Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why it's a good idea not to start a photography business

Once in a while, during the course of an ordinary life somebody will look at the photographs somebody takes and say: "You need to go into business doing that. You're very good". Feel free to pick up a baseball bat and hit them repeatedly over the head until they regain their senses.

Who are the clients for a photography business? When was the last time you hired a photographer? Hmm - I'm stumped on that one too. Sure - I paid a minimum wage clerk in the corner drug store to do a passport photo for me a few times. That's not a photographer though.

So, let's look at some local photographer's websites and see who they think their customers are. So, trying a few search terms...

  • Local photographer. The first entry comes up as The Knot which is some kind of wedding magazine. The next is some photographer in St Louis Missouri. That search didn't go well.
  • Columbia Photographer produced a list of photographers. A few came up with Google location pins on a map. That's worth pursuing.
The Google location map came up with 7 photographers. Without naming them or directing traffic to their websites, let's have a look at what they offer
  1. Oh dear. It's a flash site that took forever to load. The site description says "newborn photography". Odd that - I thought most parents did their newborn photos with an iPhone. Navigating the site there was a page of portraits that looked very nice but was so terrible in operation and so sluggish in use, I ended up closing the browser. Not promising and I severely doubt with a site that bad she would get any customers. The portraits I saw all appeared to be of the same person - probably the photographer.
  2. Oh dear. It's another sluggish flash site that takes forever to load. The site description says "wedding photography". The site had a boudoir section that was automated and slow. After suffering that for a minute or two, I moved on. The boudoir section did not look very boudoirish. It looked more a case of draping a woman wearing a bra over a sofa. Not promising and with a site that bad, probably no customers.
  3. The next site was a wedding and portrait photographer. That loaded faster but as it was a blog format, pictures from below the bottom of the screen took longer and longer to load. The pictures were nice attempts but not dynamic and not sharp. The focus had clearly been missed. There's a difference between soft focus and out-of-focus. 
  4. This site loaded faster band offered weddings and portraits. The portraits had been air-brushed to Hell, rendering the people looking less like people and more like Manga characters. The wedding photographs were excellent. Some of them technically stunning.
  5. This site offered weddings, maternity and family photography with the site being described as wedding photography. The pictures were so-so and the pictures in the sections bore little resemblance to the sections. It was impossible to tell why pictures had been put into different galleries. Again, it had a flash slideshow that was infuriating as it totally lacked control.
  6. This site also had an annoying flash setup but loaded faster. It just seemed to be random images of random people. The photography was good but the point of the photos was lost. It was clearly somebody whose interests lay elsewhere, trying to scrabble for crumbs selling photography. The site was described as South Carolina Photographer. The aim seemed to be portrait, wedding and engagement with some wacky random stuff thrown in. Not easy to navigate.
  7. This site skipped from its own domain to Facebook which was confusing and necessitated logging into a long dormant Facebook account. The site is listed as being the owner's name and "photography". Clearly not something that a lot of thought has been put into. The photographs didn't seem to adhere to any one particular genre of theme. The head of the page said "wedding photography" and it was a blog page that went on forever. The last bit of the page I looked at said engagement photography.
So... There are seven local photographers and none of the sites were exactly good. They were hard to navigate, full of annoying flash slideshows. It really wouldn't have been too hard to load iWeb onto the computer and to design a tidy website. Having said that,the themes coming out from the mess were the following:
  • Newborn photography
  • Wedding photography
  • Maternity photography
  • "Family" photography (whatever that is)
  • Boudoir photography
  • Portrait photography
Now the questions for you. When did you last have portraits (passport photos don't count), wedding, maternity or boudoir photographs done of yourself? I'll skip family because it's not clear what that is. For myself, the answers are never, never, never, never, never.

As a guy, I'm unlikely to want to pose in fishnets, sexy panties and a sexy bra, draping myself over a sofa while sipping a Martini and looking at the photographer through heavily made-up eyes. As a guy, I would be very surprised to find myself pregnant and in need of maternity photography. Immediately you can see the problem. Boudoir and maternity photography are types of photography that 50% of the population cannot possibly have. The market has been cut by 50%.

Newborn photography is pretty much of a scam - any photographer can photograph babies. Most parents do this with their iPhones. In fact most "family" photographs have no interest to anybody at all outside of the family. Thus, unless it's a wizzing contest between couples as to who has the "best" photographs, any photograph that is well exposed will do perfectly for the wedding/engagement album.

So many people were going for portrait photography that Sears photo studios went bust. Picture People went bust (or was that Picture Me). Anyway, you get the idea. There's no money in portrait photography.

Wedding/Engagement photography - when was the last wedding you attended? That long ago? I think the last I attended was probably 2009. That's as a guest too. More people are invited as guests to weddings than are asked to photograph weddings. I can't say that I even know of anybody who recently got married let alone engaged.

So... Who are these mythical clients? Clearly it doesn't bother the people with the websites that nobody can navigate the sites. They get no trade anyway. This is what aphotoeditor has to say about photography as a career. Yup - you read that correctly:
Laurence’s conclusion: “I actually can’t think of a worse business than photography.” And the bottom line: “from a wealth-creation standpoint, photography is a lousy career.” Yikes!  
 Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, I’m different, I’m going to become the next Dan Winters. Sober up for a second and read his post (here). The key here is not just making a living at photography, but a career: enjoy life, raise kids, retire and die happy.
 Are you still going to start a photography business? Do you have stupid written all over your face? This is the worst possible business to start. If somebody's pressuring you to start a photography business then stand back - do you need that somebody in your life? What's their angle? What are they getting out of it or what do they think they're going to get out of it?

No comments:

Post a Comment