Should photographers be locked up as insane for expecting to make a reasonable living from their chosen profession?
Is it too much to ask to be able to map out a career path as other professionals such as architects, lawyers and doctors might. We are after all part of the “creative industries” one of the few sectors this country can excel at within a global market.
A few decades ago I suspect the pathway was easier to define. There wasn’t the massive volume of photography both good and bad available nor the methods of easy exchange and publication we experience now with the advent of the internet.
If a client needed a photograph to promote their products they needed a photographer to produce it for them. There wasn’t the plethora of pre-existing images that could be cut and pasted together in an approximation of a result that could keep an over cautious account handler happy.
Of course there has always been good and bad photographers but then there was a massive incentive to get better at your job and take better and better photographs. For those of us who did improve our successes were not only rewarded with higher day-rates but also more interesting and more frequent commissions by art directors and designers of the creatively driven agencies.
You could form good working relationships with these creative people as they appreciated and valued the lengths to which you would go to produce better and better images. We all spoke the same language.
You were treated with respect and when you turned up for a location shoot with a couple of assistants and a Range Rover full of lights and cameras you got the facilities you needed from all concerned. OK you were being paid a relatively large sum of money to produce photographs for them but it was more than just the money. There was a respect for your ability to create beautiful images even from the mundane – it was magic and you were the magician.
The changes in our businesses directly mirror what has happened within the advertising and design industries in good times and bad were creativity has a tendency to be under valued in businesses where the client is king and the most important line is the bottom line. We are all in business to make money but if that is the only motivation our businesses are as vulnerable as theirs.
The most important thing in all this turmoil is that we never under value our own worth. If a client requires the best photography they have to employ the best photographers and that is us. Successful photographers not only have confidence in their own unique image making abilities but also understand how to capitalise their talents into a profitable business.
Advances in technology perhaps once seen by some as the death of our industry are in fact the tools we have to employ to make our businesses successful. They also provide the key to our future.
In fact if we don’t adopt these benefits we have no future.
We just have to make sure our clients appreciate just how much better our commissioned images are at doing the job for which they were intended than cut price ones snatched from the internet to foot the bill.
The old saying “You are only as good as your clients” has never been truer so we have a strong vested interest in helping the people we rely on for an income to realise the value of good photography.
Technology not only helps us to take good photographs but perhaps more importantly assists us in the manner in which we organise and operate our businesses.
For example back in the days before the mobile phone existed the invention of the answer phone and pager gave you the ability to be away from the studio but still be contactable.
You didn’t have to sit in a room alone with your phone any more waiting for it to ring to ensure you got that next all important job. This was liberating in itself but 5 years later we had the mobile phone – just voice at first but later texts and later still cameras, emails and everything else we now have at our disposal. Not to adopt this technology would be professional suicide and this is true for most advances.
OK sometimes it doesn’t all go in our favour but then we have to use the elements that are of benefit to us as with the greatest of all advances – the internet. Although the internet is responsible for many negative effects as discussed earlier the benefits of communication it offers to us are something we would not like to be without.
One of the new innovations available with newer digital cameras is the ability to shoot moving pictures. Could this become an important part of a photographers job. If yes those photographers who master this medium will be at a distinct advantage as long as they can convince their clients of its value and get away from the piggy back approach where it is tagged onto a stills shoot as a bit of an extra. This great technical innovation should not be sold out on the cheap. It will become even more important as advertising moves away from the printed image to screen based content.
We almost take the influence of all this technology for granted now but it really has been a short period of time since we first recognised the creative possibilities available to us and it is these possibilities that will be the key to a successful business in the future. The accelerating speed at which new innovations are added make it difficult to keep up but it can sometimes be a lot of fun trying. Learning new things is always a pleasure at any point in your career.
When I started to write this piece I was expecting to find big differences in the way people thought of photography as a business. These differences do exist but behind them all there is a truth and that is as it has always been – that successful photographers not only know how to take the best photographs but know how to sell them as well. This is equally true of photographers who have had successful businesses for a long period of time or those at the start of their careers. There is a commonality there and that is that they all want to take better photographs.
Funny that isn’t it.