Gardening is huge across this country and is estimated to be a multi billion dollar industry. Any industry that large has many businesses looking to carve out of a slice of it and this generates opportunities for even more businesses, including photographers.
Garden photography is nature photography and is a popular niche with many pro photographers shooting for stock, magazines, books, and even advertising. Janet Loughrey is is one of those, carving out a successful career in a niche market.
I have known Janet for many years and like me, we started out shooting a lot of different subjects to make a living. But Janet had a passion for a niche, one she pursued for decades and it has paid off as she has become one of the most recognized Horticulture photographers in the market today.
Recently I was speaking with her about the business and asked if she would take some time to tell us all about her career, book projects, and the state of her niche business.
Thank you for joining us Janet. I must admit that I have known you for 25 years and way back you were primarily a nature photographer. Today you are one of the most recognized garden and horticulture photographers. Tell us about your journey from a general nature photographer to specializing in Horticulture.
“My first love was landscape photography, but the market was already saturated with really talented nature photographers, most of them shooting 4×5 format. Being a gardener, one of my favorite subjects was botanical landscapes, and I eventually discovered that not many people who knew about plants could also photograph them. Photographing plants requires an understanding of their bloom time and other attributes, such as foliage, structure, bark, berries or seed pods. I eventually became known in the industry as a photographer who also knew about plants. It helped that I lived in the Pacific Northwest, which is world-renowned for its ideal gardening climate.”
You have three books to your credit; tell us how those came to fruition.
“I collaborated on my first book with Ann Lovejoy, a nationally-known author, whom I met at a flower show. I came up with the other two book ideas on my own after photographing and writing for many major gardening magazines, including Sunset, Better Homes and Gardens, Rodale Press and Meredith Books. Those two books are regional to where I grew up in upstate New York. Working on these projects allowed me to spend time in the area, where I still have family and friends.”
Besides the books, you also do editorial work for some publications. Tell us about the types of assignments you might receive.
“Assignment work has greatly decreased over the past few years. Because advertising revenues have declined, editors are more willing to buy cheap downloads from Flickr or iStockphoto. This has greatly impacted the stock and assignment business, as photographers like myself cannot compete with those rates. I am trying to expand my business into other markets, and to shoot more for landscape designers and architects. I also pitch stories a lot to magazines. It helps that I can both write and photograph. When I do get an assignment, it’s usually about a very specialized topic or location.”
Are there any special techniques or methodology to your work that has really brought you attention from clients or photographic community?
“It helps that I can accurately identify and label plant profiles with the proper botanical and common names. And as I previously mentioned, being able to both write and photograph gives me an advantage at times.”
Marketing and self promotion is critical to any business and especially photographers. What is your philosophy here?
“Social media has revolutionized the way photographers and artists market their work. If they are not using Facebook, Twitter and other social media, they are missing out on business opportunities. Younger artists understand this, but established artists like myself have a harder time with it. I think traditional marketing models such as mass-mailing and cold-calling are still viable. The more marketing tools you can use, the better off you’ll be.”
With the very tight markets these days, how do you as a niche specialist find or create new business?
“This year, I redesigned my website from scratch so that I could create my own structure and learn how everything works. This was a big learning curve. This gives me the ability to add features as needed, such as a blog, e-commerce, news/events. I also created a Facebook page for my new book, “Saratoga in Bloom.” I have not been as good about posting blogs and Facebook updates as I should be, so I’m hoping to be better at that now that the shooting season is winding down. I met with a social media coach who developed a long-range business plan to develop an internet fan base, and I am slowly implementing this.”
It is often said that a published book is the best promotional tool available. Has that been the case for you?
“A published book gives an artist credibility, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee more paying work. Since my most recent book was published, I have had several offers to work on other book projects by a few small publishers, but the terms were not viable for me to work with. It did lead to several magazine articles, some paid and some strictly promotional for the book. Being able to have published books can open doors, but it doesn’t replace other forms of promotion.”
What do you think is the biggest obstacle for established professionals to remain successful in today’s markets?
“The biggest obstacle in the current market is that no one knows where the publishing industry is headed. Everything is in upheaval, with technology and markets changing all the time. Publishers don’t know what the future will bring any more than the artists do. The current economic climate doesn’t help, either. I think these are issues that will remain long-term.”
Everything has changed since you first started in the business including delivery, pricing structures, usage rights, etc. What are your feelings here and how have you adapted?
“I have mixed feelings about the current market and digital technology. The accessibility and immediacy of digital photography is amazing on so many levels, but it misleads people to believe that anyone who owns a digital camera can be a professional photographer. Websites like Flickr and iStockphoto have killed the stock photography market. The traditional business model of rights, rates and usage has been thrown out the window. There is a lot of abuse and theft of images on the web that has become commonplace and accepted. I am trying to focus on projects that fit a particular niche, such as specialized book projects, building business portfolios for designers, and expanding into the fine arts market.”
With your successful career, you certainly are asked by others, how to succeed in the business. What advice would you have for them?
“My advice for anyone starting out in this market and economic climate, is to have an edge, style or niche that no one else has. I think younger people with social media expertise have more tools with which to find their own opportunities.”
Can we look at some of your most successful images and have you describe them and why you feel they are successful?
95-93731-16. Japanese maple, Japanese Garden, Portland, Oregon. This image has sold many times, as a book cover, magazine cover and in various articles. I think editors are drawn to the striking architecture of the branches offset by the blazing orange color. I shot this on 6x7cm format, Fuji Velvia film, wide angle lens and laying flat on the ground looking up at the tree for more dramatic effect.
96-2704-16. Hosta border, Joy Creek Nursery, Scappoose, Oregon. 6x7cm format, Fuji Velvia film. This has sold as book and magazine covers and has been used in catalogs and magazine articles. I think this sells because it is a well-designed border, a nice study in color and contrast within the same plant. The weaving path gives it more visual interest.
Hummingbird and delphiniums. Birds and other wildlife captured in the garden are a big seller, and hummingbirds have a special appeal. This image sells well because of the purple hue of the flowers that complement the coloring of the bird. Hummingbirds are especially challenging to shoot because of their quick movements. I shot an entire roll of film to get this one shot.
00-0246-9. Alliums and golden rain trees, Van Dusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, BC Canada. This is a border duplicated from a famous garden in England. It has a general appeal for the pathway, which leads the viewer into the picture, and the complementary colors of purple and gold. I used this image on a Christmas card one year, and a magazine bought it as a result.
97-07561-11. White bleeding heart. This has sold as a calendar image and as stock. I think the appeal lies in the simplicity of the image, with the contrast of the clean white flowers against the soft blue and green background.
01-2476-4 and 00-2370-11. Mixed border, Thomas Vetter garden, Portland, Oregon. Images of a garden in multiple seasons are good sellers. Capturing the same scene at different times of year shows the progression of the growing season. Ideally, editors like to see the same view in winter, but I am seldom able to capture this season because of the rarity of snowfall at low elevations in the Northwest.
Scenics 23. Adirondack chairs at Curry’s Cottages, Blue Mountain Lake, New York. I am known primarily for my garden shots, but I enjoy taking landscape images as well. I am from the Adirondack region of upstate New York and published the book “Gardens Adirondack Style.” This photo of Adirondack chairs is my best seller of all my Adirondack scenic images. It captures the essence of the place.
Please tell our readers where they can learn more about you.
Janet Loughrey’s latest book is “Saratoga in Bloom,” published by Down East Books in June 2010. For more information on her work, visit www.loughreyphoto.com and you can vist my online store at: http://www.zazzle.com/janetloughrey