Some people ask me…”What do you think of all the changes in the industry?” And what they typically mean by that is “What are you going to do about all these newbies?” I’ll tell ya what I’m gonna do…
I’ve often shared my perspective on “newbies” with those who asked but I’ve never written a public blog post about it and I think it’s about time I did. Why? Because the definitive lines between the photography industry and the general public are becoming fewer and fuzzier. With every new DSLR that hits the top of the market, there’s a trickle down effect putting bigger and better equipment in the affordable price range of anyone striving to take “better pictures.” It used to be that everyone knew a photographer. Now everyone knows five or ten new “photographers.” Some of you on the outside may not realize what a hot topic these “newbies” are among those of us who make our living taking pictures. It’s HOT…believe me…sometimes reaching a boiling point. AND…I think it’s about time I blogged about it because even if you have no plans to enter the industry, chances are you know someone who does. Or will tomorrow.
So what’s the big controversy, you say? A lot of this spitting and sputtering simmers down to one thing, really: good old fashioned, downright stinky rotten pride. This industry never used to be this EASY to break into. It used to be more expensive, technical, difficult to learn, and those who owned the secrets were very careful to protect them. For those of us who have been taking pictures for a few years already, there’s a deep seated desire to feel that all that hard work is reverenced. But instead that hard work is publicly trampled on and our pride is wounded when Suzie Homemaker down the street picks up a cheap DSLR and naively says “Psh…this camera is so smart it works all by it SELF…I’m gonna take better pictures of my kids and not pay those expensive professionals anymore!” and then everyone begins telling her “Oh my GAWSH, you are the BEST photographer I’ve ever SEEN! Take MY kid’s pictures next time we’re at the park and I’ll give you $20!” You think this is an exaggeration? Not. One. Bit. I’ve witnessed it and yes, the over simplification of it all is sheer madness But what really angers a lot of professional photographers (especially the breadwinners) is that Suzie made only $20 and the people she photographed now incorrectly THINK that it only costs $20 to take digital pictures and that the entire difference between her prices and those of a more expensive professional is pure profit to be pocketed. These photographers anger is a little bit from wounded pride…with a little bit of starvation insanity to boot.
But what gives me a unique perspective of the whole situation is…I’ve been on both sides now. My first SLR was graciously loaned to me by a friend because I couldn’t afford to buy one. I took pictures for fun and people gave me over the top compliments that I didn’t deserve until I finally agreed to take some low paid jobs that I was ridiculously under qualified but indescribably grateful for. I read and practiced and took baby steps to get where I’m at today. So I know what it feels to be a bona fide newbie. Your little heart flutters when people appreciate your work but in the back of your mind you wonder “Can I actually reproduce that effect? I’m not sure I know how I did that! I don’t feel ready to take ANY money, but the more I learn the more expensive equipment I need to keep up! I should probably just take the $20 they offered…they can’t be upset if I ruin their pictures when they only paid $20!” It was a nerve-wracking place to be even back then when other professionals had no idea I existed!
There are, however, some big differences between my beginner days and the photographers entering the industry now. Along with the BENEFIT of mass information that is so readily available to those who want to enter the industry, there is also mass networking of all levels of professionals. This was not the case 15 years ago when I was just starting out. I started when digital was a dirty word and the only people who used the internet to meet people were the very brave…or the very creepy. I didn’t have an awareness of the other newbies in the industry. I didn’t even have much of an awareness of the true professionals and they CERTAINLY had no idea I existed. I had no one else to compare my rate of improvement to and no one to judge or berate me…I just improved at my own pace and was content to grow slowly without going into debt for it. Now? Everyone is all up in everyone else’s business. Everybody knows when someone else gets new equipment or raises their prices or changes the colors of their website. It’s better for some and worse for others but this connecting and sharing has definitely motivated the industry to accelerate exponentially and photographers are becoming successful much quicker and with much less effort than before. It’s easy to see why there’s conflict and tension. But if I could just convince both sides to consider these THREE things:
1) No matter how new or how experienced we are as artists, no matter how successful or unsuccessful we appear to others, we’re all JUST PEOPLE. We all have a point of view that developed from our own personal experiences. We’re all a little bit insecure at times and want the approval of others. We all started out somewhere lower than we are now and there is always someone better…and worse…at what we do than we are. To someone out there, I’m a newbie. To someone out there YOU’RE a newbie. Treat your newbies the way you would want to be treated. It would benefit all of us to take a step back, put ourselves in each other’s shoes and come to understand why the debate is so personal on both sides.
2) There’s a REAL, calculable magic number for every business person. It’s not about who’s better and whether they’re charging too much for their skill level. Everyone uses different amounts of time to craft their images, has different equipment, different goals for their business, training costs, overhead, and expenses. There’s a REAL price each person should be charging to cover these variables and meet their goals. The only problem I have with newbies is that most of them choose this number by playing the comparison game and can’t back it up with hard numbers. This makes them highly insecure with their pricing and other photographers perceive their pricing as either a compliment or insult to the others in the industry. You might hear “I can’t believe she’s charging so much when she’s not HALF as good as so-and-so who’s charging $50 less!” My advice to newbies is this: Just punch the numbers. Find out how much you need to charge to run a real business and if you don’t feel worthy of that amount, work on your skills before you make yourself available for business. But don’t just slap a price on your work based on someone else’s price list. And don’t judge others for what they charge. Half the population will tell someone they charge too much, the other half will tell them they don’t charge enough. No one can possibly please everyone and they shouldn’t try. Everyone needs to charge what their business requires to function and all you need to know is if they can make it work with what they’re charging, then they deserve to be here doing what they’re doing. If they are charging too much or too little, then they will fizzle out and no longer be a threat. Let it be.
3) The real secret is found in being DIFFERENT. Pricing can only be compared when the artwork is comparable. So to really make pricing a non issue, it’s easy…be. different. You are the only one who can be YOU. The emotion and expression you evoke in the people you photograph, the way you see the world in front of you, the way you use light, the way you present your work in it’s final form…that’s all YOU. Someone can follow your work like a stalker and attempt to knock off every single image you produce, but they can’t be YOU no matter how much they try. So build your business on the foundation of being different and you will not threaten others and they won’t threaten you and we can all just do our thang. Yep, I jus said THANG. Uh huh.
So…people wonder…”What are you going to do about all these newbies?”
I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to help them. I’m offering to do a FREE half hour phone consultation with the first three newbies that share this post on facebook. I will walk you through my formula for pricing and give you an honest critique of 3 images of your choice. On one condition…just be genuinely kind to others and pay it forward!