There are probably 1000 photographers who want to sell nature and wildlife images for every single one who can do it successfully. Just think, who wouldn’t want to get paid for going to places like national parks and lovely wilderness? While the call of the wild is strong, the prospect of making a living as a nature and wildlife photographer is not. This is a highly competitive category where many amateurs like to dabble. This makes it even harder to succeed.
Successful nature/wildlife photographers rely on several outlets for income. Some sell their work exclusively to textbook publishers, others combine book publishers with calendar and post card publishers. Fine art nature/wildlife prints can be successful as can commercial licensing of natural images to stock and advertising agencies.
To stand out in this crowded field you need to devote most of your time to marketing, not making photographs.
This is also probably the lowest paying of all the photographic specialties merely because there is so much competition. If someone has a picture of your favorite cat and is willing to license it for less than you are, you’ll have a hard time convincing the buyer that your shot is better than the already existing 1.2 billion cat photos.
Concentrating on a niche is one way nature and wildlife photographers can increase their ability to make money. Years ago I created a stock agency selling only bird photographs. Competing against broader stock agencies that offered thousands of subjects, my work was easy to find for those who needed just bird photographs. This sort of niche programming seems counterintuitive to people just starting their photography business, but it’s crucial to success.
Just think of all the people searching for photography to buy or license online. Are they searching the word “photography” or the words “bald eagle photograph?” If you tighten your niche, make sure your photos are discoverable based on very narrow keywords, you actually increase your chances of getting paid.
There are also some rare opportunities where you get a chance to “speak for the animals”. In these cases you may even get a commission to create a series of images. This has happened to me – although less frequently now than 10 years ago. There is a need. The natural habitats of so many incredible animals are being destroyed daily. Wildlife photographers have the ability to also be a part of the world of photojournalism as they document this destruction!
While this is a cramped market, there will always be a need for nature and wildlife images, especially for books and advertising use. If you want to get paid in sunshine and are willing to specialize, you can be happy in this category. Innovators who find new ways to “productize” their work will find the most success.
My advice is narrowly define your subject matter and promote it separately from any other genre of photography you practice. This will give you the best chance of breaking through.