What’s really happening in our industry? – Have your say

Dec 13, 2008 | Business | 15 comments

“One of the UK’s finest portrait photographers recently said in an email to a prospective fellow professional, “If I’m brutally honest…

It's that time of year when we start to think about escaping to paradise so I thought I'd share a few of my Turks and Caicos pictures with you. Julie and I were commissioned to train the wonderful staff of island based Tropical Imaging a few years ago. It was a sensational trip.

… “I know of very few photographers who earn as much money as they should.  It’s a tough business right now, and it won’t have escaped your notice that the “names” have turned to training. That said, there will be winners and losers and the industry desperately needs a purge of the many who are keeping the quality and prices down.”

She went on to say “The middle market for portraiture and weddings is the hardest place to be at the moment – it’s saturated and cut throat. The top end of the market has proved the most rewarding for a few of the best photographers, but it’s a difficult sector to crack as it’s all about contacts, referrals and reputation. Good communication skills are mandatory at the top end plus the levels of service and presentation need to be second to none. The feel good factor is what high end clients demand and that means a great customer experience delivered with energy, passion and excitement. It’s also a transfer of enthusiasm that often secures the best bookings. Fine quality photography showing a distinctive style is a given at this level.” – I think she is absolutely right.

Wow - It beats my local beach.

Grace bay certainly beats my local beach.

I believe at this moment we have more people studying photography than there are jobs in the industry. A high number of up and coming photographers graduating from media art collages intend to run their own business yet they often leave full time education woefully equipped to succeed. There are other newcomers of course, among those are photographers in their 30s and 40s joining the industry from other careers. These people are more likely to experience success due to their ability to set out goals, fund training, and plan for the future, plus they often find it easier to earn the respect of clients and are already accustomed to the relentless hard work associated with running a business.

I had a meeting today with Pippa Walkley the national coordinator of Skillset, a public and privately funded body licensed to promote growth in the media arts industry. Pippa and I discussed the training needs of new photographers and how the massive industry changes over the past five years have impacted on the established traders, including labs. We went on to discuss future training strategies and how we can start to fill the skills gaps evident across the board. It is worth being aware of the resources Skillset has to offer photographers. They are one of the easy to miss grant providers waiting to help us succeed in business. They don’t just give out money though, they provide funding only to those individuals who are investing in training, who have a definite strategy for success and a well thought out plan of action. If you want help establishing a set of achievable goals and identifying a plan of action to make them happen, then drop me an email.

I love the colour of this water.

I love the colour of this water.

Photography has seen massive growth among the amateur sector and turning pro remains an attractive escape for back to work mothers and desk job career junkies who want out of the rat race. There is always room in any industry for exceptional talent and I for one am always on the look out for it.

I believe we all have a responsibility to ensure the long term health of the professional photography industry.

Here is your chance to have your say. I’d love to hear about your experiences of starting out as a professional photographer, plus your visions of the future. Please post comments below…

Damien Lovegrove.

15 Comments

  1. Coventry Bob

    Hi Guys

    Are we missing something with all this discussion about price, quality and value. I operate in the £500/1000 for a full day package with a Graphi album for an extra £500. Not exactly a bottom feeder however definitely a chasm away from Damien’s super league status but never the less a reasonably lucrative market. If you ask Damien’s or my clients if they have had value for money they would say definitely (and I check with phantom shopper feedback). The point is we operate in different niche’s of the market. My clients do not expect two shooters plus a gofer turning up at their wedding, just little old me. They also know I work from home and don’t have a superb studio in a beautiful part of the West Country. I haven’t studied art direction at the BBC but I’m certainly trying to attain the very high standards set by Lovegrove Inc. I invest in training, attend seminars and am awaiting the latest DVD’s from Nailsea. I’ll keep on trying to improve my service levels however for now my clients get £1500 of unbelievable service – when I can deliver £5000 of top notch over the moon service then I’ll be competing with Damien et al. Until that day arrives I’ll keep on striving to be a little better every time I step behind the camera.

    Reply
  2. Pat

    Andy,

    Your last example is quite frightening when people will spend thousands on Venture but think somehow wedding photography is not in the same league or better.

    I think this comes down to education and that responsibility comes to down to us to become better at marketing and selling what we do.

    Whilst there is nothing wrong with Venture pictures and they are quite quirky/funky, there is not the quality found in a photograph from a quality wedding/portrait photographer.

    The success of Venture is down to their marketing and high-pressure sales. I don’t believe in high pressure sales – great images should sell themselves. And on that note it is also down to us to show potential clients what great value for money they get with us compared to the £500 merchant down the road.

    We also need to get away from clients that buy on price alone – thankfully I believe these are mainly the ones looking for photographers in the £200-500 range ;-)

    Cheers,

    Pat

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  3. AndyB

    Cris

    I think you will be shocked at what the general public know about photography :-) We have clients who live in Council houses, have a 5k wedding budget and 2.5k of it comes our way. You then meet with a company director who lives in a large house, drives a Jag and has Venture portraits on the walls that must total about 10k. But they somehow think wedding photography should be cheap and can’t understand the work or Art involved.

    Over time I am sure you will have similar meetings.

    Andy

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  4. Cris Matthews

    Thanks Andy,

    I think someone spending £5000 on wedding pictures can tell the difference from photos taken by someone for £500. So if you are at the top of your game then newbies surly are not a threat?

    I really like the insight this blog (and others) is giving into the future of the industry. I for one am trying to look for something I can offer that no one but a pro could offer, then I will have the unique selling point Damien talks of, for me I think there is something in hybrid shooting both video and photos with digital output and a high additional premium for prints and albums. This is something that an amateur could never offer in the time-scales and level of finish a pro could.

    Cheers

    Cris.

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  5. AndyB

    Cris

    Interesting comments, but you are looking at things with a photographers eye. Your right that the guys at the top of their game are poles apart from the cheaper guys but many people just can not see the difference.

    I regularly hear friends say they are going to get there mates to photograph their weddings as apparently they shoot as well as I do :-)

    Andy

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  6. Cris Matthews

    I have read all this with great interest.

    I am probably one of those you would class as an amateur with pro kit, giving it a go and trying my luck. I have recently been made redundant and Photography is an area I would dearly love to move into.

    I am spending my time now I am “between” jobs improving my photography, I have spent a couple of days with Marko so I can make the most of my current abilities and I am taking pictures of just about anyone who asks, I’m not taking business from anyone as these people wouldn’t pay for photos taking anyway, if anything I am increasing the market size. I am still looking for work in other areas, but improving my photography is my current day job.

    I think the point I would like to make is that you guys at the top of your game surly have nothing to worry about. Take me for example, I am years and years away from the quality I see on this and many other sites, from what I can see the work still stands apart from everything else in the market. In my area, Yorkshire, there are 100’s (literally!) of people calling themselves professional photographers, but only a small handful that are any good. To me this still seems to be quite a small pool of people for a market where people still have money to spend.

    If anything I think the current economic environment will scare aware anyone who doesn’t have a talent, in a market where the target quality of the product is so high it’s hard to break into (as I am finding out :) ) so I think most people will drop away unless they have a real talent.

    Cheers

    Cris.

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  7. Coventry Bob

    I would like to pitch a curved ball into this debate and ask the question “has anything really changed in the wedding photography business?” Are we not all becoming a bit paranoid about the profession and the pressures on the full(!) time professionals who seem to be bemoaning their inability to generate a reasonable income whilst operating in an increasingly competitive marketplace. I must come clean and say that I have for the past thirty years been able to undertake (part time) lucrative wedding jobs during the busy summer months. I studied photography at Art College in the 70’s but realised it was nigh on impossible to make reasonable money unless you were one of the few well paid pro’s who had an artistic eye. In the 70’s well paid work was easier to find than a job in photography so part time summer weddings jobs sufficed to pay for my new kit etc. This situation remains to the present day with colleagues doing part time summer weddings and earning upto £15k. I also hasten to add these guys have moved with the times and in the main are “Shoot and Burn” guys who have responded to customers requests for images on a DVD that can be processed at Tesco’s. The current economic situation with many mature guys (like me) moving into the sector and offering more and more services will become fiercely competitive. Another factor impacting on the market will be government policy to focus on entrepreneurship and the encouragement of art graduates (and others) to consider self employment (these guys will have the core photography skills but will need artistic style training from Damien). Couple these issues with the advent of the digital darkroom and increasingly low start up costs (typically around £10k if you buy the basic equipment as used by Damien) we could say the time is not right to get into the wedding photography sector.
    I would prefer to look at these issues in a different light and say the future has never looked better. The levels of business professionalism are ever increasing, the technology is at an interesting point with the recent DSLR video product introductions, the fabulous training opportunities we can now access are getting better (led admirably by Damien and his team) and greater customer awareness driving us toward higher value services and products.
    Yes it will be challenging over the next few years but I know I like nothing better than the adrenalin rush of running around an old dark and dusty english church with the light fading fast producing images that reduce the bride and her mother to tears of joy when they view my DVD.
    I hope this adds to the debate in a meaningful way because nothing beats that moment when the shutter clicks.

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  8. Pat Bloomfield

    This is an interesting topic and so are peoples’ comments so far.

    I’m currently Semi-Pro with two wedding seasons under my belt. When I first thought about going Pro it was originally fashion & motorsports that inspired me. If you had asked me two years ago if I wanted to do weddings, it was probably about bottom of my list.

    However, having your job off shored can make you change your mind about a lot of things. Despite having work published in motorsports I quickly learned that it was also a saturated market and even the “successful” guys were struggling to make a living. Added to that the race circuits were becoming full with amateurs with professional level of equipment, who were more than happy to give their pictures away for the pleasure of being published. Nothing wrong with that, but with an uncertain future I decided to give weddings a go.

    Weddings are extremely demanding but I did a lot of hard work and quickly got up to a professional standard achieving LSWPP. Early weddings were easily picked up as I was doing them very cheap, however, now that I have increased my prices enquiries are few and far between. Although prices have risen they are still less than Damien suggests in previous articles.

    Two years ago I did manage to find other work within my current organization, however, I fully expect to run out of luck in the next few months. Then I will have to go full time professional photographer and hope that the massive investment in training and equipment will pay off and that I’ll start to see more work as I can devote more time to marketing.

    I know that I cannot reduce my prices as that would just not be possible to live on, so the only way is up. The jump from decent paying photography to those upper echelons is massive though and I’m in two minds whether to just continue as I am for now or substantially increase my prices. I think my style, which attempts to bring in fashion/glamour will appeal more to those in the upper echelons but it’s the confidence and the know how to reach out to those markets that I’m currently lacking.

    Hope you don’t mind that long write up about my personal situation Damien but believe I’m not that untypical to the kind of person driving to make the cross-over. I am in my early 40’s BTW and I think that definitely does help with confidence from a client’s perspective.

    Pat in East Anglia, UK

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  9. John Rahim

    Great post and some very insightful from fellow bloggers however I think Damien’s last comment has summed it well.

    In order for social photographers to survive the next couple of years of economic uncertainty we will need to work harder and smarter than before. Above all we will need to act in a highly professional manner when working with clients and prospects.

    Before working as a photographer I worked in marketing agencies selling services to the banking and Government sector. Every time I had a meeting or did a presentation I was 100% prepared. Many photographers I know take great pictures however are sloppy individuals who believe that their “art” will shine through. In some cases it does however, things such as presentation, ability to show demonstrate and articulate artistic vision along with a good understanding of finance and marketing will be imperative to survive the current economic downturn. Also this tact will separate the professionals from the amateurs trying to make a quick buck on the side who are looking to supplement their income. I have read a lot of photographer’s wanting to purge the industry of “people keeping the quality and prices low”, This is a ridiculous concept as it’s totally subjective and in an unregulated industry such as social photography impossible to enforce. This recession will undoubtedly have a Spartan effect and only the fittest and best will survive, in the long term this will have a positive effect on the industry as quality will pushed up and the level of professionalism will improve. The problem thus far is that we have all had it too easy and now we need to work harder and smarter however in my view this will be put the industry in good stead, so no need to worry about the amateurs who probably will go back to their day jobs before the year is out.

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  10. damien

    Thanks for the inteligent and extensive contributions.

    It is obvious to me that on an individual basis there are many stories of growth being driven by positive and tallented photographers. My consulting clients are no exception.

    Maintaining the status quo for many photographers over the coming months will need more marketing effort but is completely achievable with the right drive.

    What is more interesting is the future of professional photography beyond the immediate economic turmoil.

    Will there be growth to match the amateur market? Will the video and stills genres continue to merge and what are we doing to prepare ourselves to meet the new products our clients will demand.

    Damien.

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  11. AndyB

    Interesting topic, I have seen no change at all in booking numbers for next year and enquiries are still coming in strong. If you have a strong brand and quality work we will be fine.

    Andy

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  12. Wing Liu

    Well, of course we just have to carry on working and ignore things. A lot of my friend why come back to HK? But it is my home after all and work / life balance is good for me. I make my own rules and hope the customers like what I do – a bit of east and a bit of west – best of both world.

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  13. Ken

    Great topic…..

    My take is from a perspective of age 62. I am a part time professional photography. Legally speaking, the only difference between a pro and amateur is one is paid the other is not, that is according to the NCAA.

    Do my clients get charged as much, lets say Joe McNally. Why, Joe’s work far superior to my work and he is better photographer than me, so is Scott Kelby, etc, etc.

    I live in a state with only 4 and 1/2 million people. So the pie is small here.

    I turn down weddings shoots, cause I am not that good at this. I refer them on to others. I have the skills to shoot a weddings but I know they will get a better value with a “wedding photog”.

    All you established pros I do feel some empathy for you all. But we are not in a new paradigm like or not.

    Most all professional photographers sell their time and concepts for guys like me to be a better photographer. Surely they are not so naive to think some of us will go into business to pursue our passion.

    Digital and Photoshop is the main reason I can. It’s the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about.

    In my area in David Ziser, a world class wedding photographer in his own right. David may have to “take down” some prices because of out economy, but Davids work will always be in demand, he is that good.

    A guy like me a “newbie” will struggle. That’s ok. But I do nice work, not “top shelf” stuff though.

    Each industry goes through a “cleansing” from time to time. It out turn now. No big deal really.

    Just be glad you are not real estate professional now. These guys are really suffering.

    I use to be a Hospital Chaplin. I never meed anyone on their death bed that said they wished they had make one more sale or been a better photographer,etc etc.

    Ken in KY

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  14. Romin Lee Johnson

    I turned pro last year when I became a contractor for a well-known photography studio in Northern New Jersey. From the contacts I made through the studio, within a month I was shooting for two other studios in the area. Shooting for these three studios over the past two seasons has given me the opportunity to expand my portfolio substantially, as well as affording me the opportunity to finish my Bachelor’s degree that I had put off for a few years.

    I’m moving with my wife and our baby boy to Seattle in February and I’m both excited and anxious about relocating my business and starting from scratch. I will almost certainly continue shooting for other wedding studios for the consistency and contacts, but I’m planning on rebranding and updating to a more flash-based portfolio website before investing in advertising.

    Every pro was once an amateur. “Purging” the industry of lesser talent is not something that anyone has any control over, so why fret? Focus on your own craft and leave amateurs be.

    Thanks for the link to Skillset, I’ll be sure to check them out=)

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  15. Wing Liu

    In Hong Kong

    We as photographers are killing each other by undercutting and amateurs will do photography for nothing – giving away really decent works for nothing (not even money for a thank you meal) even to some big stars (they were prepare to pay because they use the photos for work) in the entertainment industry which is pure wrong.

    They are creating a NO VALUE situation where people will look down at photographers as they believe anyone can become a photographer!!!???

    That’s what is the fundamental problem at least here in HK

    In UK and USA, I fear with more corporation shutting down and heavy worldwide recession (I watched news Woolworths is on bankruptcy protection and I feel sadden – left UK about 1.5 years ago and move back to HK after 25 years in Europe).

    Professional photographers will find it harder and harder as we are not really the most essential things in life (I guess not to us photographers).

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