Commercial Photography - A Tough Profession
There are dozens of potential difficulties a stills photographer has to contend with on location. And we have to make decisions on the fly making great images in often just a minute or two. What makes it worse is that most people think you're just making snaps and, as they've got a Canon (or Nikon) to, they can do just as good a job as you. Actually it tends to be the guys who think this way. Oh yeah and everybody knows photoshop. Give me a break!
The democratisation of digital photography has been great in so far as it has opened photography up to arguably millions of people more than was the case in the days of film. But, just cause you can do it does not mean you can do it well. Sadly, as almost everyone has a camera, so many people think they are a photographer. (I've got an oven, a fridge and a micky microwave - but I ain't no cook). It's true to say that I was often given far more respect as a 17 year boy old who knew very little, but had an aluminium case emblazoned with Nikon professional stickers, than I am today with an extra 30 years of photography and life experience. And this lack of respect is just one of the challenges photographers face in our new digital age. Should it be otherwise?
Let's just say that, given a chance, a good photographer can produce a very good result. But, when set up to fail, it takes all your skills to produce a similar result. However with a thick skin and a mission: a reason for doing what you do that goes beyond profit or the often preposterous demands of the account executive (e.g. child), its possible to both produce great work, thrill your customer and have a great time. The commercial world is full of wonderful people, but it does take skill in recognising them and time to build the necessary relationships. You also need more than an ounce of courage to stay away from the less professional, more insecure (e.g. nasty) types. The trick, when a so-called opportunity comes your way, is to avoid taking urgent jobs from people you hardly know, particularly when they involve unrealistic or unfair deadlines and little financial gain. You may have the hope of getting better work in the future. But the precedent you've established makes that almost impossible. By trying to help you're customer out you've devalued your own worth.
It's probably a better practice to invest some time meeting and qualifying (educating) new customers as to what you can do for them in a way that is line with your own business, creative and personal objectives. In such negotiations your intuition should be listened to intently. And beware of the 5 to 5 call on a Friday afternoon.
Photography has always been a tough industry. Now, with a multitude of people entering the business every year (there are said to be 20,000 photography graduates a year in the USA) the business is particularly competitive. If you see yourself as an average photographer I would advise you to find a job that pays you well and enjoy photography as a serious hobby. The same is true for anyone who is a fantastic photographer, but a poor sales or business person. Why let the stresses of business kill one of your lives great joys? If, however, you are an average or fantastic photographer, with a great head for business, there are many opportunities open to you. I simply make the point that there are very few creative people who have a head for business, unless you count making money as being creative. And they are, of course, a few fairly average photographers who've made a lot of money. Almost certainly there reason for being in business is to make money, rather than because they are passionate about photography. Often a business match made in heaven is when one the creative partner is free to make wonderful pictures and is guided and protected from the world of business by their better half. Ah! but then so many of us marry for love.
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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru