How to Survive as a Photographer in Today’s Industry
Professional photographers are a dying breed.
Note that we did not say “photographers” are a dying breed. No. People who like to point technology at things and poke a button are more ubiquitous than ever. You can’t chuck a brick into a crowd these days without knocking a point-and-shoot out of some amateur photographer’s hands…or, alternatively, beaning a wool-capped, Leica-wielding shooter in the act of photographing “interesting” graffiti. (Don’t ask how we know this. Moving right along.)
No. It is professional photographers, specifically, who are a dying breed. Camera technology has become at once so sophisticated and so user-friendly, that even your grandmother—nothing against the woman, she makes a mean squash casserole—probably owns one and is under the impression that her photos are on a par with what “those fancy people” (her words) are able to produce.
Herein lies the problem. Your potential clients will not pay you the big buckage for a job that they think they can get their 9-year-old intern to do for free. Well, basically free. To survive as a photographer, you have to convince them that you bring something to the table that Little Bennie the Intern hasn’t got: and the ability to explain all the little settings on the camera is not it.
You’ll need to have two things in order to make that happen. The first of these is that you must understand what your potential client is really after. Fifteen years ago, they would have been after—ding ding!—photos. Times have changed. Now they can get more-or-less suitable images from a hundred sources. What you have to be able to determine is, what are they REALLY after?
The other thing you must bring to the table, if you’re going to survive as a photographer, is that you have your own unique voice.
Developing an artistic voice that sets you apart is a topic that we’ve addressed before here at KISS (for instance, here and here), and according to Maren Levinson, in this 5:00 video interview, it can mean the difference between scoring jobs as a photographer, and having to knock over convenience stores to keep the bills paid. It’s up to you to carve out an identity for yourself as someone who approaches photography in a way that is unique and valuable.
“You will get reduced to one sentence, and its your job to fill that sentence,” says Levinson.