Is professional photography dying out?

Started Mar 27, 2013 | Discussions
deleted080512
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Is professional photography dying out?
Mar 27, 2013

Speaking as somebody that has run a part-time photography business for a few years and almost completely failed to attract customers, the question has to be asked.

It's not as though I haven't tried - I just can't get anybody even to look at my portfolio. Let's see what I've done...

Yellow Pages - one or two calls about irrelevant matters

Website - no visitors

Van signage - one or two calls from other "pros" digging for information.

I did get a ton of people calling trying to sell me stuff from my online contact information. The web form attracted loads of resumes and spam. The web phone number attracted loads of people trying to sell insurance, internet services, credit-card devices.

Chamber of Commerce - polite interest but nothing more.

TV advertising - no callers.

Radio advertising - no callers.

It's all a very nice tax deduction but leaves me with very much the feeling that nobody wants photography any more - especially since most people now have a camera on their phone that's really quite acceptable.

One of the major problems is that people only want 1024 x 768 images to put on Facebook. I don't think they care about anything else.

Biggs23
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

Just because you are advertising doesn't mean that you are advertising well. Who is your target audience? What do they do and where do they 'live'? What message are you sending them?

If you're marketing primarily to the senior portrait audience your message and advertising 'space' are going to need to be VERY different than if you're marketing to corporate types looking for headshots. LOTS of variables to nail down.

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deleted080512
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to Biggs23, Mar 27, 2013

As a friend that ran an art gallery until the bottom dropped out of the market said... advertising costs money and doesn't actually work; well maybe it does for the huge companies but it doesn't for the little businesses.

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Vegasluvr
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

You have to find your niche. I have a few niche markets that are doing very well for me. One is legal photography where I am the official photographer for several dozen attorneys who uses my services for lawsuits. Insurance companies are another big client of mine to photograph accident scenes, damages to vehicles or anything that is insured.

I am busy all year around thanks to these niche photography jobs.

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Biggs23
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

Machine Gun Kelly wrote:

As a friend that ran an art gallery until the bottom dropped out of the market said... advertising costs money and doesn't actually work; well maybe it does for the huge companies but it doesn't for the little businesses.

Said the person who's failed (evidently) to market successfully. I'm a 'little business' but have been successful with marketing and regularly have people locate me, contact me, and book me. Advertising IS hard but done well can be EXTREMELY effective.

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Dan Nikon
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

Machine Gun Kelly wrote:

Speaking as somebody that has run a part-time photography business for a few years and almost completely failed to attract customers, the question has to be asked.

It's not as though I haven't tried - I just can't get anybody even to look at my portfolio. Let's see what I've done...

Yellow Pages - one or two calls about irrelevant matters

Website - no visitors

Van signage - one or two calls from other "pros" digging for information.

I did get a ton of people calling trying to sell me stuff from my online contact information. The web form attracted loads of resumes and spam. The web phone number attracted loads of people trying to sell insurance, internet services, credit-card devices.

Chamber of Commerce - polite interest but nothing more.

TV advertising - no callers.

Radio advertising - no callers.

It's all a very nice tax deduction but leaves me with very much the feeling that nobody wants photography any more - especially since most people now have a camera on their phone that's really quite acceptable.

One of the major problems is that people only want 1024 x 768 images to put on Facebook. I don't think they care about anything else.

I don't think it is dying out but it is more competitive. How is your work, is it better than 80% of the market you serve? Not everyone who *thinks* they have the talent and drive to succeed actually does, very few actually and that is pretty much born of the never ending circles of forum born praise on sites like Flickr.

I am plenty busy, do none of the advertising you list and have not had a website in 7 years, it's all referral and word of mouth in a hard to break into niche that I work in. I also do it full time, would never do it part time as I know what a commitment it takes...

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Budcat
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

Machine Gun Kelly wrote:

advertising costs money and doesn't actually work;

If you think advertising is expensive, wait until you see how expensive not advertising is.

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PenguinPhotoCo
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In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

Rule Number one of ANY business - Is there a market for what you want to sell? What is that market? Where are they? Who's serving them now?

You failed to mention WHAT you are marketing - seniors, weddings, pics of dogs, landscapes? Makes a BIG difference.

Go to a bridal show and try to sell dog portraiture. Won't be successful.
Go to a prom and offer landscapes for their walls. Again, it won't work.

What are you selling? Who sells it now? What exactly are they selling? (files, prints, framing, the experience of being thier customer, style of photography, etc).
You need to target your ideal customer.  Is your customer low end (volume, mcdonalds, etc), high end (richer, disposable income). Why is your customer buying? Brides buy for different reasons than hs seniors than mom's buy baby pics and folks buy family pics. Some have deadlines and some do not. ALL are seasonal in one way or another.
Nobody can do business with you if they don't know who you are. Step 1 is to become known by your target market.
Your branding is critical - 'high end' folks are used to different 'treatment' than low end. If you want the 'lexus crowd' you have to treat them like other businesses the frequent - colors, logo, fonts, music, how you dress all have to 'say' the same thing.  If you are after teens showing up in a suit and tie and higly polished shoes is probably going to come across and old and stuffy and no fun - but a CEO expects no less.
go to amazon and read some boooks - martin lindstrom, paco underhill are two good ones to start wtih. Also Al Ries has some great books.

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deleted080512
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to Budcat, Mar 27, 2013

Oddly enough, I have more available cash since I cut out wasteful stuff that doesn't produce a return - Yellow Pages, Internet, vehicle signs.

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Biggs23
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

Machine Gun Kelly wrote:

Oddly enough, I have more available cash since I cut out wasteful stuff that doesn't produce a return - Yellow Pages, Internet, vehicle signs.

You still haven't addressed what you're attempting to market and what demographic you're trying to market it to...

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Zeis
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

No but changing. Very simple to understand.

In years past when the poor, middle class, wealthy needed images of their families or events they had to hire a pro to get decent images. They needed a pro to record their memories and family members. Today because of technology the poor and most of the middle class can do it themselves. Its really that simple. They might do it poorly but they are still doing it none the less.

Today photography is a luxury item pure and simple. If you are marketing your services to people who have no money, do not purchase luxury items, goods and services, as well as your work is at a level that they can produce at home then they don't need you. Why would they? Seems pretty simple to me.

Only true professionals can command the wealthy market where people can afford to hire the best and will only hire a TRUE PRO. Someone who is a TRUE ARIST and a visual GENIUS, not a Debbie digital or a old and tired pro from years past who was never any good to begin with. Professional photography will never die but they masses will now be in charge of documenting their own lives.

People still hire painters and some artist sell their work for millions but who are they selling those items to? Not to you and me but the true wealthy. Also their are very few people who really do this for a living so photography is not dying but maybe shrinking in the traditional sense?

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deleted080512
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to Biggs23, Mar 27, 2013

Doesn't matter. There is no business in the area. Local small businesses don't want photography. When they have something they want a photo of, they do it themselves with their iPhone (and get quite good results). For event photography I've seen weddings etc go to local camera clubs on a no-fee basis.

There are the usual portrait artists such as Olan Mills etc all over the place with monkeys being paid peanuts. People are happy to go to them for portraits.

There just is no work here. Look at careerbuilder - they're not even looking for newborn photographers in this state. There were 40 pages of newborn photographers required "photography skill optional, sales skill essential".

As an example of how crappy this area is - there are 250K people and at least 150 photographers advertising in yellow pages, white pages, internet etc. That's 1 photographer for every 1,666 people. Even if all of those people came to one photographer and had a $50 portrait done (doesn't matter if it's newborn, senior or whatever), that's $83,000 but only 2% are going to hire a photographer so that's a maximum yield annually of $1,666.

Nobody I know has ever hired a photographer. Usually they have friends, members of the family etc do their photography free.

Now I got mugged into starting a photo business but you name it - sports, portrait, event - all covered by these $10 a photo people like lifetouch etc. The bottom feeders have taken all the work. Then look further at business photography - most businesses don't want to throw money away on photography when they either have a keen amateur in their ranks or the boss has a cellphone that will do the photos.

Let's look at catalog work. I looked at the engagement rings on Amazon - what an appalling lot of photos they are. Some aren't even in focus. Amazon undercuts everybody and pays very low wages. I know - there's an Amazon sweat shop locally.

A couple of local studios have vanished. The rest have lights firmly turned off and no staff employed other than the owner whose partner is usually off working at a job that actually earns money.

This brings me back to what I said - there is no photography work here - that's a myth. Plenty of people reaching out to take advertising money. It's not even worth spending money on business cards any more.

OK. I tried to reach out to people by taking a flea market stall for a few weeks and put up about 50 framed prints. Lots of people stopped to look and spent ages looking and admiring. A few took business cards. Some took my 25% off special offer coupons. Not many of the coupons went. Not many business cards went. None of the coupons were ever redeemed. No calls resulted.

I had magnetic signs on my van. People still greet me and say "oh yes. you're the photographer". I am known as "the photographer" but nobody ever rings for photography. I ask people and they say they don't want photos and don't know anybody that does.

I remember joining the chamber of commerce and announced at the meeting when new members introduced themselves that I am a photographer and the whole meeting roared with laughter.

I meet other photographers and they all say how hard it is becoming with all the soccer moms taking up professional photography.

There is just no photography work. It's an absolute myth.

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deleted080512
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

Oh and I forgot to mention... I went to a new accountant the other day to get my taxes done. I said I have a small business. He said "let me guess, photography". I was surprised. He said he sees 500 people a year that say they started a new business and it always turns out to be photography and none of them have the business by the end of the next year. There is no business - even in the big city, 100 miles from where I live.

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Craig
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

Machine Gun Kelly wrote:

Oh and I forgot to mention... I went to a new accountant the other day to get my taxes done. I said I have a small business. He said "let me guess, photography". I was surprised. He said he sees 500 people a year that say they started a new business and it always turns out to be photography and none of them have the business by the end of the next year. There is no business - even in the big city, 100 miles from where I live.

My thoughts exactly.. My business has gone down the past 2 years. Only 3 weddings for this year.

My price is @ $2700 per.

I have some family shoots coming up and these are coming from people that I know or who recommended me.. My FB page is a joke.. Hits to my website have dropped off a lot.

So I am positive its not just me, everyone is slowing down. True, there are still some hi priced studios who are "IN" with money crowd, they get work but for the majority not enough of the pie for everyone.

I just think that unless you find some niche where someone will pay you, the majority dont need a photographer not when they have other priorities to pay for.

People need to put food on their tables, and that is going up in price.. The things we need will sky rocket once the con game is over and they have to print massive amounts of money, hyperinflation.

the party is over.. the american so called dream has gone POOF!

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deleted080512
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to Craig, Mar 27, 2013

The photographer I spoke with a day or two back said she was having a hard time making ends meet. Every time I pass the mall photographers, their shop is usually empty and the staff sitting playing cards. The local photographers that are making money have contracts with government agencies.

I notice a slowdown in spending in general. I used to go into the local bookstore for coffee and it was packed. It's now like a graveyard.

I don't have much money to spare - mine goes on rent, food, fuel and insurance. That's it - nothing much left after that to save or spend.

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Craig
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

Machine Gun Kelly wrote:

The photographer I spoke with a day or two back said she was having a hard time making ends meet. Every time I pass the mall photographers, their shop is usually empty and the staff sitting playing cards. The local photographers that are making money have contracts with government agencies.

I notice a slowdown in spending in general. I used to go into the local bookstore for coffee and it was packed. It's now like a graveyard.

I don't have much money to spare - mine goes on rent, food, fuel and insurance. That's it - nothing much left after that to save or spend.

The pros who have made it in the past are now selling their talent to wanna bes. They are done trying to make it too. They are making PS actions, instructional videos, etc. going that route.

2 Things happened.. The innovation of digital photography which made everyone a pro, plus the downturn since the crash of 2008/9.. We are now headed for the real crash.

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deleted080512
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to Craig, Mar 27, 2013

While I remember... My website was getting six thousand hits a month according to the web host. That's 200 a day. Nobody was calling so I put a couple of independent counters up. Hits dropped to between 0 and 2 per day. Searches that found my site were few and far between. It was findable and by the time I dumped the website I was on page 2 of Google and Bing. I think 6 search hits a month was big news.

Facebook - I did have a Facebook page but nobody bothered with it so I deleted it in the end rather than have something else to waste time maintaining that nobody looked at. I tried all the social media - Twitter, Facebook Foursquare and a few others that I've now forgotten. I managed to amass about 20,000 followers on Twitter but I do swear not a single one was actually human. I'd send out a tweet to ask if anybody was actually human and no responses. In the end I put them onto an auto-tweeter and left it at that. With combined auto-tweeters and auto-follow/unfollow, I figured I could just leave it adding and broadcasting. I've forgotten how to get into the accounts but for all the good that's been doing it doesn't matter.

It all reminds me very much of what I read on some guy's blog about the zombiestat website - I used to get hits from zombiestat. It turns out that is just a bot going around creating hits. The point is though the rueful comments of some of the other people using Google blogs that they were excited because they thought they had an audience for their blogs but had come to realise in fact since zombiestat is just a bot that the reality is that they're probably blogging to themselves alone.

When we start talking about niches, that's when we're talking about very little money.

As for weddings - I offer $300 all in for 2 hours photography and all the images on a USB flash drive - full size JPEGs, RAW files and emailable SXVGA images. If they want to do their own editing from RAW instead of me running things through my software then I drop it to $250. That's still too expensive for some though.

Interestingly I put a feeler out on Craigslist to see what would happen if I advertised free wedding photography. I had two responses. One of them told me they wanted photos but wouldn't tell me where the wedding would be though they would tell me when, then lambasted me for not coming when they wouldn't even tell me where it was going to take place. Don't know if that was a joke or not. The other sounded interested but dropped out. What I'd have done there would have been to charge for the prints. Get them done online and make a profit off the prints.

It just seems to me that now everybody has a decent enough camera on their smartphone and can post willy-nilly to Facebook, they just don't care any more.

As far as weddings go, I personally don't know of any happening in my area. I did go to a bridal expo as an exhibitor a few years ago but there were more exhibitors than members of the public that turned up. Everybody was disappointed.

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PenguinPhotoCo
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In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

Machine Gun Kelly wrote:

Doesn't matter. There is no business in the area. Local small businesses don't want photography. When they have something they want a photo of, they do it themselves with their iPhone (and get quite good results). For event photography I've seen weddings etc go to local camera clubs on a no-fee basis.

BS.
I can make coffee at home for 10c a POT. Why would ANYONE pay $4 for a cup of it? Yet it happens millions of times a day.
bread is $1.50 a loaf,. right? Walmart is king of low priced groceries. Yet 7-11 and the like are doing just fine - and charging $3 for the SAME BREAD.
People buy for MANY reasons, some not logical at all. Convenience, status, the experience among others.
YOU must offer SOMETHING they want to buy - could be exclusitivity, HUGE bw canvas', or 1000 other things. If you are trying to sell the "same thing" as everyone else there is no reason to come to you.

There are the usual portrait artists such as Olan Mills etc all over the place with monkeys being paid peanuts. People are happy to go to them for portraits.

There just is no work here. Look at careerbuilder - they're not even looking for newborn photographers in this state. There were 40 pages of newborn photographers required "photography skill optional, sales skill essential".

AHA! You're reading but not comprehending. See, photography isn't key - SALES IS. Marketing is.

As an example of how crappy this area is - there are 250K people and at least 150 photographers advertising in yellow pages, white pages, internet etc. That's 1 photographer for every 1,666 people. Even if all of those people came to one photographer and had a $50 portrait done (doesn't matter if it's newborn, senior or whatever), that's $83,000 but only 2% are going to hire a photographer so that's a maximum yield annually of $1,666.

Nobody I know has ever hired a photographer. Usually they have friends, members of the family etc do their photography free.

Nobody I know has ever bought a ferri or rolls royce. But they sell many of both. I've never seen China - so it must not exist.
Sorry, your argument only means you and your friends are not the target market for photogrraphy.
Yes, there are TOO many photographers - the total popluation of my town is 4500. THere are 7 wedding photographers advertising here. The math says we won't all survive shooting weddings. But SOME will survive I"m sure. THose that market well, have something 'unique' to sell.

Now I got mugged into starting a photo business but you name it - sports, portrait, event - all covered by these $10 a photo people like lifetouch etc. The bottom feeders have taken all the work. Then look further at business photography - most businesses don't want to throw money away on photography when they either have a keen amateur in their ranks or the boss has a cellphone that will do the photos.

Lifetouch is the LARGEST photo company in the US. How can you call them 'bottomfeeders'? They do VOLUME photography, like mcdonalds does volume food. But Applebees is doing well, olive garden and many others at a MUCH higher pricepoint than McDs.  They're selling ATMOSPHERE as much as they are food. An experience, not just calories.

Let's look at catalog work. I looked at the engagement rings on Amazon - what an appalling lot of photos they are. Some aren't even in focus. Amazon undercuts everybody and pays very low wages. I know - there's an Amazon sweat shop locally.

A couple of local studios have vanished. The rest have lights firmly turned off and no staff employed other than the owner whose partner is usually off working at a job that actually earns money.

This brings me back to what I said - there is no photography work here - that's a myth. Plenty of people reaching out to take advertising money. It's not even worth spending money on business cards any more.

I wanted to shoot weddings and wedding only. I can't find enough of them at a price that affords me a living. So I also shoot seniors and sports leagues (both growing, weddings shrinking). I do a few other 'people' jobs. My reputation is growing - I do pro quality work, on time and on budget. Most part timer wanna be's can't do that consistently (their day job interferes, they lack the gear, the experience).

OK. I tried to reach out to people by taking a flea market stall for a few weeks and put up about 50 framed prints. Lots of people stopped to look and spent ages looking and admiring. A few took business cards. Some took my 25% off special offer coupons. Not many of the coupons went. Not many business cards went. None of the coupons were ever redeemed. No calls resulted.

WRONG WRONG WRONG!  Photography is a LUXURY GOOD. YOu don't sell that at flea markets. And then you discount it? Selling on PRICE? SOrry, that is a race to free and you're welcome to win.
What you do has as much value as YOU place on it. Nobody will ever pay you more than you ask.

I had magnetic signs on my van. People still greet me and say "oh yes. you're the photographer". I am known as "the photographer" but nobody ever rings for photography. I ask people and they say they don't want photos and don't know anybody that does.

"the photographer"    ok, the best? Cheapest? Fastest? Edgiest?  I know LOTS of photographers. Why should I call YOU?

I remember joining the chamber of commerce and announced at the meeting when new members introduced themselves that I am a photographer and the whole meeting roared with laughter.

I meet other photographers and they all say how hard it is becoming with all the soccer moms taking up professional photography.

There is just no photography work. It's an absolute myth.

There IS work. If you have a clue on business, marketing, etc. No, it's not easy - and it's getting harder everyday. It's also harder to be a grocer, best buy, bookstore, etc. Darwin had it right- evolution is real and those that adapt will survive.
I'm seriously considering moving from wedding photography to wedding DJ. Soccer Sally can't do a wedding as a DJ. I have the connections...the $4-5k in gear isn't all that expensive and if I buy used the risk is low as I can sell the stuff off. I can probably get more dj gig referrals than I can wedding photo gig referrals... Still doing market research on this one.

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Craig
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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to deleted080512, Mar 27, 2013

You can't say you didn't try..

it's very depressing for me too. You start to question everything.. I met with two clients recently and I felt so sure, 99% they were going to hire me.. nope.. money I think was the issue even though they said my prices were no problem.

Don't know what to tell you. At the prices you are asking for you will be fighting with a lot of others who are part time guys to make a few bucks.. Not this kid I raised my prices and if I don't get my price then I dont care..

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Re: Is professional photography dying out?
In reply to Craig, Mar 27, 2013

Interesting. January was so good it alone made my first quarter the best in the 8 years I"ve been in business.

I'll do more business in April than I did the entire first year I was in business. By mid may I will have done more business this year than I did in the first two years in business combined.

Last year I shot more sports kids than ever and my end of may this year I will have shot more than I did all of last year.
My seniors last year were up 50% in head count...down in avg sale though.
I do little commercial work but it's way up this year so far.

As for weddings...yeah, they evaporated here this year - for photographers. DJs are buisy, halls are busy (not as busy as last year though). I did the two bridal shows I always do and have not gotten one single call or inquiry let alone a booking. I had 19 weddings last year - and 4 this year. From my biggest year to my worst...WTF?

For the cost of one 5D3 or a couple of L lenses I can be a DJ. Hmm...I see a change in my business coming soon...I can hire a wedding photog to shoot/edit and I'll just sell the jobs! (I also offer wedding planning (subbd out) and invitations and photobooth.)
Maybe it's time to be a wedding mill! LOL My county doesn't have one...

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