Expensive gear - Not the number one priority in photography.

Started Nov 25, 2012 | Discussions thread
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rtf Regular Member • Posts: 256
Expensive gear - Not the number one priority in photography.

Hi everyone. Some experience to share, if I may, for anyone thinking of going professional.

I recently got back into full time pro photography and I thought you may be interested in how my  customer base has responded to the recession.

For all you potential wedding photographers out there, I do not make my living based on wedding photography, but will do a wedding shoot if asked to do so. I thought that you may find the following info interesting.

So far, 22 weddings that I know of (market research) have been photographed by relatives or friends using point and shoot compacts, or mobile phones. Not a pro in sight. This is a fact that is based on information gathered from the wedding couples themselves, and wedding organisers/hotel owners that I keep in touch with. One couple spent £150 on place cards for the dinner table, £850 on the wedding dress and £65 on a fuji compact from Argos. Their financial priorities did not include a professional photographer. They accepted that it would have been nice to have had a pro photographer, but also pointed out that they have over 500 images from their wedding on Facebook. Images collected from themselves with their point and shoot, and images from the wedding guests. The interesting thing about this was that they went down the DIY photography route, because they were influenced by weddings that had done the exact same thing.                            DIY wedding photography is very much on the increase.

A local estate agent requested my services for a photographic job on a hard to sell property. Could I take a photograph of a £450,000 property using my £5000 telesopic aerial mast system? "I'd be delighted" I said. When it came to payment though, they thought that it would be generous enough of them to allow me to use the image as part of my portfolio, instead of a cash payment. They could see the benefit of using the mast system, but were not prepared to pay for it.

A huge national newspaper wanted to use one of my images of a local sporting event - without payment. They would publish the photograph as being credited to myself. Big deal.                      The journalist doing the story sure as hell was not working for nothing. Why should I?.

A potential portrait customer loved some images that I had taken of a friends children. She expected me to travel 200 miles to photograph her kids on a nice beach, but she was not willing to cover my travelling costs. She obviously thought that petrol is free, and I do not need to charge for my time. I mention this particular experience because it's becoming more common. If I could compare it to the fact that pubs and clubs are closing on a daily basis in the UK. People are prepared to pay stupid money for their drinks, but they don't want to pay for a taxi home. So they stay at home and drink.

The dramatic increase in competition from "instant pro photographers" has also helped to de-value photography as a profession. It's a stupid situation, and sadly a fact, that there are "photographers" charging less to take a portrait, than the local window cleaner wants for cleaning my windows. I spoke to someone recently who paid £5.00 for a commissioned portrait. Is that photographer making money?. No chance. His client told me that he travelled to her, and he supplied a 10 x 8 print... for £5.00.

That particular customer now believes that all portraits should be around £5.00. My last job as an employee earned me £300 per week, take home. Now if my maths is right, I would have to find 60 customers a week at £5.00 per commission, to earn my £300. This does not take into account my costs for the week. It shows a lack of business sense to charge so little, it's not undercutting the competition, it's simply committing financial suicide. Just work for nothing. You will go bust anyway.

We are not talking here about being scared of competition. I welcome competition, and most genuine pro photographers accept that competition is a healthy fact of business life.

The problem is that when you charge £5.00 for a portrait how do you then convince that customer that any future work is actually of any value at all?. You have made a statement of worth to that customer and many others, that you are willing, and others should also be willing, to work for less than minimum wage.

I knew all this before I got back into pro photography. I thought long and hard before going pro again. I have been lucky that I have the full support of my family, and I have built up a comprehensive list of contacts over the years that I have found invaluable when seeking clients.

I would just like to point out to all the potential pro photographers out there that buying a D800/700/600 or whatever piece of gear is the last thing you should be doing. Get the business first, and charge sensible money. It sounds obvious, and it's been said before, but you really need to research your potential market, your customers, and your competition. Photography has never been more difficult as a business profession. Be honest with your expectations. Don't try to convince youself that going pro is a natural progression from being a keen amatuer. Going pro is all about putting food on the table, paying the bills, keeping a roof over your head. Working hard with no guarantees. It's not a romantic game.

I, so far, am doing okay. I charge a substantial amount more for my work than my known competition, yet I get repeat work. I politely refuse to get involved with any potential clients who are more interested in "getting a bargain", than the quality of their images.

Clients who care more about their images than they do the price, are hard to find, but that for me is the way to go. I have learnt the hard way. If you enjoy your photography and want to go pro, be advised that it's better to have 50% less work and 300% more profit, than the other way around.

It would come as no surprise to anyone that I forecast a very, very difficult time ahead for the majority of pro photographers (including myself). We can but try the best we can.

I strive to hold onto my love for photograph, but it's not easy. It would appear that on websites such as DP Review there are many who would rather argue, and pick a verbal fight with someone, than be polite, respect peoples views, and encourage the art of photography. I do not realistically expect everyone to agree with each other all of the time, but it's so obvious when someone is out to stir things up. Sad, really sad.

Photography has been, always should be, and always will be, about about the final image.

Anything else is of interest to us all, but not the priority.

For those who may be curious I use the following equipment:

D800   D700   D90   16-35 f4 vr   50mm f1.8 afd   105 f2 dc   180 f2.8 af   SB900   Metz AF1 (x3)   radio triggers for all the flashes   Very heavy Manfrotto studio tripod (worth the hassle - rock solid)   50ft telescopic mast system

Hope this may have been of use to some of you.

To alll the genuine photographers out there who love their photography, you have my respect, to all the semi pro's about to go full time, I wish you success, and finally best wishes to all over the festive period.



 rtf's gear list:rtf's gear list
Nikon D700 Nikon D7000 Nikon D800 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm F4G ED VR Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D +4 more
Nikon D800 Nikon D90
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