The good, the bad, & the ugly truth about the photography industry

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Truths of the Photography Business

The good, the bad, & the ugly truth about the photography industryThe title of one of my favorite Clint Eastwood Westerns sums up my thoughts on the current state of the photography industry pretty well.

Industries are evolving quickly, and digital technology has forever changed and disrupted many industries – from music to publishing, news to entertainment and beyond.

I once had a bookcase filled with hundreds of music CDs. Now, all that music is loaded onto my iPhone and into the cloud – my bookshelf of CDs sold off to used music stores.

Things change, and the photography industry has also revolutionized over the last decade or so, for better or worse.

Let’s dig into how recent changes have affected the industry, and what this means for you as you venture onto the exciting road of starting your own photography business.

The Good…

All this innovation has forever changed our lives for the better. Just think of how easy it is now to go online, type in ANY topic that you are interested in learning, and immediately, a wealth of knowledge is there at your fingertips…

…You can compare prices for any product you can think, and purchase the one with the best price with the click of your finger – without even having to leave the house.

The inception of digital photography has also changed the way we make photographs and share them.

1 – It has made it easier to practice and improve your craft

I can remember twenty plus years ago, shooting with film and having to wait almost a week to get my prints backs.

I would take detailed notes of what I did when I took the photos (f stop, shutter speed, flash distance to subject, etc.) and then review my notes as I looked at the photographs, trying to remember exactly what I did to make the photos look the way they did.

Today, you can simply look at the screen on your camera and have instant feedback on the results of your shot. You can look at your histogram to check your exposure and make changes on the fly.

No more film and processing costs- you can shoot to your heart’s content and learn as you go.

2 – It has made photography business more affordable

As things progress, cameras continue to improve in quality. They come with larger image sensors and lower prices, making it more affordable than ever to get a great quality camera.

Programs like Adobe Photoshop, along with a host of plugins and software, allow photographers to take their images to new heights of artistic expression with ease.

The business of photography is appealing to many people because number one, they love it (the most important reason,) and two, it is inexpensive to startup in comparison to almost any other type of business…

…For $10,000 (or less,) you can invest in a very professional camera, lenses, some flashes, a case and a powerful computer for editing and be pretty well set up. Don’t get me wrong – $10,000 is a lot of money – but again, not in comparison to setting up a lot of other businesses.

The Bad…

The digital revolution has created many new industries and opportunities, but as expected with new technologies, it has also shaken up the old ways of doing things.

Just as the downloading of music has killed many record stores, digital photography has put a lot of photographers out of business.

1 – Digital photography has wiped out photographers who weren’t quick enough to change

Some photographers hung onto film when digital first arrived. Some still shoot film and use this to their advantage, making film their niche.

However, some photographers could not adapt to the new technology and lost market share. Many younger photographers have never had to load film into a camera before, and this makes it easier for them to adapt to digital photographer.

2 – Anyone and everyone can call themselves a photographer

The biggest issue with digital cameras, though, is that they have made it very easy for anyone to jump into the field. Many beginners have nothing more than an entry-level DSLR camera and they immediately go out and call themselves professional photographers.

I’m not saying that that is wrong… of course, everyone has to start somewhere, and there is no shame in being a beginner!

The problem here is that with such a low barrier of entry, many hobby photographers jump in without understanding the work necessary to produce quality work and create a successful business, leading to too many photographers unfortunately failing to find success.

The Ugly Truth…

With everyone with camera phones continually posting poorly lit and composed images to social media, it really seems to have lowered the standards of photography.

Granted, we don’t expect snapshots to be works of art – they are simply capturing a moment! But this does lead to a couple issues…

1 – Some new photographers sell their work without refining their skills

Some new photographers offer their clients little more quality than what their clients are able to do on their phone – and they charge just dollars for a full disk of digital images.

What does the combination of the low barrier to entry to get into the photography business and lowered standards for photography mean for the photography industry?

2 – Clients are becoming trained to believe that photography is a simple commodity

Many clients have learned to think that photography is something that is very simple for just anyone to do. Therefore, many clients expect to go to a photographer and pay $50-$100 for a session AND a disc full of images (including rights to print and distribute as they please).

In my humble opinion, photographers as a whole are partially responsible for this shift when they agree to provide a DVD or flash drive of their images for a nominal amount like this. This does little to enhance the perceived value of portrait photography as an art form.

As you can probably imagine, this type of photography is NOT a sustainable business model! This is the reason why so many photographers decide to go pro and disappear seemingly overnight.

There’s Still Hope!

Because people are so overwhelmed with amount of images they are bombarded with on Facebook and all over the web, it’s more important than ever to strive to create outstanding portraits for our clients.

As professional photographers, our goal is to make the difference obvious to the average person comparing the quality of our photography to the snapshots online…

…Even if they can’t quite put their finger on what the differences are, they should be able to feel that the lighting and posing just seems more natural – or dramatic – or different.

The good news to all of the changes happening in the photography industry is that in a way, the large number of value-priced, shoot-and-burn photographers out there today make it easier for serious photographers to find the right clients.

Clients who are simply interested in snapshots and a disc to share on Facebook can flock to the low-cost photographers, leaving the field open for serious photographers to match up with clients searching for photographic artwork.

So, how can you set yourself apart as a serious photographer?

Raising the bar for the quality of your portraits, along with making each client feel truly special while providing a fun experience for them, will help separate the serious photographers in it for the long haul from the fly-by-night picture takers.

It’s up to you to decide…

…Do you want to go with the crowd and become a shoot-and-burn photographer? Or do you want to help raise the bar and create an artistic, sustainable, and successful photography business?

If you choose the later, we are very excited to have you here – let’s preserve photography as an art form together!

We invite you to jump in on the conversation!

What are your thoughts on the state of the photography industry? Leave your comments below!

  • Darryl Barnes Sr

    This is so on point. I enjoy showing people the truth about their cell phone images when it comes time to print them out. Giving quick tips to a well lit shot is a joy to me. It gives me the opportunity to lead them back to the need for a professional photographer. I like turning things around with the truth.