Are Photographers Aboard a Sinking Ship?

Are Photographers Aboard a Sinking Ship?

The photography industry suffered a seismic shift with the advent of digital cameras, yet it may be the ubiquitous camera phone that sounds the death knell of the industry as we know it. Everywhere in every hand is instant access to high-quality image-making technology that has forever altered the landscape of photography from what it means to be a photographer to how the viewing public perceives the value of images and image creation. Are professional photographers aboard a sinking ship, or is it simply time for us to learn to swim on our own?

The collective blood of photographers the world over begins to boil at the mere mention of exposure. Articles, tweets, blog posts, and Instagram stories about potential clients trying to exchange exposure for goods and services are released daily. We gather in Facebook groups to rail against the temerity of anyone entitled enough to ask us to trade our hard work for something as nebulous as “exposure.” The memes abound.

I’ve been thinking about this issue for a while now, and I’ve come to suspect that we, as photographers, are missing the point entirely. While we are busy taking offense, we’re missing the flashing red sign that’s warning us of a curve in the road ahead. Rather than taking such requests, which are not only made by private clients but major news outlets and big-name brands as a personal offense, we might want to see these requests as a symptom of an alteration in the way society views and values photography.

An image that took months to plan, finance, and coordinate. What kind of compensation should I expect for a photo like this? Author Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum at Great Sand Dunes National Park. MUA: Kim Clay | Assistant: Kevin Davis.

We are inundated with imagery. Once a high-quality camera reached the fingertips of everyone with a cell phone and social media allowed us to instantaneously share images of our everyday lives, the inherent value of photography was bound to change. Of course, the basic concept of supply and demand tells us that overabundance drives down price. Competition of this level also forces business to compete based on price, which leads to a downward spiral and desperation to get work in front of more eyes by any means necessary. Articles are being written and statuses shared about the value of photography, which are aimed at other photographers in an effort to convince them to stop devaluing the industry by working for free. To my mind, this is as futile as tilting at windmills. Even if such advice reached every photographer on the planet, there would still be hobbyists and non-photographers who have no compunctions sharing their photos with news outlets and brands on Instagram. In addition, the shift toward potential clients offering exposure as a form of payment has to be understood in context. 

Outside of the hyper-availability of quality (read: technically sound) imagery, I think it’s incumbent upon us to recognize that social capital has become a true currency. In an economy where people are freer than ever to curate their information intake, mass marketing is slowly losing ground to niche interests who can gain and keep that most valued commodity: attention. Attention is the reason companies pay millions of dollars to run ads during the Super Bowl. A captive audience is potential income waiting to be leveraged. Even huge corporations are diversifying their advertising to appeal to individual markets. This means that being able to speak to a network comprised of potential clients has actual value. The caveat to this is that not all exposure is created equal, and no one is ever compelled to accept exposure in exchange for work, but ignoring this shift in the economy of image-making and the changes making this shift possible is turning a blind eye to the warning signs.   

Since the change wasn’t in image production but the market itself, the effect has been much more insidious. Photographers are seeing the symptoms and missing the diagnosis. How many photographers will be left without an income because they tried to apply their tried and true approach to a market that changed under their feet?  No one wants to be the last holdout in a dying market, but what if the market isn’t dying? What if it’s only changing in ways for which we have not yet adapted?

How do I adapt to make an image like this profitable?

Portrait photographers have been sounding the warning for years now as the bar to entry into the industry has become all but invisible, changing clients’ expectation of pricing. Now, we see rights grabs in the commercial realm by large corporations looking to populate their Instagram feeds, websites devoted entirely to free stock images, and well-respected news companies approaching photojournalists for free images usage. Platforms like Unsplash provide images free for even commercial use without requiring so much as attribution. The landscape is changing.

In a sea of technically sound images, amid a rising tide of exposure and reposts with credit, how do photographers stay afloat? Better yet, how do photographers learn to swim? It is becoming clear that the photographers who will not only survive but thrive in this shifting market are those who:

  • cultivated a unique and recognizable voice
  • are strong businesspeople
  • diversify their income with supplementary revenue streams such as teaching 
  • add additional specialties such as video and retouching
  • add value to their client's lives and businesses beyond simple imagery

Of course, these qualities would (hopefully) make someone successful in any market, but when supply grows to the highest it has ever been with no sign of slowing down and price drops all the way down to free, new paths have to be forged and new skills built, else professionals disappear entirely. In a recent Dedpxl interview with Mikael Cho, the founder of Unsplash, Zack Arias said something that is incredibly apropos to this situation. He asked the founder, "how do you monetize free?" The fact is that industries, entrepreneurs, and other business people have been monetizing free for a long time: free e-books or guides provided to clients for the exchange of their email address, free quotes, buy one get one free, a free download with signing up for a membership, free Kindle books to drive up visibility, a free trial period, and the list goes on. In every case, the point of offering something for free is to generate buzz and convince the client that the business is providing value. Free images are highly shareable; witness the success of the meme and every "see what Disney princesses would look like with___" series shared by Buzzfeed. So, what does that mean for photographers? Is there a way photographers can adapt to monetize free in a market so saturated with imagery that photographs are devalued before the shutter is pressed? 

Should this photograph be used for free? And, if so, how can I leverage that free useage to my advantage? Model: Tia Alexandra | Smith MUA: Serena Cook | Hair: Jennifer Jensen

It's truly unfortunate, but industries never change based solely on the good of those who run it; otherwise, the Teamsters Union would still include teamsters driving wagons. Industries change on the back of what the market demands. Photographers must adapt to suit those demands or face going under. This situation is not without hope. More often than not, those who can adapt to seismic changes in the economy are those who profit and pioneer new ideas in their industries. The best thing to do now is not pine for the past where technical skill was all it took to survive, but to look at these changes as a challenge to our collective creativity that will bring about new avenues, build new skills, strengthen artistic voices, and reward those who ferociously apply themselves.

What changes have you seen in the market and how are you adapting to this shifting economy?

Lead image credits: 
Models: Tessa Hooper, Jennifer Wilde, and Karl Brevik | MUHA: Nina Marie Diaz | Designer: Allison Nicole Designs | Assistants: Nehemiah Urban and Kevin Davis

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50 Comments
Jared Wolfe's picture

Too many photographers think instagram is the photography market. Here is a clue. What is popular on IG, modelmayhem, pinterest and fstoppers is not necessarily what sells or gets you business. There is plenty of demand for boring old professional headshots, babies, kids photos, maternity photos etc. Most of the moms and professionals searching for these services are not searching instagram for the local photographer with the most followers, the DOPE'st photos with fairy lights and freshest hashtags.

Understand what customers are looking for. Understand how your customers are looking for it. Market to them. Make it easy for them to pick you with a clear product offering. X number of shots. X amount of time. X price. You will get plenty of business.

Or you know. Keep taking DOPE photos of trendy peeps with colorful smoke bombs for exposure.

Lee Morris's picture

This is a good point. Internet famous photographers may not necessarily be successful and successful photographers may not actually be very good. It's a strange paradox.

Pawel Witkowski's picture

There is a lot of truth in what you say about Instagram, and I believe many of us miss the point there.

However I'm not sure if shooting babes, kids maternity photos etc. is a successful business in terms of artistic career. Well for sure it pays the bill, but If I would have to do that for a living, I think I'd rather do something else (unless that's the field I want to excel). No offence to whoever chose this path, but when I think about "want to make living out of creative fashion shooting for magazines and big brands" then things getting bit unclear to me. Still I believe Instagram is not the way to achieve that.

Jared Wolfe's picture

A business is always about other people. Not you. Not your creativity. Even shooting for big brands and fashion magazines its not like they just throw money at you and you go off and do whatever you want. There is a creative director calling the shots and requirements that need to be satisfied. There is a detailed style guide from the brand. You are limited by what the product it is you are shooting. You have some great ideas for a jungle waterfall shoot? Too bad, you are shooting Marmot winter outer wear. That means the Alps or Iceland. Maybe they need catalog shots of 1 jacket in 10 different colors on plain white background. Maybe the magazine just needs you to shoot a chef in their kitchen in downtown Kansas city. You gonna die on your hill of creative integrity? or are you gonna take the money and live another day for when the right shoot comes along?

Sometimes a job is just a paycheck. Sometimes the job is everything you dreamed it to be. 80% of a business is slogging through the jobs you didn't dream of to pay the bills so you can live and make it till your next dream client. Not every wedding couple looks like models. Not every brand or magazine shoot means babes in bikinis in the Caribbean.

While babies and professional head-shots are not my dream job, it pays for my private studio and keeps me in business. And guess what? occasionally I get my dream client. A model who wants creative portraits. A creative boudoir session. Or hell I I network with other creatives and do a TFP creative shoot in my fully paid for studio.

Pawel Witkowski's picture

In fact longer I think about it I get to the point that there is no such "dream job" I could think of. It's more about an illusion of something I would like to believe in. As you've said, even in those "dream" job usually you're limited and forced to shoot things that you don't want.

Is this something wrong? From artistic point maybe, from Business point of view it's necessary and that's how things are. I do envy those successful people who says they do only what they love, and there are others who pays just for what they do. Yet for most of us there I guess live is not that simple huh.

Jonathan Brady's picture

I think if your idea of a "dream job" could be defined as making your customer happy, then any job could be a dream job. But, we're selfish. We want to make OURSELVES happy.

Pawel Witkowski's picture

Yea :) Maybe it's time to treat ourselves as a customer of our service called "being successful photographer" xD

Doc M's picture

I tend to mentor a lot of people young professions in a number business fields but mostly in my own and I always tell them the same thing and it equally applies to the field of photography as well. Don’t compete with others. Find a hole and fill it. Find something that is in demand that you like and no one is doing and fill that hole. Master that hole, own it and you will be successful. I too often see others trying to compete against others by doing the emulating what others are doing and all they end up doing is driving the price down. Own your segment, be the best at it and charge a fair and appropriate price and you will never be without work.

Pho To's picture

You can have ALL the technology that produces super crisp photos that give your eyeballs paper-cuts from here to kingdom come. But composition and lighting do not come in a nice little package like a camera phone. So long as there are clientele that need a creative vision, unless you know your exposure trinity and lighting schemes that you've spent hours playing around with just to perfect, you're dead in the water...and this means using an iPhone X as well, which I do own (just in case you thought my rant was Anti-tech) ;)

Casey ATKINS's picture

Unfortunately for photojournalists a lot of news publishers are just fine with amateurish photo compositions they can get for free from readers or viewers who submit their photos at no cost so they can see their photo in the news.

But yeah, where photography as an art is concerned then know how and an artistic eye is everything. Just having quality equipment isn't enough.

Michael Clark's picture

You can talk all day about composition and lighting and creative vision. But it seems that the only folks who still care about those things are other photographers. The general public appears to be perfectly fine with whatever they can get without paying for it.

Paul Scharff's picture

A little tangential but a great story: I was shooting an architectural job, and when I showed some of the work the compliments flowed -- for my camera. My client said they were so much better than what they had, which were "just iPhone photos." I said it's not the camera, it's the photographer, and to make the point proceeded to take an iPhone shot then and there. (I "cheated" in that I used a Moment wide-angle lens and used the Fusion app to manually keep my highlights from blowing.) The clients were surprised, and I was happy that I made my point -- until they said, "Those iPhones really take good pictures these days." It's never us -- it's our cameras! SMH

So yes, smart phone photography is always going to put pressures on our business and we will have an endless challenge of trying to educate prospects and clients that the brainwork behind the shot is what makes the difference.

Casey ATKINS's picture

If that person ever cooks you a good meal you should complement them on how good their stove is at cooking food. "Wow, this is delicious! You must have a really good oven!"

Paul Scharff's picture

Casey, thanks for raising that analogy, which I love. An expert chef could make something stunning over a hotplate, and I couldn't make toast with a $5,000 range. But no one ever says that to cooks -- just to photographers. Frankly I think the industry should do an awareness campaign on this, but I don't know where funding would come from -- the camera companies absolutely want people to think they'll get the same high quality photos simply by purchasing the equipment.

Oliver Saillard's picture

I guess we'll have to learn to deal with the "you've must have a nice camera" (which is often meant as a compliment), but to do the work to prove them your point just to hear the same answer, that must be hard.

Paul Scharff's picture

Thanks, Oliver. Just one time I gave my camera to a client and had her take a photo. Hers came out terrible and she got the point. The reason: 1) I set my camera and flash manually for my shots but put both on Auto mode for her; and 2) I had a very wide angle lens which grossly exaggerated perspective distortion when the my client didn't know where to put and aim the camera. It was nice to make the point and have it acknowledged, but exhausting at the same time.

Studio 403's picture

Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. The Market I think will soften, then come back. Like myself who got into the "game" late in life, soon learns with a lot of work, education, and persistence, will make a good photographer, but I will fade like a shooting star in the heavens if I don't understand business and marketing. I had to face the awful truth about myself and this lovely craft. Like the NBA and NFL, only a select few can make it despite all the hype, and "you can be great" worldview. I enjoy the craft I make a little money. I don't have the ambition as so many men and women in this field. But I can be a more mature skilled photographer and be very good at what I do. The satisfaction of a job well done, despite my huge ego of perfectionism. I have found out it is not about how cheap I can be on price, but what is my time worth and can I do the job with excellence. That is my day of thinking but could change my mind with a new camera....

John Skinner's picture

There is no doubt that making a living doing this is a lightning strike on your life. It's been a huge declince since the advent of digital and digital manipulation of images. I don't think people have their collective heads in the sand about it.. They're just dreamers and people with the idea that this sort of thing pays the actual bills... gives them retirement possibilities.. a health plan... All of which are for the 00.01% of 00.01% of people that have created some sort of niche for themselves.

But Instagram and the rest of it? I guess when 30'somethings start hiring other 30'somethings... there is a bit of stupid magic taking places there. It may happen, but you;re still part of that 00.01%.

Sargent Schutt's picture

If you want to know one easy way to stay ahead of the curve: MASTER LIGHTING TECHNIQUES. AI is beginning to touch on 'lighting', but there is no way to duplicate the results we can achieve with professional lighting with a cell phone, even with future 3D imaging capability, and there likely never will be, no matter how advanced the technology. Light is directional, light sources 'bounce' in unique ways, affecting tones, contrast, and shadows in ways no amount of AI and 3D rendering could accomplish.

Lighting is a component of almost every professional photoshoot, ever, and if it's not part of your game, you were never really in the game...

Michael Clark's picture

Unfortunately, for the most part the market seems totally unconcerned with how well a photo is lit and composed. It is perfectly happy with crappy but free. For the most part the only people who care about the creative quality of images are other photographers... not consumers.

Sargent Schutt's picture

At the high end, they are still concerned with lighting, at least in the commercial and architectural world. At the lower end, many small businesses are satisfied with 'something a little better than they could do with their own phones'...

Viral marketing allowed acceptance of low quality, phones continued to improve, but viral doesn't stand out anymore, and if you have a multimillion dollar property, product, or business with competition, there is value in higher end photos with professional lighting. It does depend on your market, though.

Graham Glover's picture

My life is a digital disaster. Maybe.

On one hand I'm a programmer/analyst in R&D. Understand that EVERYONE has access to free software that runs the world's computers. Want to run a Hadoop cluster? Piece of cake. Download, install, run. Hadoop is what runs in the background at Facebook, serving you ads that are relevant to your online behavior. Anyone can do it. Linux changed the playing field. There are dead companies on the computing side; Silicon Graphics and Sun Microsystems are two that come to mind, all thanks to the Digital New World. Regardless of all you hear of how bad the programming world is, some thrive.

On the other hand, I'm an aspiring fashion photographer located far distant from traditional fashion industry. Photography isn't the way it was with my Pentax K1000. In addition to the hardware, there's all of the photo processing software, some of which is in the cameras, playing BTS. I've shot sports for fun with my Canon 5DM3, using a specific autofocus "case" I adjusted to accommodate my environment and my style of shooting. It's not the same as shooting and pushing film, manually focussing with a split prism. Technology is bloody amazing. "I'm self-taught," is the mantra of top contemporary photographers. Even going "manual", it's easy to advance when you have access to instant feedback.

Where does it all go? How does one survive?

On the programming side, I play in a small market. I'm a mathematician, primarily developing algorithms in spherical and elliptical geometry. I'm also good with very large numbers of things, and making my work scale.

On the photography side, I see untapped and undiscovered markets. In fashion, there are three primary locations in the world: NY, Paris, and Milan. In five years, Oakton will be added to that list. Watch. Okay, that's silly, but consider fashion. If the aforementioned three cities are it and you're not there, you're rational option is to give up. If on the other hand you're driven and yet are unable to relocate, you have another option, which is to create your own market.

Good photography will survive. It will also change.

Nicole York's picture

You're right, which is why I'm encouraging us to think collectively about how it will change so that we can be prepared. We need minds sharper than mine for this task ;)

Christian Santiago's picture

I understand adapting to trends in the market, but this article is basically saying that if you're not willing to give your work for free, you're going to be left behind and fail. And that's absurd.

"Rather than taking such requests, which are not only made by private clients but major news outlets and big-name brands as a personal offense, we might want to see these requests as a symptom of an alteration in the way society views and values photography."

It should be taken as a personal offense. My lawyer would laugh in my face if I asked him to work for free. So would my plumber, or the contractor I hired to install windows in my house. Why should photographers be the ones with so little self-respect that they allow people to extract time and labor from them for no pay?

I think the premise of the article is confusing "popular " photography with the photography market in general. While there is certainly plenty of great work posted daily on Instagram and other social media channels, a lot of it outright sucks. Overcooked drone shots that have been processed to hell, bland natural light portraits that are bludgeoned with Lightroom presets, etc. etc. I know for a fact that the commercial clients I go after would never let such garbage near their brands.

I personally know quite a few "insta famous" photographers with tens of thousands of followers in my market who have never cashed a check for their services. They all live with their parents. And while I am far from wealthy, I've managed to make a living as a photographer despite having less than 1,000 followers. Social currency is no replacement for real dollars.

So yea, there's plenty of crappy photography out there for free that people are more than willing to use for "free" with nothing but exposure to show for it. But those aren't the types of photos I am looking to make, and hopefully, I am succeeding at that.

There are so many genres of photography, and some lend themselves better to profitability than others, so, those that do don't have to die on the hill of exposure. As someone else mentioned in these comments, there are still plenty of people out there who need headshots, baby photos, wedding photos, real estate photos, family portraits etc. And if someone is willing to shoot an 8 hours wedding for "exposure," then they're just a masochist.

Again it's absurd, that we should be encouraging photographers to let multi-million dollar companies and millionaire celebrities treat us like we should be honored to get taken advantage of.

Nicole York's picture

If you think this article is encouraging people to give away their work for free, you've actually missed the point. I'm not encouraging anyone to give away their work, I'm trying to encourage people to take a serious look at the market and think critically about the way it's changing, the way customers expectations are shifting, and consider how we can take advantage of the changes. I believe that we are seeing signposts signaling that things are changing, but our approach to the business remains largely the same. If we can't set back the clock, what CAN we do to ensure photographers thrive?

Michael Clark's picture

I had to read it twice to see that you weren't at least accepting it as a given in today's market, if not outright encouraging it.

Nicole York's picture

Well, with SO many people requesting and accepting the trade--as much as I wish it weren't the case--I think it's worthwhile to look at why people see this as acceptable, and what it means for our future.

al green - Light Through Glass's picture

I was employed as a photographer but now work in an allied industry where photography is just one of the communication tools - very profitable. Ironically my 'pure' photography is channeled into creating art exhibits which aren't financially viable but an 'indulgence' and very fulfilling. A good balance.

Nicole York's picture

It's a great time to be a hobbyist!

al green - Light Through Glass's picture

True

Richard Keeling's picture

I've followed a similar path, except my outside work was almost completely (but not wholly) tangential to photography, i.e. medical research. As Nicole says, it is a great time to be a hobbyist. I love it.

Gerardo D. Duran Jr.'s picture

Like you Al, I closed out my pro photo life up to retirement with 14 years with a job at the Museum of Science and Industry as public relations and exhibit photographer/videographer at Tampa Fl. My professor in the 1950s, Father Guido Sarducci in the Vatican school lectured on economics and the market place by summing up with: shoot for Q & A - quality and acceptance, and keep your attention on supply and demand. The rest is vanity.

Donald Giannatti's picture

Spot on Nicole.

The entire market model of photography has changed. Is still changing. Photographers as a group have lately become nearly obsessed with old models many of them never engaged in anyway. This is frustrating to no end.

The old model of gatekeepers, portfolio reviews, fewer buyers (ad agencies, designers and such) made it incredibly difficult to break through and get known. Yes, being known is still one component of the old era that is still important in the new era.

I really liked your explanation of the market changing under the photographers instead of photographers changing it within the industry. Newsflash: most clients don't give a diddly-wack what kind of camera you shoot. They really don't.

I have been looking at sites like Unsplash for a couple of years now. "Death to the stock photo" is a business model that is similar, and it has done spectacularly well for the photographer/founder.

The sounding chamber that is the internet makes it seem like all is lost. Unfiltered, unknowing, anonymous people spouting negativity is a demographic in itself and one that brings lots of numbers to view. In reality, of the 10 most busy and productive photographers I personally know, only one has a sizeable 'social media' presence, and four of them have literally none. The mass of 'not social media guru' photographers are busy today making photographs for clients the social media crowd never approaches.

One of my students approached the first 5 possible clients with her first promo. Three of them said they had never been contacted by a photographer before. Out of the five, she got two requests for bids and got both bids. At a substantially higher number than free.

Another student approached a very big name business in her county, and they said the same thing. No photographer had ever approached them. She is preparing a multi-day bid for a ton of photography they are happy to pay for.

Whingers win the internet every time. That is what is the most offensive to me.

This is the best time in the entire history of the world to be a photographer. Being in business is a hell of a challenge.

Those who expected it to be easy should seriously examine what they think it is they do.

Von Wong's picture

I feel like the one question we should try to answer is: How is my photography useful.

There are an infinite number of niches available so that you can actually make a living doing whatever you want to do, should you ever become good enough at it... but if your art serves no purpose except to make you feel good about what it is you're doing then that becomes a far harder hill to climb.

I've somehow managed to make a living doing work that I still struggle to describe but I've found that pursuing some form of legacy is useful both for your self-motivation, your business marketing, and finding like-minded clients.

Jon Reaves's picture

1. Everyone has always had cameras....not just since digital and cell phones. It's the broad shareabillty and ease of snapping a picture that has changed.... Photography has been the world's most popular hobby for generations.
2. There is no ONE market. There are lots of markets for lots of different photographers.
3. This very topic is outdated. It's 2018. Suck it up and find your niche. It's been 18 years since digital came along and several since cell phones became everyone's choice camera....guess what? There are still lots of successful photographers making a living with their creativity...move on.
4. She's absolutely right about value. You have to figure out what value you bring and work hard at getting it to the right people.
5. If you haven't started swimming on your own yet....you've already sunk (again...it's 2018, not 2005). This is not news.
6. Change in every industry is inevitable. The more photographers that sit around whining about it, the more room there is for those who bring value to the industry and our clients.

Istvan Lantos's picture

Someone once said, never do what you really love/want to do, instead keep it as a hobby, because you never gonna hate it later.

My child's dream was to become a pilot. If I become one am I will be successfull? No, I will do a fairly average salary, but I'm sure I will love it to do.

My another dream was to become a photographer. Am I succeeded on this road? Not yet, I will not making enough money with it.

Do I ever thought about sandblasting? No, but I will start to do it in the next following months and *probably* making more money with it in the first year then with photography in the last five. Am I will love it? No, I will hate it, but at least it will help to build my own house.

We photographers are utterly stupid, because we want to be successful in a thing that we love. Whenever I see someone writing another "Do things that you love" motivational blogpost, I call bullsh*t.

Steve Harwood's picture

"Diversify their income with supplementary revenue streams such as teaching..." I hope you're talking about becoming a public school math teacher. I think the days of "How to" teaching is also reached the same issues as photography in general. I mean, how many "Doing a basic poitrait shoot" videos can you find on YouTube???

Bill Larkin's picture

Well written Nicole.

Glem Let's picture

Nicole the.... journalist, because she isnt making money as a photographer, she writes articles and teaches photo software so she can pretend she is a pro photographer.. Tip, spend less time online and go out and meet people.

Rex Jones's picture

Seeing that you clearly know Nicole so well, it makes obvious sense why we should take tips from you.

Besides, such a well thought out comment like this, one that truly embodies the full scope of dynamic vocabulary, is one worth noting.

Not only have you demonstrated such clear knowledge of what you speak, but you have managed to help us all understand Nicole with a magnificently objective perspective.

Thank you, sir. Clearly, your wisdom knows no bounds.

Paul Parker's picture

Would you talk to a family member in such a condescending way or is it just strangers?

James Douglas's picture

Why did the photo of the barefoot guy take months to plan??

Nicole York's picture

I had to work with multiple schedules for team members from different cities (my subject was traveling a lot and that had to be accounted for), source equipment and props, create a storyboard for the accompanying video (which isn't included in the article) move people about 4 hours away into the Rockies, and all the other minutiae. It was just one that took a long time to sort out.

Glem Let's picture

I love this diversify and suppliment your income with teaching... So lets saturate the saturated market with new ' ive been on a course, so now i'm a photographer.." People.

Whoever wrote this article hasnt been around long, IS a milennial, doesnt realize that there is a much much bigger market of people, who are older, more discerning, have way more money, dont do instagram, especially not for work and actually pay for top quality work that isnt trendy, that hasnt been through 'the Lightroom presets..'

Older people actually buy people, they have meetings, they look at work and they get a feel for the photographer and if it clicks they book them.

Ive been a pro high end fashion photographer for over 25 yrs, i dont do instagram, or FB. MY SITE IS MINIMAL...

I have never been busier, yes fees are lower but so is post production time, us old schoolers get it right in camera on set. Capture One or Lightroom time in post is very speedy, and clients see their work online very quickly. We get paid quicker, we create a unique relationship with that client and we get personal referrals. Referrals are the absolute best way to increase your client base.

Its called doing business, its the old school way, it doesnt need social media, because people spending all day on social media are not working and many many millions of older people may use the internet fir Amazon and eBay but prefer to meet and build relationships with the people they do business with.

Look at how your gran dresses and where she goes out to eat... She doesnt dress like you, or eat at places you prefer, same goes for business. She does it her way,

One persons meat is anothers poison, you might try out a cafe with many likes on FB or Tripadvisor, or fab pics on Instagram.

Your gran might prefer somewhere that isnt even on the web but was personally recommended by a close friend.

Not veryone or verything needs social media or even the internet to do well.

Hector Belfort's picture

These articles keep coming up and just full of blah, blah, blah.
Yes it's a very competitive business. Yes its swamped with available photographers. Yes its hard to make money from it but that's been the case for years.
If you want to make a living from it be in part of the business when there is an endless stream of potential clients eg: weddings, babies, pets, profile / business portraits.
Only so many can teach and sell videos.
I am a little tired of the "look at me I'm a success I'll tell you how to be successful too".
It's a great way to exploit other people.
Most of them are lucky, not necessarily the most talented but were often first to market. They are in a position which very few people will get to so its not worth going down that path. No matter how good you get at HDR you won't shift Trey off his money making machine.
There will always be a demand for a good wedding photographer. Its not an easy life but one of the few you can have a steady stream of income.

dale clark's picture

Hair stylists have tons of new competition every week. The good ones continue to be successful. New Real Estate agents every year in droves...the same ones stay on top year after year. In both instances it comes down to doing your legwork and establish- build solid clients. Photography is no different. One needs to establish themselves in an area of photography where there's demand (and/or photography nobody wants to do). Build client base that will pay the bills while you do "dream projects". It does not happen overnight and requires hard work. The work is out there...you must go out and get it. It will not come to you.

Fletcher Davies's picture

Through the advent of digital photography and the Internet, photography has become a victim of it’s own success. We are bombarded with images and videos in relation to photography, be it equipment reviews, or lighting techniques, never before has so much information about photography been so easily accessible and as a result people have been inspired to participate. Despite the massive increase of images that can be seen, how many truly stand out? When someone see’s value in anything it becomes desirable and that is what will provide a life raft for photographers trying to earn money from their craft, but how much they can and will earn will always be a challenge.

Emily Teague's picture

Excellent read. Thanks Nicole!!

Nicole York's picture

Of course ;)

Douglas Bowker's picture

Good photography will always be in demand, and ubiquitous tools like camera phones won't change it other than flooding the world with more images. Every now and again you can get lucky and capture a great image (or video) via smartphone, but that's not going to be the basis for a sustainable business. The same shift happened with Graphic Design 20 years ago when the hardware/software became available to the masses, and the same predictions of doom were made. And yet every designer I knew then is still in business.

Millions went out and bought a Mac (or later a PC workstation) and decide they were now "desktop publishers." Well, maybe for their church, their school or within the small companies that never hired a designer before anyway they "might" have been. Some of the low-level pasteup jobs at the local newspaper of print shop got squeezed, but it didn't change things much for actual professional graphic designers. And as then as now, the basic tools are far from adequate for real production, nor can they replace talent, experience and education. It's why going out and buying a copy of AutoCAD doesn't make someone an engineer or an architect either.

All of the above HAS lowered the barrier to entry, and that is a good thing. But once that door is open, you have to prove yourself just like anyone.