by guest contributor Steven McConnell
Open a photography magazine or a blog and you’re bound to read that today it’s hard – nearly impossible – to make a living as a full-time professional photographer.
Here are some of the reasons you’ll hear as evidence for why becoming a photographer is not a good idea:
“There are too many photographers giving away their work for free”, “too much competition”, “not enough photographers with solid moral values”, “everyone is doing shoot-n-burn”, “too many cheap DSLRs out there”, “everyone is a photographer these days”, “no-one buys prints any more – how can I possibly make money?”, “everyone is on Instagram, Facebook”, etc, etc.
I suspect that these opinions may be nothing more than legitimate-sounding rationalizations for established photographers’ individual business struggles rather than useful critical analyses of what’s really happening in the photography industry.
I decided to write this article because I fear that these opinions may be interpreted by talented, ambitious, passionate amateur photographers as rock-solid reality for what it’s like to be a professional photographer in 2013 – and extinguish their hopes and dreams of ever making their art into a full-time job.
Why Your Passion Can Be Your Job
I’m not about to sugarcoat it for you and say that it’s easy to make a living as a photographer, of course it’s not.
It requires clear thinking, discipline, focus, sacrifice, being a strategist, tactician and a worker-bee all at the same time, being OK with failure, constantly living on the edge, being OK with working 60-70 hour weeks and, most importantly, being committed to personal growth, learning about business and – of course – being the best photographer you can be.
And being able to enjoy every moment of all that.
I think it would be a tragedy if young photographers of today abandoned the idea that their passion and their job can be the same thing and choose to settle for dull, grey corporate jobs which they don’t care about – all because some blogger told them it’s the only plausible option they have if they don’t want to be broke all the time.
In this article, I want to take a closer look at the changes in the photography industry and ask – perhaps the changes we see are not threats to emerging and established photographers, but opportunities in disguise – and how can we take advantage of them to experience success?
Are You In Front Of Your Customers?
Internet. Google. Apple. Social media. Apps. Cloud.
For the purposes of brevity, let me refer to them as The Big 6 for the rest of the article. They’re cliches of the modern day – used so often in conversation and media that they have almost become filler words. But to treat them as such is a mistake.
Right now, your customers’ lives are wrapped around those 6 things in a way they weren’t 3 years ago. And in 3 years from now, their lives will be exponentially more integrated and enmeshed with aspects of the Big 6.
The question is – how much of your photography business is wrapped around them, too – so that you can be in front of, and relevant to, your potential customers?
Examine Your Current Business Model
Let’s have a look at some of the traps:
- Do you own a shopfront studio and pay massive rent, hoping that your return on investment will be foot traffic and brand exposure?
- Do you put up ads in local newspapers and industry magazines?
- Do you give away coupons and offer discounts to stimulate sales?
- Do you offer incentives for referrals?
- Are your prices high because you have a tonne of bills and wages to pay?
- Are you treating prints as your main/only revenue source?
- Are you refusing to offer digital products?
- Is your website simply a fancy brochure?
I’m not saying that those are bad choices. They can work. I’m saying, however, that today they’re lacking power in putting you in front of people who might want your photography. And they might cast you as not relevant to people who would otherwise want your photography.
They’re traditional methods of running a photography business – and unfortunately many photographers are still relying on them as their bread and butter.
These methods however, have nothing to do with the Big 6 – and for you to be competitive they need to be relegated to a position where they supplement your digital online strategies.
READ Part 2 of “Why There’s Never Been A Better Time To Become A Pro Photographer”
About the Author: Steven McConnell is a family portrait photographer based in Sydney. You can catch up with him on Google+.
Hey! I’m a big believer that a successful photography business begins with an empowering mindset. True, it’s important to be a savvy businessperson and a great photographer, but if your head space is not in a place which empowers you, no clever business ideas and amazing photos are going to carry the day. I find this a fascinating idea to explore because it helps illuminate the reasons behind our successes and failures and offers direct access to a fulfilling, profitable and meaningful job as a professional photographer.
Visit Steven at his WEBSITE | GOOGLE+
I think it a great idea to write this article.
The thought of a mindless aggravating job, just to have a paycheck makes me ill.
I listen to my inlaws complain all the time.
The insight and learning can help many that truly Love photography!
Looking forward to part 2.
I would like to thank you so much for this article. It is so refreshing to see something building up new comers to the industry instead of the same old, “leave it to those who are already here” that I read so much about. While I know that it does hurt when someone goes out and purchases a camera then immediately calls themselves a photographer, what I feel this article speaks to is those of us who have studied our craft and do shoot as often as we can to further our technical abilities because we do care about what we do and, well, why shouldn’t we have the opportunity to break into the profession just as those who are edtablished now had before us?
And finally, a huge part of being a successful photographer is being a smart and savvy business person who can understand the market and how it works. Part of this lesson is seeing a trend, which in this case is an influx of new talent and realizing that this environment creates competition. All of us have to innovate because its not just the established ones that have to worry its newbies too as they are working to establish their name amongst an already established group of names.
I thhink the bottom line is that for both new comers and established photogs alike those who innovate and work with the demands of the market while still delivering their beautiful and technically sound product will ultimately prevail afterall; it is a labor of love for our craft that keeps us going and rest assured those who got in because of a fad will phase out equally as quick.
Steven McConnell says
Thanks for making that point.
You’re spot on – the challenge for us is in being able to take a look at the world we live in today, the new expectations of our customers and our own current (and potential) abilities – and put it all together in a way which creates real value while nourishing our own souls.
The key point to realise is that the way we put it together might not look like what photographers in the past have done and that underneath it all, our reasons for getting into this game will determine whether we succeed or fail.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which explores that idea in a helluva lot more detail.
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