Interview with Chris Putnam, Sports and Travel Photographer

Continuing on with the Stock-Wizards interview series, I’m super happy to welcome Chris Putnam, Sports and Travel Photographer based in Australia.

This interview is one that I have been particularly looking forward to as Chris and I have similar photographic / travel interests. Let’s get started!

Credit: Mark Peterson @Corleve

Firstly, please tell us about yourself and how you got started with photography?

Thanks for having me, Alex. I’ve loved following your work for some time now and keeping in touch on social media.

I’m based in Melbourne, Australia and my love of photography I can really attribute to my Dad and opportunities to travel thru work. Here’s more info on the ‘About Me‘ section of my website.

My main job is a database engineer with a digital map provider called HERE. I got amazing opportunities to travel and map the world. Mostly around Asia. Around this time I got engaged and my present from my lovely wife was a Canon 400D and hence, the photography journey began.

Chris’s first humble DSLR

On your Filedimage website you mention that you shoot “sports, travel, commercial events, weddings and portraits”, which is your favourite genre and why? Also, which one brings you the most revenue?

I would say that it’s split between sport and landscape/cityscape. Sport has the amazing access you can get and if you are passionate about sports, then it’s a real buzz. For example being in pitlane during a F1 Grand Prix is next level adrenaline. That being said, having a trip to take photos and immerse yourself in a location is hard to top. I’m often so glad I took up photography for the experiences it has given me. 

As for which brings in the most revenue, very tough to say. Stock photography from all genres makes most money for me. Sport can be very hit and miss. One event might be not worth it all then its balanced out by an amazing sale at the next event. However, as a per hour basis I would say event photography is the most profitable. 

You recently shot at the F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne, is it challenging to obtain such exclusive access to such events? What about tennis?  

It is often very challenging I must say. For the F1 It took me about 6 years to gain full access with governing body. The Australian Open tennis is similar. Like most things it seems to be a who you know type scenario. Once you are in, its then pretty easy. But you must have good portfolio and most importantly be representing an agency. Preferably one with a lot of exposure and sales. Then you have some leverage. For the tennis this year I built this entire page on my site top show publications. 

Publications mean you are serious. As a side note, my images continue to sell to Getty Images from Future Publishing who I represent. I’ve learnt not to say I distribute with Getty as they have their own staff photographers so that can in fact be a limiting factor to your access. It’s a strange quirk. 

Which other sporting events have you shot; I see that you’re quite active in cycling as well? 

I usually shoot events I like to do as I think you get better images. I’ve shot F1, tennis and cycling mostly but have dabbled in many more including the Commonwealth Games which was awesome to cover. Recently I have done ice hockey (in Australia!), rugby and football. I’m a big football fan and we have Manchester United, Argentina and Brazil coming to Melbourne this winter. I’m very keen to shoot those! 

Which top 3 skill-sets would you say are the most important to shoot sporting events?

Excellent question. Sport/event knowledge is most important I think. Where to be and how is the sport is played. For example, corners on an F1 circuit, or netball plays or scrums in rugby etc. Each time I revisit an event I find it easier to know where to be at the right time.  

Secondly, command of your camera for fast action is clearly important. In daytime its pretty easy. Under a floodlit stadium, it’s a real balance of shutter and noise. Though mirrorless is changing that rapidly and more on that later. On a related note, try to be a master of your own equipment and purchase the best you can afford. You will always have gear envy as you see the 400s 2.8 everywhere that cost $20k. Be a master of your 200 and work with what you have. 

Lastly, I’m going with understanding your brief/client needs. With all sport there are editorial shots and there are arty shots. Arty shots are the fun ones. Where you relax, breathe and look at your surroundings. Use shallow depth of field at 1.4 etc. Do some of those and have fun. They are your portfolio shots. But they are unlikely to sell. Then there is your editorial. These are the sellers. Big, often boring images with recognizable faces. Flat shots of static looking cars. Its what makes it to newspapers etc. Arty shots end up in niche magazines and are very rare to sell. 

A standard editorial shot
A more artistic-type shot

Administratively speaking, how do you ensure your images are uploaded to agencies quickly after taking them, including tags? 

This is a real battle. I used to try and compete but really don’t try too hard now to be super fast. The large agency staff photographers are WIFIing straight from camera to an editorial desk overseas usually. Those staff edit and apply metadata and upload to be purchased. All within minutes. I’m usually working solo and simply cant compete. If I’m doing metadata then I’m not shooting. I do however aim to get around 100 shots out same day if it’s a large event. Its probably important to realize that very few images are needed immediately. Many sell the next day as newspapers publish later. Then of course images can sell as stock for decades in theory. 

In my workflow I sometimes use Photo Mechanic but usually just Lightroom. I have started using Atext more lately which is a shortcut generator which you setup before hand. Can save a lot of time. The process for me is as follows: 

  1. Before event starts setup default keywords, title, caption and location information. Also Atext file if large event 
  1. Remove card and import images, applying default metadata 
  1. Select favourites very fast and do basic editing 
  1. Apply more detailed metadata 
  1. Then upload to agencies 

For stock-imagery, I kindly refer to a workflow article I published.

Any tips for those wishing to start out in 2022 as an “events/sports” photographer? 

As mentioned previously, it’s all about portfolio. Get to the local games and start shooting. Of course if its youth you likely to need a ‘working with children’ check. Small clubs will usually love a photographer being present. You could then offer digital downloads for sale for a nominal fee etc. Also many sporting events are actually in public areas. Especially cycling events. You are in the same position as the professionals most of the time.  

Once you have some images, and they are good enough I would approach agencies such as REX Shutterstock and see if they like your work. Then you are able to apply to bigger events. Certainly don’t expect to walk into F1 but smaller events will welcome the extra exposure. 

Of course, you need a website and portfolio etc. The very best photographers classily show very few images. Something I need to be better at! 

If there’s one thing I’ve been proud of myself is a deep competitive desire to take better shots, get better access etc. I think the below article sums this up perfectly. I spent maybe 5 years shooting from public areas at the F1 and was able to get the shots shown. Thru some practice, knowledge and effort you can get professional shots without accreditation. In fact I had shots in large British newspapers as a member of the public at the F1 once. I discuss this in this blog post.

Which would be your 5 favourite shots of all time and why? 

An incredibly tough question! I find my love of an image could be due to the people in it, or the situation I was in, a memory or because its simply artistically pleasing to me. I have 780 ‘5 star’ images in Lightroom, but here are some (maybe more than 3) that are my favourites for various reason. Not because they are necessarily technically the best 

After years of trying, I finally got access to the Australian Open in 2022. I had shot other tournaments that aren’t serious and there was very little player emotion. At the Australian Open, I had been sitting for about 5 minutes when Rafael Nadal won a huge point and full fist pumped multiple times about 5m away from me. I just had my finger on the shutter with instant goose pimples. 

For the second shot, I’ve taken so many landscape images and this is likely not the best. But I shot this with my 12yo daughter in New Zealand and she loves getting up early with me and coming out. Its become quite a regular thing and I love it. This was a very cold morning and the hot breakfast after was spectacular. 

For the third shot, In 2019, before the world went to poop, I visited Tokyo with my good friend Mike. A week of pure photo taking and planning and editing. It was amazing. This shot in Shinjuku just sums up cityscapes and Japan. Traffic, neon, trains and people. Such an amazing place 

For the fourthly shot, I just love this image taken in Seoul. I don’t know why but I just do. The crazy traffic, starry lights and gritty urban feel. Its classic Seoul 

Last and certainly not least, the fifth image highlights my love for capturing street photography. Having a day with your camera and maybe a 50mm lens, in a foreign location is my kind of day. This was taken in Mumbai which is my favorite city to shoot in. The reason? The people. There are no stigmas with photos, or security issues. They love to see tourists and want to be photographed. If you make a connection, you get reactions like this from some kids on the beach. In the western world, you have a camera on the beach and you might see the police! 

I know you asked for five but I have so many that I would love to keep going – hope it’s OK!

This was taken in Venice Beach, Los Angeles with my friend Mike. On the surface Venice is a rundown seedy kind of area. As a photographer, we see deeper. The amazing characters, the activities etc. The skate ramp just has the coolest kids doing their thing, silhouetted against the setting sun. 

Early on in my photography career I shot many concerts. I ended up shooting for Noel Gallagher and had images in his tour programme which I am proud of. My favourite image however is this one of Hardwell, a European DJ. It was the first time I had Access All Areas and got to shoot on the stage. A real buzz. I just love the symmetry and pose and it is striking in black and white. 

I used to shoot a lot of weddings and this is one of my earliest. The parents kissing their daughter and its just a special moment.  

What about your best-selling stock photo?

Nothing special here except for the fact its my best selling photo ever. Free range chickens. Who would have thought. Thanks stock industry. If I knew how it worked I would be a millionaire. 

As an extra this is an article I wrote about my favourite locations to shoot.

Switching gears, which are your go-to gears for the types of genres you shoot?  

My camera of choice for 6 years now has been a Canon 5DsR, which combined with a 16-35 F4 lens is a killer combo for everyday photography such as cityscape and landscape. You really cant beat it. I’m generally pretty old school and don’t buy the latest and greatest. However the tennis this year tested this theory, and Canon won. 

One of the great things about large sporting events is having Canon/Nikon/Sony support which means you can borrow cameras and lenses. I borrowed a Canon R6 and was shocked at how good it was. Frame rate, digital screen and the focusing. The eye tracking technology is simply astounding. Going from a 5dSr, which is not a sport camera to R6 was a huge difference. I then borrowed an R3 and this was another step again. The next day I bought an R6. 

So the step into mirrorless has begun and I know I now need the 45mp R5 for my everyday landscape/cityscape work. The R6 is just 20mp which is fine for sport. After that the lenses will provide further improvement but they are very expensive compared to EF mount. I am thankful my current lenses work flawlessly on the RF cameras.  

Detailed information about my gear (pre mirrorless) can be seen here

Do you also shoot footage? If not, why not?  

I’ve tried a little with my drone and uploaded some videos to not great success. I do have a lot sitting on my PC that I want to upload but its very time consuming and I find my workflow awkward for it. I did have the idea recently to contract this out to my 12yo daughter. She’s making these amazing videos for school and I know she could do this and earn pocket money. Kids these days! So lucky! 

Now, let’s talk about the agencies you work with. For news/editorials, you mention that you currently work with: Future Publishing, Zuma Press and Rex Shutterstock. Which is your favourite agency to work with and why? 

I have a really good relationship with Future and ZumaPress currently and like to keep in touch with my contacts. Future onsells to Getty and that is where the vast majority of my sales come from. So I guess my default favourite😊 

Here’s a link to Chris’s port over at Zuma Press.

You also mention that you have over 15,000 images at 14 different agencies (I’m assuming that most are microstock agencies). Which are some of the best-earning agencies and if you don’t mind disclosing, how much do you earn you average per month, including that shot of those chickens? 

Yes that is about right, and yes mostly microstock. I would average about US$1,500 a month from stock which, depending upon the day, is pleasing to me or very frustrating. Shutterstock has always been the clear leader but its progressively getting worse. Adobe Stock is leveling with it pretty much now. Envato Elements is another amazing agency and based in Melbourne. They have a great content bonus scheme and they are my 2nd/3rd highest earner every month.  

Adobe Stock had an interesting ‘promotion’ last year where they bought select images for $5 then offer them for free on their platform. It sounds bad but I had about 1000 images accepted and I chose to try it out. A good payday, and actually didn’t seem to lead in a loss of sales. A very clever way for Adobe to boost their customer base. With stock imagery inbuilt into their software suite, I honestly don’t see how other agencies can compete. 

Looks like the Adobe Stock upfront payment scheme worked out great for you! In the past few years, most contributors, including myself, have witnessed a sharp drop in earnings at microstock…would you say that the same holds true for your ports?  

Revenue per image yes, but I upload about 400 images a month on average so earnings stay the same. I feel like my earnings should be going up, or am I simply working to maintain an income? Its hard to say. But clearly more authors, more images diminishes the market so it can be somewhat expected. 

I find myself still recommending stock to people who are new to it as you never know when a big sale comes along. But in reality it’s a slog to earn some form of income. I think the days of earning enough to pay for a photo trip might be done now. Sad face. 

I should add that I am well aware that my portfolio for stock is very much travel based and I shoot as I please. If you have a conceptual mindset I am certain you can sell well. For me, this was extra work and became consuming on family holidays etc. Me photographing my children having a tantrum thinking ‘child, angry, cry, tears, desperate’ wasn’t the smoothest of ways of working for the family. I of course will get up and do sunrises and piers etc, but these really don’t sell well.

You have some awesome travel landscape shots, have you had any success selling them fine art prints?   

Not many sales I must say. I’m pretty negative about that side of things. I feel like it’s a dying artform in many ways and its very sad. People simply don’t print anymore. I have sold a few prints on RedBubble and Fine Art America but very small numbers. If you sold at markets or had a shopfront then perhaps its better? Surely my landscape imagery is better than 10 cent sales on Shutterstock ?😊 Ultimately I would love to do this, so any tips very much welcomed! 

Surely this would look great in someone’s living room!

Let’s talk about your travel blog/website, Photobasecamp – what is it all about?

Ah I’m glad you asked as I’ve certainly linked to this website a few times already! Yes this is the baby of my high school friend Mike and my photography journey. A combination of friendship, talking crap, and love of photography brought this to fruition. Photographers, and especially travel photographers do a lot of research about locations, and we found specific advice very much lacking. So we decided to build this site to share our experiences and travel advice. The plan originally was to monetize thru memberships and really have an avenue for us both to explore where we could potentially do this fulltime. I mean travel photography really is the dream. Road trips and cameras. Oh and mountain bikes.  

So I guess kind of Lonely Planet for photographers. Around 2018 we spent a lot of time building the site and trying to promote without getting very far. We have so many articles to write. Thousands literally. We are so keen to write and have the images to backup, but in the pecking order of life it falls down after day job, other photography, biking and of course, family. At some point it needs to make money and that’s where we struggle. So currently its online as we feel there is too much great content to abandon, but we are looking for some incentive to continue other than simply we love doing it. I really want to review the Canon R6 now as an example! 

With recent travels, and fresh images and experiences I’m really getting the itch to write again so I suspect there will be new content soon.  

How do you foresee the future for the type of work you produce, both from a personal and financial point of view? 

The dream would be to do travel and sports photography fulltime but that is very tough. It would need to be topped up with boring corporate work, difficult weddings and stresses over every photo sale. I would however love to earn more to pay for photo trips fully. But I think it’s a tough ask. 

Photo Basecamp is a dream project, and I think we have some fantastic content. But it needs such commitment and risk to monetize. With a young family its kind of impossible. If we could combine our skills with a larger website, or flight magazines etc that could be the ultimate short term goal. Lots to ponder! 

What are your future plans in terms of events you’d like to shoot in let’s say the next 12 months? 

As mentioned before, we have some great football events coming up in June, albeit friendlies. I really want to expand my coverage at the tennis next year. Longer term we have the Commonwealth Games and FIFA Women’s World Cup. Then even longer, the 2032 Brisbane Olympics. That’s the ultimate isn’t it? 

Source

Covid has been a disaster for us travel photographers, but fortunately things appear to be getting back to normal…do you have any travel plans for the next year? 

I was personally happy with the way I dealt with Covid. For some its been terrible for a variety of reasons but I feel lucky to be in the place I am and to have mental strength, and scientific understanding to agree with measures put in place. Whilst our travel has been curtailed, it gave me the opportunity to catchup on editing. I was doing 1,000 images a month thru most of 2020 and some of 2021. Something which is impossible to do now that life is returning to normal again. 

As for travel we have a holiday in September to one of my favourite places, Tasmania. A landscape photographer’s dream and better to shoot auroras than Melbourne. So fingers crossed. Not much else other than day trips. I don’t think we are quite ready to head overseas yet but have discussed a family trip to Japan maybe in 2023 or 2024. I didn’t miss travel much until recently, but I must say I am dreading the thought of airplanes again.  


Thank you, Chris. It’s been a pleasure interviewing you and wish you success both personally and professionally!

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Lisbon, Portugal, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.

Most recently I’ve gone all in on submitting book cover images to Arcangel Images. Oh and also recently purchased a DJI Mavic 2s drone and taking full advantage.

I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography

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