who shoots garden images or otherwise. as with everything in life, the most important thing is to do what you love–the quality will show through in your work.

  16. I don’t think the only two choices are gorgeous professional photos or garish amateur ones. There are a lot of unbelievably talented amateurs on Flickr. Like, so good I can’t believe they’re a receptionist at a doctor’s office, they could make a killing as a pro photog good.

  17. Just as an FYI-
    One of the talented photographers you mentioned, David E Perry is profiled on the Garden World Report Show this week. This amazingly talented photographer shows a different side of his creativity and humor in the show.

    Watch David on GardenWorldReport.com

    Shirley Bovshow

  18. Lynn says:

    As a photographer, gardener, & blogger who just launched a photography business, I find this discussion interesting. No one should feel ashamed of sharing photos on Flickr–there are a million talents out there. But, amateurs should really think before giving their work away to a professional pub. Ask the pro photographer if that digital kit or the hours spent researching and post-processing is any cheaper or if she’s worked only half as hard. The medium does not cheapen good work. But the days of microstock and the flood of images push the photographer who wants to make a living at this a lot harder to be creative at business, not just art. Blurb books are good quality, and people are charging art book prices for them. I can’t speak for print quality by the other sites.

  19. Miles says:

    Hi…….not sure how I got here, but I’m looking for Ketzel Levine…who, I understand, is not around right now.

    I need some help from good gardeners….

    I have a friend who is now in her third bout with the big C…..and I need to know what plant I can buy for her that will flourish (with care) through a Wisconsin winter and then be transplantable in the spring…….

    everyone needs a project, right??

    any help getting to Ketzel or good suggestions would be very appreciated……….this Lady needs a plant…….

    email: texonice@hotmail.com

    thanks

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