The good, the bad, and the ugly

The business of photography is a funny thing. It can allow us to be creative and make money doing so. That's the good.

Anyone can go out and buy a digital SLR and with little or no skill, training, or business principles, charge and receive money for their services. This clouds the market for skilled, trained, and principled photographers. That's the bad.

You can go to school, learn photography, work your entire life, and end up fighting to keep your business because of competition and a skin-of-its-teeth economy. That's the ugly.

It's not a simple issue to resolve. Inexperienced newcomers to the market are not trying, consciously, to undermine professionals. In many cases, these newcomers are servicing consumers who wouldn't otherwise be in the market for a professional photographer anyway -- a backyard birthday party, a christening, an elopement on the cheap. Why not let a beginner fill that need, at a discounted rate? They're just trying, as professionals do, to make a living. That said, it's tough for seasoned professionals to stand by and watch newcomers sell whole discs like beer bottles over the fence at a stag party. It sets a precedent that skews consumer expectations, and is unhealthy for the industry in the long run.

I have made my living in this business for over 30 years. I have enjoyed the good, I've been bad, and I'm so ugly now that my wife has to tie steaks to my face so the dog will play with me. When it comes to photography industry, I'm caught in the middle.

Here's what I'd say to everyone.

To the newcomers: Build a sustainable business plan. Don't under cut. If you want to hang a sign, charge a fair price for your service. If you're undercutting professionals because you feel like you've still got a lot to learn, make that discount (and the reason for it) clear to your clients. Learn, grow, market. Above all, enjoy all the good of launching a creative career.

To the pros: Change your marketing tactics. Embrace social media. Stop fighting change. We live in a capitalist society and a free country. Photography, like many industries, is not licensed or certified. Anyone can set up shop. This puts the onus on you to help consumers distinguish good work from not-so-good, and to help consumers understand that they'll get what they pay for. Join the discussions around what makes a professional, and mandatory certification. Learn from your competition -- even the ones you think haven't yet earned their chops. They're here to stay. Revisit your business plan. Invest some time into new ideas. Above all, enjoy all the good of having an established creative career.

To both sides: Don't ask me for advice, and then respond by saying That's not my style when I suggest a business plan. Good glass is nothing to a good plan.

What's your business plan? How do you see the good, the bad, and the ugly changing the photography industry?

Allen SutherlandComment