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State of the photography industry

Charles Laumann , Aug 14, 2006; 09:08 p.m.

I would like to hear what other full time professional photographers have to say about our industry. I would like to hear your views on where is it going? Is it getting better or worse? Is it harder or easier to turn a profit with the current state of digital photography or if you are a film shooter with film? Who do you see as your competition? And it you don't mind sharing what you are doing to place yourself in a better position, both in the eyes of your potential clients and financially? Any marketing changes? Changes in product lines or even changing the direction of your studio?

If you are a part time professional photographer please do not take offense at my request. At one time I was a part time photographer until I took the leap of faith and made the commitment. When you make the change you will then understand why I made the request for full time professionals, your life will change, trust me I know.

For those wondering what my views are, I will share them in about a week. I don't want to share them at this time because I don't want to poision the well, so to speak, by projecting my views. I am not looking to sucker anyone in and then jump on their case. I would really appreciate it if we could start an honest dialog based on what each of us is seeing our own corner of the world and specialty. I don't want this to become a flaming session. Hopefully we can all learn something from each other and become more enlightened professionals.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post and responding. I know we all have busy schedules and it is difficult to take time out for something like this.

Respectfully, Charlie Laumann

Responses


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Scott M. Knowles , Aug 14, 2006; 09:44 p.m.

I can't add to the discussion, as you say, I'm not a fulltime professional photographer, I retired to pursue my serious part-time photography, and so I won't take offiense. But that doesn't mean we can't add to the discussion with our experience and understanding of the industry, after all many of us have some experience and/or have contacts who are fulltime professionals, and listening to them we chose not to go fulltime. As you say, "Trust me, I know." And I don't see how expressing your opinion will "poison the well", as I doubt there is anything new in the general discussion, just personal experience. So, why not just state it so we can ask questions? I certainly would like to know more.

Jeff Spirer , Aug 14, 2006; 09:54 p.m.

Two things:

1) This is photo.net and you can't restrict who responds to your posts. You can choose to ignore some responses, but you can't choose who will respond. If you want to control who responds, use one of the pro-only forums, usually requiring payment or membership in a professional organization. But it doesn't work on photo.net.

2) Many of the full-time professional photographers I know are part-time professional photographers. This reflects the state of the industry in perpetuity, not currently. Some work in labs, some in other people's studios, and some are printers for other photographers. Some have ordinary (non-photographic) day jobs now.

Jeff Spirer , Aug 14, 2006; 09:58 p.m.

I will add an interesting example.

A friend of mine was written up by the daily press as "one of Canada's top commercial photographers." He started doing voice-overs a few years ago - it's hard to support a family even being one of the "top commercial photographers" in his market. So he is no longer full-time, but he knows more about the market and about photography than 99% of the photographers I know, and probably even a higher percentage compared to the posters here.

Keith Van Hulle , Aug 14, 2006; 09:59 p.m.

And you think 10-15 responses will be enough of a sample of the population that you'll actually have valid information that will give you a representation of what you're asking for? Forums like this AREN'T CAPABLE of such results. It's only a place for people to discuss what interests them. In most cases, REAL pros don't hang out here. They're too busy working.

Craig Gillette , Aug 15, 2006; 12:31 a.m.

Is the guy at the WalMart Studio a full-time professional? The one crushing kids through the lines for school pix? How about the guy with the camera store/digital quick prints and shoots studio/weddings on the side?

Steve Swinehart , Aug 15, 2006; 01:40 p.m.

"Is it getting better or worse? Is it harder or easier to turn a profit with the current state of digital photography or if you are a film shooter with film? Who do you see as your competition? And it you don't mind sharing what you are doing to place yourself in a better position, both in the eyes of your potential clients and financially? Any marketing changes? Changes in product lines or even changing the direction of your studio?"

Ahhhh...thank you for reminding me why I quit doing photography full time - the crap you just cited is exactly what took all the fun out it. "Trust me I know"...

J. Scott Schrader , Aug 16, 2006; 09:50 a.m.

Ok, I'll play...I have been a full time working professional running a successful business for the past 19 years. (I have never worked in a lab, camera store or any other photography related work)...I have been a shooter. I have supported my family, purchased a home 9 years ago (for which the mortgage is nearly paid off) have two vehicles that are paid in full, no credit card debt...in fact no debt at all with the exception of what is left on the mortgage, provided insurance for the family,built up a fairly significant nest egg for retirement/emergencies ...

I am in the process of shutting down my business. The work is harder to come by...clients that I have had for over a decade are purchasing their own digital cameras and a copy of adobe photoshop and doing the work themselves now. Everybody is calling themselves a professional now and taking "weekend/evening jobs". And ultimately, people in need of photography services are less demanding as far as quality goes. I have heard numerous times over the past year that at the wedding..."uncle Bob's" pictures were better than the hired "professional". Today the term professional photographer has lost all of its meaning. It used to be that if you were a professional you had a certain skill set that the general population could not emulate and you treated your clients in a professional manner. Today you are a professional if you have a digital camera and a copy of Photoshop or some other photo editing software. The 12 year old kid down the street can take a crappy photo and throw it into photoshop and make something out of it that has mass appeal.

Additionally, I have found that I just don't like the direction that the industry has moved. Where I used to be out shooting and being active...I may have spent an hour at my desk each day....I now spend close to 8 hours a day at my desk processing digital images. I no longer enjoy it and my health has suffered from it. Since I "went digital" and purchased my 1st digital camera and the computer and software to be able to use the thing (4 years ago) I have put on 30lbs. from sitting at a desk all day instead of being up and about on shoots and in the darkroom. The modern advances have changed the industry and my life significantly and I no longer enjoy what I do....so, by the end of September my business will be closed and I will be moving on to my second career leaving the photography industry behind...and hopefully getting my health back as a direct result of the change.

I don't have any marketing advise for you other than the fact that you now have to compete with the weekend warrior for jobs...which means you will have to price yourself accordingly.

When I step back and look at it objectively I just don't see much of a future in the photography industry....there will be less and less people able to make a living as photographers and more and more people able to make a little money with their hobby. There will continue to be a market for high-end weddings and high-end portraits and of course advertising photography. The mid-low range work will continue to dry up. I will not make a judgement if this trend is good or bad....in fact it is both...it is bad if you are a full time professional photographer who has been working successfully in the low and mid-range markets and it is good if you are a weekend warrior/hobbiest who wants to make a little extra money every now and then.

Hector Fernandez Rivera , Aug 16, 2006; 09:05 p.m.

I have been an assitant and a shooter and I found the bussines more difficult than in the past, but in the past I was an assitant so I don't really know. I say is more difficult because the cost of doing bussines is more expensive with digital than with film. All my employers in the past send the chromes to the lab and that's it, now I have an expensive computer, a expensive monitor, a expensive color management crap plus I have to pay an extra to my assistant to deal with the files and then I have to deal with details so it is more time expensive and consuming.

Also you need to keep your bussines running with public relations that now include technical explanations about why a 4x5 scan is better than the crappy digital file interpolated by infinite times and compete with a in-house 8mp camera. I have never did wedings and social photography but in the product-fashion categories the bottom line is lighting and not cameras that's the only hard fact that helps you sell specially with the new trend of digital brochures and catalogues (dvd-cd-webpage) many small companies don't go to press they just send that stuff to their clients so they don't really care about how it looks on a print.

Other thing that is going bad is stock; the web has created such a weird market that you are now competing with guys all over the world, plus you have 1 dollar stock and the wish/creative/iwant stock so the small fish is not taking the Getty hook so often. When I was an assitant I remember one of my employers did stock when we didn't had a client and it was still a bussines because he used to say that a stupid expense is to have your equipment and team waiting to be used (kind of difficult to translate to English but that's the idea) Now it is still a bussines but not a great bussines.

Due to the fact that I live and work in Mexico I have been able to avoid several things like a web page (that costs money specially the pro looking ones since I don't have flash or other cool software training) the digital back mayhem but I think this year is the sing of the swan and the new digital lenses for technical cameras (honestly I don't know what to do about them)

On a brighter side since digital many old sacred cows of Mexican pro photography went to retirement so their assitants took their places and we have more chances, many companies that didn't had a catalogue now have one at least a digital one so here it comes the convincing routine the ones that had brochures-catalogues are still there and the best thing is that since digital has created a photography boom (everybody has a camera that creates a more or less good image) people are learning about photography and are developing a discerning (shit my spelling) eye not a pro discerning eye but one good enough to now that evident crap is evident crap like moire, noise, over saturation, lack of dpis when printing big, aberrations due to interpolation and all the digital problems we know and love and to fight those problems you need pro gear or pro brains or better: both.

So as the Bible says "you would get your bread with the sweat of your forehead" but I since I spend so much time in front of my computer......hahahaha

Jerry Litynski , Aug 17, 2006; 09:23 a.m.

The things I have seen from "pro" photographers. One gent shot a wedding with a new camera. First time out of the box: the camera had a sync problem [loose wire?] and he had a great number of 1/2 frame wedding images that were not exactly what he expected. Another gent was trying hard to get the one-hour lab manager to 'straighten' out the church wall that somehow was 'tilted' during exposure at the wedding he photographed.

That said, it (staying in business) depends on how well your images are accepted by your current customer and your future customers. If you can only work two hours at a wedding and seem hurried to get in and then depart (time is money, right?) __ you may be chasing business without a chance of making a living.

The end game is having great images: be it on film, or with a digital camera. [Some of us have a retirement income, so the aspect of starving to death is not a factor, and makes the life of a professional photographer a bit less of a risk.]


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