The Truth About Photography YouTubers

The Truth About Photography YouTubers

I started my YouTube photography channel a little more than a year ago ,and it's been quite an interesting journey. At first, I just wanted to post some videos as a tool to help me improve my own videography skills, but I quickly realized that I enjoyed creating content and watching the channel grow. Having now created videos including tutorials, gear reviews, and even tongue-in-cheek commentaries for a year, I wanted to give you a glimpse into what it's like and dispel some common misconceptions about what it really means to be a small photography "YouTuber."

We Are Not Sponsored by Major Camera Brands

As I write this article, my channel has 3,402 subscribers. Although this might seem like a lot, in the scheme of things, it's actually a very small number when you consider many channels have hundreds of thousands or even millions of subscribers. I'm very proud to have worked hard to grow my channel to this number and appreciate everyone who watches and comments, but practically speaking, small channels like mine are not even on the radar of the major camera brands. I have no affiliation with Canon, Fujifilm, or Sony, so when I review a piece of gear, it's either something I own, borrow, or rent from Lensrentals, which has given me an affiliate status to help defray some of the cost of renting gear. Occasionally, I am also able to review a product through Fstoppers, and my editors graciously allow me to link a video review with the article I write for that particular piece of gear.

I bring this up because some people believe that every YouTuber is bought and paid for by this or that camera manufacturer. In a recent comment on one of my videos, a gentleman implied that I was using a certain camera and lens combination for the review because a rival camera company had paid me off to use an older lens so the results would not be as good. And, although I love a great conspiracy theory, the truth is actually much more boring. In that particular video, I used lenses I already owned. Add to this that the particular lens this commenter wanted to see paired with the camera had been backordered for many weeks, making it impossible to review it even if I wanted to spend the money on it.

In fact, most of the smaller YouTube channels you watch have a handful of sponsorships and some affiliate links, but we are not being sent loaner gear from companies like Canon, Sony, Nikon, or Fujifilm, so if we review one of their products, you can be sure we are not influenced by them in any way. I would imagine that representatives from these companies rarely, if ever, watch videos from a creator with a few thousand subscribers, although I might be wrong about that. More than likely, they are more tuned in to the large channels.

We Don't Know Everything About Every Product

I know it's shocking, but we photography YouTubers don't have every single detail of every camera, lens, and software in our heads. In fact, sometimes we make mistakes. One thing I learned quickly after posting a few videos was that there are a ton of extremely knowledgeable people who will offer corrections in the comments sections. I'm not being sarcastic here, and I genuinely appreciate when someone gives me a pearl of wisdom or corrects me if I've made a mistake. In fact, I think that the entire photography community grows in this way, and although I like to think of myself as very knowledgeable about photography, there's always going to be someone who knows something that I don't about a given topic.

Another point to consider is that when a YouTuber rents or is sent a piece of gear, they have a limited amount of time with the product. This means that sometimes, we are unable to go through every single feature and use the item extensively before having to send it back. For a very large channel, this might not be an issue because creating content is their full-time job, but for smaller channels, keep in mind that we are creating content while running our businesses or working a full-time job. I consider myself very fortunate because as a professional photographer, I am already shooting on the daily, so it's easier for me to test a lens, for instance, than for someone who has a full-time career and a photography YouTube channel on the side. This is also why I like to review gear I already own and have used extensively.

We Do This Because We Love It

I know, it sounds corny, but it's true. I genuinely love creating content and especially reviewing gear. One unexpected benefit of having a channel is the community that develops around it. I have some regular viewers who always encourage me and comment on my videos, and many people have reached out to me via message or email to tell me that a particular video resonated with them. Interacting with this community of photographers has been one of the major joys for me as a content creator, and I've made some new friends along the way. 

Watching my channel grow has also been a rewarding experience. I would be lying if I said I didn't care about channel growth, and, of course, I would jump at the chance to be sponsored by a major camera brand (depending on the particular company) and have more opportunities to grow my online following. If my YouTube channel grows to such a point that it becomes a full-time endeavor, that would be amazing, and I think it's a great goal to strive towards. But this is extremely difficult to do, and even many of the big photography channels you know by name still work full-time in the industry, with their YouTube channels providing an income stream on the side.

One of my favorite up-and-coming YouTube channels belongs to my Fstoppers colleague Lucy Lumen.

A Ten-minute Video Can Take a Week to Create

Most of the smaller YouTubers you watch are doing everything themselves. When I want to make a video, the hardest part is picking a relevant topic to speak about. Next, the video needs to be planned out from beginning to end, which often includes arranging shoots at my studio or on location and finding someone to model for me. Outside of the occasional help from a photographer friend to film some b-roll, I'm on my own unless I conscript my eight-year-old son to help out. Luckily, he's still at the age where he actually enjoys hanging out with me! 

After everything is planned and a script is written, the next step is filming the video. Since I don't have a dedicated space for filming videos, I set up and break down my gear in a nice corner of my studio each time I create a video. After filming the video and any necessary b roll, the editing begins. Video editing is time-consuming, and I must admit that I personally don't enjoy doing it, but for now, I do it all myself. This means that a 10-minute video can easily take a week to create, with a few hours here and there crammed into my already busy schedule for filming and editing. Sometimes, I go through the entire process and then don't even post the video because I'm not happy with the final result. Thankfully, this doesn't happen very often.

This is a screenshot from my first YouTube video, published about a year ago. When I started posting videos, my goal was to become a competent videographer, not a YouTuber.

We Value Our Viewers

Small YouTube creators genuinely value every single viewer. This is not to say that large channels do not, of course, but I make it a point to respond to each comment I receive. When someone takes the time to comment, this means a lot to me because I am not only learning from the community, but it also tells me that my content is resonating with people. Even a negative comment can serve a positive purpose if it helps me to improve my next video. Positive and encouraging comments, naturally, mean so much to all of us because everyone appreciates it when their work is valued.

We Have Some of the Best Content

To conclude, there are many small and medium channels that are creating excellent content, and you are missing out if you don't give them a try. It's easy to scroll past the seemingly endless amount of videos posted on a particular topic, but I encourage you to check out some of these channels instead of just watching the big names you might typically view. A wonderful channel I discovered recently is Kirk Williamson Photography. Kirk's videos are entertaining, and he has a charming demeanor when he talks about Fujifilm cameras, a topic he is clearly passionate about. I've also thoroughly enjoyed watching my Fstoppers colleague Lucy Lumen's channel, Lucy Lumen's Analog Adventures, as it evolves and grows. 

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4 Comments
Scott McDonald's picture

As a small-subscription YouTuber myself (you kick my butt as I just broke 700 and subscribed to your channel as well) I agree with the content of your article. "We" do this out of the love for the experience more than anything else. I say "we" because my 2 1/2-year-old insists on being part of my "Camera Talk with Dr. Scott" videos for the past year or else he screams bloody murder until I let him in the room. I started out creating content for my students who wanted to see their teacher on YouTube. Since then I've progressed into an 18+ audience due to my twisted sense of humor and Dylan's "scripted" responses. I've been adding in movie/music clips for a long time now (some viewers hate it but do I care?) because I enjoy the inside joke it relates to. I'm certainly not for everyone's taste (no mainstream for me) but the 700 subscribers seem to get something from my efforts and that makes me smile...but most of all...this provides something for Dylan and myself to look back on years from now and get a good laugh out of it! Carry on growing your own audience and best of luck! Cheers!

Pete Coco's picture

Sounds like a fun channel, Scott. Just subbed! Hey, here's another interesting similarity between us, I am also a doctor and teach music at a college here on Long Island. I've also included my 8 year old and 6 year old in some of my vids, too.

David Y's picture

I always found it funny to hear in videos from YouTubers with less than 10k subscribers that they are not sponsored by anyone and the gear wasn’t given to them, etc. In the back of my mind I’m saying “Of course! Brand sponsorships only happen with big shots. You didn’t need to tell me that, the thought didn’t even cross my mind.”

But reading you say that puts things into perspective. People will be assholes on the internet and they’ll call you shill, etc. if they don’t agree with you.

Thinking of it from that perspective it makes sense people put that in their videos.

Pete Coco's picture

Hey David, it seems obvious, right? But clearly it is not. I was amazed when this guy accused me of using an older lens on a review of the XT5 on purpose because Canon had paid me off to make Fuji look bad... on a video with 500 views. LOL

I get contacted once in a while by a company to do a sponsored review, but never from any major camera brand. As you said, they are just dealing with the big channels.