State of the photography industry

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by xxxxxx, Aug 14, 2006.

  1. I would like to hear what other full time professional photographers have to say
    about our industry. I would like to hear your views on where is it going? Is it
    getting better or worse? Is it harder or easier to turn a profit with the
    current state of digital photography or if you are a film shooter with film? Who
    do you see as your competition? And it you don't mind sharing what you are doing
    to place yourself in a better position, both in the eyes of your potential
    clients and financially? Any marketing changes? Changes in product lines or even
    changing the direction of your studio?

    If you are a part time professional photographer please do not take offense at
    my request. At one time I was a part time photographer until I took the leap of
    faith and made the commitment. When you make the change you will then understand
    why I made the request for full time professionals, your life will change, trust
    me I know.

    For those wondering what my views are, I will share them in about a week. I
    don't want to share them at this time because I don't want to poision the well,
    so to speak, by projecting my views. I am not looking to sucker anyone in and
    then jump on their case. I would really appreciate it if we could start an
    honest dialog based on what each of us is seeing our own corner of the world and
    specialty. I don't want this to become a flaming session. Hopefully we can all
    learn something from each other and become more enlightened professionals.

    Thank you for taking the time to read my post and responding. I know we all have
    busy schedules and it is difficult to take time out for something like this.

    Charlie Laumann
  2. I can't add to the discussion, as you say, I'm not a fulltime professional photographer, I
    retired to pursue my serious part-time photography, and so I won't take offiense. But that
    doesn't mean we can't add to the discussion with our experience and understanding of the
    industry, after all many of us have some experience and/or have contacts who are fulltime
    professionals, and listening to them we chose not to go fulltime. As you say, "Trust me, I
    know." And I don't see how expressing your opinion will "poison the well", as I doubt there is
    anything new in the general discussion, just personal experience. So, why not just state it so
    we can ask questions? I certainly would like to know more.
  3. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    Two things:

    1) This is and you can't restrict who responds to your posts. You can choose to ignore some responses, but you can't choose who will respond. If you want to control who responds, use one of the pro-only forums, usually requiring payment or membership in a professional organization. But it doesn't work on

    2) Many of the full-time professional photographers I know are part-time professional photographers. This reflects the state of the industry in perpetuity, not currently. Some work in labs, some in other people's studios, and some are printers for other photographers. Some have ordinary (non-photographic) day jobs now.
  4. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    I will add an interesting example.

    A friend of mine was written up by the daily press as "one of Canada's top commercial photographers." He started doing voice-overs a few years ago - it's hard to support a family even being one of the "top commercial photographers" in his market. So he is no longer full-time, but he knows more about the market and about photography than 99% of the photographers I know, and probably even a higher percentage compared to the posters here.
  5. And you think 10-15 responses will be enough of a sample of the population that you'll actually have valid information that will give you a representation of what you're asking for? Forums like this AREN'T CAPABLE of such results. It's only a place for people to discuss what interests them. In most cases, REAL pros don't hang out here. They're too busy working.
  6. Is the guy at the WalMart Studio a full-time professional? The one crushing kids through the lines for school pix? How about the guy with the camera store/digital quick prints and shoots studio/weddings on the side?
  7. "Is it getting better or worse? Is it harder or easier to turn a profit with the current state of digital photography or if you are a film shooter with film? Who do you see as your competition? And it you don't mind sharing what you are doing to place yourself in a better position, both in the eyes of your potential clients and financially? Any marketing changes? Changes in product lines or even changing the direction of your studio?"

    Ahhhh...thank you for reminding me why I quit doing photography full time - the crap you just cited is exactly what took all the fun out it. "Trust me I know"...
  8. Ok, I'll play...I have been a full time working professional running a successful business for
    the past 19 years. (I have never worked in a lab, camera store or any other photography
    related work)...I have been a shooter. I have supported my family, purchased a home 9
    years ago (for which the mortgage is nearly paid off) have two vehicles that are paid in full,
    no credit card fact no debt at all with the exception of what is left on the
    mortgage, provided insurance for the family,built up a fairly significant nest egg for
    retirement/emergencies ...

    I am in the process of shutting down my business. The work is harder to come by...clients
    that I have had for over a decade are purchasing their own digital cameras and a copy of
    adobe photoshop and doing the work themselves now. Everybody is calling themselves a
    professional now and taking "weekend/evening jobs". And ultimately, people in need of
    photography services are less demanding as far as quality goes. I have heard numerous
    times over the past year that at the wedding..."uncle Bob's" pictures were better than the
    hired "professional". Today the term professional photographer has lost all of its
    meaning. It used to be that if you were a professional you had a certain skill set that the
    general population could not emulate and you treated your clients in a professional
    manner. Today you are a professional if you have a digital camera and a copy of
    Photoshop or some other photo editing software. The 12 year old kid down the street can
    take a crappy photo and throw it into photoshop and make something out of it that has
    mass appeal.

    Additionally, I have found that I just don't like the direction that the industry has moved.
    Where I used to be out shooting and being active...I may have spent an hour at my desk
    each day....I now spend close to 8 hours a day at my desk processing digital images. I no
    longer enjoy it and my health has suffered from it. Since I "went digital" and purchased my
    1st digital camera and the computer and software to be able to use the thing (4 years ago)
    I have put on 30lbs. from sitting at a desk all day instead of being up and about on shoots
    and in the darkroom. The modern advances have changed the industry and my life
    significantly and I no longer enjoy what I, by the end of September my business
    will be closed and I will be moving on to my second career leaving the photography
    industry behind...and hopefully getting my health back as a direct result of the change.

    I don't have any marketing advise for you other than the fact that you now have to
    compete with the weekend warrior for jobs...which means you will have to price yourself

    When I step back and look at it objectively I just don't see much of a future in the
    photography industry....there will be less and less people able to make a living as
    photographers and more and more people able to make a little money with their hobby.
    There will continue to be a market for high-end weddings and high-end portraits and of
    course advertising photography. The mid-low range work will continue to dry up. I will
    not make a judgement if this trend is good or fact it is is bad if you are a
    full time professional photographer who has been working successfully in the low and
    mid-range markets and it is good if you are a weekend warrior/hobbiest who wants to
    make a little extra money every now and then.
  9. I have been an assitant and a shooter and I found the bussines more difficult than in the past, but in the past I was an assitant so I don't really know. I say is more difficult because the cost of doing bussines is more expensive with digital than with film. All my employers in the past send the chromes to the lab and that's it, now I have an expensive computer, a expensive monitor, a expensive color management crap plus I have to pay an extra to my assistant to deal with the files and then I have to deal with details so it is more time expensive and consuming.

    Also you need to keep your bussines running with public relations that now include technical explanations about why a 4x5 scan is better than the crappy digital file interpolated by infinite times and compete with a in-house 8mp camera. I have never did wedings and social photography but in the product-fashion categories the bottom line is lighting and not cameras that's the only hard fact that helps you sell specially with the new trend of digital brochures and catalogues (dvd-cd-webpage) many small companies don't go to press they just send that stuff to their clients so they don't really care about how it looks on a print.

    Other thing that is going bad is stock; the web has created such a weird market that you are now competing with guys all over the world, plus you have 1 dollar stock and the wish/creative/iwant stock so the small fish is not taking the Getty hook so often. When I was an assitant I remember one of my employers did stock when we didn't had a client and it was still a bussines because he used to say that a stupid expense is to have your equipment and team waiting to be used (kind of difficult to translate to English but that's the idea) Now it is still a bussines but not a great bussines.

    Due to the fact that I live and work in Mexico I have been able to avoid several things like a web page (that costs money specially the pro looking ones since I don't have flash or other cool software training) the digital back mayhem but I think this year is the sing of the swan and the new digital lenses for technical cameras (honestly I don't know what to do about them)

    On a brighter side since digital many old sacred cows of Mexican pro photography went to retirement so their assitants took their places and we have more chances, many companies that didn't had a catalogue now have one at least a digital one so here it comes the convincing routine the ones that had brochures-catalogues are still there and the best thing is that since digital has created a photography boom (everybody has a camera that creates a more or less good image) people are learning about photography and are developing a discerning (*X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#* my spelling) eye not a pro discerning eye but one good enough to now that evident crap is evident crap like moire, noise, over saturation, lack of dpis when printing big, aberrations due to interpolation and all the digital problems we know and love and to fight those problems you need pro gear or pro brains or better: both.

    So as the Bible says "you would get your bread with the sweat of your forehead" but I since I spend so much time in front of my computer......hahahaha
  10. The things I have seen from "pro" photographers. One gent shot a wedding with a new camera. First time out of the box: the camera had a sync problem [loose wire?] and he had a great number of 1/2 frame wedding images that were not exactly what he expected. Another gent was trying hard to get the one-hour lab manager to 'straighten' out the church wall that somehow was 'tilted' during exposure at the wedding he photographed.

    That said, it (staying in business) depends on how well your images are accepted by your current customer and your future customers. If you can only work two hours at a wedding and seem hurried to get in and then depart (time is money, right?) __ you may be chasing business without a chance of making a living.

    The end game is having great images: be it on film, or with a digital camera. [Some of us have a retirement income, so the aspect of starving to death is not a factor, and makes the life of a professional photographer a bit less of a risk.]
  11. I can relate to J. Scott Schrader's post in totality on several fronts. My company has been a multimedia studio before the term became a household word. Mostly a recording studio(another dying division), but doing photo and video work as well. Along came the Apple, then the 386, then the community college trained "pro's" time in the field, no being mentored in the craft....just credentials and hardware. To me not the same at all. On the audio side, we used to dub down to a cassette tape so the client had to come back...(and pay!).. before being they want a CD dupe, and then disappear because cousin Vinny has a new Dell with 24 bit blah blah... blah. On the photo side much the same.we used to handle retouch, enlargements, cropping, they want the image Cds and to wallymart with their coupons. In my office I have a mini museum of old photo gear, even my Maxxum sits on a shelf next to the old bellows Agfa and a few Brownies,etc. We have tried to innovate and strategize, but the other observation is what has become acceptable to the general public has changed greatly. I believe the standard has gone down, save for the creative minded and stubbornly cynical of the media industry at large. We have very expensive analog tape machines we probably could't give away now (an exaggeration but I think you can see the parallel) The quality of labs has in my opinion declined as far as film is concerned, we quit using several that used to be adequate because they all but destroyed our film (scratches, drips, fingerprints...but HEY! we put'em on a CD fer ya!),evidently an inconvenient side-line now, or the employee training or budget is not there anymore. We have tried to keep up but are increasingly lowering our standards in order to compete, and this I really can't abide. We love to shoot and will continue til the arthritis prevents the trigger finger from doing so. In direct proportion to the ratio of frames on a 1gig card compared to a roll of X-PAN, the volume of output necessary to generate revenue is becoming overwhelming. In our area the yellow pages are burgeoning with wedding photographers, several times more than there used to be. Some as you probably know incorporate photos, video, AND a DJ!..I personally despise DJ's because they put musicians out of work and make money from others work and don't pay royalties.(I digress)I found a 1993 phone book in the bottom of a file cabinet and looked at the photo section....three theres at least a dozen. Thankfully we don't do too many weddings anyway, but sheesh...where do they all come from? Is there an Ansel Adams photo camp in the Catskills? Oh yeah...I forgot..the local community college has a class...that's it!.. these folks have all been trained! I feel that as an artform photography will be here always, but the discerning eye will have to be reeled hopefully people on this site. Ya gotta love it. During my short stint in Hollywood,(a LONG time ago) a film director told me.."This is #@**$!! I could make a better movie from what was on the cutting room floor." The objectivity and the attention span of the viewing populus is I believe in a very sad state. That is also sadly,the state of the industry. If it is what you love, keep shooting. But remember that a couple hundred thousand Chinese made digital cameras are being offloaded from a freighter by the San Pedro docks, and headed for a wallymart near you......

    Hope this rant was helpful Charles, I know it wasn't a lot of shutterspeak, but I think this craft like other creative endeavors is becoming a labor of Love. Good luck in your pondering. Keep shooting!

  12. Interesting question, and the general anser to that would be - it's going where every industry goes over a period of time... Let's face it, people will flock to wherever there is money to be made, and let's face it, there is (or, should I say was?) a decent amount of money to be made in photography. As long as you were good at your work, and not to forget, good at marketing yourself.

    Every new "entrant" tends to drop their rate, hoping to get a foot in the door, and that's how the downlide begins. True for every industry, including this one. And there have been 'entrants' by the thousands owing to digital photography.

    As with any other business, there were - and are - entry barriers. Primary amongst them were (1) The cost of good equipment needed to deliver good results, (2) The learning curve, (3) The delivery medium sought by purchasers / end users.

    The advent of digital photography has impacted each and every one of the above.

    Sure, In (1) above, the high-end digitals do cost a decent sum, but let's face it, prices are dropping even as I pen this. Not only do prices keep dropping, but one also gets more mega(pixels)bangs for the proverbial buck.

    Delivery medium for high-end applications used to typically be transperiences. Not only did slide film cost more, but so did the cost of developing. The cost of obtaining a publishable image hence, was much higher in the 'good ole' days", given the cost of slide film, it's exposure latitude, it's intolerance for overexposure (I still mantain that the way to really learn exposure is to shoot slides - their intolerance to exposure goof-ups makes for real costly mistakes!)etc.

    Learning curves, needless to say were much steeper.

    Now with the advent of digital photography, everybody wants to be a photographer (or, at least try and sell their images on the side!). You have no recurring costs of film, and hey, if you screwed up the exposure, just delete the shot! Don't like the composition, just delete the shot! You get the picture (pun intended!)?

    And then, you go sell 'em on a royalty-free basis

    The average john/jane doe of this kind of 'photographer' is bound to get a few decent shots over time, shots which he/she can sell. Not knowing better, they tend to go the royalty-free way.

    What with this glut of images flooding the market, the simple law of supply-and-demand dictates that prices at which images can be sold, goes down. The availiblity of images is further compounded by the plethora of sites from which one can buy images off the net.

    Need I say more?

    At a recent exhibition of mine, a gentleman who went on for quite a while about photography vs art, ended up asking me how much most photographers make as a living, and in a lighter note I shot back with "like true artists, they mostly starve"

    As for me, I am a professional photographer. One who compounds his photography income by operating photographic tours and workshops -- I guess that does not disqualify me as a pro, does it?

    Neville Bulsara

    Travel and documentary photography
  13. As a near full time pro (I also retouch professionaly... gotta pay the bills!) I can also add my view on this.

    The middle class of photography is dead. When I was trying to move out of portrait work (which was lucrative, but not very predictable), I started doing more fashion work. The amount of times I would meet small fashion labels who EXPECTED the photogrpapher to work for NOTHING - and to provide all the images on CD royalty FREE, was astounding. The worst thing is, there are literally hundreds (in London) of wanabees offering to shoot this stuff with their DSLR. Even worse, when the shots end up poorly lit and looking like cr*p the client is fed the line that it is artistic - if you don't believe me pick up a copy of a top end fashion magazine (ie iD or Dazed and Confused) and check out the frankly amateur photography masquerading as 'cool' and 'urban'.

    So we end up with the old paradigm of a vanishing middle class. I was trained by a photographer who spent 30 years shooting weddings and portraits. He was never known outside of his small city, however he paid off his million dollar house, has a yacht and put 3 kids through uni (college). He has now quit photography and is making lots of money training the horde of new photographers entering the market (including me).

    That said there is always opportunity, the market has sure changed in the past 3 years that I have been in it, and is unrecognizable from the market 30 years ago - we need to change the way we do business to survive and prosper in this new brave world...


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