But It Could Be Worse

I’ve been around professional photography for almost four decades and have seen it evolve with the introduction of high-speed films, automated exposure cameras, then one-hour mini-labs, up to through the digital photography world we know today—and this is the worst it’s ever been for a professional photographer. In the past seven years alone I’ve seen studios shut their doors, from Playboy Studio West in Santa Monica to the local professional studios I’d rent to conduct my photography workshops at various locations.

Photography Workshop Model

One of our models from a recent photography workshop we conduct.

I’ve seen fellow photographers brave these tough times, a few even took the risk and opened up studios; some do well, while others are not so good. In reality, the photographers that are surviving these challenging times do so by offering more than just photography—many, especially with the new cameras of today, are incorporating video products, post production, and even acting as film directors or consultants. In fact, that is the key to survive as a photographer today, you must diversify; you can’t have just one or two specialties.

You Must Diversify
Some of the diversification besides mastering video is authoring books, blogs, how-to articles, etc., however, even that is a saturated market especially since camera stores and even photography magazines have jumped in on the latter. Even in the fine-art gallery market, you have to pray for that one “big name” that purchases one of your prints before you can ever sell a fine-art print. The average person isn’t going to buy a “print” for a few thousand dollars when they can create a poster from their iPhone for less than $50. It’s a diluted market in just about anything you do photographically, and very few rise to the top.

And rising to the top, or at least toward a comfortable level isn’t easy as Business 101 professors will tell you, first-mover advantage is important, if you don’t have it, someone else does, thus making it even more difficult. You have to be patient and wait for that one big break—most will never see it—but you won’t know until you try. Business executives will add “you can’t reinvent the wheel” and it isn’t always about building a better mousetrap—it takes more—something that sets you apart from your peers. You must also recognize why the market has shifted and where it’s shifting.

You Must Have A Social Media Presence
As an example, photo editors from magazines aren’t as concerned about the name of a specific photographer so much today as in the past; they look for the person with the biggest social media following and will overlook the lack of consistency an Instagram photographer has over a more consistent professional. Your social media footprint is part of the hiring process in many professions and photography is not immune from this discriminator. Back to Business 101, “power in numbers,” or followers, is something not easily overlooked—you have to build your social media networks and you must engage with your followers.

You Must Understand The Market
Another example is professional photographers must recognize the factors on why the market is shrinking. One of those factors is that everyone has a camera, whether it’s built-in to their smart phone, tablets, or some other device plus there are creative apps that can turn a mediocre photo into a artful masterpiece, thus the marketplace, or demands for professional photography is shrinking at record levels. Popular Instagram photographers with less than $500 invested in a smartphone and apps are gaining more attention than the established professional photographer with thousands of dollars of photographic gear.

Throw in royalty free photos, micro-stock images, and even the fact that some professionals are undercutting others with cheap rates, and it’s a gloomy forecast for anyone seeking to eek out a living as a professional photographer. I personally know professional photographers that once charged $10,000 or more a day for shooting that can’t even get a $1,000 day rate—it’s true, photography is no longer looked at as a professional skill and art, photography is treated more like, “anyone can do it.”

You Can Still Excel
So how can a professional photographer get back to what they were once accustomed to especially with assignments and day rates? Well for most you can’t, but you can certainly survive if you’re willing to do photography for your love and passion and not for the money. You can increase those chances of a higher level of livelihoods if you build your social media presence, write articles, blog posts, develop your marketing skills, and ironically, get involved in your community—make people want you, make potential clients want to give you those assignments by winning their trust and respect for you. Show them what they’ll get, “you” vs. economics, or mediocre work.

Educate your clients and potential clients. Let them know you know what makes a great photo. Gain their respect by providing a top-quality product and show them your best work, not your entire history file of photography. Include your resume or perhaps an artist’s statement. Give them your biography on how you got where you are in photography today. Let them know you are consistent, professional, and reliable. Feature the latter three traits in all your marketing materials—don’t ever expect a potential client to know everything about you on their own, show them who you are and make yourself valuable.

No one really knows where photography is going next, though I’m predicting artificial intelligence cameras are not too far away, but for now, you must get your name out there through social media as part of your marketing, and you must educate your clients, let them know, or realize, why they are paying for you instead of economics. Set your goals high and fight through these tough times. With that I close and remind you not to forget the men and women who proudly serve our country—God Bless them, their families and their friends for all their sacrifices, Rolando.

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