Guest Blogger Week: Ken McDougal PhotographyWednesday, October 12, 2016
He pursued videography back in college, but soon found that his love was in still photography and so he switched majors. He graduated from the New York Institute of Photography and pursued his early career in commercial photography. He worked for Glamour Shots, Wal-mart Portrait Studios, but worked for more than 10 years at LifeTouch Church Directories and Portraits. In 2005, he suffered a major injury and could no longer work there. About a year after intensive physical therapy, Ken decided to strike out on his own. He did wedding photography for a few years, but he so longed for the day that he could become a full time nature photographer.
He and I moved to Oregon in 2012 and his prayer and dream became a reality. He now sells his work at the local Art Center in town and from his website at kenmcdougal.com. Enjoy this interview!
Q: I know you've been a pro photographer for more than 20 years, but when did you know that nature photography was the specialty you wanted to pursue?
I had taken a photography course in college and really liked it. I was studying professional broadcast video and began seeing that there were people that were graduating and getting jobs with a 4-year degree and making less money than I was when I was working in a warehouse with no formal education.
Q: What is it about nature and scenic photography that you love?
There is just something about shooting natural and scenic images outdoors that really calls to me. The beauty of what I get to experience when I'm outside really brings me a lot of joy and I never get tired of it. Also, being outside draws me closer to God and His creation.
Q: How do you decide where to go shooting and times/days?
In photography, light is everything. I've often stated that "if you have no light, you have no photograph. If you have the wrong light, you have a bad photograph." Shooting in the right light will make or break an image. Also, if you are doing this just as a fun hobby, then shooting in the right light might not be as important to you as if you are actually selling your work to customers and earning a full time living at it like I am.
Q: Is it fun to finally be doing what you love full-time?
It is more than fun. When I think of all the times I worked for an employer and had to put in 15 hour days for a set salary, there was no freedom. I was chained to a job so many hours a week. Working for myself is something I have wanted to do for a long time and I'm glad I am finally being able to follow my passion. Actually, it's more than a passion, it's a calling for me. I am doing what I believe The Lord had gifted me and called me to do to bless other people's lives in some way.
Q: What is most challenging about your profession?, Is it post-production, sales, or something else?
That's a good question but a complicated one because it has many parts to it that all factor into running a business of your own. There are many challenges when you work for yourself. You have to be disciplined enough to get up and "get out there" and shoot just about every day. You have to treat your work as seriously as you would if you were working for a boss. You have to believe in yourself and the quality of your work. If you don't, no one else will either. You have to constantly put your work out there and keep it in front of people both in physical prints and online. If people don't see you, they will forget about you. You have to constantly learn new photo techniques and hone your skills both with the camera and in post production. You have to get out there and meet people, make new contacts, establish strong relationships with your local community and your customer base. As far as sales go, I have learned that people buy, when they are ready to buy. I never force or try to convince or pressure someone to buy my photos. I let them decide when is the best time for them. That way, they are in control and when they do decide to purchase, it is their decision and they are happy. I treat every one of my customers as if they were my only customer.
Q: How did you get the Facebook following you have? I know it was hard work.
I have been blessed to have the following on Facebook that I have. It has been hard work, but well worth it. Being consistent is the key. I have been on Facebook sharing my images 7 days a week for over 3 years. People like, comment, and share my work with their friends. People often ask me when a certain image they like will be available for purchase. People have gotten to know me and actually look forward and expect to see my daily posts. It always blesses me when I am out shooting early in the morning and someone sees me and calls my name because they are following me on Facebook. I have even met some people that don't even live here locally in Florence, Oregon but are up here visiting family or friends or even vacationing for a week or for the summer that recognize me from Facebook.
Q: What would you say is the most important skill you need to have a successful nature photographer?
I would say that if you are serious about doing this full time and actually earning a living from it, you need to be a good photographer but more importantly, you need to be a better marketer. You could be the best photographer in the world and have the best equipment, but if you are not good at marketing and selling your work, then you will learn quickly, the real meaning of the phrase "starving artist." I'm not saying you have to be a "pushy" salesman, but you do have to keep your work out there and also decide where you need to put in your marketing efforts and where not to. Also, as I stated before, being consistent is the key. If you are not consistent in marketing your work, people will look at you more like a "hobbiest", rather than a professional photography business person.
Q: If someone wanted to invest in a good camera kit to become a nature photographer, what would you recommend?
I would recommend either Canon or Nikon. Both in my opinion are great cameras as far as a choice in DSLR. New technologies now have advanced into what is called "mirrorless" cameras whereas there is no mirror inside that camera that has to flip up out of the way to capture the image on the sensor. If you are thinking about going mirrorless, Sony has really stepped up to the plate with that technology.
Q: Have you always been a Canon guy?, or have you used other brands?
When I first started out in photography (back in the film days) I started with Nikon. In those days, the bodies were all metal and heavy. I remember shooting an assignment with three Nikons hanging around my neck for eight hours. I thought, "there has to be a lighter type of camera out there somewhere." Then I found Canon which had just switched over to a poly blend of certain materials and industrial strength plastics that were lightweight but durable. I was hooked and never looked back. Nowadays, with the advent of digital, most all camera brands are lighter in weight so that is not really a factor.
Q: I'm sure there are mundane and tedious tasks that go along with your job, how do you handle that?
I try to do the mundane tasks in short segments rather than wait for everything to pile up into one long and overwhelming task. I don't always succeed at this, but I am getting better at it. I have found that by doing it that way, I can break it up, still get the work done, and accomplish other things I need to do for my business.
Q: Being a business owner brings with it lots of responsibility, how do you keep your focus on your goals and yet stay inspired to go out shooting everyday?
I go out shooting usually very early in the morning before the light comes up and sometimes out late after the light is gone. Shooting is my passion and that is something I never tire of. I try to work all the other stuff in between that. I have not always been the best at setting goals, but I am getting better. There is a lot to think about when you own and run your business, but "I do my best and trust God for the rest" and it all works out better that way.
Q: How many photos do you think you have on your computer? How many photos do you typically take at a time when you're out?
Right now at present I have about 30,000 images in my archives. Not all are finished and I still have some deleting to do. I usually shoot anywhere from 200 to 300 images when I go out. That's the great thing about digital. I can view them on my computer when I get back to my office. I no longer have to take them all to a lab and have them processed. I don't want to tell you what I used to have to pay for film and processing costs knowing that I was going to trash about 80-90% of what I just shot.
Q: WOW! That's an awful lot of photos, how do you archive them, do you keep backups?
Yes it is a lot, but I have two external hard drives with a lot of space so after I determine the photos I'll keep, I put them on the drives and remove them off my main computer hard drive as they are large in size and take up a lot of space.
Q: Do you plan your trips of where you go? Do you take time to explore new places to take photos?
Sometimes I plan out my trips and sometimes I just ask God where He would want me to shoot. Other times I'll be in my car and get inspired to go to a place I have never been. If I'm looking to capture a specific type of image, then yes, that takes planning, because you have to look at the sunrise and sunset times, the tide tables, the moon rising, and setting times and most importantly, the current weather conditions. If I am shooting wildlife, I have to also study migration habits and times.
Q: Was it hard to come up with an affordable price/size structure and yet still be reasonable for selling your work?
It was challenging at first. I tried several price points to gauge my customers' responses. I learned that when trying to decide what to charge for your work, you have to look at your level of experience and also what the current market is doing and decide what it will bear. In other words, you have to get a feeling for what people would be willing to pay for your work. You also have to factor in how well people know you. One of the biggest mistakes I see a lot of new photographers make is putting an over inflated value on a photograph that is way over what people would be willing to pay for it. I think that people think that the more expensive a photo is, the more perceived value it has. I just saw a piece in a gallery where an image was being displayed for sale by a young, high school student, that was just starting out. He wanted $2,000 dollars for the piece. If you are hoping to establish yourself in this field, you cannot price yourself out of the market.
Q: Do you feel that photography as a whole gets the recognition it deserves?
I personally feel that fine art photography gets a bad rap. I think when people are looking at "ART" in general as a painted medium, they think that it takes a lot more talent, skill and insight into creating a piece with a brush than capturing a photo with a camera. I think sometimes people believe when they look at a fine art photo, they think "eh ... it's a photo. I could do that!" In my opinion, that couldn't be farther from the truth. Most professional (and even non-pro) photographers that shoot fine art images in nature, scenic, landscape, or wildlife, have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on equipment, gear, computers and editing software, years in school learning their craft, years in the field shooting, and years continuing to study and learning how to "create" better images as opposed to taking out a camera and "point and shoot" a pretty photo. I have seen people walk into the gallery where my work is displayed here in Florence, sit and study and admire all the "painted" artwork and then look at my display and just walk right past it without even stopping or giving it a second glance. That doesn't always happen, but it happens more than I like to see.
Q: What would you like to say to educate people who don't really understand what it's like to be in your position as a pro nature photographer that it's more than just clicking the shutter button?
I think people need to understand that creating a fine art photograph is a lot more involved than just snapping a pretty picture. Just as an artist creates a beautiful painting with a brush, a fine art photographer "paints" with light, shadow, detail, depth, color, space, and other elements. A gifted fine art photographer usually has a very creative "eye" and can see what others do not see. They have a passion and a way of capturing an image in a moment of time that some people never get a chance to experience.
WOW! What a great interview, thank you Ken for sharing your heart with us! You can view his work from his website, kenmcdougal.com and follow him on Facebook!
This has been such a great week interviewing three very unique people in different fields share their knowledge and passion for what they do. I hope you enjoyed reading these posts! And, if you have any questions for any of them, let me know in the comments and I'll try to respond back to you as soon as I can. Thanks for reading!