An Interview With Professional Nature Photographer Jon Cornforth

An Interview With Professional Nature Photographer Jon Cornforth


Jon Cornforth I was blown away the first time I saw Jon Cornforth’s images.  Even more so because many of the images were taken in my native Washington State.  While we have many talented photographers in our fine state, I was also impressed with how personable Jon was on Twitter and when I subsequently emailed him to ask if he’d like to be interviewed for DPS.  His images have been featured on covers of Backpacker, Outdoor Photographer, Alaska Airlines Magazine and he has won numerous awards for his stunning photography.  I wanted to interview Jon to see what insights he had to help those considering following his footsteps into the awe inspiring world of nature photography.

1. By the look of your site, would it be safe to classify you as a nature photography, primarily?

USA, Alaska, Chatham Strait, Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) bubble-feeding at sunsetFor better or for worse, I shoot only landscapes that are untouched by man or wild animals in their natural environment.  So yes, I call myself a nature photographer.

2. How did you get your start in photography?  What lead you to it?

I bought my first SLR ten years ago to take on mountaineering trip as well as an extended backpacking holiday through Southeast Asia.  I have always been very connected to the outdoors, from growing up sailing to backpacking & rock-climbing in college.  I became hooked on photography once I started shooting with a real camera rather than disposable or point & shoot cameras.

3. At what point did you go pro?  In other words, when did it become your major source of income?  And what decisions did you have to confront on that path?

Chile, Patagonia, Torres del Paine NP, Dramatic clouds enhance a spectacular sunrise view of the Los Torres del Paine Fortunately, I was not addicted to a high income or a particular career path when I naively decided to make photography my career.  My wife was supportive of my initial ambitions, but it took several years until I started making any money at it.  After 9 years as a professional photographer, I now make a modest living.

4. On your blog you mention making a switch from traditional gallery showings and sales to gaining more sales online.  Can you fill in some of the gaps about how that came about for you?

I found initial success working with several art galleries in Washington & Hawaii, as well as selling prints at prominent juried art festivals.  Those sales started to dry up for me a few years ago as the housing market declined.  I was also advised early on by several pros that I became friends with that stock agency income was evaporating, so the only way to make any money licensing images was by doing it myself.  I realized that I needed to adapt to the new reality, so I built my website to be search engine optimized (SEO).  I have also started taking clients on photography tours.  I have zero interest in taking 6-12 photographers to popular National Park viewpoints, so most of my tours are on a custom/private basis.

5. What have become your biggest marketing tools in the last two years?

USA, Hawaii, Big Island, Volcanoes NP, Lava erupting from East Pond Vent in Pu'u Oo Crater Admittedly, social networking has been a huge benefit for my business.  I was caught off-guard by it and it certainly does not come naturally to most people.  I started using Twitter 18 months ago, adapted my previous blog to a custom WordPress site 14 months ago, then reluctantly joined Facebook 12 months ago, Flickr 10 months ago, and only recently started using YouTube.  I can not definitively state that when I do X online that I then make Y amount of money, but overall my social networking has helped my reputation grow into a highly regarded and recognized natural history photographer.

6. What advice would you give to our readers looking to follow your path and make a living selling photos?

Do not even begin to think that you can quit a high earning job and make a comparable amount of money shooting nature photography.  There is a reason that a lot of photographers are retired.  You need to be able to pay your bills.  I am very careful about how I spend money on my trips.  I hardly ever pay for a hotel, but instead camp wherever I travel.  I recently flew to Iceland and spent 15 days shooting, but only spent $1921 including my airfare, but that was still a big indulgence for me.  I have a small boat in Alaska that is a major investment, but it has allowed me to shoot things that otherwise would have been impossible.  Ultimately, you have to treat your photography as a business in order to make a living.


I want to thank Jon for taking the time in-between trips to Alaska to answer my questions.  More of his fine work can be spied on his site, Cornforth Images, and he can be followed on Twitter as @cornforthimages.  And if you’re intersted in traveling with Jon and learning a thing or two, he’s heading back to Alaska in early September then off to Patagonia in January.

Iceland, Landmannalaugar, Blahnukur at sunset from the Brennisteinsalda volcanic steam vents

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Anna Patrick September 27, 2010 08:03 pm

    Although it seems one of the easiest to approach photography subject, it takes a great talent and superb skills like Jon Cornforth's to capture the essence of nature and its soul from its various landscapes.

  • Joanna September 25, 2010 07:37 pm

    thanks for sharing! your photos really are amazing. I was fortunate enough to spent alot of time in alaska and around the san juan islands it really is the fantastic place to capture some amazing nature shots! you have made me want to go back to mexico and hawaii to get into the water with whales to capture some underwater shots.

  • Bette Newman September 20, 2010 12:13 am

    Just working on my website, therefore not many photos. I am working on putting a watermark on my prints before I put them on my site.
    Your Pictures are breath taken. I enjoyed viewing them.
    If I may ask do you have a program that puts your watermark on your prints. I have Adobe Photoshop CS3 and they advise me to go to and registor. If you have any other suggestions I would appreciate any advise you could giveme.
    Thank you
    I would love to travel but right now just taking prints in Southern New Jersey Shores.

  • akhil arora September 7, 2010 02:21 am

    very motivating interview, have inspired me to get further serious into photography. although my passion is bird photography, this was also quite related. thanks

  • Roger September 4, 2010 03:15 pm

    Exceptional and intrested Interview,Have motivated me to take photography as hobby,appreciated and woul like to have more tips as always seen in DPS website.Good photos.

  • Deepak G Pawar September 3, 2010 06:29 pm

    It is very true that only a few Nature photographers make money enough for their living, thats because their first love is genuninely nature and not business.
    I also got into photography with love to nature but in my case i ended up doing corporate photography, the dream remains to be a full time nature Pro.
    Cornforth has done full justice to his conscience to the viewers with his excellent photographs. Good luck to him and his purse.
    Best Regards
    Deepak G Pawar

  • Peggy Collins September 3, 2010 03:50 am

    A very enjoyable interview! It isn't about the bucks in the end, it's about the passion. I'd rather be pursuing my career as a nature photographer than doing anything else I can think of.

  • lunacat August 31, 2010 04:53 pm

    Wonderful interview: very informative and personal. The photos are great, thanks for letting me discover such a talented photographer and person!

  • Adi Aprilla August 31, 2010 04:21 pm

    inspiring interview...i really love it...may i post this interview on my site..i will post in indonesia language,,thanks for permission..

  • Chris August 31, 2010 11:00 am

    Very informative interview. Like any business or job offer it is important to know the details.

    Like many artists it seems photographers do it for their love of subject/photography rather than money. It is nice to know that you can do something you love and make a modest living doing it.

  • Jon Cornforth August 31, 2010 02:16 am

    Thanks for the interview & opportunity!

  • Scott August 31, 2010 01:41 am

    Two things learned from this post 1) Don't quit the day job (mine is thankfully a great one) and 2) How few photos I have of anything that are untouched by mankind. This one comes close: