State of the Photography Industry

I see so many photographers (especially those who are new as in the past five years), tell me I am negative and horrible for trying to ‘squash their dreams’…. then I am told that I can’t “live in the past” and that I must “evolve” if I want to be a success.

Sweetheart, I lived success as a photographer with the hundreds of thousands in revenue pouring into my studio (if you need figures, between 2009-2011, my business was bringing in between $300,000 and $400,000 in revenue PER YEAR – and I have the lovely back taxes to prove it – which is no fun, and I’m still struggling to deal with).  I know what it was like very well, but what you struggle with is called REALITY.

What I’m going to discuss is basic business and economics.  Don’t believe me?  Please, I beg of you, take some business and economics classes.  It will open your eyes.  For me, my common sense and observations already told me these things, but taking actual college classes (not workshops done by stay-at-home moms or failed business owners) for business gave me the words to use to describe what is going on.

What you have here is a basic business cycle.  This can be applied to an individual business, but for these purposes, I am applying it to an entire industry.

The middle gray line that you see is the growth trend line.  Typically, an industry will continuously grow upward.    There are typically peaks and troughs.  When the line is going down, we call that “recession”, when the line goes up, we call that “recovery”.  These are very NORMAL contractions and expansion (so when someone is trying to get you to pay for their marketing or business workshop, you will probably not see these very important facts addressed, or they are quickly sugar coated and swept to the side cause this is all about you following your passion, not about these pesky business facts.)

Around 2008 (give or take for different areas of the country and/or world – some areas have not caught up – in fact, if you notice, many photographers in the US are now touring other areas of the world because they are finding pockets of photographers willing to pay to learn from them since this trend hasn’t hit them), we were at the peak.  Right now in 2014, we are rock bottom (or, we are hoping this is rock bottom, but we may be still going down).   We should see recovery, right?  Recovery should happen again and we should get above that growth trend line and make it to another peak, right?

WRONG.  Personally, I do not believe we are capable of peaking that high again.  I personally don’t even think we are going to make it up to that trend line again.  I think the next peak is going to be much lower (as illustrated where the red arrow is).  Why is this?

  • Technology.   While it used to be only the professionals had nice DSLR cameras, now anyone can buy one from Best Buy.  When my daughter was first doing horse shows, I would be the only one around with an SLR camera.  Now?  I just went to one a few weeks ago, and nearly every single rider either had their own DSLR, or a parent or friend had a DSLR.  Let’s face it, outside light at a horse show?  It’s a no brainer – anyone can shoot nicely out there.
  • Social Media.  Everyone has photos all over social media.  Photos are no longer a luxury, but a commodity.  The sheer number of photos popping up in your newsfeed, should be a clear indication of that.    A few Instagram filters, and the image doesn’t look so bad….
  • McDonalds Mentality.  Why should anyone wait to share images to all their  friends when they can just pull out their cell phone, which they have with them all the time and shoot.  In fact, I-phone images are looking pretty decent and getting better and better.
  • Oversaturation.  Everyone is a photographer.   Again, let’s face it – everyone has the technology at their fingertips, why pay a photographer?  Sure, some photographers are artists, but these artists tend to price themselves as such (I know I do), so naturally, if someone can get “good enough for cheap” from their friend or relative, or even from their own camera, why pay for an artist except every once in a while, if that is something they truly value, to capture something amazing….  but the opportunity for a photographer to find one of these clients, well, the “pool” is getting smaller.

But my business is doing better than ever!  Is it?  Good for you!  The problem is, you may not know what you missed.  Not to mention, one photographer’s happy place may be making $30,000/year while another photographer may have been used to $100,000/year because they live in a more expensive area and have a higher need of money to support their family.   It still blows my mind that there are photographers in the Baltimore/DC/VA area who are happy making $10,000/year with their photography businesses.

So this begs the question – are you willing to wait out in this trough with everyone else?  Are you willing to wait it out until it gets to the next peak?  I’m not sure that I’m willing to wait it out when that next peak isn’t going to line up with peaks from the past.

There’s one more concern.  I don’t want to sound all “sky is falling”, but with these technological advances, etc., photographers may become obsolete in the future (as we see newspaper photographers are no longer needed, does that not clue you in to what could be?).  Look what happened to the music industry – you don’t even have to purchase music anymore if you don’t want to (not saying that is legal to pirate, but…… technology….)  Where did medical transcriptionists go?  There are industries and products that become obsolete due to technology.  Keep that somewhere in the back of your mind as we move forward in the next 10 years.

But I’m an artist.  Yes, I’m sure you are.  Think about how many people are happy to find a cool looking picture at Ikea to hang in their living room that matches their furniture.  How many people really go out and seek out a one-of-a-kind decorative image (as an original, done by an actual artist, not copied and printed in mass) to hang with their furniture anymore?  The majority are happy with a print that 50,000 other people can purchase at Ikea too.  The pool gets smaller and smaller.

I do encourage you – if you are an artist, keep doing what you are doing.  Be an artist, create beautiful things, and price yourself as an artist, not as a photographer.  Feel your worth.  When all is said and done, you can still lean back and say “I valued myself.  I’m an artist, and I know I am worth it and I’m not going to let anyone (including myself) devalue my talent.”


About Jodie Otte

Maryland Newborn Photographer and Child Portrait Artist, Jodie Holstein-Otte, specializes in unique photography of newborn babies, kids, and families. She works on location in Harford, Howard, Cecil, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and other areas throughout Maryland. She uses both both natural lighting and soft studio lighting techniques.

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