Over Saturated Market You Say? You Can Blame Me.
Everyone wants to be a photographer these days.
Let me warn you now that this blog post is currently in it’s third state of revisions. It’s a real rambler. If you’re up for it, I’m up for it. More after the jump.
If you hang out on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the like enough you can “stumble upon” some trends without even trying to. Lately I have seen a number of articles flying around about the over saturation of the photography industry, the unsustainability of the microstock market, and the pros and cons of working for “free”. The “abuse” we photographers receive at the hands of our clients and totally absurd Craig’s List postings of people wanting work for free or photographers giving away the farm for nothing.
Here are a few of the articles that most people are talking about these days.
• Photo business guru John Harrington over at Black Star Rising talking about the 12 excuses for shooting for free. This article is the one that got me thinking about doing this blog post.
• David Hobby (Strobist) about working for free. Another must read.
• Rob Haggart (A Photo Editor) about the unsustainability of the micro stock industry. Canary in the coal mine?
Let’s start with the “over saturated” market premise.
I, Zack Arias, am part of the over saturated market. I am one of the many who are filling the waters of this industry. Every job I take is a job off of the table of another photographer. I am a working photographer in large part due to the prevalence of affordable DSLRs, the expense of film and development being removed from my up front overhead, and the Internet.
I’ll be so bold to say that if you have entered this industry in the last ten years then you too are part of the over saturation equation. If you are thinking about becoming a pro photographer, whether part time or full time, then you are over saturating the market as well. I would say the “standard saturation” photographers are the ones who have been in the game, full time, without gaps, for more than ten years.
Let’s break this thing down.
In the days of Kodachrome and dinosaurs there were some pretty set rules of engagement and paths of entrance into the photography industry. You usually started by going to photography school or you started working in a lab. You had to get your feet wet somewhere and school and photo labs were a good place to get started. Once you were ready to move forward you started assisting working photographers. Many times you would have done this for free. I have assisted and interned for free many times and I have met countless photographers who started by schlepping bags and fetching coffee for nothing or next to nothing in pay. It’s what you did. It’s how you got to see how a “real” photographer worked. It was called… get this… “paying your dues.”
These days those paths aren’t so clearly defined. You can go to school via blogs, workshops, YouTube, and DVD’s. You can upload pictures to flickr and suddenly get a message from an art director wanting you to shoot a job. You can be a kid from Canada, travel the world, shoot some bands and end up shooting campaigns for a company you aren’t even old enough to buy their product. You can be inspired by your own wedding photographer, buy a camera, a fast lens, and rise to the top of your zip code within a year. You can go to Wal Mart, buy a cheap DSLR, shoot your friends and family, shoot their friends and families, put a blog together, and start a business. There are so many easy entry points into the market now. There is an abundance of inexpensive cameras, free learning portals, and free advertising routes that allows just about anyone with a camera to get out there and make a little or a lot of money with it.
The worst part about all of this is you don’t even have to be all that good of a photographer to get into the game. That really is the worst part about it all but hang out at enough photography water coolers and you’ll hear stories from “back in the day” about the same damn things. Being a crappy photographer with a profitable business is nothing new. There were just more up front costs to deal with back then. Now it’s just easier to be a crappy sucksessful photographer. Add insult to injury… You can be a fairly mediocre photographer these days and have a workshop teaching others how to be just as mediocre as you are. Meh. Whatever. It is what it is.
Add to all of this the deteriorating morale in the corporate workplace, the need of many to make an extra $100 here and there, unemployment, the recession, blah blah blah, and the fact that a lot of people find it a whole lot cooler to say “I’m a photographer” at social gatherings instead of saying “I’m a systems analyst at a health care company.” Bring this all together into the perfect shit storm of an industry filled to the gills with Joe and Jane Photographers trying to do something cool with their lives AND make some money doing it. I mean, Quicken and Quickbooks didn’t really over saturate the accounting market did it? Maybe I’m wrong.
I’m right here part of it all. I’m part of the over saturated market. You’re part of the over saturated market. Don’t bitch and moan and complain about it because you’re in it with the rest of us.
What do we do with that information? Here we all are. Up to our necks in each other. We watch ten leave because they can’t take the pressure and twenty more take their place. It all gets just a little tighter around here. The last thing in the world you need to do is complain about the situation… unless of course, you’ve been at this for twenty or more years. In that case, my apologies to you. I know you’re feeling the pressure of all of us new kids in the pool but here we are and it’s the only pool in town for us. Complaining about us isn’t making us leave and don’t think for a second that I didn’t just notice the water around me get a lot warmer.
Blah blah blah. Metaphor upon metaphor.
So it’s competitive. Guess what? Photography has always been competitive. I don’t know of any other time in this industry when it wasn’t competitive. The nice thing about the industry these days is it seems that most of us are now open to share our experiences with others. Gone are the days of everyone playing with their cards close to their chests. If you are still trying to stay in this industry with that sort of attitude your days are numbered. It’s a real hippy love fest around here these days and we young punk kids ain’t got no time for your old ways of doing things.
Us young punk kids actually really need you to stick around. We need the long established pros to help us out. I know you want us out of your pool but that isn’t happening any time soon. The better you can adapt the better you can survive. Part of adapting is now requiring you to kind of be a life gaurd even though you’d probably just be as happy to watch us all drown.
So. Yeah. Over saturated. Your attitude should shift from “This sucks.” to “So what?”. Big Deal. More at the party dude!
How can I run a business will all these $500 wedding photographers in my town?
That’s the next thing we are going to look at. I’ll let you in on this… I’m all for $500 wedding photographers. For many different and sometimes conflicting reasons. Then we’ll look at the micro stock situation. Is it the canary in the coal mine? Then let’s have a conversation about what it all means at the end of the day and will the industry adjust and what will that look like?
*I actually like to listen to the song above as “The dark days are over” and the horses coming aren’t here for destruction.