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Cheap Photographers are Crushing the Photo Industry…Or Are They?

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If you are a photographer and you’ve spent any time on internet forums or Facebook groups in the last five years, you know who I’m talking about.

The cheap photographers get called many names:

  • fauxtographers
  • moms with cameras
  • shoot and burn photographers
  • “wanna be” photographers
  • cheap photographers

There are websites that feature these photographers and accounts on social media set up to mock them. These photographers are accused of undercutting the professionals in the industry and stealing customers. Plus, rumor has it, they are everywhere. Creating new Facebook pages right and left. Leaving flyers all over town. Showing up at playgroup and wowing all of the moms with their low priced specials. Sometimes they are even accused of copying another photographer’s promotion, creating a new graphic, and simply lowering the price to be competitive. In extreme cases, new and low-priced photographers are even blamed for image stealing to boost their own portfolios. Plus, they often have inexpensive gear, and to those who have just dropped $3000 on a new professional camera, this is infuriating.

So where does this put the “real” professionals?

Some say that they are hiding in their studios desperately waiting for clients to knock on the door and watching their incomes plummet. Others are frustrated that their inquiries balk at the prices they charge and flee to the “new photographers” instead. In fact, many feel it’s gotten so bad that they hesitate to even share their business and technical knowledge with others. They fear that it will create even more newbie competition. Some long-time professional photographers still run sustainable businesses that are bringing them a steady stream of clients and income. Are they are just lucky? Do they simply live in the right part of the country –The “right part” being a city teaming with rich people who fling their cash willy-nilly at the priciest photographer in town?

Dispelling the myth that new, cheap photographers ruin the photo industry…

New, cheap photographers are not killing the industry for a single person.

First, let’s face it. No one picks up a camera for the first time and has a five-figure income overnight. Not even in a month. Even in a year, it’s exceedingly rare. Building and sustaining a photography business requires a certain skill set that is at least 50% business management and 50% photographer. I would even venture that it’s closer to 90% business, 10% photography. (In fact, most photographers aren’t making all that much money according to this recent study by Kat Forder.)

This graphic (used with Kat’s permission) shows how much photographers in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area grossed in a one year period.  

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These skills take time to build and for the vast majority of us, education is required. Who really “gets” lighting because it’s easy? Who can naturally develop an excellent client experience from inquiry to order delivery? Who finds Photoshop or Lightroom so intuitive that they just instinctively produce perfectly edited images on the first try? No one. Certainly not all three at once. I can promise you that. The work of starting a business is difficult, lonely, time consuming work that often leaves us feeling alone.

 

Which brings me to the most popular phrase I’ve heard when discussing these questions with other photographers: Everyone starts somewhere.

And frankly, it’s true. Each photographer has a story about what inspired them to begin shooting seriously. Many remember the first time a friend or family member pointed out their talent and how good that felt. A good majority of professionals recall the moment they realized they could generate income for themselves doing something they truly loved. The American Dream, right?

And so the journey began.

But because photographers are also human beings with different life experience, education levels, and natural talents, not everyone puts these things into place in the same order or recognizes which ones are mandatory before starting a legal business, never mind a successful one.

The neat thing about capitalism is that photographers (and any other entrepreneurs) who build a sustainable business STAY IN BUSINESS. And those that don’t, simply don’t. Creating a business that is sustainable and brings joy is a difficult task and many need to try it out before deciding whether it’s a good fit for them. So if <insert name of cheap photographer>’s <insert terrible promotion> doesn’t sound like a good idea to you, that’s ok. Two things can happen. If it’s not a great strategy, that business will not be able to sustain itself financially or energy-wise and will eventually close. If it is, you’ll have yourself a shiny new competitor.

Network with them, exchange referrals, enjoy opportunity to second shoot with them, answer questions for each other. And if your potential clients find themselves attracted to the their business and not yours, then you have incentive to improve your business in a very specific way to close that gap.For most photographers, that’s examining what your target client needs and how can better meet that need. That does not necessarily mean price matching the newest guy in town. It usually means adding value! So when you see clients heading another direction, it’s your reminder to up your game and make your business more awesome! Remember, this isn’t easy and the best things for our businesses often aren’t easy.

Last but not least, our customers aren’t stupid. They know the different between high quality photography and low quality photography. Like us, they have different needs, preferences, budgets, styles, and values and are trying to find the person that best matches up with their needs. Because clients are the reason we are in business showing them the utmost respect is key. Shrugging off a client who isn’t savvy enough to see how much better you are once again is a call to more clearly show how awesome your business is!

02 Cheap Photographers are Crushing the Photo Industry...Or Are They? Business Tips Guest Bloggers Photoshop Actions

By focusing on your business and the value it brings to your market and client, you are getting closer and closer to your ultimate goal – a successful business that brings you joy. And nothing is more joyful than being a kind soul who accepts that everyone is human is doing their best in this world. (Even if their best isn’t all that impressive to you, personally.)

 

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Jessica Rotenberg is a family and child photographer in Raleigh, NC who specializes in modern portraiture and creating beautiful wall galleries for clients. She enjoys mentoring other photographers and participating on the MCP Actions Facebook group page. You can also follow her on Facebook. (photo credit: Rebecca Ames)

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  1. Courtney on June 2, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    THANK YOU! I have been thinking about getting more serious with my photography for the last six years but didn’t want to be one of “those people” that so many experienced photographers talk about. It’s nice to know that not everyone thinks that you need a degree in photography to be a great photographer who can profit from her work. You’ve just given me permission to think about it some more ;)Another thing to think about is, like so many things, with technology the photography market is changing. Being able to evolve with the changing market is essential if you want to stay successful (digital images vs prints only, for example). It’s normal for people who have been leaders in an industry to get upset with changes in the status quo (just look at the floundering cable industry who is trying to legislate against streaming services). The trick is to innovate and evolve with the demand and make a better product, not squash the up and coming competition.Excellent post, not just for photography but for any free market industry!

  2. Eric Smith on June 2, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    I have heard this same type of complaint in other areas as well. My experience has been that when this type of complaint exists, some times at least, it stems from the “comfort zone” issue. People who enjoy a certain “comfort zone” like “pro photographers” that for many years have enjoyed ruling that part of the world see that now they have to start working hard to get their work like they did in the past, get upset at those who are entering and stirring up the waters. It is sort of like that one lone swimmer in a public swimming pool on a float with a drink in his had that gets upset when the kids come and start making waves. It is a public pool. So I say, why can’t we all just get along?

  3. Tracie M on June 2, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I shoot weddings and events, but mostly my focus is on youth sports. I have to say, I don’t charge much for weddings, I probably do about 4 per year. I enjoy shooting weddings, mostly for the enjoyment. I have a full time accounting job that pays my bills. I think of myself as in the learning stages so I don’t feel comfortable charging thousands yet – but I do hope to get to that point one day. I am a huge supporter of youth sports, for which market, I think has gotten WAY expensive for parents, as I am a parent myself. To top it off, private leagues look greatly to donations, companies today, don’t kick back much to the teams that select them for photography…..they don’t even get to know anyone. I do – I support youth sports by making my packages affordable for parents, donating a portion of my sales to the teams, and taking time to create my own templates – I refuse to purchase anyone else’s templates. I feel it is less personal if I did. Surely, I could charge more for my packages, and yes, I am already pondering what to raise my prices to next year. As far as weddings, I think that a bride/groom should select a photographer based off of their portfolio first.

  4. Christina Nielsen on June 2, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Thank you for posting this! As a newbie photographer, I do have a lot to learn and my prices are lower. Why? Not to undercut anyone, but because I still have to prove myself. I don’t have years of experience and a portfolio to show for it. We all have to start somewhere and let’s be honest, the higher paid photographers did not start out charging those rates!

  5. Brittany on June 3, 2014 at 7:33 am

    As a newbie, I can’t thank you enough for this post. I don’t know if I even *want* to try making money from this incredible hobby one day, but I’m still so afraid to reach out to local professionals because of the potential reaction that I’m just a “mom with a camera” and out to steal their business. I’m honestly just trying to learn! Thank you for the reminder!!

  6. Kristine Strong on June 3, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you for the article and to those who also posted a comment. As a newbie, I realize a photography business does not come over night. There is SO MUCH to learn as the article listed, its very intimidating at times. So when do you know the right time to start charging and how would you advertise at first if it werent for social media? My gear isnt as good because I cant justify spending $3000 on a new body yet, but i still love to shoot and would love the oportunity to get paid for it, who woudn’t!

  7. Gail Morello on June 12, 2014 at 7:18 am

    I’ve been a pro with a studio for 14 years, the sole support of my family for the last 10. I did not start my business until I was in my mid forties because I spent the first 25 years of my life in corporate jobs – experience that actually came in handy when I started (but it was darn scary at the time when I went from good income to zero income). Today, if I lived in the DC Maryland area I would be in the top 1 or 2% of photographer wage earners. But, to say I’ve worked hard to get (and stay) here is an understatement. I love my business but I’ve never spent a day being complacent or comfortable. There was a 10 year period where I worked more than 100 hours a week with almost no vacation, every single week. Now I generally work a more comfortable 50-60, not counting all the hours I’m thinking or worrying about something to do with the business. Nothing about this business is easy no matter where you are on the spectrum, and it’s only getting more difficult in many ways. Cameras today are everywhere. Everyone can take pictures at any moment so you really have to do something different to stand out. What worked in terms of marketing 10 years ago, even last year, no longer cuts it. You have to keep finding new ways to not only offer products and services your clients can’t live without, but you have to find a way to attract new clients in a world that is over-saturated with information of every kind. Photography is a service where your competition is not only other photographers but, because it’s a luxury item, you are actually competing with any other product or service that falls in the category of expendable. That’s a big field. I’ve had clients who could afford me choose to make another large purchase instead. I’ve seen clients I didn’t think could afford my services find a way because they love what we can do for them. Personally I’ve never paid much attention to what other photographers in the area are doing, not because I’m arrogant – I just don’t have time to look. Heck I don’t even know who they are most of the time. When experts ask me who my competition is I either give them a general answer or I have to google it. I do check search engines every now and then to see where my site is falling with keywords but that’s the extent of my checking up on who else might be there. I am all for anyone who wants to enter this market and wish you all the best. There is still and always will be enough business out there for everyone who works hard. And, I’ve done my own fare share of mentoring over the years when people ask because I know what it’s like to struggle and not know where to find the answers. I actually have great empathy for newbies today because I think the challenges of starting a profitable business are much greater than they were when I started. So for those newbies who think that all the pros are annoyed because you’re stirring the waters and that’s making us get off our butts and work for a change – well maybe that analogy is true for some but I doubt it. I don’t know anyone who’s been a pro for a long time – and I know a lot of them – who isn’t working darn hard because regardless of where you’ve been, technology and market changes demand it. Work hard and work smart these days or your business will disappear before your eyes and it doesn’t matter how big you once were. For everyone out there starting or maintaining a business I guess there will always be conceptions and mis-conceptions about everyone else. If I’ve learned one thing in my life – and at 59 I now have accumulated some history – it’s that we all have our burdens and we all deserve to do work that we love.

    • Brittany on June 12, 2014 at 10:15 am

      I love your response, Gail. What a great perspective. I also really enjoyed your website, especially “your story” – so inspiring. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

      • Gail on June 12, 2014 at 12:37 pm

        Brittany, thanks so much! If there was a like button on your comment I would have liked you. 🙂

  8. Paula on June 27, 2014 at 7:40 am

    I am a newbie. I have been shooting for about six years, but I didn’t really start training until three years ago. In the past three years I have learned that I should have went to school to become a business major. I now tell all young people who want to start their own business to major in business when they go to college. Anyway, I have spent thousands of dollars on new equipment, and I still have more to go. I have spent hours upon hours learning all the settings, posing, flashes and lightening, etc. and so forth. I have second shot with wedding photographers and newborn photographers without getting a dime! I have made huge mistakes and spent hours trying to fix those mistakes, and I must say that I am finally getting decent enough to call myself a photographer. However, I am so afraid when people ask me what I do for money to say “I am a photographer” because I don’t want to be linked with under the newbie/doesn’t have a clue. I don’t think new photogs will ever hurt professional photographers because honestly, those that have been doing it for so many years are amazing! There work is worth the big money. New photogs that do not put in the time or training or dollars to do the job right really only hurt other newbies who are pouring their lives into their work. However, you are correct. The businesses that are built to be sustainable businesses will outlast those that are not. I am hoping that I am building to be sustainable. Also, my husband and I do not do anything except our house on credit… so we have purchased every single piece of equipment with cash because I have worked a part time job to pay only for equipment in addition to be a dedicated wife and mom! Ugh! I just want to tell every photographer I meet… I swear I am not trying to take your business! I swear I am putting the work into the process as well!!!! Okay… I’m done!

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