A new Business Model for Pro Photography is born… and It’s about time

These past few years we've all struggled to deal with all the changes in the industry. And have there ever been a lot of casualties along the way.

There's always been a churn rate to the professional photography business. Years ago, even when the industry was stable photographers came and went. Some got disillusioned, some retired, some just weren't good enough and so on. Mostly they got into the studio business for all the wrong reasons and with all the wrong expectations.

But then came the digital revolution. The magic curtain had been stripped away. The barriers to entry gone, and suddenly everybody was a photographer. The industry exploded around the world and the population of photographers grew until finally supply outstripped demand and the bloodletting began.

Prices plummeted for most. Competition for clients was fierce. Old established studios saw their sales suffer and struggled to transition their businesses from film based to digital based. A whole new learning curve had to be dealt with that many would fail at. It was often easier for a newcomer to learn the digital technologies than it was for established photographers to.

Some studios had made the transition easily. Some of those photographers became instructors. Seminar attendance exploded as thousands struggled to learn and adapt. The growth fueled by large quantities of highly skilled technology workers as they fled the tech bubble crash and entered the world of photography.

But changes started to appear in 2011 and 2012. Camera companies were starting to see DSLR sales drop significantly and a new trend was underway. With the competition so fierce, brick and mortar studios were starting to fail. Some were ready to retire anyway and others just could no longer afford the overhead of a full studio and were replaced by leaner businesses running out of their homes.

But another change was going on. A more significant one. The market for photography services was undergoing a huge change as well. As the general public was able to do more of their own photography with inexpensive DSLR's or even their smartphones their requirement for professional services diminished. A shrinking market to add to the already overpopulated photo industry.

And peoples lifestyles changed. Getting prints made from the family vacation and put in photo albums was going away in favor of digital content. Decorating a wall of the house with 8x10's was also going away. Their need for photos had been replaced by a need for images. Images that for the most part, they could make themselves.

The need for wallet size prints was now extinct. You just send a jpg to grandma. And that images was more likely just a candid caught by a cell phone rather than a studio shot. People gather and show each other their photos on their cell phones and send a copy to whomever they please for free. 5x7's and 8x10's were also pretty much useless for the same reasons.

These lifestyle changes affected the photo industry even more than the digital revolution. But our industry had made a fatal error decades ago that would come to haunt us now. The cost of prints was linked to the size of the piece of paper. That never made sense. It should have been about the art all along. An image should cost $xxx regardless of the paper it's printed on. So when the need for paper went away our pricing model died.

But photographers kept on forcing the consumer to buy prints. Clients would ask us for digital and we'd get offended and say things like "I'll never sell my digital images - you must buy a print". So we created an industry to sell one thing in a market that wanted something different compounding our sales efforts even more.

So for many photographers, the answer was to supplement their lagging photo incomes by moving into the education sector that was still exploding. The old adage of "Those who can -do, those who can't teach" was never truer.

But the perfect storm was set. As the education sector grew the market shrank. Changes in the market were taking it's toll and photographers were seeking other forms of employment. Some left completely, others became part time.

Attendance at seminars dropped as the market shrank and travelling become prohibitively expensive relative to benefits gained. On-line education had become more available and extremely popular. So now the photo-education market was over populated. We now see a huge decline in seminars, workshops, and now even brick and mortar colleges.

In August 2016 Brooks Institute announced it would close as did the Hallmark Institute of Photography. Two long established photo schools with excellent reputations failed. The Hallmark Institute reported it had only 10 students register for the new year. 10!!!

It was bound to happen. A changing photo marketplace with different needs caused a smaller market for pro photographers. As revenue dropped and failures increased fewer people were lured into photography as a profession. Photo education was the next to go and the new reality has formed.

It means photographers today will face a new world. They have to change their mindset and adapt or die. The status quo is no longer available to us despite many photo instructors and educators screaming come on in - the water's fine. All their trying to do is salvage their education income. They are the ones mostly in denial.

It's not all doom and gloom at all. Some photographers have built remarkable businesses during the past few years. Some have even become remarkable online instructors will valuable information to share. So why do they succeed in spite of all of these changes? The answer is pretty simple and it goes back to economics 101.

You can't sell something that nobody needs or that they can do for themselves for free. You can only sell things they can't do themselves.

I look at successful photographers I've seen in the past few years and admire their work. Photographers like Gerry Ghonis, Sue Bryce, Warne Noyce, Blair Phillips, and so on have created a distinctive style that people can not do themselves. If they want it, they have to buy it.

So creating a product people can't do themselves is number one but then you have to package it into something they want to buy.

Today, the smallest print you should sell is 11x14. Anything smaller should be gone. Wall portraits only. But all the other sizes are sold as low res digital files. and it's not 8x10 res and 5x7 res and wallet res, it's internet res. Just one product not three. It should be good enough to look great on a smartphone and nothing else.

Albums of various sizes can fill the need for smaller hard copies.

And the biggest change has to be with ourselves. We have to have a new understanding of the market. We have to revise our expectations. Our customers needs have changed. In many cases this means the market is smaller today. We should adjust our expectations accordingly.

Smaller market = bigger price, not smaller = outstanding work = marketing superiority

Embrace the new reality of our digital world. Stop selling things people don't need and give them a compelling reason to spend money with you by offering outstanding work.

Then market your ass off 🙂

Kerry Allan

3 Responses

  1. This is quite an insightful look how the industry has changed so much since I went to college to take the toggery fee back in the late 80s . It is making me rethink the possibilities for the coming year as to what product line and services I will be offering as well . Less work (sessions) and more perceived value and art . I think it brings to light a thought, how do you separate yourself from the rest of the herd so you don't get slaughtered .
    • That's the "Market your ass off" part :) See also our Youtube video on Don't get Clients get the right clients: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nq3LM7KL_PE
  2. The market has changed with the advent of cell phones and clients being happy with the photographs from a cell phone. Gone are the days of anyone being a photographer without a lot of training on creating a photograph look that can't be copied without tools of the trade. Photographers like Gerry Ghonis, Sue Bryce, Warne Noyce, Blair Phillips and Sal Cincotta have developed a look, style and the technical ability to create their look and this is why they are in demand and make money. I am going to take the time to look at great photographers and understand what is makes their image stand out... lighting, posing and framing. All of this goes into creating a image that others can't do with a cell or even with a camera. I will not offer anything smaller than a 11x14 from now on, I finding people who only wanting small images are not making me money, so why spend the time to make no money. I will work on obtaining clients who want something special and is willing to spend the time to create these images. This includes hair, makeup and clothing that allows for the image they are looking for.

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