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The Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum
Artist Showcase: Darrell Gulin
by James Morrissey

This article is Copyright 2005, James Morrissey, and may not, in part or in whole, be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. The images in this article are the property of Darrell Gulin and have been licensed to James Morrissey and the NWP Photo Forum for the purpose of this interview.

Editor's Note: A link is at the end of the page if you wish to learn more about Darrell Gulin and his work.

Part II: Business Aspects of Photography

JM: What formats are you shooting with?

DG: I am shooting, in 35mm, exclusively digital. I had been shooting 4x5, 6x7 and 35mm for many years. I work with Canon on different things. I was there on their 25th anniversary in North America. Two years ago, I was there at their 30th anniversary in California. George Lepp and I were the key workshop leaders taking the clients out. At that workshop, I helped introduce the Rebel. In order to do that, I had to learn digital quickly. While I was there, there was NOTHING discussed other than digital. Film was not discussed at all.

Knowing George Lepp as a very good personal friend for many years, I realized was that this is where the future is. Digital.

Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography

JM: So it sounds that your choice in formats was pragmatically chosen.

DG: It was pragmatic. This is the business side of things. At that point, it became very obvious that things were falling together. Remember, as recently as two years ago, none of the major stock agencies (Specifically Corbis and Getty) would accept digital images. Until recently, they did not have the digital hard drive space. They did not allow us to do RAW as we can do now.

JM: What is the minimum resolution being accepted at this time?

DG: There are currently four cameras that are currently being accepted. Canon's 8MP 1.3x crop, the Canon 1ds (1X1), The Canon 1ds II (16 mp (1x) and the Nikon D2x (1.5x). *Editors Note * Since this interview was performed, two other cameras, the Nikon D200 and Canon EOS 5d, have been approved for usage by the major stock photography houses. The Kodak DCS 14n/c is also accepted. Please note that the Canon EOS 20d, according to Mr. Gulin, is not accepted though its base resolution is similar to the EOS 1d Mark II.

JM: So the minimum resolution is 8.2 megapixels.

DG: Yes, but it also has to do with the sensor size. Anyway, this all just started to happen within the last two years. Now that I am shooting digital, I am blown away with the capabilities of the digital camera. Shooting in RAW, the creativity of exposures are just not an issue anymore so long as you know how to read a histogram. Teaching wise, it is a huge boon because you can look at the images out in the field. Digital technology has also taken quantum leaps. 2 years ago, only about 20% of my clients would be shooting digital. Now, it is close to 70 or 80% digital.

JM: What does your business look like currently?

DG: 70% of the business comes through stock. The other 30% comes from everything else...programs and workshops. I have always paid more attention to those than the paper products. I don't do a lot of editorials. Editorials do not pay very well.

JM: You were saying that within 2 years of picking up a camera you were being published. Do you remember what it is that you had published?

DG: I sure do. On a national level standpoint, Niki Barrie purchased, for Ducks Unlimited, a Cinnamon Teal. How do you like that? I remember those things. (Chuckles)

JM: Looking back, are you still happy with the work you were doing?

DG: Some of my 'signature classic images' were taken within the first three years of my starting.

JM: How long did it take for you to feel like you were being regularly published?

DG: About a year.

JM: That is very quick.

DG: Yes, it was. Even what I did with local magazines, for example, with the Washington State Game Department, they have a wildlife magazine. I would personally go down and meet with them. I brought my portfolios...within that visit, I had both their front cover and wrote an article on photography for them. A lot of those things happened really fast.

JM: You mentioned 3 areas that were very important for you to be successful in your business. The last part, interpersonal skills, seems like the most important. It sounds like you did a lot of foot work on the road to getting published.

DG: You have it. That is HOW you get published. It is your interpersonal skills that helps you determine what people are looknig for and whether or not your skill sets fit in businesswise.

JM: How did you initially work on figuring out how to balance your gallery?

DG: When I first started, I focused on images that I liked to take. Those are the images that show who you are. Second, I used to live at the bookstore. I have a voracious appetite for looking at and seeing imagery. I have a very good memory of photographs. So, you start learning what people are looking for. For example, you learn that National Wildlife looks this way for images...Ducks Unlimited looks another way. Each magazine has a slightly different style that they are looking for. I would try to develop, from my stock portfolio that I had, images that would fit for them. I would not try to have them fit to me. I would try to fit to them.

JM: That makes sense. How did you go about doing that initial footwork? What made you choose Ducks Unlimited or another company?

DG: That is all research. My research would find that I have a fit with these people. I am very interested in their magazine. I like the quality of their magazine. Sometimes I would wait for 6 months or a year and develop more images before even trying to make a go with them. I am very patient and I would wait until I had a portfolio that went the direction I needed.

JM: How large was your portfolio when you started shooting stock?

DG: Before I went into stock, I probably had about 30,000 images. I am a very voracious photographer.

JM: I had spoken with Thom Hogan a few months back. He told me that he felt that it would take 75,000 to 100,000 images to start photographing stock now.

DG: I think it would take more than that. For example, the average of 1,000 of my tightly edited images that go to Getty, if I got 20 or 40 of those images accepted, I am lucky. I am lucky with 20 even...and again, these are tightly edited images.

JM: How would you recommend that a person send out images for people who are starting?

DG: They now all go out by CDs. I don't just send a thousand images. I send thousands of images. Currently I have about 7,000 images with Corbis. I have 750 or so on Getty's site. Those are fairly big numbers. Those are numbers that would take someone two decades to get there now.

Have you ever seen the calendar call Inner Reflections? Inner Reflections, for many of us, is the best calendar in the world. It has been more recognized with silver and gold medals than any other calendar. It is creative and it is very difficult to get in. They review 100 thousand images and only use 52 per year. I have 15 images in it now. Half of them have been taken in my yard.

JM: You have been very fortunate to be able to do this. Two decades is a long time for a lot of folks.

DG: Yes, it is.

JM: Do you feel that a 5 year plan is reasonable then?

DG: Yes, I feel that a 5 year plan is still reasonable for someone. Now, here is the key for everyone's success. You cannot copy or have similar work to Artie Morris, Darrell Gulin, Arte Wolfe or any of the other stock photographers out there. You have to have something that is conceptual, new and different that they do not have. If you can do that, and it CAN be done, then you will be successful.

JM: We were talking earlier about the different business angles that you need to make a successful career. Can we talk about the breakdown of your business a bit more? You said that 70% of your current income was from photographing for stock agencies and 30% of it was from doing a mix of other things. How does you website play into your venture? The few places where I saw you featured were very different in that they were not about you specifically. They were teaching sites, in many respects.

DG: The thing that is very interesting with me, specifically, is that when you go and do a Google on me that I don't have as many hits as many - but you are STILL going to get thousands of hits. Because I am on the road a lot, I don't have my own website that I am trying to master. My websites are the Corbis's, the Getty's, the Botonicas, the Dembinsky Photo Associates, Danita Delimont Stock Agency...I am with ten agencies.

You are also going to see these other websites that I do writings for and stuff like that. I have found that other than maybe Artie Morris, George Lepp, and a few others, who sell a lot of products from their websites that most people who are shooting professionally don't do their own sites. For me, since I am on the road so much, I am not trying to do a lot of direct sales. I try and focus the people back to who sell my work while I am in Turkey, Egypt, Africa or the Antarctic. That has been my theory and it works for me, lets put it that way.

JM: I spoke with Artie and something he said struck me. He reportedly photographs the same shooting locations over and over and over again. He told me that he sees things in different lights because he is so familiar with his terrain and is more able to optimize his work. I was looking at your schedule and just looking at your September 2006 schedule you are doing a Colorado horse trip and following it up with going to Africa 6 days later.

DG: The month before that I am in the Arctic and I am in Antarctica next year. We are working still from Morocco and I am going to Turkey, to Peru and on and on. You are right. I am all over aren't I?

JM: Yes. I am wondering if there is philosophical difference there.

DG: I have some of the same philosophies as Artie. I do an Oregon Coast workshop. I also have one on light houses but I have done one on the Oregon Coasts 8 years in row. My wife and I have just celebrated our 38th anniversary and that is where we went again. I get some of my best work out of that because just like Artie I go back over and over again. You know it, it is just like this cowboy horse ranch. I have done that for 8 years in a row. This past week photo shoot of horse and cowboy is the best I have ever done. It is the same ranch but it looks different because of that creative, conceptual bent that I have. I am always changing, working and developing it further...and that is what Artie would say. Then I am going to go to Turkey for the first time and I love that new challenge too.

JM: Are you going to lead a workshop there?

DG: I am leading a workshop there. I have a local photographer that knows all the local stuff. I teach the big broad strokes of it.

JM: This way they get the best of both worlds. Very Good.

DG: That is what I did in Egypt. You know, Peru is going to be my third time back. I have been to the Arctic many times and I have been to Antarctica. Some of them I am repeating but when it is new I do try to take advantage of local expertise.

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JM: Later when we finish up the interview, I would like to pick your brain about some of your favorite places to photograph. A lot of people like to know these things. If it were not for 10 grand my wife and I would love to go to watch the Penguins. We saw “March of the Penguins,” it is spectacular.

DG: It is a great movie. I will gladly talk about a couple of them [my favorite places].

JM: You were saying earlier that you are educated in business. How do you feel that has affected your being able to be successful as opposed to a lot of other people? Particularly when you say that some people may have a Masters in Photography but may not necessarily be a very successful business person.

DG: There are a lot of starving artists out there. I always recommend that people get a good grounding in business education. I mentor a lot of people myself and do a lot of portfolio reviews. However, being a good photographer and a good business person is very different.

JM: If you were to say James, ”I want you to take this class at the Continuing Education Center...' What would it be?

DG: I am not sure about specific classes. However, there are many things that people should know before going into business. I would love for people to learn to put a business plan together to be able to structure their business. How to be able to read a contract is incredibly important. So, one class would definitely be in accounting. Another would be a general business class. Last, I think that a legal document course of some sort is also very important. If you do not know how to put together these sorts of pieces to develop an effective structure, you will not be able to effectively develop the business...and it is a business.

JM: We were saying earlier that in some respect, some of your beginnings in business were rather serendipitous. You met a gentleman and it just so happened that he was the head of a very large and powerful stock agency in the world of nature and wildlife photography. That is amazing coincidence and it is incredibly fortuitous. What I am wondering is, for the average person who is not able to capitalize in such a fashion - how are they to approach a stock agency?

DG: This is where I make a huge push for NANPA. Become a member. Go and have your portfolio reviewed. You want to have such a spectacular portfolio that when Dave Ross from Corbis is there, he wants you. That is the whole goal. You can do the same thing that I did but now you have places like NANPA that are open for you. You have your website, like yours and others, that are open. I know every body says that it was simpler 20 years ago...15 years ago but there was no information out there, James, when I started. There wasn't this information out there that we have now.

JM: Artie was saying that even 20 years ago people told him that it was too hard to get into the business. He said that if you have the effort and you were willing to push hard enough you can do it. Ron Reznick, in another interview said, “it is marketing.”

DG: He is correct. The whole thing is about the marketing. I mean, and I will say it again, you have to be a great photographer. However, you do not have to be the best photographer in the world to be extremely successful if you know how to market your work. It can be done.

JM: If someone went to a NANPA conference, would you recommend them bringing a 100 images, a 1000 images, 50 images?

DG: A hundred images max. When I do the portfolio reviews, I like 60 images to look at and then when I really like something...well, for instance, somebody that I met (Do you get Natures Best?). There is a gal out of Switzerland. Her name is Daisy Gilardini. Daisy is fantastic. She is somebody that will be almost the the next Art Wolf of this world. She is in her mid 40s. She is a great photographer. She goes to the end of this world for getting her photos. She is creative and she is doing it right now. And she is new. I have met her...I have been mentoring her since 1999. Nature's Best just did a whole ten page spread on her and she is winning many awards now. It is amazing to see what she is doing. I found her work at a NANPA conference.

Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography

JM: You are contracted with a stock agency (Agency 'x'). You are contracted because you are Darrell Gulin. Would your contract be different from someone else's?

DG: No. No longer. Wait, let me take that back. To the Getty's and the Corbis' in the world, I have what everyone else gets. If it is a small small agency who really wants me because they know I have these large files that they know are salable then I have some room to negotiate - but not with the big boys.

JM: You were saying that NANPA is an important tool for being able to access these stock agencies and other photographers.

DG: For me to be able to network is important. However, it is not as important for me to network with other photographers as it is for me to be able to network with the business side of it. The people who are the buyers and editors. Also, a lot of the different suppliers are there. Canon, for example, is there for me.

JM: Are you a contract shooter?

DG: No. I am not a contract shooter. I keep working on it. However, they do a lot of things for me.

JM Did we miss anything?

DG: Let us talk a a bit about stock first. There are different ranges of stock agencies. There are editorial stock agencies (Benzkie Photo). They do not generate as much income as commercial agencies (like Corbis or Getty). Let us take one of my images of a snarling grizzly that has generated about 250,000 dollars in gross sales over the last decade. This is where we as stock shooters want to get our images. This is why they need to be conceptual -so they sell a concept. I have 10 agencies. I have both the editorial, the large and small. The reason for that is to balance out that income stream. Enough said.

JM: That is a very good idea. So, your stock agencies don't mind you working with multiple stock agencies.

DG: No, we have agreement with the bigger agencies that is image exclusive. So any image that is essentially similar that they have selected goes no where else.

JM: If they don't select it your welcome to shop it around.

DG: Yes. I am welcome to go to others.

JM: Thank you very much. There was a lot of good information in here.

If you are interested in learning more about Darrell Gulin and his tours, you can visit: http://www.photosafaris.com/.

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