What’s Behind the Recent Lull in Photography Bookings?

What’s Behind the Recent Lull in Photography Bookings?

If your bookings are on a downward trend, you are not alone. With many photographers claiming a significant decrease in clients, let’s take a look at what is causing the sudden dip.

I am a full-time wedding photographer. I also have a decent relationship with many of the other photographers in my area. The anxiety among wedding photographers here is the highest I’ve seen. Businesses that have been established for over a decade are shutting down. Nationally renown photographers can’t find clients. And no one can pinpoint what the issue is. The problem is not restricted to my part of the world either. Have you noticed the consistent comments in photography groups about how slow their bookings are? It is a discussion taking place in every group I am a part of.

So what is going on? I’ve heard photographers blame it on everything from an oversaturated market, to couples avoiding marriage, to the fear produced by American politics. These things might be playing a minor role, but I don’t think they are the real issues. After analyzing which photographers are currently succeeding and which ones aren’t, here are my conclusions about the state of the photography industry.

Not the Problem

All the New Photographers

In every industry, there is a constant complaint about the new businesses willing to do the job for far less than they should. This has always happened and always will. Eventually, they either learn to raise their prices, or they go out of business. Is the photography market oversaturated? Of course it is. There is no barrier to entry, it’s an art that is too easy to fake adequacy in, and quality equipment and training are becoming increasingly cheap. Every area is oversaturated, but this issue is nothing new. Quality photographers who know how to run a business have always been able to endure through this.

Editing Style

There’s a case to be made for the argument over timeless versus trendy editing. At what point does a traditional style start to look dated? I consider myself to have a traditional style, choosing not to desaturate multiple colors and instead focusing on producing images that won’t look like it belongs in a specific year. And I admit, I feel a bit out of place with the abundance of trendy editing styles. Many photographers think that this is the issue and the traditional style is too dated for the modern bride. However, just like photographers have different tastes, clients have different tastes as well. It would be too far of a reach to suggest that all brides want one specific style. There will always be clients that are drawn to excellent lighting and realistic colors, just like there will always be people attracted to the style of the year.

Pricing

When business slows down, the initial reaction is always to lower prices because they must be too high. There is a time to lower your prices. It’s just not the first thing you should do. The high-end market of people willing to pay a significant cost for a quality product doesn't disappear overnight. My case here is that in terms of pricing, there is nothing to suggest that the photography market has changed substantially. Chances are if you have made it before at your price point, then you still can. The key is to know how to compete.

When Good and Great Blend Together

After months of researching our industry, one thing I’ve learned is that quality is no longer a way to differentiate yourself. At one time, there was a significant gap between the quality an experienced photographer could produce and that of one who was still learning. Those days are gone. Quality gear is significantly cheaper. Lightroom presets remove the learning curve out of editing. And an overabundance of images confronting us every day on social media has made the distinct line between quality or not more blurry than ever.

While you, with a trained photography eye, might be able to tell the difference between photographers, you have to remember that most clients can’t. They don’t understand what makes an image great. Anybody can post their very best photos on Instagram and sell themselves as a quality photographer. To many clients, that is all they need to see. There is a low standard in our industry for what is good, and to today’s client, good is enough.

What the Issue Is

This is where many of us professionals have gone wrong. For years, we have been able to compete only by being better. Those days are gone. So after all of my research, what businesses are winning? The answer is the companies that have the best brands.

Branding

It only makes sense though. If more photographers than ever are good enough, then what is the next thing a client will look for? I think they will choose the photographers that they connect with the most. And the best way to connect with a client is through the story your brand communicates.

Most photographers run businesses where they patched together their brand, logo, website, and story themselves to save money. This is fine for most people, at least for a while. But when your brand is the primary interaction a potential client has with your company, and honestly, most photographers don’t have great brands, you can set yourself apart if you get this right.

Here’s a story for you to prove my point. There is one business in our city that is still thriving when most of the others are struggling. They’ve raised their prices to the point of being the highest around, yet they still have at least twice as many booking as the next closest company. So what are they doing right? About a year ago, they spent an absurd amount of money to hire a brand designer. The branding process took them about nine months, but in the end, they came away with a new professional logo, an attractive website, and a clear story about who they were and why a client should hire them. At the time I thought they were crazy for going this route, but here they are a year later running a business that is dominating the market.

If you want to run a business that is ahead of the curve, then you need to clearly define the weaknesses of your competition and outdo them in that area. In 2018, the primary flaw in photography isn’t image quality or high pricing. It’s an understanding of branding. If you are having a hard time connecting with clients and want to set yourself apart for the long run, you should consider rebranding your business. Avoid the temptation to do it all yourself and blend in with everyone else. Count the cost and get it professionally done. Let your business communicate a clear message that says something more than that you are a good photographer. If you do it right, you will be miles ahead of your competition.

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11 Comments

Leigh Miller's picture

Agree...for the most part.

My close to 10 year experience in the business opened my eyes. The best photographers don't typically make the most money.

In fact I don't think many photographer possess the skills to overcome slow periods...like cold calling, branding etc. Thankfully I come from a corporate background where I learned marketing/sales/management which has helped me adapt and be flexible.

P.S. to this very day I still do at least 20 cold calls per day.

aaronbratkovics's picture

"In fact I don't think many photographer possess the skills to overcome slow periods." Where are you getting that information from? =]]

Leigh Miller's picture

Speaking to many photographers over the years...complaining about slow-downs, too many new photographers, photographers giving away work for free etc.

Get out of your studio and have a real conversation with people in our industry. You will hear it first hand for yourself.

Julien-Pier Belanger's picture

Dang right! Too many photographers spend so much time talking shit about why their business is slowing down that they don't realize they are actually running a business.

20 cold calls per day! Dang. You are my hero lolll. Seriously.
I personally talk to a lot of people in real life. You never know when that barista's cousin who happens to be a lawyer will need new headshots for her firm.

Leigh Miller's picture

Yup, I like the mortgage and toys paid for on time...all the time.

Mark James's picture

I think our culture is changing. A lot of people I talk to now days would rather spend good money on an experience. material things like pictures, which are a everywhere now, don't have the same meaning or value they once did, for many people.

Nailed it. Great article.

Ted McDonald's picture

I think it's more about value. Branding helps give customers the sense that they're getting more than what they're actually getting. For example, anyone can buy a regular T-shirt for $3 or a $25 ____ brand T-shirt. People pay for perceived value.

I'd also point out that with so many photographers learning online through photography blogs, along with the advancement of cameras, that it's fast-tracking newer photographers. Everyone knows someone who's a "photographer" willing to get a deal... value.

Bill Larkin's picture

Levi Keplar this is definitely a topic more of us should be focusing on. It's great and all to learn about the newest and best camera or lens but that isn't what puts food in our mouths and a roof over our head.

What I've learned with the same intended investigation is that is isn't one single thing. It's a combination of all the things you mentioned. Do the amateurs solely cause established pros to go out of business? no, of course not. But it isn't helping the situation any. You did hit the nail on the head with the no barrier for entry and then a high 'reward' making a pic of a pretty girl is rewarding. So its a low entry and high reward. Combine that with social media and the "good enough" thing you mentioned... the massive influx of photographers in every town is certainly bleeding the industry. To your point, I think we can survive, but in order to do so we must be able to first see all the problems then take steps to do something about it.

I'm glad to see this article I think more people need to give attention to this matter.

All those angry vloggers with Sony Eye AF must have saturated the market.

Julien-Pier Belanger's picture

And they are also WAY better than like 98% of those old photographers who refused to adapt