Dear Fly Fishing Photographer…

Believe it or not, you CAN make money at this game. Oh yes! It’s not just some pie in the sky myth that might come true on the 4th leap year of the new Etruscan moon cycle while the tide is full and Mother Earth’s Unicorn plays Greensleeves on a diamond encrusted ukelele. Believe it or not, there are clients out there that would pay money, and decent money at that for quality imagery. Yet, currently, these budgets are being allocated elsewhere as it’s just that easy to find the next travel-hungry lensman ready to jump on a plane and deliver “everything” for a week’s worth of pina coladas and a pre-planned sunburn.

Yes, it’s true–travel is exotic, fun and fantastic for the time being. But think about this–someday, you will truly end up realizing that dream of making a living as a full time professional photographer,  and there will be no side job or other income to pay those bills that are not being paid with a high five to your bro on the front of a panga. Keep in mind you actually just paid to get to that panga (I know, flights are cheap yo!). Sure, everything’s covered once you’re there, but that’s where you’re coming up short once again–you’re working hard, using your hard-earned (and paid for) equipment and spending time away from the computer or other jobs that would be putting legitimate income into your bank account. It all feels pretty good, until you get home and have to spend another 20 hours editing, processing and uploading the unlimited number of images you owe the lodge for the “free but paid and STILL paying for” shooting gig.

It’s all good, cause you can come home and then license the images to the next rod, reel or apparel company that has been trained to trade product for imagery. A new reel–suh-weet! Add that to your collection and then hustle back to the computer and list it on Ebay. Feels quite proper, until you actually think about the cycle here. Let’s see…reel company trades you a reel for imagery. You then go and hawk the reel for a fraction of the new price, justifying the deal done for trade and finally actually putting some cold hard cash in your pocket. Then you realize this means that one less person will be purchasing one less reel from your local fly fishing shop which will be ordering one less reel from the manufacturer which means the manufacturers expendable income for things like marketing (imagery) is hurting even more. It’s an ugly cycle. One that really only hurts everyone in the end…

In all fairness though, there is plenty of room to play devil’s advocate here. Many of these trips yield legitimate “portfolio-building” imagery, establish relationships with decision makers, and contribute to the overall sexiness of your brand (not talking about the sick silhouetted casting tattoo on your once-rippling lats there, chieftain.). I have certainly been there. And at times, I believed it to be the right decision.  The decision process is/was cloudy at best. To make it even cloudier, you get plenty of time with a rod in your hand and it feeds our incessant need to fish (it’s a sickness!). At different times in your career, it may feel more justified than not. But in the end, it leaves you feeling sheepishly satisfied at best.

One certainly can’t blame the clients. They’ve been trained to take full advantage of us photographers who are essentially peeing in our own kiddie pool time and time again. If I could get a t-bone for the price of a hamburger, you better believe I’d do it.But I can’t help but think it hasn’t bitten them as well.

So, what to do? Decide today that you will make informed decisions. Weigh the pros vs. the cons. Think beyond the next month. There are extenuating circumstances, yes. But take a moment to think about whether the next uber trip to pluto’s fifth moon to fish for the dragon-eyed bumblefish is really going to do anything for you (and those with whom you associate on a professional level) but pad your ego and crowd your Facebook page.

This post is neither a me vs. you post, nor an us vs. them post.  We can all work together to make this industry stronger and healthier than ever before. Mediocre photographers say yes to mediocre deals, which leaves the client with mediocre imagery, which shows the world that they cater to a mediocre crowd looking for a mediocre experience. That spells one giant FAIL for all parties involved. Exceptional photographers say yes to deals that benefit both parties equally. Is there a cash component involved? Ideally, yes. At times, perhaps not, but that lies upon our own shoulders to determine if what we do gain is of adequate value vs. what we deliver.  It’s up to us to educate, negotiate and deliver.

Now.  About that tattoo…

Edit: I’ve had numerous responses to this blog post privately. Some will take this post to be preachy–I don’t mean it as such although it’s somewhat inevitable when addressing a topic such as this with a side of sarcasm. It has nothing to do with jobs I may or may not have been awarded and everything to do with a fluid thought process that influences the way I look at my profession. Let me clarify by noting that each photographer has every right to approach his or her business as he/she so chooses. There are many, many other factors I consider when approaching a shooting opportunity than the bottom line, cash in hand result. Whether this post has you nodding your head in agreement, or cursing the monitor through clenched teeth…it has served its purpose. We progress when we think and analyze. We digress when we refuse to give even a small place in our minds to an alien approach or thought process…

3 thoughts on “Dear Fly Fishing Photographer…

  1. Now trading imagery, there’s an idea I like the sound of. In my own photography, I’m soon hoping to get to the point where selling my photos will be a reality. As I’m new to this, seeing a Work of mine in the lobby of a local hotel would be a major source of pride (especially if it’s good enough to make the lobby!). Proposing to trade (in lieu of cash) is an offer I wouldn’t have thought of; thank you!

    What was making your first transaction like?

    • Hey Jesse. Thanks for dropping a line. Beware the trade my friend! Make sure it is valuable to you. That is really what it comes down to–determining if it has value to you in terms of what you are offering them. Believe it or not, my first transaction was with a hotel here in Salt Lake City. It was magical! I knew very little back then, but seeing a legit check for my work was a dream come true.

  2. This sounds great! I would really like to generate some extra income by photography while I´m guiding anyway in the spectacular landscape where fishing takes place. My photos aren´t good yet, it´s probably the camera too. Please, send me some advice via email. You can see some of my photos at


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