Adapting to junk photography: your new competition
Having too many studios in town is no longer your big problem. Neither are the national companies that keep the local school business locked up.
Sorry to say, but you’ve got far bigger problems than these all around you.
They are the cell phone cameras, the point and shoots in those purses; and the SLRs in the dangerous hands of people who haven’t fully learned how to use them. You may believe the worst of it all really is the millions of us who have learned to lower our standards enough to gladly accept whatever photos we see.
That’s your new competition. And their cameras will get better and better over time. How do you accept this trend and adapt to it? As we see it you have three choices:
• Dedicate yourself to your art and never mind about developing a business.
• Become a more serious businessperson instead of a more serious photographer.
• Get out of the photography business, find a country that is not transitioning to statism and live happily ever after, basking among the coconut trees.
The third choice was not serious, of course, just an overspill of my ongoing angst about current politics.
But the artistic choice is real and some part of me admires those who go this route. I have a dear friend in this category; she just finished an impressive one-woman show and needs to borrow $20.
These people don’t live for the money but for the art and, if everything works out well for them, they may start making some big money and enjoying considerable acclaim just a few hundred years after their death. But only a few of them find willing, long-term patrons.
We all can be reminded the seriousness of the craft from the more artistic among us, and you should continue to hone your photographic skills and make sure that your work really does stand out from the others. An amateur doesn’t understand composition or how to capture amazing images time after time, or how to create the entertainment factor in their business. You offer these things. You have wonderful lighting, a touch of creative flair and add to that your superior and imaginative products such as album design, montages, special printing and the like.
However, becoming a more serious businessperson should be goal One for your success. Work to ratchet up your skills with solid marketing, efficiency in each step of your operations and adopt the professional look of a winner. Change your focus from being a photographer to being in the businesses of selling photographic products.
Make excellent presentations, inspire people with new and better products, be very efficient at every step. Dress in clothes that fit well and represent your company well. You should have a quality logo, brochure, presentation, work sample collection and tent. Look first class and be first class in every way. You are working to represent your brand impressively, even if you are currently a one-person operation.
Show up early, never, never late. Never miss a delivery deadline. In fact, under promise and over perform. Make suggestions to the officers and moms you are serving. Don’t shop to try to save a penny here and there on products. Shop for class. Display and talk about the whole line you can sell, i.e. including trophies, plaques, canvas prints, banners, etc.
Sell them professionally, smoothly, routinely and courteously and guarantee your own brand’s exceptionalism.
And, yes, even smile. (I told you this was going to be serious.)
One sports photographer told me he couldn’t compete in his city because a “big-time” operation from the next town was too slick and professional looking for him to match. That was sure the wrong thing to say to me because I know you have got to have your own big-time look in order to become big time, regardless of your current size.
When we reach the point at which most everyone can take the pictures required of a job, they still could not organize it, make sure the Picture Days come off smoothly and keep giving the best work and service they have ever had.
Don’t try to compete by cutting your prices. Improve your services and products instead.
In sports, we are not sure any of our business owners still do any shooting themselves any more. It is not the key spot. The owner should be constantly organizing and perfecting other areas. In our sports workshops, we advise that you never hire a “photographer.” We suggest that you hire a “camera operator” instead because a photographer will have a tendency to try different things when what you need is stability and consistency. And the photographer may think their way would be better than yours.
It wouldn’t. If you have been through training with our network or someone else’s, you have many years of experience behind the set up you are using and every step in the procedures, and you don’t want anyone experimenting on anything on a Picture Day. Even personally, you should not change settings or procedures when shooting.
In your overall business outlook, you well decide to welcome the explosion in the source of photos. They add to the excitement about pictures but they are not from businesses that assure anyone of quality, consistency, reliability or a breadth of products and services.
Like all those hammers out there that aren’t building tall buildings, the hundreds of cameras cannot fill your role.
In fact, you . . .the businessperson. . .might consider offering services to the one-step photographers. For instance, if someone gets a winner amongst their images, you could offer to provide them any of the complete range of your products. Like the orphan brides who wind up with nothing but a CD or Uncle Harry’s envelope from the Walgreen’s, people need your products as well as your service. And, repeat after me: you are in the business of selling photographic products.
We think a person could develop a business simply by selling products and support services to the orphan brides who got a cheap, incomplete wedding service and now wish they had more. You would tell them about the photo books, magnificent large prints, inspired montages, artfully frames and albums you can provide for them or help them with.
Joe Luter is the recently retired founder at StudioStyle.net; he was both in private business and a professional photographer for 37 years.
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