Whether you use a compact camera for digiscoping or a DSLR, there is no reason why a good bird image should not be acceptable for publication.
There is a lot of competition, however, and you need to be able and willing to get your work seen. There are very few enthusiastic photographers who take pictures and who do not have an ambition to have their work published in one form or another. There was a time when many bird magazines, particularly in Great Britain, had most of their images supplied by a few dedicated bird photographers. The boom in digital bird photography, and particularly in digiscoping, has changed all that: open any bird magazine today, and you will see a multitude of different names sprinkled throughout the picture credits.
Digiscoping rare birds has been the route into being published for many, since there is a constant hunger for images of newsworthy birds. The ease of photographing rarities by digiscope, however, means competition is fierce. At least one bird magazine often receives over two hundred e-mailed images in a day after a good weekend for rare birds in spring and autumn!
While digiscoped images are fine for small reproductions in bird magazines, if you are serious about being published you need to shoot with a DSLR to produce the quality required. If you can write, great; magazine editors love features that have a strong pictorial content, and offering a complete package of words and pictures is an attractive proposition for editors, compared with offering just one or the other. There are some wildlife photographers who make a living by writing and supplying images to magazines—just don’t expect to get rich.
There are many other routes to selling your work. Note the use of the word “sell”—please, never give your work away for free, as this sets a bad precedent and you are simply allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. Photographs are valuable commodities that sell products, vacations, and most other things we consume in life. Be wary of tour operators inviting images to be sent for publication in their brochures—you may get the warm glow of seeing your work in print, but in reality your work will be devalued, as the use of it is just the cheap option for those businesses. Similarly, be wary of photographic competitions that hide away a clause giving them the right to use your pictures for anything and everything, forever, for nothing.
You may decide you want someone else to market your pictures for you, in which case you need an agent. Agents have big overheads that include a lot of promotion, running websites, and paying staff, so they typically take at least 50 percent from each sale they make for you. Having an agent does not guarantee lots of sales; the market for bird pictures is relatively small, especially for the more obscure species. Couple this with the flood of fantastic images being taken year after year, and there is plenty of competition.
To make sales, your work needs to stand out, and building a niche for yourself by developing a distinctive style or specialisation will help. Try to build up an extensive coverage of particular birds or types of birds and become well known for those images within the business. As well as using agents, do not be afraid to market your own work quite aggressively, both through direct contact with potential clients and through a website. These have proliferated in recent years, and if you have a good site with plenty of images online to choose from, you are likely to get picture buyers using you regularly—too little choice means buyers are not likely to waste their time. To combat this problem, some photographers have joined together to promote their bird pictures on one common site, giving buyers a decent choice. This kind of cooperation is likely to increase in the future.
The Bird Photography Field Guide is David Tipling’s expert reference to teach you everything you need to know about capturing birds in all their beauty. With useful advice on the essential equipment and photographic techniques, as well tips on composition to get you thinking more creatively, you’ll be taking superb photos that show off your subject in the best possible way.