I begin to write this first article as I fly to Las Vegas to work for CreativeLIVE as a producer assistant and gear handler. This is during the same time as the WPPI conference where seasoned and novice photographers alike, come together to learn from the experiences and methods of instructors who do not hold back in sharing their knowledge.
I find the world of the photographer a fascinating, exciting, adventurous and yet frustrating place to be in todays digital world.
Things have changed immensely since the not too distant film based business and practice. The professional photographer commanded higher respect in his or her specialized skill. They offered service and were compensated appropriately without question. The field was much less saturated; business owners kept trade secrets and ideas to themselves. Generally they were not involved in camera clubs or forums unless running one for enthusiasts, not their competition.
Fast forward to digital, around 2007 when pro level cameras started to merge film faithfuls to the sensor. This brought together the marriage of photography with the computer for editing purposes. Along with this new form of photography came the mistress, social media, who changed the business of studio and wedding photography forever. It catapulted the careers of many and continues to be a blessing overall, but there’s always a catch.
In walks the DSLR kit camera. Designed as a photo enthusiast or amateur body, folks took a handful of nice shots on automatic mode with it, posted on a social media platform and felt a great sense of accomplishment. Through the encouragement of friends and family impressed with the ‘fancy looking camera’, started a business page on Facebook prematurely. Suddenly, there was an exponential growth of newcomers in the profession. Many of these shutterbugs merely became Someones Name Photography without the proper training, equipment or experience via the Facebook pages system. On the Facebook platform you are welcome to start a page without documentation of actually being in business. i.e. Sales tax #, an invoice with company name, etc…
What has happened as a result? The implied value of the professional photographer has been compromised. In order to become known and grow their newfound passion, assuming small businesses with little marketing or applied business knowledge inevitably make a promotional poster to send out on local community Facebook news groups, sharing price structures pulled from other ‘new to business photographers’. A two to four hour portrait session with unlimited wardrobe changes, artistic edits, hmmm… digital files for the low price of $______ I have seen it for well under $100. time and time again. Weddings are no different, just a little more.
Who is suffering from this new photography market? The consumer and client for sure, in our bargain driven society they may believe that if someone puts the word photography with their name it surely must be a skilled artisan. The photographer does the session and uh oh, what went wrong? After all, the client took time to get themselves or family ready, told their friends and showed up in a field somewhere or in front of a horrifying backdrop. I wonder how that digital delivery went for them?
These ‘professionals’, anxious to get started as soon as the plastic is removed from the kit DSLR, will soon find themselves working at Acme and having to give up the dream. They set themselves up for failure with the very first poster they uploaded on social media. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty who move on and realize they better learn some things first. The ones that don’t, and they are the majority, disappear as fast as they came, leaving their pricing model behind and ingrained in the consumer conscience.
What about the truly time-honored and practiced photographers? They do not worry about the aforementioned ruining the market. Consumers who utilize the bargain photographers are not the same as those that understand the value of skilled photography or seek a luxury brand. But it sure makes it harder when many so clients nowadays in this digital world believe they should have all of the downloads so they can run to Costco for inferior printing. This did not happen in the days of film. Can you imagine handing film over to a client for a price?
So here we are having to answer the question as gracefully as one can, why Sally or Billy only charges $______ for so much more … than your services offer me. Yes, times have changed since film when you never saw an ad in the newspaper like we see on social media. I checked out on their page what high quality means to the posting party below. Was it my Mom who said, you get what you pay for? Identity hidden to protect the innocent.
(a screenshot from Facebook)
As professionals, we must accept that this pattern is not going away. Every week there will be a newly excited shutterbug making a business page in your community. Before I began writing this segment I checked and there were 3 within a couple of days in a (small community) forum group on Facebook with more than 17,000 members.
Truly I wish the best for anyone picking up a camera and wanting instant gratification (in business). But there are proper steps one needs to take before a page on Facebook is created. These individuals won’t be looking at this blog any time soon though, so I am speaking to those colleagues who have the ability to take these fledglings under their wing and offer help. Gone are the days of trade secrets; everything one could want is on the internet. As a facilitator of photography groups on Facebook I see some of the newbies (as they like to call themselves) learning at a quick pace and understanding that nothing is more valuable than proper training. The ones that do make it will have gained skills more rapidly than any era before these times of community sharing. In my groups, as with many others, there are highly trained photographers willing to help raise the standards and skills of this new generation of photographers and elevate them beyond a coupon service. Below is another example and this is commonly how it all begins.
I love how everyone chimed in with “how much” while one person gave some advice. The comment blew me away. I (liked) it. I recently posted images in this same hometown community group with a call for clients. I told them “Beauty happens in my studio” and included a gorgeous photograph and… crickets. This person has people screaming ‘how much’ … before she even got started. The public is conditioned to hold out for the cheapest price to surface. Yes, I see folks often asking for referrals of dare I say, cheap photographers. I once responded to a list of 20 or more referrals, describing my rate and service begins at $1000. Just for giggles. I knew they wanted that $50. session… I am obviously not their girl.
Anyway, I urge the working photographer to get the message out in these forums. Don’t be upset because someone joined a group as a newbie. Be ecstatic they did. Instead, help them to learn their gear, understand light and the importance of practice. Direct them to watch You Tube tutorials Udemy, CreativeLIVE or other sources. Advise the newbies to take a year and learn the skill while building a portfolio of good work before they make a business page. We all had a beginning, keep that in mind as you help mentor.
Ironically this popped up in my Twitter feed right after publishing the article. It is related material and worth a listen. The rush to get started really needs to be a slower process is what I want to interject in this posting,. As Zack Arias explains through sharing his own perils when he started, you should shoot for free first actually as you learn and create a portfolio base instead of working for an unrealistic discount. Understand the process before putting out there unattainable service for very little consumer investment. Listen to the hour long podcast as you edit. Invaluable insight.
There are many talented emerging photographers I have met who are developing their voice. They are getting the necessary training and giving it all they got. Hope is not lost for the newbie–not by a long shot.
The images below by Carol Roberts are an example of how far one can come in a short period of time. She has been doing photography for only 18 months and working with today’s trend of textures and overlays. Carol has a great sense of imagination and style.
I wish to finish on this positive note as I am not writing this to be a sour sort. It is my intention to help our industry survive this challenge that unfortunately will be hard to change. In light of this, within my next Views on Social Media article here on Photo Communiqué, we will hear from some of the newbies and working professionals on what the forums are doing to help their businesses and practice. Stay tuned.
Carol Roberts of Precious Posh Photography
Click the above images for full lightbox view.