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Survival Stories — Going Live

Survival Stories — Going Live

The immediate response was overwhelming.

More than 150 of you sent emails saying “yes” to my inquiry as to whether I ought to start “a survival stories” section on this web site. My web developer, Nina Sossen, who knows a lot more about web site interaction than I do,  tells me that statistically, the letters represent very strong support for the idea.

So, I’m going to do it. And, I’m going to do it now — even though I’m not sure whether the form will remain constant or whether it will morph into a separate but connected blog.

The basic idea is simple. This new area will be a place to talk about the “business” side of photography.

Those of you who have been reading my work for the last few years know that I’ve spent most of my time writing about the “artistic” and “technical” sides of the endeavor. That’s what I like to do. It’s probably what I do best. I’ll not stop doing that.

But, it’s clear to me, that in this funky economy we have to talk more about survival — and this will be the place where we do that.

We Have to Be Both Artists and Business People: We Cannot Be One Without the Other

The fence that separates “business” and “art” is artificial. There is no conflict between the two. It is a false dichotomy.

Because, without “art” there can be no business. And, as many are learning, without “business” one cannot continue to produce art.

I think that false dichotomy may be at the root of the problems many of us are facing.

We see ourselves as “artists” not “marketers” or “sales people.”. We love to create. We hate selling. We put our time into becoming better artists and ignore the need to become better business people. Why? Because we want to do what we love doing. And, most of us took up photography for the creative rush, not because we wanted to market and sell.

But, market and sell we must — especially in these tough times.

As money becomes tight, what we do is seen as “discretionary” spending. Photography gets the red pencil because it is not seen as a “necessity of life.”

Until, we need a picture of a loved one for a funeral. Or to remind us of special times. Or to brighten our homes and lives. Often, when we see the need, it is too late to create the image. Our loved ones are gone. The moments have passed. And, we realize that we really should have recorded them, for all time.

It is our job to make people understand the importance of what we do. In simple economic terms, we need to create “demand” for our products.

That’s what marketing and selling are all about.

It’s about getting ourselves in front of the right people and teaching them to value what we do. It’s about getting them to let us share and record those moments. And, it’s about selling them our work — closing the deal, getting paid, fairly, for what we have done — so that we can continue to do it.

I define marketing as the stuff we do to get customers. I see the shoot and post production as the “art” side. And, selling as the way we make sure we get paid, fairly, for what we have done. They are all one and the same thing — being a professional photographer.

We will talk about all of these things in this space.

Competing On The Right Playing Field

We will talk about how we can survive in this down market — a market which, increasingly, has spawned the worst type of competition — price competition.

As artists, we’d prefer to have decisions made by clients who compare our work to that of others — not by clients who don’t care about the quality of our work or don’t know how to evaluate it and, therefore, simply compare our rate cards to those of our competitors.

No one wins a price competition. Not the consumer who often gets a product of poor quality — because it costs more to do it right. And, not the photographers involved in the price fight who often make less on a shoot than they would if they were working at a McDonald’s.

How do we survive the black hole of price competition? Let’s talk about it here.

A Rising Tide Raises All Boats

That’s pretty much been my business philosophy for as long as I can remember.

What does that mean in this context?

It means that we are in this together. If we make the tide rise, we will all succeed. If we cannot, we will all run aground.

And, that’s why I don’t find it productive to have internal battles. There is a lot of anger out there. Hostility and jealousy. In general terms, it’s not productive.

Complaints about “moms with cameras,” in addition to being demeaning of many very good photographers who are also mothers, take us nowhere; they, too, want to work in an economic environment where they can flourish. And, where they are paid fairly.

Whether one who does not have a studio can be considered a “professional photographer” takes us nowhere. Unfortunately, in this economy many cannot carry the overhead of a studio space and are either shooting from their homes, on location, or renting studios when needed. They, too, want an environment where they can flourish.

I think the essence of these complaints is a belief that those who do the work “part time,” or don’t have the overhead that studio photographers have, are creating the price competition by offering their work for unreasonably low prices. (I have also seen the finger pointed at studio owners who, as the belief holds, desperate to hold onto a “dinosaur business model” are cutting their prices to get work to support their “bloated overhead”.) Neither set of allegations moves the ball forward.

Whether or not these allegations are true is an empirical question. I’ve not been able to find any numbers to support or deny them.

However, it is clear that the finger pointing is not productive. It does nothing to increase the demand for our work. It does nothing to make the tide rise. And, if the tide does not rise, we will all be left on high ground.

So let’s try to make the tide rise. And let’s discuss how to do it here.

In my eyes, for the tide to rise:

1. All photographers who sell their work must attain high standards of proficiency. Poor results sour the consumer base. Unfortunately, all professions suffer the stigma created by the least skilled in the trade. If our clients begin to believe that they can do better work than we do, they will not hire us. We must be noticeably better and we must differentiate our work from that achieved by consumers who own the same cameras we do. I’ve written extensively about differentiation — doing the things that our friends and neighbors cannot do — be it perfect lighting and posing or doing using tools they do not own or have not mastered, like the Lensbaby, or post-production software, like the stuff from onOne, Imagenomic, and Nik. To survive, we need to create images that don’t look like those that come out of their cameras.

2. We must educate the public to see the beauty in and appreciate good photography. If they cannot tell the difference between what we do and what they can get for free or for rock bottom prices, why will they pay more for our work?

3. We must price our work in ways that reflect our investment in time and materials; we must seek a fair return. I know it is tempting, in bad times, to cut our bids so low that we either barely make or lose money — just to get the job. But, we really have to wonder whether that job is worth getting. And, I firmly believe that we are only as good as our last quote. Once we underbid, it is hard to get back to fair pricing. After all, we are the ones who diminished the value of what we do; by cutting our prices to ridiculously low amounts, we are telling the consumers how little we value our work.

4. We must learn to adapt to the new paradigm — the one in which many consumers don’t care about “prints” and/or  have the ability to knock off our work. This is an odd time. My guess is that more people are looking at images in an electronic format than are printing and displaying them. Until we explain to people the value of prints, and the danger of “electronic” storage, we will not be selling a lot of prints. And, this is a time where, with scanners, it’s not all that hard to copy what we have done, we might question whether a model based on selling prints is viable. We may want to think about different economic models, like charging for our time as opposed to charging by the print. Either way, we have to explain the law of copyright to our clients in a non-threatening way; if they understand our rights, most will respect them. And, when they don’t, as an industry we have to enforce them.

5. We must market like it matters, because it does. Sitting back and waiting for business to come will not work, now, if it ever did.

6. And, we must sell. It does no good to book a client, do a great shoot, produce some incredible images, if we cannot get people to pay for them. Spending hours to sell a couple of 8×10’s won’t cut it.

I’ll continue to work hard on #1 in other sections of this site.

Numbers 2-6 will be the substance of “Survival Stories.”

How I Think It Will Work

I’m not sure exactly where this will go or how we will make it happen. But, for now, here’s what I’m thinking:

This will be a place where we speak to each other — through articles or comments.

I’ve already started contacting some of my friends and have been asking them if they’d write some articles on selling and marketing to stimulate discussion here.

Last week, I got an email from a reader who told me about a loan program that might be good for photographers. I’m going to follow up by interviewing her and reporting what I learn here.

If it is going to work, it has to be a dialogue. Some of you have offered to write short pieces for me to post. I know others will add depth by commenting.

In your recent emails, many of you have expressed frustration, pain and anger. I expect our dialogue here to be passionate. We are talking about things that cut to the bone — our ability to do what we love and to support ourselves doing it.

Passion is perfect. From discussions come answers. There is no “party line” or set answer here. For example, you may disagree with me about “part timers” or those without studios. That’s fine, state you point. Disagreements stimulate discussions. To move forward we have to make sure we are building on solid ground. Often, it takes some digging to find the bedrock.

There will be but one rule: Play Nice. Simply stated, if you disagree with someone, do it respectfully. That’s it. Let’s be vibrant and passionate in a respectful manner.

Let’s start the discussion with your comments on this post. Let me know whether this is what you want and where you think we should go. Have comments on what I wrote? Post them. Have ideas for future topics? Post them. Have other thoughts you want to share? Post them.  Want to add to something someone else has said? Use the “Reply” function. For this to work, it needs to be a dialogue. No one person has all the answers. The more who join in, the better this section will be.

I look forward to seeing where the discussion takes us.


P.S. The content here will probably be more dynamic than the normal substantive content. It might change on a daily basis. Some of you have figured out a way to get notifications when things here change; would someone please put up a comment teaching me, and others, how to do this?

We are going into the Holiday Season and I’ll be out of state for a while. I want to get this started now but expect it to really take off after the New Year.

(Copyright: PrairieFire Productions/Stephen J. Herzberg — 2009)

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34 Responsesto “Survival Stories — Going Live”

  1. Halleluiah! Totally agree with this concept. I’m a “part-time” wedding photographer and am working out of my home. I charge a fair price and don’t try to undercut anyone. I also refuse to drop my prices. We should all work together to make the biz better.

  2. First of all thank you for taking the time and care to develop this format. in 30 years I have never experienced this type of economy and for the first time I have wondered if I would be able to survive this economy downturn/ collapse .

    It definitely calls for us to rethink our paradigms and at 54 I am a bit used to the old ways of doing business.
    i look forward to the weeks ahead as a chance to learn and explore.
    well done

  3. I, too, am an old school guy… not even fully immersed in the “new technologies”. The business has drastically changed and a format to discuss and relight the artistry of photography is a wonderful opportunity. I’ll look forward to discussing the “good enough” situation our current photography business model seems to be accepting, and is a root cause of our industry situation.

    • mark kidd says:

      Good enough photography is promoted by the manufacturers to sell more digital camera equipment.

      The candid or un posed look that is so prevalent in our media makes it look so easy to create portraits because the art of posing and lighting is absent. Because the un posed images are in advertising and they look like images already being produced by consumers, it is easy to for consumer to feel that they are just a step away from being a professional.

      If you saw only fine portraits amd well exposed and composed commercial images and landscapes in ads for cameras consumers would think, maybe I am not quite ready for a career in photography.
      Of course this could limit the sales of those cameras um…

      • Some of those ads may appear to be “candid and unposed” but most are not. Many are taken by skilled professional photographers and are the result of careful posing, lighting, and post production.

        The bottom line is that we have to be able to explain to potential customers what we do that is different from what they can do with the same camera. And, they have to value the difference.

  4. Richard says:

    I started to write a book here but stopped myself. I agree that we all have to reinvent ourselves constantly and do creative things nobody else can do or figure out how we did it. We have been getting many calls with “Can’t you do it any cheaper?”

    The thing is they like our work but want it for the price they found on Craigslist. It ain’t happening! We didn’t spend 18 years of our lives in the business just to go backwards!

    One solution is to show people plain photos then stick it to them “big time” with the creative stuff. Sorry, that sounds mean to put it that way. I love creating…

  5. Steve
    I believe your true mark on the history of photography will be your innate ability to educate us all. I applaud you for your need and desire to help us to be better photographers and business people. These articles you write have helped me get some of the knowledge I needed, and now hopefully you’re teaching me to network better. May God bless you and all who visit this project richly. Happy holidays

  6. Mark Saba says:

    Thanks Steve, You have made a lot of good points. I have been a professional photographer for over 30 years. I don’t characterize a professional simply as someone who does it for money. I see the distinction between amateur and professional as two fold. One is the level of proficiency a person has as a photographer. Full time, part time, studio or not, if you produce professional results consistently you can take on assignments as a professional. Secondly there is a business component to being a professional and that includes among other things, charging professional fees for professional work. If a person justifies their fee with a formula like (my regular job pays $12 per hour so an eight hour wedding at $25 per hour means i am doubling my salary hooray.) then no matter how nice their work they are not operating as a professional. I think this is the source of friction between full and part time professionals. If you use your day job to pay all of your expenses and see your photo income as extra money you will never have the right formula for a fair pricing strategy.

    My other gripe is with the departments store and strip mall operators who hire people with no photography experience and train them. They get 20 min training on how to take a picture ad two weeks of hard sell tactics that leave most people with a bad taste in their mouth for professional photography. Most folks think these places are professional photo studios because they had to pay for it. In fact they are all run by photo labs just looking to sell prints. No professionals here.

  7. Richard says:

    Things are changing in a big way. After 18 years We all have to reinvent ourselves all the time. One idea I would share is to go through your photo session and shoot and show (like we do).

    I used to do all the creative stuff, texture overlays etc…and not charge. Ugh!
    Ok, now my idea is to go down on price to get them in the door and then while showing do the magic tricks and creative magic in front of their eyes and then go to your “Photoshop History” and ask “Do you like before or after?” If they like the “after” say “Great! That’s an additional $25 for that effect.

    As far as marketing to high sdchool seniors we offer “No session fee” between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. That may motivate some people if it means saving $40 to $100.

    I’m sure as I sit here I will come up with more ideas. We’re all in the same boat and we’ll help each other stay afloat!

    Ok, who is sick to death of seeing photos of kids on railroad tracks? LOL

  8. Thanks for this article Steve. I’ll be sharing it with the members on Photo Talk Forum.

  9. We are all sitting around scratching our heads wondering what’s happening to the photography industry. After 18 years in business I realize we have to be more of sales people than artists.

    Our way of shooting a session for high school seniors was to shoot and then show on our 24 inch MAC. I would do all the fancy creative tricks and then not charge them. People would start saying
    “Oh, can you do that effect on this picture too?”

    Well the time has come to stop being friends with clients and make it a business deal.

    I will show them a clear image then do some effects and tell them
    If they want to keep the special effects it will be $25 per image. Also we have always been afraid to charge for retouching/blemish removal.

    Not anymore Charlie! It’s time to start charging for all of talent. So, it’s time we keep it all business!

    • Richard,

      Your website and portfolios are good examples of how “differentiation” can stimulate sales. You are doing the things that most “ordinary people” no matter how good their eye or camera cannot do.

      I don’t begrudge those who can do that kind of work the joy of doing their own images. But, for those who can’t, you make a strong case for using a professional.

      I found Richard’s portfolios by clicking on his name in the header of his comment.

  10. Ray Peterson says:

    Steve, I also applaud you. Your points are good.
    I’m part-timer but I have put an enormous amount of time and money in education and equipment so I could offer a better than ordinary product.
    I’ve found that I have to constantly educate people that feel anyone with a camera, expensive or not can and will give them consistently good photography and good prints do not come from Walgreens, Kmart or the discount stores.
    I like to say “I don’t like to sell but I enjoy it when they buy.”

  11. Daniel says:

    Interesting blog. I am and have been a professional photographer for quite a long while. I was a photojournalist for a long time, taught photography part time at a college, was a governor’s personal photographer at one point and have always been a working photographer. I presently have a studio and specialize mostly in seniors, portraiture, and fashion and glamour work.

    I think it goes much deeper than the economy and marketing–this downward slide in professional photography started a while back. It really accelerated with the advent of digital cameras. It was first thought that if our work was far better than the next door neighbors or “Uncle Joe” it would sell. Well our work is far better, but it didn’t sell. So that isn’t it. The economy doesn’t help of course but it’s really the fact that everyone and anyone owns a digital camera and has access to a computer and/or some form of photo management, whether it’s photoshop or something else. That and in our throw away society people don’t really shop for value as much as they do for price and convenience. And because of the influx of people with cameras that really don’t know what they’re doing, much of the general public is content to buy mediocre photos. I look at web sites of alleged professional photographers all the time, and most of the photos posted on them are Photography 101 type of stuff. None are really professional quality. Most of these people don’t charge much for either their services or their work. And people are now accustomed to that. Too many computer geeks have cameras and because they can produce an image in photoshop they imagine they are really a photographer. Because there are so many of these weekend warriors out there, the perception of quality over the years has diminished significantly. I believe that when the economy comes back photography and/or the respect for professional photography will not be on the same ship.
    I’m going to WPPI in March, a photo convention in Las Vegas that attracts over 13,000 professional photographers. I’m interested in what is said there regarding this subject.

    As a parting thought; for those of you who remember what professional photography was like 25 years ago remember how pros used to use medium or large format cameras, there was no automation, and all pros used pro labs that retouched and hand printed their work. Most of us had our own darkrooms. Negatives were retouched on medium format negs, something that can’t be done on 35mm negs. Their work was decidedly different from amateurs. Most amateurs had no clue about medium or large format cameras or even knew where or what a pro lab did. And you could count the amateurs on the fingers of one hand that knew how to retouch photos or used a retouching artist. Digital photography took away that difference. Now anyone with a few bucks and a computer can make some business cards and call themselves a pro. Think what that would do to any profession. And that’s what it has done to ours. If anyone could be a brain surgeon would it raise the bar on brain surgery? I think not. What’s the future hold? I have no clue, but it’s dismal.

  12. Anne Grant says:

    No matter what they ask, every person who calls your studio is asking:
    Why should I come to you?
    Why should I come to you NOW?
    Why is your work priced like it is & is it a good value?
    Is it worth it to ME?
    Why should I choose to take my money and make it yours?
    Can I trust you?

    If you can remember that is what they really want to know when they ask “how much are 8×10’s?” or “can you take our pictures on Sunday morning @ 8 am?” or “can you give me a CD of the photos?”, then you can get to the core of what they really want. People say they like the candid, “lifestyle”look-and they do, in little images in back of a Brag Book or to show on Facebook, but seldom is that really their ultimate goal. It is our job to help clarify their vision for their perfect session and portrait.

    • Anne,

      I think you’ve touched on a very important point about which I plan to write later: “Why me?”

      We can differentiate ourselves from others who can get the job done, be they professional or amateur, by making the clients want to work with us, as individuals.

      Selling the quality of the experience or personal relationship gets us away from having to compete on price.

      Wonder why my good friend Hanson Fong is so successful? Obviously, because he is talented. But, beyond the talent, he is an incredibly good guy. Warm and funny, a session with Hanson is memorable and fun.

      In selling, who we are is often as important as how well we do what we do.

    • well put Anne. great points to remember.

  13. Bruce Berg says:

    Good stuff. I think a broader discussion is how our culture treats images, i.e. Prints vs. Viral.

    The concept of permanancy is a becoming a bit foreign with fragmented relationships that quickly go separate ways, fast food and a general lack of commitment in our society. Many clients just want the disc and give little thought to wall portraits and books. This is one area that we can all educate the consumer on….

    • Bruce,

      Good points.

      My comment on Anne’s post probably applies here, too.

      To the extent that we can create a lasting “relationship” with our customers because they enjoy us as well as our work, we can start to break the cycle.

  14. Steve,
    Thanks for opening up the discussion with Survival Stories. There are so many valid points and perspectives written from you and from everyone who has commented. This is such important dialog right now and one that I’m having locally with a number of photographers I know.

    I believe the economy is definitely playing a role in the downturn for photographers, but the downturn for us began years prior to our economic woes, when camera manufacturers realized that they had great widgets to sell and the “professional” photographers who get paid by those companies started to sell those widgets. If you want to learn how to sell effectively, just take anyone of those camera manufacturers’ models and use it in your own business!

    So the latest and greatest widgets were sold (and sold well and plentiful) and these manufacturers capitalized on the dreams of everyone who loves photography! (I guess that’s why it’s called ‘capitalism,’ eh?!) “You too can become a (pseudo)professional photographer if you have this latest and greatest widget in your hands!” Experience was no longer needed and now tons of “workshops” were sprung up by tons of people without a valid photographic education to hurry and provide a pseudo-education to the throngs of would be photographers who are working their day job whilst trying to make it as a photographer… “Tilt that camera; that’ll make you look like a pro! Don’t know anything about lighting? That’s ok, we’ll just bump up the ISO to 12800 for you; you don’t really need to know anything about how to use on/off camera flash and besides, we’ve got an f1.2 lens to fix that too! And when you get it wrong in the camera, we’ll just sell you some more software to fix that right up and fancify it for your clients who don’t know any better any way! Yep; we’ve got a software widget to make your images look fantastic when you screw up too!”

    It has been the most stellar and brilliant display of marketing and selling equipment/software and marketing and selling workshops that I’ve never seen the likes of before! My head almost exploded when I heard one of those industry professionals tell his workshop attendees to “Shoot on P (…maybe it stands for ‘professional’…) and listen to your shutter; the sound of your shutter will help you know if you’ve exposed an image properly.” Gobbledygook! I couldn’t believe I heard this out of this guy’s mouth! In part he’s correct; you do have to listen to your shutter when you are shooting, but come on! Is that all there is to it, really?!

    What happened from this point was the great new Digital Gold Rush where literally thousands of people with newly-purchased cameras believed that after buying this fabulous equipment and taking two or three workshops, or shooting their friends wedding, or second shooting at one wedding that they had now become professionals and they entered a professional industry and promptly watered down the standards, and then began falsely advertising their newly found skills to a public with no clue of what it is to have quality imagery created by a professional. It is very hard to be a professional photographer in a sea of non-professionals. Take a moment to actually make that statement visual…see how that feels.

    And after that, let’s think about how we’ve been either encouraged or felt a need to give away our rights to the images we create. Hey , we don’t need that money now, do we?! We don’t need to have our creative talents valued or paid for, do we?! We are an industry with some of the biggest egos, yet the lowest self esteem that I’ve ever seen and by continually giving up the rights to our work have set ourselves up to be devalued by clients and the publication industry. Does anyone other than me notice a correlation between when you give away your rights you set yourself up to lose even more rights? We have allowed the “industry leaders” (equipment manufacturers and their sales people) to set up the industry as such where we are giving up our rights left and right and losing them at the speed of sound. Can we please learn to value our skills and our work again?

    Daniel, Bruce and Mark have some really valid comments pertaining to this. If you combine the fact that all these new shooters are now producing get-by imagery to a public who could care less about quality imagery, because they don’t know what it is, you’ve got a problem for a whole bunch of people: new shooters, their clientele and professionals and their clientele. The playing field has been changed, diminished even but NOT leveled, and it is highly unlikely that it will ever return to being one of true quality, unless we take matters into our own hands and not worry about what these new shooters are doing.

    Differentiation is the only way we are going to salvage and recreate the profession of professional photography. Yes, the industry has shifted for sure, but being discouraged and worrying about the situation is not going to get us anywhere except to waste time and energy. Promoting our differences through the quality work we create and the skills we bring to a shoot and to our clients and making our marketing materials reflect those facts and polishing up our selling skills to demonstrate those facts are the only things we should be concentrating on.

    It’s a new day; a new opportunity!
    We don’t need to fall into doing photography by way of mediocrity or as the masses are, but it IS time to do it better and with the passion we’ve always had as professionals in a wonderfully creative industry! Stop comparing yourself to those with less experience that will only suck the creativity out of you. It’s time to recreate your style WITH even MORE style. Use light! You know how! Don’t lower your standards; raise them to make them more challenging and higher for you to reach so you can focus your efforts on making your work better than it ever has been! And stick with your base of clients; they will sing your praises and refer you on.

  15. The “Rising Tide” concept is totally valid but the photographers that do not participate with or associate with other professionals will not get the help that they need and they will remain anchors on the profession. So, the need to reach out to these people, invite them to join the associations, go the the regional seminars, or schools (like the PPA Affiliated Schools) is clear. As long as they look at selling their photography as a way to pay for an expensive hobby they are going to damage the profession.

    One of our problems lies in the fact that anyone can declare themselves professional. We require no education or licensing. But that’s a political problem that affects us financially.

    Business planning is key to our success. The old adage, “Businesses don’t plan to fail. They fail to plan.” is absolutely true. Waiting for the phone to ring or copying another photographer’s promotion or price are not a good business practices. Planning for the future, planning promotions, setting goals, and setting budgets are all vital to business success.

    When we set aside time to actually plan and set goals for ourselves and our businesses, we are taking control of our lives and forming our own destinies. We will no longer be victims of Wall Street or of “unfair competition.”

  16. Mark Saba says:

    There seems to be a common element to most of the comments so far. That is our customer base is unable to readily differentiate the value of photography between professional and amateur. They only know how much and how many. Just like all the other stuff they buy. I am always asked how mush is your 8×10 and how many pictures do you take. Well I charge $40 for an 8×10 and that is a bargain. I also could take one picture and come up with better results than most so called professionals who take two or three hundred in a portrait session. Getting this message across to customers in a way that they can understand and except is a large task. You have to be very diplomatic, you can’t let them feel like they don’t know what they are doing or that they can’t tell the difference between art and crap. This is where we need help. I just don’t have the time to do this one client at a time and run a profitable business. Our professional organizations PPA WPPI etc need to focus more on consumer awareness of what should be expected when hiring a professional photographer. I think if enough high quality professional imagery is in the public eye with the the right endorsements and the message that this is what you should expect from a professional photographer then we could actually see a result. I don’t mean things like those list of questions to ask a wedding photographer. Lets face it anyone can have backup equipment. If buying the first DSLR didn’t make you a professional then why should the second. Also trying to get amateurs to join the associations and raise their prices still makes them amateurs. I have seen a lot of crap on websites that have the PPA logo. I’m not talking about images that are just not my taste I’m talking about this image should be in the trash crap. I don’t know if this helps when such bad images are associated with our professional organizations. What would happen if anyone could join the AMA or the local BAR association? Many european countries have standards for businesses including mandatory apprenticeship for trades including photography. You cant just print a business card and be in business. What digital did was put a set of tools in the hands of the public that anyone can now feel a false sense of confidence that they can be a professional photographer.

    On another note have any of you been to canvas on demand. I have seen several images on their gallery page that were obviously done in studio and ordered by the consumer. So i guess if you buy an 8×10 and scan it or send them the print to scan you can order any size canvas print you want. I guess it does not matter to them who owns the copyright I will be visiting their booth at imaging USA and asking why I have not found any copyright information on their website.

    • prairiefire says:


      A lot of good points.

      I think many in our society are having a hard time appreciating and understanding all art. By eliminating art and music from our schools, we’ve put a lot of people into the world who lack a frame of reference or standard upon which to judge.

      We go places like Imaging and see the displays of our colleague’s work and get inspired. I’m wondering if it wouldn’t serve us well to take over “art appreciation” and volunteer to do a lecture in the schools about photography showing examples of great work.

      I am a staunch believer in enforcing copyrights — I’m involved in a law suit right now to protect one of mine. I had a very positive experience the other day. A client, on her way for an America’s Next Top Model try out, could not get Walmart to print one of my images because they said it was “obviously done by a professional” and they would not violate my copyright. In the meta data I had embedded a license to print that image, but they didn’t see it. So, I emailed them a license. PPA has worked very hard to get these types of responses from places like Walmart and drug store chains. We are benefitting from their work. You might direct them to the canvas group.


  17. Nancy Holt says:

    what a great exchange! many thanks for this blog-it certainly helps at the least, psychologically-

  18. Fixer Inhalers vs Pixel Pixies…

    Without a merging of those two business models, our industry will quickly go the way of Travel Agencies… to the spare bedroom.

    The devaluation of professional photography was driven by the preview window on the back of the camera. No mystery means no risk. Long time pros simply have to be smarter marketers to keep the phone ringing. New photographers have to pump up the quality of their work and professionalism to earn credibility.

    The current “new world order” in our profession supports little need for photo education, but in the long term, those who seek and embrace the basic knowledge of lighting, composition, and good business practices will be the most successful and emerge as the leaders in our industry.

    Been shooting professionally for over 30 years and have no intention of looking for a “real job” anytime soon. It’s going to be an interesting decade!

  19. Kirk Redlin says:

    I haven’t had time to read all of the above comments, but speed reading gave me a clue as to the level of frustration that exists in our profession. First let me start by saying the days of the mom and pop main street studio are over. As I predicted in my seminar to the PPO of Oregon in September of 2003, the same gear, i.e. software and hardware companies were producing for us, really was for the amateur market. Their whole intent was to produce photographic equipment that would make any dummy look great and fatten their bottom line. The reality of the dilemia really boils down to who we are as professionals. If you were worth your salt before digital, you are still worth it today. But here is the catch. You must believe in yourself. I have spoken on the pro circuit for 30 years and every single one of my programs have focused on the art of self actualization, and the psychology of photography. If you are worth anything as a pro, you must have a clear definition of who you are and why people want you. You must always be able to walk a mile in your clients shoes with just a step into them. You must have an uncanny sense of presence with your clients, you must be able to instantly connect with people. You must be able to communicate with them on all levels, you must be educated. Learn to communicate, and above all learn to listen!
    Great pros in this profession will always be wanted. This period of time will weed out the weak. That’s ok. In my studio, I spent the last summer building 50 new, funky, off the wall background and sets, they inspired me and my clients. they didn’t radically change the bottom line but they did keep people talking. My brochures will be more “out there” this year than last. My style will evolve and change like a chameleon just like it always has, never the same, always different. The great photographers of the ages have always had people talking about them. Donald Jack, said, “Call me, I don’t care what you call me, just Call ME!” Lastly, don’t worry about all the people out there with gear equal or better than you, they’re not you. They never will be. You are unique, you are great, you are loved. Now tell the world!

  20. Hi,

    I’m in San Francisco. Just got back from taping an interview with my friend, Hanson Fong, in his studio.

    I asked Hanson how he avoided getting caught in “price wars” and to share some survival strategies.

    I’ll post the video when I get back to Texas in a week or so.


  21. Jim Johnson says:

    I’m in my 36th year of doing photography for a profession and to me, there are 3 things we need to be doing:
    1.Market like crazy- believe it or not, last fall was the first time I had ever had brochures printed for my studio. Every person that comes in my studio for whatever reason gets a brochure- which highlights every type of work I do- along with a studio logo kitchen magnet placed in a nice bag.
    2. Improve your business skills- I detested learning Successware being a typical photographer, but I knew that any studio software will be beneficial.
    3. Improve your photography and computer skills to a point that no one in your area can match your work.

    You can sit around with the “woe is me” attitude or you can use that same amount of time to be more proficient in your skills. The amateur problem is here to stay so spend your time on you, not thinking about them.

  22. Mark Saba says:

    I was just searching the web to see who comes up when searching for wedding photographers in my area. I came across an ad for all day wedding photographer $399. When I visited the website of Rebecca she states on her pricing page that she is a professional photographer however she is not in it to make a living because her husband provides for her quite nicely. She also feels that $399 is a fair price for nine hours of shooting and all the post processing that goes with it. She takes about 150 images pre hour and retouches all of them puts them on a disk and gives them to you with a license to print. She says “I am a member of the Professional Photographers of America and I pay taxes! In other words you are dealing with a professional, not some “fly by night” individual.”

  23. This is really late but……..
    I am the owner of a second generation, storefront portrait studio in Denver. Been at it more than full time for 24 years and my studio is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. we are not only surviving but we are thriving. We are thriving because I made the concious decision to go after the national companies. We publish pictorial directories or church directories.
    Kirk Redlin is not the first person I heard say that the days of mom and pop are gone. I heard it 15 years age at a PPA convention. The speaker said that 80% of us would be out of business by now. That definatly got my attention.
    Here is my (breif) survival story.
    Bought the studio from my parents in 1997.
    started the digital conversion on 1999.
    purchased 20K kodak cameras that we now use as door stops.
    Went from 50 weddings and 1200 seniors a year to 5 weddings and 800 seniors.
    The good news, we went from 100 families and couples a year to over 3000 a year. Church directories are keeping us alive.
    This is a segment of our industry that the amatures and home studios can’t or won’t serve. A segmant that the national companies have monopolized and do a poor job of servicing.
    To all the Mom and Pop studios that are still out there I am here to offer more information.

    • Daniel,
      Thanks for sharing your success story.

      Finding a niche to support your studio is, indeed, a strong strategy. And, I take it that your marketing is rooted in your delivery of better service.

      From what I understand from your post and from looking at your website, it seems that the fact that you have a strong base of clients has enabled you to do a lot of different things and that you are not limited to church directory work.

      I’ve often talked about finding one thing that supports a studio — and doing it a couple of days a week, to support the other things one wants to do the remaining days.

      It looks like you’ve found a very good balance of things you like to do and are thriving.

      Thanks for the uplifting post.

  24. Amy says:

    I’m in my 36th year of doing photography for a profession and to me, there are 3 things we need to be doing:
    1.Market like crazy- believe it or not, last fall was the first time I had ever had brochures printed for my studio. Every person that comes in my studio for whatever reason gets a brochure- which highlights every type of work I do- along with a studio logo kitchen magnet placed in a nice bag.
    2. Improve your business skills- I detested learning Successware being a typical photographer, but I knew that any studio software will be beneficial.
    3. Improve your photography and computer skills to a point that no one in your area can match your work.

    You can sit around with the “woe is me” attitude or you can use that same amount of time to be more proficient in your skills. The amateur problem is here to stay so spend your time on you, not thinking about them.

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