Timelapse Photography is very much in demand and for the past five years, I've been fortunate to live out my passion and get paid for it at the same time. After extensive research, I've discovered there's only a handful of people in the world that shoot timelapse exclusively for a full-time career and there's plenty of work out there!
Now, if you're reading this hoping to make a quick buck or two then I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it's not going to happen. My best advice is to never do it for the money as you'll eventually wind up timelapsing and getting bored of it. Those midnight and 2am alarms for sunrise shots and the occasional 48hr shift without any sleep will make you question what you're doing. If you genuinely don't feel excited at the prospect of waking up early, hiking up a mountain with all of your kit and then standing in the sub-zero temperatures time and time again then I'd suggest you find something you love doing and figure out a way to get paid for it!
Still here? Good. My career didn't happen overnight so be prepared to be in it for the long haul. Over the past five years it's taken a lot of effort, practice, contact-making, determination and the usual blood, sweat and tears to get to the position I'm in today. Before that I'd already spent a further ten years working in various roles within the television industry in different parts of the world.
So here's my guide to building your career as a timelapse photographer. This is in no way 'the' way to do it, but it's the way I did it and so far, it's working out!
Build your portfolio
Timelapse in 2014 is a bizarre amalgamation of people and specialisms. Some people specifically shoot landscapes, some shoot plants and there's everything in between. Some timelapsers were originally photographers and some have a tv background while others are camera operators or have just picked it up through many inspirational videos and tutorials online.
Personally, if it moves (and if it moves slow enough!), I'll shoot it. I've done plants, construction, landscapes, people, architecture, astrophotography, historic stones, macro biology and a whole list of things that would see me typing here for eternity.
The best way to market yourself would be to have a portfolio or showreel of as many different shots as you can gather. Why? There will come a day when your phone will ring and somebody will ask you to shoot something, let's say a flower opening for example. Nine times out of ten, they'll have seen your showreel and liked it (hence the call) but the client will need to know if you're capable of shooting a flower opening if it's not in your reel. If you've not shot one before at this point, I wouldn't advise you to lie but to simply turn the job down as this, in the long run will help keep your reputation if you did go ahead and without prior experience, it all went tits up. However, if you do have a short reel of flowers opening / growing then you can send them a link and you're more likely to get the job. You may have even shot it in a way that they've not thought of before!
Every shoot I undertake gets uploaded to Vimeo for future reference and to show to prospective clients. I'll do the shoot, upload the shots in a 'reel' as a password protected video and there they will stay until someone asks me the 'have you ever shot a ______ timelapse before' question. In most cases I have, or have shot something similar and I'll send them a link with a password.
It's important to have a niche in the television industry. Timelapse Specialist is niche enough in itself and you can go even further by specialising in Landscapes for example. Personally, I feel that you'll open yourself up to a lot more work if you can build and develop many areas of timelapse as you'll find it leads to newer and more fulfilling challenges!
I very often see people churning out the same old landscape shots and they're ten a penny. Beautiful as they are, I feel that people have become accustomed to just setting the camera down for thirty minutes and calling it a timelapse. Technically it is a timelapse and I personally shoot a fair amount of the '30 minute' shots but only as requested by clients. What I do enjoy seeing and producing myself are the shots with traditional timelapse techniques at their heart - shots that take a long time to make or are technically challenging - a 'true' time-lapse!
So go ahead - fill your portfolio with something different and I'll guarantee your phone won't stop ringing!
Build a website, get your reel on it, and some background info. People who search for timelapse want to see what you can do so make sure your reel is on your front page! Youtube and Vimeo is awash with timelapse videos so having your own space will make it easier for clients to find you. Be sure to try and update your site as often as possible as well, even if it's just personal shoots you've been doing.
Make some contacts!
Initially, it can be hard to get your name out there and at times you may feel there's an overwhelming amount of competition but the more you persevere, the bigger the pay off will be. What you don't want to do is hassle people. Your top priority is to be polite and don't keep sending emails looking for work. It's a difficult position because without contacts you don't work and without work, your name doesn't get passed on.
Eighty percent of my work comes via word of mouth and recommendations, with the remainder coming from my site, random vimeo clips and return clients. If you're wanting to work for television production companies, your best bet would be to try and get to some networking events, parties or similar and make friends. Don't push too hard though as you'll appear as a work hungry desperado. You'll make mistakes like I did but it's all part of the learning curve!
Show as many people as you can what you do - you never know who you're talking to sometimes and you never know where it might lead! I was out shooting in London and as much as it pains me to keep answering everyone's 'What are you filming?' questions every five minutes, one particular member of the public happened to be a producer who has given me a lot of work over the past couple of years and if I'd have told him to mind his own business, I'd have missed out! 'Never an opportunity missed' is one of my favourite guides.
It may seem a little old fashioned these days but carry some business cards and once meeting someone, offer to send an email with your reel as well after handing them a card.
I've dabbled with stock agencies since 2006 and I've made quite a decent amount in my spare time. The best thing is, your footage is online forever with a potential to make you money. The difference in profit between agencies will depend, this time, on your particular niche. If you have a truly original shot then you can make a healthy amount from it.
I upload to various sites but mainly Shutterstock as I've had the most return from it. You could also host videos on your own site, for which you could charge whatever you wanted to!
Not just television
Content is huge compared to when I first started my career. I don't just shoot for television but also for online, on-demand, projections, in-store displays, huge screens at gigs and festivals and also information screens and displays. With advances in technology, we'll soon be able to wear clothes that have built in screens and for that, content is key!
There's a whole world out there that wants to pay for quality timelapses so go out, keep shooting and eventually, you'll be able to live the dream!
Hopefully I've helped out in some way but if you have any questions that I've not answered, feel free to ask away below! In the meantime, I'll leave you with my reel from 2013's adventures ;-)