August 30th, 2011
A few truths: Professional doesn’t mean high quality and part time doesn’t mean poor quality. There is no correlation whatsoever. I see a good cross section of the industry as a trainer and there are good and bad photographers on both sides of the fence. There are uninsured professionals that churn out rubbish and there are expert amateurs making fine wedding albums. I agree with several of my Twitter followers that the term ‘weekend warrior’ is derogatory so I will use ‘second income shooter’ instead.
The perceived problem: Some full time professional photographers have a problem charging enough for their work to make living. Contrary to popular belief this problem is not the fault of second income shooters. As far as I can remember there have always been photographers who have had a regular job during the week and then shoot a wedding or two at the weekend. There have always been ‘Uncle Bobs’ prepared to do the job for free too. I started out as a second income shooter when I was at the BBC and so did many of the top professionals I know. It was, and still is, the sensible way for many to start out.
Market led prices: Market forces will always determine a fair price for the quality of photography on offer. The current oversupply in the middle and lower sectors of our industry has forced prices down. Acceptably good ‘pictures on disc’ photography packages can now be bought for around £1000. There is also a lot of rubbish on offer at this price point but those photographers offering inferior pictures or a poor customer experience will be less successful at getting clients unless they are expert marketeers. Brides do shop around.
Hobbyists are growing in number: Photography as a hobby is booming and nearly everyone it seems, now owns a good camera. There is an ever growing number of amateur photographers who want to start earning money from their cameras.
Amateurs have got good: It has become really difficult to take pictures that are significantly better than those that a keen amateur can take. Five or ten years ago when digital cameras were more expensive and kit lenses poorer in quality the pro-am gap was wide. Good DSLRs are cheap, easy to use and free to practice with.
Quality drop is market led: A growing number of the public no longer demand a high technical quality in photography. Just like the death of HiFi caused by the MP3 revolution, the photographic print has largely been replaced by the Facebook ready Jpeg taken on a smart phone. A young couple today don’t have a shoe box full of prints. Life has moved on since the turn of the century.
High quality still pays: The very best wedding photographers still earn a good living. So do the good second income photographers that hold on to all or part of their day job while photographing weddings at the weekend. Becoming a part time wedding photographer is often the wise choice in order to pay the bills and feed the family.
My advice to the full time professional: Be amazing, take fabulous pictures and deliver them in albums way beyond the scope of the amateur. Be the Jimmy Choo, or the Jaguar and charge a decent amount of money for a superb product. Be great at business. You will most likely spend 6 days working in your business for every 1 that you spend shooting weddings. Become a marketing expert and create an army of raving fans. They will be loyal and recommend you to their friends. Don’t blame others, stay positive and take responsibility for your actions. Embrace change and be creative.
My advice to the newcomer: Rise above the grumbles from disgruntled professionals. Get trained, do a great job, serve your customers well and enjoy your photography. If switching to part time is an option then consider that, but think carefully before giving up your job. Keep a steady income until you can charge enough for your wedding photography to replace it. Wedding photography can pay quite well but often not amazingly well, and certainly no more than it did five to ten years ago.
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