David Wilson is a black and white landscape photographer living and working in Wales. A family man, comfortably absorbed in his work, he lives life gently.
With a non arts background and a business education he makes a living from his photographs.
Wilson has talent, in fact he has a lot of talent and none of it is taught. He bought himself a camera in his teens and motorbiked round Pembrokeshire taking pictures. His parents and brother have no artistic interests,
My mother says she went home with the wrong kid, I don’t seem to have a lot in common with them
For years Wilson did a dead-end, souless job in a Benefits Agency phone centre
When my wife asked ‘How was your day?’ I would say ‘It came, it went’ and she knew to say no more. It was a deadly dull job driving me slowly insane, a soul-destroying waste of time
I had to take time off sick because my neck began aching really badly and I thought Why would I even employ me?
Part of the reason that Wilson found himself trapped in a job he hated was that he had a terrible motorbike accident when he was 18.
The doctors were pretty convinced that was it, the only thing I could move was my face but I don’t think I comprehended what I’d done. My parents were brilliant but I came out mentally wrecked. They kept trying to get me to reconnect to life, I was loath to go out and expose myself to scrutiny
Finally he braved a two-year business course in his local college, and went on to do a business degree which led to the string of lack lustre office based jobs
Wilson concluded that he needed to do something for himself.
The idea of becoming a black and white landscape photographer seemed such a narrow niche, I felt it couldn’t possibly work. It was a pipe dream like buying a lottery ticket, you hope to win but you don’t really expect it to happen
That was seven years ago now Wilson,45, has a well established business in fact he hasn’t really struggled. Helped in the early transition by being able to cut down his call centre hours incrementally
Its been a continuous upward curve, more and more outlets , more web print sales, a successful book and another in preparation.
Nor has he had to work long hours to achieve it.
I work an average week of 25 to 30 hours and I don’t work weekends . On an average day I start 9ish and work till midday, take 2-3 hours off and work 2-3 hours in the afternoon. If I am delivering I might do an 8 hour day and if I am going out to take photos I might start at 6 in the morning and go on till 10 at night
Last year Wilson made around £20,00 from £38,000 turnover which is more than he made from his office jobs and for far fewer hours. With an office 13 steps from his bed.
Three Reasons for Success
So why has success come so smoothly?
1. The first answer has to be talent.
2. Modesty of his financial needs
We are very low maintenance as a family, we don’t crave huge flat screen televisions, I have no iPad, it’s not that we consciously reign in our spending we just don’t need to spend a lot. Our happiness comes from an emotive response to books music and art.
Wilson, his wife and two young sons live in a simple, painstakingly restored terraced fisherman’s cottage in the quiet village of Llangwm in Pembrokeshire. Behind the house lies the beautiful Cleddau Estuary
3. The business degree has paid off . Wilson constantly analyses the over all business picture. He regularly sits down with his wife and does a SWOT evaluation of where he is and what he needs to do.
Any business, even a butcher’s shop, needs to take time out to formulate what they are doing and what they are going to do, if you don’t, you wont last very long
How to do a SWOT Evaluation
The idea is you identify Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats
So here are the sorts of things Wilson said he would include in a review of his own position :
Once you have reviewed where you are you have to think how you can improve your position. Much is obvious and specific ie approach a gallery in St Davids. Others are more general, such as keep an edge on other photographers by producing flyers and having a marketing company supply them to tourist leaflet spinners.
Wilson has just finished his second book Landscapes of Wales which is due to be published by his Cardiff based publishers Graffeg in March 2012 It will be a bigger and thicker book than his first with a forward by Griff Rhys Jones. It will sell for £35. Graffeg has also bumped up its distribution network
Wilson made about £10,000 from his first book on the landscapes of Pembrokeshire in a mixture of royalties, advance and selling bought in copies on his website, selling about 300 copies directly in its first year and about 100 in the second at a profit of £12.50 a book. It was backed by a £4000 grant from the Welsh Book Council and had an initial print run of 3000 and a cover price of £25.
It is very rare to get a book of landscapes published, so it’s very good for a photographer’s name to have a book.
Wilson is also a writer, his ‘ramblings ‘ as he calls it on each picture are exceptionally well written with a great natural directness as if he is just looking over your shoulder.
Taking the pictures and selling
In specialising in black and white landscapes Wilson says your compositional skills have to be spot on.
I walk round the location and take loads of images so I have it from many different angles I want it to be atmospheric and it needs to have some sort of narrative within it Then I down load the images and make a choice .
Wilson does his own printing, selling the prints through galleries and his own website
For a while he had packaging problems sending out his own prints to website customers. He has solved those by sending up to A3 sized prints out between two 20″ x 16″ mount boards taped together and larger prints rolled in a cardboard tube with cellophane over using Royal Mail First Class Recorded Delivery
He has given up doing shows although they made money because
of the exhaustion of doing nothing Three days of treading 12 sq foot of pitch regurgitating the same stuff. Half way through the second day I switch off. I just can’t be bothered to do it anymore.
He has a successful website made for him by Buzinet six years ago at a cost of £1500 with a 50% grant from a business start-up scheme. He also pays about £48 a month to them to tweak his site to optimise its ranking.
Hours worked 25-30 a week income about £20,000 a year