A close friend who is a high level exec in the photo industry said this…
“The photography industry is a mess right now.”
They went on to describe 10 different ways and areas that have affected photography in general, including the tsunami in Japan affecting camera companies, technology advancements in equipment, the current economy, user-friendly photo editing programs, and more.
GIVING IT AWAY FOR FREE
There’s a lot of talk in the photo industry (and book industry) about giving stuff away for free. On one hand, when you’re a new photographer, building a portfolio and just starting out, you’re looking for clients and subjects willing to let you take their picture. You’re not thinking about sustainability, scaling your business, getting paid for your time, etc. I understand because we offered a few free photo shoots at the very beginning of our studio in order to build the portfolio that I wanted. However, I limited it to fewer than 5 sessions in my first month and started charging rates closer to the time and work involved after that initial setup.
GROWING TRENDS IN THE PHOTO INDUSTRY
What seems to be a growing trend are photographers who significantly extend the amount of time from when they start and charge little to nothing and when they begin charging for the time they invest. I’m not even talking about talent or experience here, just basic hourly rates to compensate for time taken away from family, friends, relaxation and life.
Worse yet is a small group of photographers who aren’t planning to make an income at all, who just want to shoot and have no incentive to ever charge more than $47 for a full CD of high res images. The problem isn’t that they aren’t motivated by money or that they’ve found a creative outlet. That’s a great thing. If they were just doing it for fun, for creativity, for the challenge of learning something new, all those are very positive things. I think the downside comes when that initial interest and creative outlet starts to fade… and it will fade with time.
I find my feelings on the subject to be mixed. I understand shooting for the love of the image. I also understand the need to run a business like a business. At some point, since you’ve declared it a company, it will become a company that needs to make a profit, at some point the initial honeymoon period and excitement will wear off, at some point the passion will wain and the photographer who started for the love will have to deal with not being able to make the leap to getting paid for the hours invested in shooting and processing. It goes back to the sustainability issue, from a financial perspective and a passion perspective.
THE PHOTO LANDSCAPE
For those coming in to the industry now, it’s a landscape that is rough to maneuver. Not only is differentiation more of a challenge because of the sheer number of those now calling themselves pro photographers, but because of the easy accessibility and sharing of images, it’s easy for others to copy your images and ideas. Differentiation is always possible… it will just call more creativity out of you than what may have been required previously.
ASPIRE TO BE DIFFERENT
A couple ways we do that are by having them give us ideas of what they want to see in their images, giving them style advice and suggestions, putting together outfits and locations during the shoot, selecting poses that flatter them, getting the light just right and guiding them on expressions. These things come from over a decade of working with teen girls, research and study in photography and of photo masters, a year of 365 images to hone my craft, and my unique vision.
The last one is key and one of the things I love most about the creative art of photography… the images I create come from within. I may use sources for inspiration, but not to recreate someone else’s image exactly. I take what I’ve seen, combine it with my own filter and vision, then create the art that my clients will treasure for generations.
I admit to frustration with local photographers seeing my images on Facebook then contacting my former or current clients to offer free photo shoots and all the images on CD to build their own portfolio. To add insult to injury, I see the same girl in the same outfit in a similar pose to something I shot.
PHOTOGRAPHERS GET REAL & “RAW” ABOUT THE INDUSTRY
With all that said, it is the way it is. I don’t know that it’s going to change anytime soon. It’s the reason why “adapt or die” is still relevant. At this point, I don’t have a cure-all, but I do know that we’ll be making some major changes and taking some huge risks in 2012 that’ll change the path that we’re heading down.
For now, take a look at this RAW video interviewing professional photographers at all stages in their development. They get real and honest about who they are, what they believe and where the photography industry is heading. Dare Dreamer Media created this video for Pictage’s photography conference and it still rings true today.