Fighting about Photography

Posted on February 17, 2013


I never thought I would be writing a blog post quite like this one. This deviates from my normal posts.

Let me start out by saying that my motivation in writing this post is that I am seeing many “new” photographers bashing other photographers out there. For instance, one photographer was bashed several times for offering their photographic services for free to models. Another photographer who is also a traveling model, bashed her several times. My reaction is why is she bashing this person? What does it matter that this other photographer has a different business model than her? I don’t know how the person being bashed has their business model. Does it really matter? It is that other photographer’s business and they will live or die in this business by their model and the work they put into it.

On the defense of the person doing the bashing, she thinks that anyone who has a different business model than her as a photographer is wrong. That it devalues the market because people in the market place think there is only one thing to photography: buying an expensive DSLR and shooting images. Also in this person’s defense, there are a lot of people who do this as a second job to make some cash under the table – where we get a lot of shoot and burners, erosion in quality of images on the market, and expectations that budgets for shooting a wedding with a published album being around $200-300 (including travel to their location to shoot it). It doesn’t help that online services push this thought that people will bid on their business, even if it is at a loss to the provider.

I am not going to say either is position is right. I will say that we all offer services. Everyone offers services. Look at the advertising out there. Gone are the days when economic advertising is the norm (you know – the sale flyers in the Sunday paper giving a price and item) and more into a commoditized service market. Instead, it is about something else – money, money, and money. Right? Think about it. Many fast food places have “value menus”. Cell service is frequently sold on how much you can get and the lowest price? Grocery stores that will match the lowest price of any store in town. This is commoditizing the services that different business offer – it means that they offer the exact same service, quality, and product. But do they? Are they really the same? For this market place, the consumers do thing they are the same. That means any photographer can do the same job as any other photographer in the eyes of the consumer. So, our job has been to educate those consumers.

Education is showing how your photographic product is different. One of the ways I have done this is to show how I am different. This starts with grabbing images that are huge and showing potential customers what those look like. Then, ask them to do the same with other potential photographers – very few have them or even can create them from the images that they take. Why? Because very few people today want large images because they cost a lot of money. Instead, they just want the “originals” so they can edit them and print them an unlimited amount of times. Often times, they only get posted in very low resolution with no editing on services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. So, why do they need them in high resolution and where they can print the images that big? Those people don’t. Those are the “price” people. I have been running into this with my commercial clients lately, too. Many are under pressure to lower costs and find it more cost effective to purchase an inexpensive digital camera, and shoot images themselves of their products. The quality is horrible, but it does what they need done. They save money, and I am out of a job as a photographer with them, right? Not so fast – they often call and ask me how I shoot their products expecting to be given a free education. I indicate that I teach classes for a fee, and that really annoys them. I am not exactly sure why. How else do you differentiate your service?

Today’s consumers are not just after price. Price is how many of these companies work to get the people in the door, but ultimately, there is another force at work: experience. Think about it. Why would anyone travel to Florida to go to Disney World and pay $100 per day when a closer and more local theme park is available? The answer: the experience. Consumers want to know they have a great experience when they purchase your services and products. You see this most frequently on TV advertisements – the company wants to associate a feeling or how their life will be better with a particular product or service. There is a very short time to impart this. Probably the one company throughout time that has imparted this in all their advertisements is Dr. Pepper. Think how they market their product and watch how their advertisements change over time. There are two themes: be unique like their product and don’t be like everyone else who mindlessly follow the crowds. With this is the feeling of happiness and joy and merriment. How about Cell service? The same thing. Less dropped calls, more bars more often, more data, higher speeds… it all comes down to why their service will provide you with a better experience. It also has to be perceived as real. This is part of what everyone has to do who is a photographer.

What is real? Let’s look at Starbucks. Coffee is worth $0.05 a cup or $1.00 in a restaurant. So, how does Starbucks get $5.00 a cup for coffee? They do it by providing a real experience. Do you see them advertise in your area? Probably not. But, if you go to the same one over and over, usually by the third or fourth time, they know your name. I am told that they work hard at knowing what you order, especially if you are a regular. What does this do? It makes the experience real to the customer and presents a great experience to the customer who shops there. This is why they can sell coffee for $5.00 a cup instead of the $1.00 that every one else gets. If it were just price, wouldn’t they go to the local gas station and get their coffee? They even serve special brews of coffee, too, and you can get your coffee any way you want at the gas station. Or, why not at a fast food restaurant? Why pay the difference? Because the experience.

When you see people doing things you think are detrimental to the industry, don’t harp on them and criticize them. All you are doing is making them upset with you and breaking apart the industry. Instead, realize it is a business model difference and each person can run their business how they see fit. Instead, work at building ties to those people and educating them over time. They won’t change overnight. In the mean time, the photography market is one where the end product is a commodity – pictures – and most view the end product as something easy to produce with the right camera. You can educate your consumers, but ultimately it comes down to experience and guiding that experience to be something extra-ordinary and real. This is what your consumers want.