Will Photographers Survive the Next Recession?

Will Photographers Survive the Next Recession?

During the past decade, the world economy has experienced steady, gradual expansion. But what goes up must come down, and the question photographers are wise to consider is: "how will the next recession affect me?"

This focuses on economic recession impacting the freelance or small business photographer: the challenges involved and how to best prepare for them.

For obvious reasons, those who are employed full-time in photography (which seems less commonplace today) might experience a recession differently. But employed photographers and photo editors also need to prepare for the possibility of being laid off in a general economic downturn. Suddenly switching to freelance isn’t easy. Even in a strong economy, decent photography employment is somewhat scarce.

The last thing we want is for a client’s photography budget to be cut. But when a recession hits, one of the first things to be cut from a company’s budget is a service deemed a “luxury." Depending on the severity of the recession, both individuals and businesses will cut corners and forego discretionary spending in order to survive. Such “survival cuts” can deliver bad news to a photographer.

Commonly undervalued professional photography includes wedding photography and much small business photography. But, sadly, that low valuation doesn’t stop there.

stock prices on a computer screen

When the economy heads south, don’t waste time on pricing wars, which usually just digs the hole deeper. In a recession, you need to think on your feet and be flexible, perhaps even venturing into new photographic markets. With the right adjustments, you might even thrive in a recession.

Target the Right Fields

Some areas of the marketplace assign a high value to photography; some don’t see the big picture. And of the ones that do value photography, not all clients in those fields have budgets that can justify professional photography pricing. It's your job as a freelancer to figure out who can and will value your work.

Perceived value and spending power aside, only the most recession-proof businesses will maintain a steady photography budget when the economy takes a downturn. Some companies will downsize or eliminate their photography budgets or departments in response to a recession. That means less gigs and more layoffs for photographers. Some businesses might even turn to stock photography. To get an idea of the small pool of businesses not affected by recessions, check out this list here.

graffiti in an abandoned factory

Think of other industries or genres you have yet to break into and make an actionable plan to start working in those sectors. For example: are you a portrait photographer interested in medical photography? Offer promotional (limited time) discounted shoots to local medical institutions to build your new portfolio. There will always be a need for certain types of photography, so focus your efforts in the right places.

Not only would it be wise to begin targeting more recession-proof markets now, we also always need to be perfecting our skills and updating our portfolios in order to attract high-end clients.

If you're a wedding photographer who caters to brides with a max budget of $500, there might be bad news in your future: those gigs disappearing when the economy tanks. Don't twiddle your thumbs on Thumbtack waiting for "bridezillas" to respond to your quotes. Step it up and re-think your marketing today, instead of scrambling to position yourself later.

If you've been putting off the dive into videography, now is the time to learn. Offering videography or drone work as add-on services will position your business as a "one-stop shop" for those seeking a more complete solution to their marketing needs. What better way to beat the competition than to make choosing you an easy decision for your clients who have multiple needs?

If you specialize in non-commercial photography like private events or weddings, it would be wise to formulate a marketing plan to break into higher-income markets or social circles. Proper use of keywords like "luxury" in your website or ad copy could help appeal to upper-end clientele.

Flexibility in your marketing strategy is the key for surviving challenges. An important component of that strategy is making sure that your sales language (admit it, you sell) and website convey value.

a car being crushed under a fallen tree

Think of your new marketing strategy as insurance. When disaster strikes, it will keep you afloat.

Establish and Affirm Your Value

Besides knowing, liking, and trusting us, the main reason clients hire us is because they see the value in our product and service. And the higher that value, the more you can command in your pricing. This remains true even when pennies and budgets are being stretched during hard economic times. Instead of positioning yourself as an expense to commercial clients, use language like "equity" and "investment" to remind clients that what they spend will help them produce more business. And why would someone turn down a productive investment when the economy is struggling?

What else can you do to establish value and stand out from your peers when competition is high and work is scarce? Always provide high-quality customer service. Being timely and clear in your communication is essential to ensure clients will want to continue your working relationship.

Your overall professionalism and agreeable personality is important, helping you stand out in the large sea of photographers in which we must all constantly swim. Turning a new client into a steady client by “exceeding expectations” is an old cliche, but there’s a reason such sloganeering becomes cliche. When it’s true, it typically works.

While pleasing your clients should be your number one business goal, don't forget to stay motivated and passionate with the occasional personal photography project. A “passion project” is especially useful for keeping your spirits high during tough times and can impress or even attract new clients.

Summary

Be proactive and flexible. Photographers face enough challenges regardless of the state of the economy. The key to stability in a challenging economy is solid planning and flexible adaptation. For all of us, marketing, sales, and pricing strategies can usually benefit from analysis and reconsideration.The best time to make that analysis and reconsideration is today.

Has your photography business lived through past recessions? How did you survive them? Please share your experiences in the comments section below. 

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39 Comments

Rob Mitchell's picture

Always
Have
An
Exit
Plan.

michaeljinphoto's picture

I second this. Mine is pre-tied and in the closet right now.

The premise of this article is totally flawed. The demand for photo/video content is growing fast. From journalism to marketing, the demand for digital content keeps growing. We are in a digital golden age for content creators, and it's never been easier to showcase your work.

michaeljinphoto's picture

The demand for content is growing, but so is the supply of free content while the budgets for paid content are simultaneously shrinking. While it's certainly never been easier to showcase your work as a creative, it's probably never been harder to make a decent living off it.

Oh God thank you for the good laugh. The golden age being used by someone who most likely hasn't experience any other period of time. Actually it is the golden age of devalued photography as art, as photojournalism, as a career. The golden age of free, paid by exposure, or just plain stolen.

Showcasing your work is not the same thing as getting paid.

Dan Howell's picture

You say that with such authority. Maybe you could enlighten us on trends in budgets for commissioning photography in the past, oh say, 10 years. I mean, if you know so much about the golden age for content creators you would know that digital impressions are valued at approx. 1/10th that of print impressions. That value (advertising rates) directly effects editorial budgets, hence rapid decline of magazine titles and pages.

Do you honestly see the value of content increasing to recover that value? I don't. It seems like YOUR premise is flawed.

Sorry Tom. Are you that arrogant? Yes, the demand is there now, in a recession? I don't believe you are going to find the same love as you would now.

Clickbait titles are so passé. Of course “photographers will survive“... if anything the title should be “how” or “how to prepare”. That would be far more interesting than a notion that is frankly silly

Some will. A lot won't. And the author does note ideas of how to prepare.

Most will and those who won’t wouldn’t have survived regardless.

Recessions happen all the time - so do weddings, so do art sales. Similar rubbish statements are made when “Apple comes up with a new iPhone that is almost as good as a camera” and then suddenly all media pundits write articles about how the photo business is f’d. Even if Apple invented a mobile phone that shot the same quality as a DSLR photographers won’t loose business because frankly daddy and mommy wouldn’t have the artistic eye or the tenacity or the experience to shoot your wedding. Even if AI could come up with the ideal way to convert a RAW to a JPG and also retouch a sky into a photo perfectly, clients will still be looking for a particular style, for the experience.

The notion that everyone has a camera and therefore there is less need for photographers is another one of these flawed statements that re-appear on repeat, always was, always will be.

The reality is: it was always going to be a competitive field regardless of the economy, technology or whatever. Bad photographers don’t succeed, or those that don’t have the tenacity — regardless of technology

It’s a clickbait topic that will never end.

What recession..

John Dawson's picture

The one that is brewing now and will be here within the next 16-24 months.

Daniel Mendiola's picture

Recessions aren’t really. It’s something that was created just to scare people like dragons or the queen of England.

michaeljinphoto's picture

...

Tell that to the millions who had to close their businesses in the last recession of 2008. Or to the homeowners who lost their homes. Or the long term employees who lost their careers and homes and are now homeless or dead from suicide..

What do you understand by recession?

Daniel Mendiola's picture

You people need to read what I wrote and learn how to take a joke

The recession of 2008 and cheap digital ruined me. I had a high medium format film based overhead studio but the money was rolling in from a high volume business model.
Once the recession hit things started going south.
The end came in 2015 after years of playing whack a mole with finances.

Trying to recreate yourself as " luxury" when you weren't just doesn't work.

Not all recessions are the same, is hard to tell how much a particular industry will be affected, also, not everyone has the same exposure with assets vs liabilities, the advice of the article is not only useful during recessions, but most of the time.

Nicholas K's picture

The advice here has nothing really to do with recessions. You should always be looking to reposition a business to a place where it maximizes earnings and is valued. If you're not doing that in the good times, the odds are you don't have what it takes to ride out the bad times.

But... photography is currently one of the most over-worked and under-paid professions out there. The big question is not will your business survive a recession but do you really want it to? You'd be better off lobbying your local politician for Universal Basic Income and then taking photos for fun in most cases.

Scott Mason's picture

I suppose what I was trying to convey is that you need solid, reliable marketing to make it through a recession. The emphasis on being flexible when things aren't working was also noted, I hope that came through as an important aspect for survival. Thank you for reading and commenting.

A recession is when you find out your business plan wasn't.

user-206807's picture

The Recession War?

dale clark's picture

Recessions for finding new clients when other providers are weeded out.

user-206807's picture

I was in advertising too, for years, and as you say, every crisis has given me more work.
The major brands must remain above average, and even more so in times of crisis.

For other markets, I think it could be otherwise, even if there is no less work, the financial compensation would probably be reduced

user-206807's picture

I left because it was time to give new priorities to my life.

40 years in the world of advertising and publishing, as a photographer, then artistic director and creative director have been more than satisfying and rewarding for me.

The work of a photographer had become more and more tiring for me because of minor health problems.

Now I help my wife who is the artistic director of a children's magazine, I take some pictures for my own pleasure, and I take care of my grandchildren :)

Dan Howell's picture

Wait, you think that commercial in general is 'not really affected'. There has been a general devaluation of still photography over the past 15+ yrs. The shift from print to electronic media favors video, not still. Add to that a general consolidation of retail and the virtual elimination of quality catalogs, I'm seriously wondering how you can say commercial photography has not really been effected.

Since the last recession, in my corner of the photoworld the bottom and the top are still there. There has been a big hit to the middle part of the business. But to be honest in the 2008 recession I was busier than usual for a couple years. A few friends have closed up shop but I still keep on.

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