Saturday, May 19, 2012

Why Professional Photographers Give Newcomers the "Cold Shoulder"

I recently received an email regarding this topic. I did a little web investigation, and found that there were more than a few sites where people talked about this. One site called them "Momtographers", and basically said working pros should "...give them a break!" Other people said pro photographers were greedy and wanted to overcharge people. And of course, the pros said you grubby part timers--especially the "Mom Arrazi's"--don't know what you are doing and you don't know photographic composition from a musical composition, and should just stick to taking "pitchers" of your kids in stupid costumes, since that seems to be what you are best at.


The relationship between part time and full time photographers has always been contentious, even though 97 out of 100 full timers started as a part timer...I know I did. Back in the sixties, full time photographers (FTP) called part time photographers (PTP), "bathtubbers"--this stemmed from most amateurs not having a darkroom, so they processed their film in the bathroom. Today, thanks in large part to the inexpensive Canon Digital Rebel, there is a large influx of female PTP. "Momtographers" as one site called them. I had a business consultant who referred to them as "Digital Debbies." And I could see how FTP could get a little pissed at some of these people.

I was photographing a wedding in Concord, Michigan as the HIRED photographer. A local real estate agent who just happened to be female, was there as a guest. One of my "Trademark" photographs was a floor level shot with a wide angle lens of the back of the bride and her father going down the aisle. This wench walked past me, went halfway up the aisle, and stood in the middle of the aisle ruining my photograph. I took it anyway to show the bride and groom. But it didn't stop there.

After the wedding, the bridal party was sequestered in a small holding area to permit guests to go onto the reception where the bride and groom would meet guests. As the wedding party filed in, she pushed past me, entered the room, closing and LOCKING the door! I got no images there.

At the reception, she showed off her snapshots (she had them printed at the local one hour lab), and in a loud voice said, "Gee, you'd think the PROFESSIONAL photographer would be able to do this, wouldn't you?"

I cornered her and said, "You have a home closing on Monday for a friend of mine. I am going to come to that closing and look over his deal. I think he might have paid too much and I think you are getting paid too much commission. I am going to bring another friend with me who has his real estate license and we are going to look things over. I'm pretty sure I can get him to void the deal."

She replied, "You wouldn't!"

I said, "After this crap you pulled tonight, you watch me. I don't know what your problem is, but I want you to know if you ever do that to me again, I believe in equality for women. If a man had done that to me I would have knocked him out. I gave you a free pass tonight, but next time I will have absolutely NO qualms about punching your lights out!" The next time she was at a wedding I photographed, she put her camera back in her car! No, I probably wouldn't have hit a woman--I think...

The second issue is that of price. I hear a lot of ignorant PTP make statements that pros are overcharging because they are greedy. The average PTP thinks, "If an 8x10 print costs me $1, then I can earn a profit by selling it for $2." No, they can't and that's why an astonishing 97 out of 100 photographers who start out part time and go to full time are not in business two years after going full time.

The FTP does not have the luxury of an income other than photography. S/he must pay their own health insurance, they often have a building and employees, and they have a large amount invested in improvements, equipment, training, insurance, and salaries. In other words, their overhead. The PTP has a main source of income, and does not have these expenses. Their undercutting of price ruins the market for ALL photographers.

Let's say Perry Pro is a FTP. He charges $20 for an 8x10 portrait. It should be $50, but the part timers in the area are cutting the price and it makes it difficult for him. Debbie Digital is a PTP. Her husband works for the local utility company and earns $50,000 a year. Debbie is not feeling fulfilled, so her husband lets her use his Gold AmEx card to buy $10,000 worth of equipment so she can do something the other 23 hours and 45 minutes of the day she's not busy with him. Debbie is having FUN! She takes pictures of pretty flowers, cute kitties, her kids, her friends, her friends kids, and she gives them the CD or thumb drive, or prints, or whatever. Oh, and her friends just LOVE her work and they LOVE her. One says, "You know, Debbie, your pictures are just as good as Perry Pro' should open your own business!"

So Debbie does just that. She finds a space (since hubby said "No Way" to running the business from home) and fixes it up "real cute"--for about $10,000. She gets a girlfriend to come in and help and join in the fun. Debbie charges no session fee, and charges just $8 a "sheet", telling her customers, "I charge less than JC Penneys!" The customers come in. They are not her friends. They tell her the pictures are total crap and they wouldn't pay $2 a sheet for this...sheet! "The customers are mean!" Debbie tells her husband. Debbie also tells her husband that she took in $2,000 in sales this month [YAY!]. The only problem is that rent, utilities, advertising, and cost of sales was $5,000.

Debbie's husband is not happy. Neither are the customers, who thought her photographs sucked. Now they think all professional photographers are like Debbie. They also think that since Debbie wasn't a good photographer, then a good photographer will charge more. Like $10 a sheet. After all, Debbie charged $8. True, she ran the business into the ground and never made a profit, but the customer doesn't know that.

So you can see why FTP might have a little problem with PTP.

Now before I get a ton of email complaints, I am not picking on women. There are more than a few really great female photographers who also run their business well. This is just an illustration. I could have made it Penny Pro and Dan Digital--so don't mail bomb me, please.

Professional Photographers are under extreme pressure today. I think we are having to deal with the same changes in our business model that the music industry is faced with. Copying is rampant, people don't care about copyright--they will freely and unapologetically make illegal copies of CDs and computer software, so they have no problem ripping you off. The problem is, people think, "Hey this is my picture, I paid for it, it's mine, so fck that photographer--s/he's charging too much anyway!"

I feel the future of professional photography--well, consumer photography for income, anyway--will be reduced to a handful of photographic specialists who work full time and command a very high price, and the majority will do consumer photography part time. I see this coming in the very near future.

All right, so we have determined that PTP get under the skin of FTP, because they are seeing their income and market share erode...rapidly. I still think FTP should be a little more altruistic when it comes to PTP. At least those that are not blatant price cutters, and do not put really crappy images on display and try to pass them off as "My images are high studio quality without the high studio price." Yeah, there was a loser right here in my area that advertised this. His pictures were real crap. I wouldn't give him the time of day.

If a PTP came to me and needed a piece of equipment, I normally loaned it. I had one guy who was struggling--he worked two jobs and did photography on the side. He had a baseball league to photograph one day and he forgot his flash unit--and it was 30 minutes back to his home. The local camera store (now closed) didn't have his model. I overheard him and said, what camera do you use? I can loan you something. I thought he was going to cry. He tried to pay me when he brought it back, I said, "Forget it--it didn't cost me anything to loan it to you." Then he did cry. Did it bring me any business down the road? Not that I can point to. But it meant a lot to him. We don't need to be so hard, especially when everyone is having a tough time of it right now.

So, what's the takeaway here? Well here it is as I see it:

  • PTP, try not to be a price cutter and run down FTP;
  • FTP, try to come to a working relationship at least with those PTP that are decent;
  • FTP, sorry, the business model is changing: you may be a PTP before you know it!
Can't we all just get along?

Are you enjoying these posts? If so, please tell your friends. Are you not enjoying them? Then why did you come back? Just kidding, if you think I've missed the mark, or you have a comment, by all means contact me!

Til next time,
Steve Bohne

1 comment:

  1. HI there!!

    I was reading this post as I somehow came across your site ( as I am trying to put together my first lighting kit (at 52), trying to make a PART-TIME living at photography.

    I would say your analyses of the situation makes total sense. Personally, even though I have 4 small rental houses, 3 boats that I clean, plus income from 4 or 5 gigs playing smooth jazz as a solo act each month, I will NEVER undercut what a true 'pro' should be making.

    I have thoroughly researched this area for pricing, and I think I have it down fairly well. I am also fully aware (also as a 20-year freelance trombonist in Canada)what you are saying about copyright.

    Yes, everyone-and-his-dog wants to be a photographer (just like years ago when all the digital music libraries --Vienaa symphony as an ex.)came on the scene... now EVERYONE is a composer!! What a lot of baloney. You STILL have to know how to compose, how to 'talk' the musical language with people, still have to have the drive and passion and a little personality-to-boot... Sure, it might be a bit EASIER to produce a broadcast-ready music piece from the comfort of your own home without the need to hire out a studio and deal with drunken studio musicians, etc. but the meat-and-potatoes have to be there... believe me, there is a lot of really bad music out there.. just take a listen to some of the music libraries that buy this stuff.... I do digress, but I have had a darkroom since I was 14 and have had a passion for this for a long time. If only someone had told me i possible COULD make a living from this 30 years ago.... or at least a partial one.. i would have taken up the challenge. however, music has been the big involvement for a long time. Now I am diversifying!. Photography is a largely enjoyable pursuit for me, and I think now is the right time to make some money at it, while keeping it ultimately fun for me!

    If I may ask, why the semi-cryptic comment on your site saying you are no longer taking work?

    Hope all is well...
    Keep up the posts. I find it interesting that you wrote this tonight!! Most blogs I see are years old!!



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