Is Professional Photography Dying?
Progress always comes with some downsides. For example, online banking and investing forced traditional banks and investment firms to downsize their work force; and, in the newspaper industry, print journalism is declining rapidly, with traditional publishers cutting staff by leaps and bounds.
So, what is happening to the photography profession?
Today we have amazing technology capable of producing increasingly sharper iPhone and point-and-shoot camera images; amateurs are capturing newsworthy events and sending them to news organizations, friends are being enlisted as wedding photographers and videographers. Most of them are not using a DSLR camera with a 70-200mm lens. They’re mostly using their phones.
And what if a photo does not turn out well? That’s okay, because that amateur photographer has taken 10 of the same shot, and one is bound to be good.
At first glance, and without much more thought, it would appear that the profession of photography is under attack and, just like it has happened so much before, it will be a victim of progress. Here are some realities of this “progress:”
- News organizations are openly soliciting amateurs to submit their photos and videos of events and reducing their photojournalist staff proportionately. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, photojournalists are the hardest hit of newsroom staff reductions.
- Some professional photographers are in such tough competition that they are lowering their prices to the point of not being able to make a living in the profession.
Antonio Olmos, an award-winning London-based photographer believes that photography is dying. He explains that the rise of photography in the 1850’s made painters of family portraits obsolete. Now, the same is happening to professional photographers:
“Photographers are getting destroyed by the rise of iPhones. The photographers who used to make £1000 for a weekend taking wedding pictures are the ones facing the squeeze. Increasingly, we don’t need photographers – we can do just as well ourselves.”
Is There Any Salvation?
Here’s the thing about professional photographers… they’re creative professionals who excel at several things:
- They understand the importance of telling a story with their images
- They understand composition, angle, and distance
- They have an eye for design, patterns, visual consistency, and white balance
- The “get” color and color correction, lighting, and shadows
- And they have embraced technology, and all of the creativity that it allows
Amateurs can capture 100 photos of the same event. And professional photographers can too, with digital technology. This is what many are calling the “democratization” of photography. The difference is the amateurs will post/send bunches of them without much discrimination; the professional will be selective and edit until he has told the story in a creative and compelling way.
Amateurs, Professionals, and Print
Digital wedding albums are a great option, as they also are for lots of other memorable occasions and events. They can be shared quickly and easily. Not so with print images of these same events. They are placed in frames or in physical albums.
When digitized photography is used, the creation of digital albums is easy and fast. But if printed images are desired, making physical copies of those digital images is not. What looks beautiful on an iPhone usually does not when blown up and printed out. Photographers understand the difference; amateurs don’t care.
Competition in a Contracting Profession
Despite the “claims” of naysayers who are in denial, professional photography is a contracting career. And the competition is tough. So, how do you maintain your career, keep your business thriving, and generate the kind of revenue you want? Here are strategies to consider:
1. Be a Brand
You want to be a unique presence within your market. What is the message you want to give your potential clients about you and what you do? You should encapsulate that into catchy visual and textual content and it should be consistently recognizable on your business cards, your website, packaging, everything.
2. Educate Customers and Potential Customers about Value
Research shows that consumers are willing to pay more if they see value in doing so. In the world of photography, there are those who look for the best price first, because they do not understand the value of hiring a professional who charges more. To them, a photograph by a true professional is no different than a photo at the mall.
You must educate the consumer. A professional photo shoot involves lots of time spent for a unique session – a session that involves the photographer’s art and creativity and “eye,” not to mention careful editing to get those finished products just right. A digital session at the mall will not do this.
3. Get Yourself Out There
Share your best work on your website, your blog, all of your social media channels. Ask your family and friends and your satisfied clients to share what you have done for them. Visuals speaks volumes more than words, and great photos will cause people to pause their scrolling and admire.
4. Tell Stories
If you have amazing photos and/or portraits, what is the story behind each of them? If you have those stories to tell, do so, on your social media platforms. Barring stories, how about inspirational quotes or creative captions to accompany your photos? People like stories and they like to be inspired by what they see. Always link back to your site and your portfolio.
If you have a strong digital presence, consider moving into foreign markets with your best work. Getting a website that appeals to a foreign audience means that you will need “localization” of your website and translation of your stories, captions, and quotes into that target language. Check out the pricing of a translation service, such as TheWordPoint – you will be surprised how inexpensive it may be. In the U.S., for example, there is a large Hispanic population and a growing Chinese one. Websites designed for these groups can be quite appealing.
5. Be A Business Pro
Running a photography business is not just about being an amazing artist. While it may the most distasteful part of what you do, you cannot afford to ignore the business side of what you do.
You are lucky to be operating now rather than 20 years ago. You have business and financial tools that your predecessors did not. You can use these tools to:
- Create branded materials for an introductory folder that you can provide to potential clients during a consult. This can include your pricing basics, contracts, releases, etc.
- Get some good financial software that will do everything from keep track of revenue and expenses, generate invoices, track payments, and even create your tax forms.
- Using tools such as these keeps your costs down too.
6. Speaking of Costs
Of course, running your business costs. There is the latest equipment to buy and/or replace; there are the costs of having a studio and/or reliable transport of that equipment to wherever you need to be. And if your geographic area is wide, this can be a pricey, but necessary, expense.
So, how can you control costs otherwise? Only you know this, but consider using email for invoicing and follow-up; track the effectiveness of your marketing and advertising, and eliminate those activities that are not generating business.
7. Consider Specializing
While you may engage in all types of photography, can you carve out a specialty area for yourself? Specialties are quite common now – babies, pets, real estate, product presentations, etc. Set yourself apart in some other way as well.
- Can you develop your own “branded” editing finishes?
- Can you get more creative with the props you are using?
- Can you design a captivating studio?
- What you want is your own signature style, so that your work is recognized and valued.
8. Gain a Following as Brand Ambassadors
Growing a business is all about relationships with customers and clients. Never look at a client as a one-time deal. You want a longer-term relationship so that that client comes to you for future photography needs.
The other benefit of building these relationships is that you can use these happy clients as brand ambassadors for your brand. You can ask for their references; you can ask them to refer you to others; you can ask them to post reviews of your great work on review websites and on your own site and social media accounts. Providing incentives for them to do these things works wonders too.
9. Generate Some Passive Income Where You Can
Can you sell reprints of your best work on your site, in appropriate shops and galleries? The more you can do this, the more passive income you can generate – income that comes in from multiple streams that you do not have to provide new work for. These activities also increase your visibility.
Yes, photography is a contracting career field. But there will always be demand for personal, professional work. The goal is to make yourself unique, to promote that unique brand, and to keep yourself on top of the pile. Clients still want value, and you can give that to them.