You mentioned turning your hobby into a business. How did you start building up clientele and funding your trips to photograph these places?
Lawless: That was a slow transition. I did this as a hobby, didn’t make a dime probably till a good decade, to be honest. I was doing it for fun. I was a local entrepreneur. I had a little bit of a business background, so I think that little bit of a business acumen kind of helped. And basically how it started in terms of getting even a penny for my work was a few projects of mine over the years went viral and got a lot of response. It got people writing, “Hey, I want prints. I want a picture of that. I want to hang it up in my house. I want to use it as my screensaver.” And these are just regular people.
When I speak to high schools and colleges and upcoming photojournalists about this, they want to know how much money you make. Generally, authors don’t make a terrible amount of money, unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King and you’re getting these million-dollar advances. I was lucky to get an advance at all for my first book, and I’ve scaled that since. But generally, authors get anywhere from 10% to 15% per book sale, so you’re not gonna make a killing. You’re gonna make more money on the advances.
But then I started selling images to the press, to the media. The other day I sold a big abandoned mall photo to the Wall Street Journal. So it’s the kind of transition where the money comes from, but at this point it’s kind of just branching out as much as I can and staying viable in this community, which is something you constantly have to stay up on in a social media world.