Over Saturated Market You Say? You Can Blame Me.

September 22, 2010 | • Philosophy

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.

• Don Giannatti (Wizwow) has this article on shooting for free, and this article on getting experience. Great reads here.

• 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?

The dog days are over The dog days are done The horses are coming So you better run*

*I actually like to listen to the song above as “The dark days are over” and the horses coming aren’t here for destruction. :)

Cheers, Zack


  • Jeremy Hall said on September 22, 2010

    Amen brother. I am right with ya. I’m part of the “problem” and I welcome the shift that is taking place. Is the balance shifting too far one direction…likely. Will we see the market evolve because of it? Definitely. Evolve with it, or die. We’ll see photography grow into new territory and I for one plan to enjoy the ride.

  • THE_TICKuk said on September 22, 2010

    I want to be part of this over saturated market, partly for money yes, but I actually enjoy the challenge. from the outside looking in it’s going to be hard. But then what’s the point of anything if it’s easy ?

    But by reading your blog and many others and all the other resources whether in print or on the web I wished I had started years ago.

    My speedos are on and ready to dive in and swim with the sharks :)

    (yes I know it’s going to take years but bring it on)

  • ryan said on September 22, 2010

    well said, i am part of this oversaturation. i am guilty of wanting to put on a “seminar” but really not being in the position or knowing enough to make it fair to those who would come

  • Chad Wright said on September 22, 2010

    I’ve dealt with this a lot as I’ve tried to grow over the last few years. “I’m sorry, we need to cancel. We found someone to shoot it for $2,000 less.” Sometimes all the customer service, creative vision and fancy lighting can’t save a deal if it’s all about money.

    I’ve considered giving up. I’ve never felt like I found my niche and when my combination of services, style and pricing didn’t line up with what people wanted or needed, it just led to frustration.

    I’m currently on a quest to find my place in the creative world. I’ve thrown the towel in on the wedding and family photography world. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. Money to be made and all that. But it never fit.

    Instead, I’m pursuing areas where my combination of photography, writing and vision give me an advantage over anyone who just “has a nice camera.” It’s a reinvention of what I do and I feel like I’m finally, for the first time in my life, pursuing exactly what I was meant to do.

  • Mike Bourgeault said on September 22, 2010

    Nice post, I didnt find it rambling at all, plus makes working my way into the pool a little less scary.

  • Mike Hall said on September 22, 2010

    Sounds like a great series! I’m looking forward to the upcoming posts.

    Thanks for the perspective…

  • JohnONolan said on September 22, 2010

    Hi Zack,
    Really interesting post – thanks for taking the time to write it up and share it with us. There’s one key point which I think you overlooked, however:

    Welcome to the internet.

    Photography isn’t in a little bubble here, almost every profession under the sun (especially digital and creative types) have been affected in the exact same way.

    The internet has lowered the bar for entry to many, many industries. But not only is it easy for new people to get started in these industries, but consumers (or clients) are far less limited in their choices. Gone are the day when I have to look in the local paper or phone directory for a business to do what I want, I literally scour the globe for the right individual or company who I want to work with.

    Sure, there’s more competition but there’s also a bigger, more open market.

    As Newton said, every action has an equal and opposite counter reaction.

    Competition breeds innovation, competition drives industries forward, competition ensures that the cream will always rise to the top.

    I strongly believe that industries being more open to entry has strengthened them, not weakened them.

    Every market is saturated. Those who spend their time complaining about how hard it is will drop off the radar, those who spend their time focusing on being the best at what they do will succeed.

    As it was before, so it will be in the future.


  • Alex DiFiori said on September 22, 2010

    Thanks for sharing, I really hope people are listening because we’re at a crossroads in the photo industry.

    It’s the rise of the amateurs that make the pros look too expensive which in turn devalues photography overall in a vicious cycle that’s bound to explode one day.

  • Channing Johnson said on September 22, 2010

    For wedding photography, if you’re doing relevant work you don’t need to worry about amateur’s with cameras. If you’re relying on the fact that you know how to properly expose a picture you should probably start worry. The benefits of a saturated market are that you need a point of view to survive. Wedding photography has gotten so much better because of it. Probably all photography has gotten better because of it.

  • Nicole Young said on September 22, 2010

    Another problem child here: I’m one of those “evil microstock photographers” who is taking over the industry, lol … but I pay my bills and maintain my lifestyle with my income. And I think I’m pretty good at it, too. Seems like it’s sustainable enough to me.

    Ironically, when I was a teenager working in a film lab and dreaming of becoming a Sports Illustrated photographer, I gave up and never thought I would make it cause the industry is “too competitive”. I’m glad I got over that quickly and started shooting again. :)

  • John salgado said on September 22, 2010

    Awesome! Great points and so spot on,let the cream rise to the top(like you)and the chips fall where they may. I wanted to add some more metaphors.. Thanks Zack!

  • Tucker said on September 22, 2010

    I’m totally feeling your ramblings as I’m definitely part of the over saturation the old heads talk about. As this was just a hobby that manifested into something I generate income from. But I find that complaining does nothing but distract others from what you’re offering. So with that in mind I just jumped in both feet first and made a promise to myself that at the end of the day I will reflect on what I learned as each day should be an learning experience. And that I will continue to srtive to be better than yesterday… And most of all just grab my damn camera and have fun shooting.

    That’s my ramble… :)

  • Shane Savage said on September 22, 2010

    (I stand up) Hello, my name is Shane Savage and I have been a part of the saturation of the photography profession for the last two years.

    Again Zack you post from the heart and bring your realness to your readers, never stop doing this!!! You’re pretty much the man, and a mediocre photographer you are not.

  • Justin Van Leeuwen said on September 22, 2010

    Here here.

  • Cathy Crawley said on September 22, 2010

    I always enjoy your perspective Zack. At one point I used to think badly about the situation, then I realised that there is only so much work I can take on in a given amount of time so who cares how many other photographers are out there and what they are charging. My clients pay what I want them to pay and I still find myself turning away work. Work that I send to my friends, win win I think!

  • Wilfredo said on September 22, 2010

    dude..I’m in that pool, but instead float at the top – I’m at the deep end :: sinking..or so that’s how I feel at times..Anyways, as always great piece…you have a way with words that speak to the regular peeps — no jargon, no corporate talks..just plain english..thanks Z.

    – W

  • Robert Bromfield said on September 22, 2010

    It’s not only the amateurs but people who do not value the effort, knowledge and skill it takes to get THE shot.

  • Chase Gustafson said on September 22, 2010

    I’ll say it again, AMEN.

    We are here, but you know what? Just as the gold miners had to sift the dirt and sludge through a strainer to find the gold, so it will be with the industries.

    There’s always going to be fools gold and gold dust. Then again, theres also going to be coal, working under pressure to become a diamond.

    Sometimes you are left with fools gold and sometimes the coal never materializes and crumbles under pressure.

    Analogies aside, the photography market is at the best place it could be in my opinion and it will settle.

  • Dan Baker said on September 22, 2010

    With that warning I was expecting more fire n brimstone! :)
    Sometimes its nice to realize we’re pointing a finger in the mirror. Great points all around, less whining more shooting.

  • Baron Cooper said on September 22, 2010

    This is the pep talk I really needed. I look forward to seeing more. I am at a loss as to what direction to pursue. I am not Mr. Fantastic when it comes to photography yet I see people getting paid to do work that I would have cut from my portfolio without a second glance. I can’t even get a shot at this work, which I think is more from my lack of marketing skills than anything else.


  • Tim Shapcott said on September 22, 2010

    I’m really enjoying this so far. I wrote a blog post a year or two ago musing on the theory that a recession is beneficial for wedding photography – the great shooters continue at the top, the rest need to work harder to become greater.

  • Beau said on September 22, 2010

    This is the big downside to a free market economic system with low barriers to entry. It was easy for me to get in, but it’s just as easy for everyone else to get in, too. Most of us would prefer to climb the ranks then pull the ladder up behind us.

    What angers me the most is people who (on their Facebook fan page) call them self a “professional photographer,” yet appear to be unable to deliver properly exposed or in focus images. Paying clients deserve better than this!

  • Justin C said on September 22, 2010


    This article is great and something I am dealing with as I try to start up my own business. Your workshop inspired me to truly follow my dreams, and that is what I am doing. No reason to complain about other photographers. If said complainer is a better photographer, there work will bring the clients and they will rise above the rest. If they are complaining because they are losing jobs, they are not doing it right. Try harder I say to those people.

    Of course you can’t control what your clients want or prices they are willing to budget for, but you can put yourself in an area or price range that only those people who do cherish and want your art created for them will accept.

    I have seen it in the cincinnati area, where non-photographers picked up a camera last year and are now shooting great work and getting weddings every week.

    I am part of the problem, and I’m ok with that. I know I will succeed based on my work and not my comparison to other photographers.

  • Chris Cookley said on September 22, 2010

    Great post Zach. I’m thinking about adding to the saturation problem myself. Oops.

  • Rusty Bryant said on September 22, 2010

    This is America and we should all be thanking the good Lord that we even have the opportunity to be in a saturated market like this.

  • Jeff Flindt said on September 22, 2010

    I should buy you a 6 pack of Newcastles. Its been 13 years for me.

  • Gregory Byerline said on September 22, 2010

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the time to do so. Provocative perspective here. And I love this quote/pun: “Now it’s just easier to be a crappy sucksessful photographer.”

  • Mike M. said on September 22, 2010

    Great article. Looking forward to the upcoming chapters.

    One quick thing to keep in mind about the microstock situation: It’s not the entire market claiming to be unsustainable. It’s iStock alone, and the claim seems a bit flimsy at best. iStock currently keeps 80% of every sale (for non-exclusive photogs) and 60-75% of each sale for exclusive work. Woth about 85% of iStock artists being non-exclusive, the average profit per image licensed is closer to that 80% number. And somehow that is what is unsustainable about the business.

    The problem is, a lot of photographers make decent living working with other microstock companies that pay a higher percentage, and yet those companies remain sustainable while keeping 50% or less of each sale.

    In short iStock is keeping the largest percentage of the money, yet they are the only company making this unsustainability claim. Seems more like an issue of some big executive needing a new Bentley and using this idea that the current rates are unsustainable as an excuse to slash royalties rather than an indicator of any long-term problem in the market.

    If the microstock industry as a whole was claiming that they can’t sustain at the current rates, then sure, I’d say canary in the coal mine. One greedy company making this claim while 2 dozen competitors remain profitable is less helpful as any sort of industry-wide indicator of anything.

  • larry reeves said on September 22, 2010

    Awesome post, Zack! I’ve been feeling this way for a while…being part of the oversaturation, and the fact that it’s always been this way to a point. I think all artists, be it photography, painting, sketching, tagging, music, acting, graphic design, etc., feel like their market is oversaturated. Thanks for speaking common sense.

  • KellieAnn said on September 22, 2010

    I don’t have a problem with over-saturation, realizing I am and will be a part of it. I’m used to losing jobs to “people with nice cameras” and yet comforted at the same time. I’m in a small town surrounded by big cities in Ohio, and I have yet to meet a photographer who will take time out of their day or week or month to talk with me about gear, let alone the market, technique, etc. I have, so far, been more disappointed by snubby pro’s. That is not to say I won’t find a cool professional photographer in the future who is more than willing to drink gallons of coffee and have a slingshot conversation with me. :) I’m looking forward to being a part of the market. Even if I have to go at it alone. Thanks for this article!

  • Jorge said on September 22, 2010

    A great read thus far. Can’t wait to read the rest. Your saying what others are afraid to say or acknowledge…

    great work Zack!

  • William Beem said on September 22, 2010

    One of the joys of being a hobbyist is watching all the folks peeing in the same pool while telling me I’m not good enough to join them. It’s as if the thought never occured to them that I’m happy where I am.

    Well, happiness is variable. Every career has something frustrating about it, something that threatens to take away your bread & butter. Those engineers who support the Space Shuttle were in tears yesterday as it rolled out, because they knew their jobs will be gone soon there-after. They also had a lot of cameras on tripods. Maybe some of them will get in the pool.

  • Randy said on September 22, 2010

    Great thoughts, Zack.
    On shooting for free: It’s a touchy subject. Conventional wisdom and popular opinion is that the more people shoot for free, the less those individuals who actually charge for their art will get paid. This phenomenon also bumps down the line to all facets of the industry, from labs to rental houses, studios and models, etc. who get pulled into this “free” work and receive no paycheck when presumably they should. I think there is a psychological shift as well; in all parties plus any given client, that begins to devalue the time spent and art made because it simply wasn’t paid for in dollars and cents.
    On the other hand, if you want to take good pictures of good subject matter with good lighting, and Nike isn’t busting down your door with ad campaigns, it’s in your best interest to try and find the best professionals to collaborate with you, with as little overhead as possible. Starting a business takes investment, and as soon as that initial investment required shrinks, more people will join the party.
    I don’t think that shooting for free hurts the salaries of those who don’t. What does is the sheer volume of talented players in the field who can now afford to buy a pair of cleats and play. But that’s just economics, not any individual’s fault.
    On wedding photographers:
    If you want to get good at shooting weddings, you have to be cheap, cause you’re new and you suck. I’m originally from Cincinnati, and I can tell you that the volume of customers for that work who can’t afford standard rates far outstrips those who can. No one is going to sacrifice their dress or flowers budget to pay for stronger images. So in a sense budget wedding photography is inevitable. But I can say, I had the pleasure to know one of the top paid wedding photogs in that area. She was always booked out one year in advance, 2 weddings a week, because she was damn good at what she did.
    She had great branding, marketing, and an outstanding product that could command the highest fees. Last time I spoke to her (2009) nothing had changed. I don’t think she was worried at all about the budget wedding guys because they served a niche she knew she wasn’t interested in serving.
    Here in New York, it’s ravenous. Gazillions of the most talented people from around the world show up here hourly to join in the brawl. There’s tons of people willing to work 3 shoots a week at 200 bucks a piece because they can make a living with just that. But the ones who shoot for Nike sure have nothing to fear from mr. $200.
    Anyways. These are just my rambles too. As long as people make great art, who cares if their getting paid, so long as they don’t care. And as long as people get paid to make pictures, who cares if they suck, so long as they don’t care.
    Hope I’m adding to the conversation. When you gonna bring back critiques, Zack? Can’t get enough of those.

  • Steve Black said on September 22, 2010

    Zack – I couldn’t agree more. The world is what it is, and it isn’t going to go back in time. Sure, it sucks to be one of the ‘older generation’ that is seeing life change at light speed before their eyes – but complaining won’t change. In fact, spending all of your time complaining just means you won’t be investing enough time staying with the new market.

    Great post.


  • Terry G. said on September 22, 2010

    Count me in the saturation pool… I think?!?
    I’m not planning on taking over anyones job. I’m just a guy that wants to create good looking photos and share my vision at the same time.
    I’m in a very small town and see the need for a local photographer especially since the last one retired. This is NOT the reason why I started as I did not know she was retired. I don’t plan on making a business out of photography, but I’ve been getting quite a few request since my last photo session with my pregnant friend 😉 Hy would they (clients) drive 60 minutes (total) to Walmart to get the same (better) from a local guy with fresh ideas great people skills. I also did a wedding two weekends ago, and oh boy, hats off to all you wedding photogs out there. I highly doubt I’ll be doing another one of those. Not because I did not succeed but my time is needed elsewhere (family) for now.
    Thanks again Zack for your inspiring words of wisdom :)

  • Bryan Karl Lathrop said on September 22, 2010

    Ah,Zack. You had me at “oversaturation” (I actually thought you were gonna do a post on post…until I clicked through the link). At any rate, you are on point, as always. Uncanny ability to voice thoughts that I’ve been chewing on for a long time. One thing I’ll add to this mix is that, while I’m hyper aware of all the fish in this pond, I use that as impetus to bust my ass a little bit harder, dig a little deeper, etc. It’s kind of exciting living through this state of flux in the industry (although it can be nerve wracking at times). But this is the path I’ve chosen, and that has chosen me. So I will forge ahead (I too am part of Gen O (oversaturator).

  • Hassel Weems said on September 22, 2010

    My one and only problem with the newer photographers is that many do not seem to understand the cost of doing business. This has depressed the price of photography since many charge less than cost. Even if they aren’t “working for free” they are working for free or losing money and don’t even realize it.

    You need to take every business related cost into consideration. I know you already had the camera and computer before you started but you will need a new camera and computer sooner than you think. You need insurance – both liability and gear coverage. You have to pay taxes. You need a business license. Then you have to pay yourself for your talent.

    People want to say that the older pros aren’t helping but the problem is that newer pros don’t listen to our advice. They say we’re just being mean or trying to do things the old way. Math didn’t change when digital photography came to the market. You have to make a profit to be in business.

  • Daf said on September 22, 2010

    Currently Reading “VisionMongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography (Voices That Matter) by David duChemin” – I think quite possibly after I saw you and Chase rave about it – and in relation to this post the whole first and possibly second chapter is essentially saying – DON’T DO IT!

    Currently I haven’t – I’m an IT manager/Senior developer at a traditional stock agency – but considering taking the jump sometime, possibly, maybe.

    Yeah – I agree with a lot of the above – the internet and digital cameras have drastically changed the industry. But technology usually does that for a lot of industries.
    If you’re being undercut by newbies – either have a product so good that it’s worth the extra cash, try some other tact, or get out. It’s been the same for many industries through time, and will continue to happen. The world moves on.
    …. anybody want to buy this horse and cart ?

  • Simon said on September 22, 2010

    Actually, to take the same metaphor, some pros handle the over-saturation of the pool pretty well. Instead of trying to swim well and fast, they get out of the pool to teach the bunch how to swim. Think McNally, Kelby, Hobby, LaForet, etc. Think of yourself !

    Then, they watch some of their students float and the rest of the crew drown. They felt the wind was turning and they played the good card. Everyone wants MY job ? I’m gonna teach it better than anyone else. Really wise !

  • Jan said on September 22, 2010

    Well said.

    One aspect we have to look at is that the demand for imagery has also changed.

    When the computer was invented, some people were talking about the paperless office. If you were running a paper mill you should have been concerned. As it turns out, computers made it much easier to print and we print more than ever.

    While there are more photographers in the pool, the pool also has gotten much bigger because in today’s media industry there’s more need for images. Now some of these images don’t pay as much – they didn’t used to be economical 20 years ago, now they are.

    Not negating anything you put out, and it’s definitely a tough industry. But then which industry isn’t?

  • Donald E Giannatti said on September 22, 2010

    Thanks for the links.

    I have been a photographer for nearly 40 years, as a professional for 35 at least.

    It has always been oversaturated. It has always been tough as hell to make it.

    These days the bar of entry monetarily is lowered, but the bar of excellence has been raised exponentially.

    It is both easier and much harder to be a good photographer in the current world.

    But, as in most things, the reality is that there are plenty of people working and making a good living. So there is room for excellence.

    And I cannot for the life of me think of a career that offers as much excitement, energy and exhileration (mixed with a healthy dose of sheer terror at times) that doesn’t have an ‘oversaturated’ tag attached to it.

    Seriously… It may be tough. Would anyone want it to be easy? Really?

    Not me.

  • Jillian Kay said on September 22, 2010

    Love this. It’s great to finally hear someone say “suck it up and stop whining.”

    i met a dude the other day who was complaining that new photographers don’t use white balance cards, light meters, and medium format cameras. i just wanted to shout – things changed while you were asleep!! wake up!! instead I just said “well, it’s all about finding the right tools for the job.” i see this as part of the same argument… the world changes, the market changes, the competition pool changes. you can thrive in the current conditions or you can fail pretending that we are still operating in yesterday’s conditions.

  • Daryl Shields said on September 22, 2010

    I agree with most of this. I did go to school and toil away nights in the dark room and I did assist (but not for free). I don’t know how I would feel if I was on my own but now I work as a corporate photographer and could not be happier. You just have to find a way to make your passion work. Complaining and a dime will get you a piece of bubble gum (sometimes not even the bubble gum).

  • James said on September 22, 2010

    I simultaneously completely agree and disagree with you, Zack.

    Please bear with me, my response is going to be a bit of a clusterfuck ramble …

    To start this off I’m going to quote Tyler Durden, “Sticking feathers in your ass does not make you a chicken”.

    The problem isn’t working photographers, wether they have recently entered the market or have been at for 20 years; the problem are the weekend warrior hobbyists who call themselves photographers. I’m newer to photography than you are, Zack. I graduated from photo school about 2 years ago, and have been assisting and shooting my own jobs ever since. Why do I not consider myself to be a contributor to the over saturation? I know what I’m doing. Read on to find out more (if you dare) …

    I’m not sure if your line “You can be a fairly mediocre photographer these days and have a workshop teaching others how to be just as mediocre as you are” was a jab at yourself, I think you’re better than mediocre. However, just like me, you’ve got a ways to go to be great. The problem with this are the people who attend the workshops. You said something rather profound though, teaching others to be mediocre. No offense Zack, but that’s exactly what weekend workshops do. They enable people, who underestimate what it takes to be a photographer, to be mediocre and be in a prime position to flood and undercut an entire industry. They feel that “hey, I learned from a pro how to do this, time for me to go pro”. They may learn how to operate a strobe; turn it on, fire it, and get a decent exposure, but they really don’t learn how to “use” them. Knowing how to turn on and fire a speedlight flash into a medium softbox 1 stop over ambient at dusk is not what it takes to be a photographer. I’m sorry, there is much more to being a photographer than buying an entry-level DSLR, a few photoshop actions, and attending a weekend workshop. As photographer we are more than button pushers. We are creative thinkers, problem solvers, producers, retouchers, business owners, etc etc, ad infinitum.

    Ok, so is this an over saturated market? Well, that depends on who you are including in the market. Every asshole with a camera who says “oh yeah, I’m a photographer too”? Yes, it’s over saturated. Are you counting people who are working photographers who actually have talent and deserve to call themselves photographers? If that’s the case, I’d say probably not. To be a “photographer”, all you need is less than $1000. Buy a DSLR, some photoshop actions, bootleg a copy of photoshop, and attend a one day workshop. That’s it? Sadly, yes. These are the people who over saturate the market as you put it. However, to be a photographer (notice the lack of quotation marks) you need something much more valuable than the above mentioned list for “photographers”. What is it? I bet you’re all dying to know. Talent. Any asshole with a camera can put it on the green box, run a photoshop action and call it “art”.* I’m gonna put an asterisk there and come back that later. Talent is what separates photographers from “photographers”. You don’t have to go to school to learn it, you can learn it at a workshop or by reading books, but if you’re missing the key ingredients of talent and creativity, you’re just an asshole with a camera who thinks that they are a photographer.

    * Now let me come back to the asterisk that I put in the last paragraph. Talent and creativity are more important than gear or lighting or retouching. I hate it when I see people say that “photography is my artistic” outlet. To have an artistic outlet, you must first be artistic and creative. Usually the phrase “artistic outlet” is attached to a photo that is a complete piece of garbage. With cameras today, you put it on an automatic mode and the camera does all the thinking, then run a photoshop action that someone else wrote and let Adobe and the writer of the action do all the thinking. So what does that make you? A button pusher. You pushed a button on your camera. That does not constitute a photographer. Someone once said about Jackson Pollack, “this isn’t art, it’s a joke in bad taste”. While abstract art is slightly less objective, this phrase comes to my mind whenever I hear someone say that their photography is their art … because really, who are you kidding other than yourself?

    As for free shooting, I don’t see a huge problem so long as it’s a test shoot. A what? Is that the same as “TF”? A test shoot. Almost all pros do it. How is it different that working for free? We photographers sometimes have ideas that either won’t work for out clients or ideas that really have no client and the only purpose is to create something beautiful and meaningful. So we find models, hairstylists, makeup artists etc, and set up the shoot. The key is that everyone benefits from it with a portfolio piece. This is not to be confused with some asshole on craigslist who says he’s the next big thing in hip-hop but can’t afford promo photos and wants you to do them for free with the promise of “could lead to more paid jobs”. I’ve done my share of testing. I’m still doing my share of testing, but I never work for free.

    Did I step on your toes? Good. Now take the pain from that and instead of directing it towards me, put it in your work. Practice. Was I always a photographer? Nope. I used to be just an asshole with a camera. But I got tired of that so I started learning and shooting and learning and shooting and practicing and shooting and learning more and shooting. I have a long ways to go. I feel that I get better with each shoot I do. I’m not saying that there is a set and unchangeable career path to be a photographer, I’m just saying that probably 80% of the people who call themselves photographers don’t have what it takes. If you don’t want to be an asshole with a camera, then step it up, you’re making us look bad.

    I have so much more to say, but I feel that the more I type the more convoluted my point gets. Hate me if it makes you feel better about the fact that you think you know but really have no idea. Sorry about the novel.

  • Lech said on September 22, 2010

    Great sense to the article. I enjoy your balanced perspective and lets not forget how powerful competition is for breaking boundaries – artistic, too. If you can’t embrace the rain, don’t expect to find the rainbow.

    FYI – I think that Harrington article was really lame. Poor form by being very spiteful, and I was unimpressed by his quips –

    Thanks for pushing the bar up, not down.

  • lynn daly said on September 22, 2010

    I don’t agree about it being a hippy happy love fest. It’s still a dog eat dog industry. I’m happy to help, but I will not be taken advantage of. I paid my dues… I continue to pay my dues. But thanks to you and other pros who inspire me to push and be better I have grown into a photographer that can produce imagery that the $500 wedding photographer can’t. I now know my market and I know who my client is. I make a living pushing a button on a camera.. I’m not curing cancer. Thanks for all you do Zack. I hope some day to meet you and give you a big Lynny hug!!!

  • Jake Rohde said on September 22, 2010

    Good points, Zack. I think for me it always comes back to passion. I think if you have a passion for something, whether that be photography, design, art, or selling fruit, then you can find away to make that passion what you want. If you are simply trying to make money, then it will be like any other job, and you will probably fail. There are plenty of other ways to just make money, and owning your own photography business is not a good choice (or maybe it is, if your a good business man, I guess your passion would be the business end of it, and you might make it work…)

    With that being said, everyone’s passion is a bit different. In a creative business like photography, I think that is great, because we can all have different products.

    I am not the best photographer or the best business man, however, I have one thing. I have a passion to create, and I will stop at nothing to sustain that passion. What does this mean for me? It means learning as much as I can, every moment of my waking life. Constantly improving the technical, visual, and stylistic properties of my work, as well as sustaining those items by learning everything I can about business.

    As for those who complain about the situation, I think you are right; there is no use. If you are complaining about $500 weddings, you could be using that time to educate your client base as to what makes you different from the person charging $500. It may be obvious to us as photographers why one of our images are better than another, but sometimes, I think, our clients are blinded by $$$$, and start to think… well these images are “good enough”. I believe as business people, it is our responsibility to educate our clients about our products. And with that education also deliver the best possible product we are able to.

    It is the same in a lot of other industries. I was a designer, before I was a photographer… (still love all visual art) and it is the same in that industry. Everyone is a designer as well. And with tools like photoshop (or free versions of similar products), open source tools, and templates… it is a hard industry as well. I think it all comes back to education (of yourself and client) and passion. At least it does for me.

    You aren’t going to get very far complaining, so you might as well spend that time somewhere else, hey?

    Thanks for the post, Zach. Great conversation sparker as usual. Sorry for the rant of my own… Look forward to the upcoming posts.


  • Corey Luke said on September 22, 2010

    My father worked in a steel mill. I watched him work hard and get paid well. Then I watched as the steel industry became “undervalued” by imported steel(amateurs of course(tic)). The mill tried(how hard is arguable), but could not compete with the new way to manufacture/sell steel. That mill is gone, not even the building remains.

    Why did the mill close? We still have a tremendous need for steel. In my opinion, they didn’t adapt. Someone else found a way to make a comparable product at a cheaper price. Simply put.

    Obviously, my father found a new way to “make a living,” he adapted.

    I am part of the over-saturated photography pool! And I love it. Mostly because of the photographic community I live in, but I do. I don’t make a lot of money. Some of the time it feels like I am one bad month away from being where my father was. But just like him, I’ll adapt. I don’t want to look at the barren land that once was an industry and blame someone else for my lack of adapting.

    Sorry for the long post, I suppose I could’ve just written “Adapt or Die” but I tend to write from my heart.

    BTW, I love this “It’s a real hippy love fest around here these days…”

    When are you coming back to SLC?

  • Melissa said on September 22, 2010

    Thank you! I’ve grow weary of listening to photographers complain about this. All. The. Time. Photography not the only industry this is happening in. Music Industry? Yep. Film Industry? Yep. Fashion Industry. Yep. I could go on…

  • Dominik said on September 22, 2010

    As many of the people that responded to your post, I’m part of the problem. A while ago I’ve established myself as a freelance and I’m shooting in my scarce spare time. And yes, my prices are probably lower than those practiced by the well established “pros”. What I’ve noticed though, is that many of my clients would probably not purchase a photo shoot at a higher price. So am I oversaturating the market? I’m not convinced, as so far I’ve been only eating a piece of the cake that was not good enough for the “pros”…

    Excellent post BTW!

  • Mike P said on September 22, 2010

    I had to laugh when I read this: “I’m a systems analyst at a health care company.” I AM a systems analyst! It’s not a very glamorous job, but it pays well and it supports my obsession with photography :-)

    Anyway, excellent read.

  • mike from LA said on September 22, 2010

    …as an “IT” that enjoys photography. The same thing happened in IT. Just about anyone could take a 2 week Micro$oft boot camp and be a crappy IT guy in the end. All of the IT candidates I meet have no real foundation. Most have Micro$oft knowledge but little MacOSX and almost zero Linux knowledge. :-/ WTF? But at the end of the day you look for people who are smart, talented, eager to learn & understand that they lack a foundation of knowledge that they are willing to learn from you. The ones that think they know it all will phail and soon fall by the wayside and prolly give up & become photographers. ;-P

  • Erin said on September 22, 2010

    Zack, loved this rambler. I am guilty of being a whiner, and your “suck it up” approach actually makes me feel a lot better then complaining ever did :) Can’t wait for the next one!

    @Lech- John Harrington is actually a smart, awesome dude. An open book for the photog community here in DC. He’s sarcastic and doesn’t sugarcoat, but it’s bc he doesn’t want you to fail by implementing bad business practices.

  • Matt Radlinski said on September 22, 2010

    I agree with Hassel. Kids these days, in addition to needing to get off my lawn, don’t really care what anybody who’s been in business for more than 3 years has to say and don’t want to pay their dues.

    And I’m fine with that. I agree that the market is oversaturated, but it’s oversaturated with people doing the exact same thing in the exact same ways with the exact same “branding” to try to copy somebody else…and they’re doing it poorly.

    I came up with a drinking game about it. It’s called the “FM Girl Drinking Game.” Here’s what you do. Pick two girls’ first names at random. “Elizabeth Nicole,” whatever (apologies if there is an Elizabeth Nicole reading this…those were the first two that popped into my head). Now google those names plus “Photography.” If the site of a wedding photographer with that name comes up, drink. If it’s a Bludomain template, drink again. If they mention “natural light,” “passion” or “jesus” in their bio, drink again (finish the bottle for all 3). Oh, and if there’s stolen music on the site, drink, and if it’s Jack Johnson or the Iz version of “Under the Rainbow” switch to liquor. You’ll get drunk pretty fast.

    Play that game 4 or 5 times and in addition to being hammered, you’ll realize there’s nothing to worry about, because it’s really poor products and poor marketing when you probably can’t remember a single picture or site…it’s all the same.

    So, yes, the industry is oversaturated…but it’s oversaturated with poor products marketed poorly. If you can’t compete against that, you should be doing something else.

  • chrisdavid42 said on September 22, 2010

    It’s interesting to me that I don’t hear many photographers sounding off about the benefits to the photo consumer. This seems to be especially true in wedding photography, but also in studio photography. When my sister got married 4 years ago her photographer told her that when he reached 100 images (film) his job was over!!! He was rude, and unhelpful. Young professionals who are eager to break into the market would never treat a client this way. One of the major schisms that I see in the industry is that young(in the field)photographers are going after the photographer-centric business models by using a consumer-centric model. Many of us do not have studios that we are paying rent on and can afford to deliver better service for less money.
    Now, don’t get me wrong, I am guilty of underpricing my services, or over-serving for the price they have paid, pricing is the hardest part of setting up a new business; feeling you are worth what you are charging and having a portfolio to support it can be hard in our first couple of years. I, however, am committed to treat every job as if it is my highest paying job. I’m going to do my best with every client I get, even if I am undercharging them.
    This is a service industry. The people that succeed are going to be the people that see their customer’s needs and build their marketing around those needs.

  • Graham said on September 22, 2010

    With a mind like yours,cream is where you’re headed. Enjoy your ramblings more than I do my own. Snap on bro.

  • Samantha S. said on September 22, 2010

    Thank you, Zack, for sharing your thoughts and for being downright honest. There are so many people from school who I would love to have read this, professors and students alike. It also gives me some understanding and helps me to accept the world that I am trying to edge my way into.

    I’m practicing my cannonball.

  • Alex Haycock said on September 22, 2010

    The photography industry just like any other industry will hit a critical point. Customers who go the cheap route will get exactly what they pay for. Photography is something that many take very seriously and are extremely passionate about. It is an art. It is also a skill and a trade. My aunt was a photographer for 70 plus years, and she is who I recieved my first SLR from. I had never shot a photo on a decent camera in my life and I had never even thought about it as a craft or hobby or job. However, once I started shooting, and learning more about it, I was hooked. 3 years later I still shoot when I can and sometimes I add to the oversaturation of the market, but in the end I think that the cream will rise to the top and the rest will fall to the way side. I have been following the ups and downs of the marketplace not just in the sense of quantity but in quality as well. Digital cameras have made it possible for the gifted but perhaps underprivileged a chance to shoot and be seen. It (as you perfectly put it Zack) has also opened the door for anyone else to come in. The people who work hard and have talent will be here when the dust settles. Thanks for all of the insight you give Zack and for the constant realness that you bring to the table. I will be in Atlanta this fall to see my cousin Andy Brophy and maybe we will be able to get together for a Newcastle and a conversation! Take it easy!

  • Tom Sparks said on September 22, 2010

    Thanks for the rant Zack. I am doing my part to over saturate the market too. Rising to the top of anything worthwhile takes time, effort, and sacrifice.

    Lots of teenage boys dream of playing in the NFL, that market is over saturated with wannab’s.


  • IPBrian said on September 22, 2010

    I totally agree. There seems to be quite a bit of whining around these days about what constitutes a REAL photographer. Working for free vs charging, cheap equipment vs a Chase Jarvis sized room full of gear, blah, blah, blah and etc. I roll my eyes.

    I consider myself a photographer. I don’t care what others think.

    Is it my primary profession? No.

    Do I make money doing it? No.
    Am I some sort of idiot Annie Leibovitz-esque misunderstood genius? No.

    Am I still learning? Yes. ..everyone is…anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or just plain arrogant.

    Do I spend a bunch of money on equipment I will never recuperate? Yes.

    Do I think I am any good? Sometimes, more often than not, no…I still have a LOT to learn.

    Do I have a metric-crap-ton of fun lighting, photographing and editing. Absolutely, and for me, that is the point.

    If you are truly good at what you do, people will hire you for what you are worth despite that fact that others will do it for free. If you suck, and want to be the only game in town, those days are over and I am not sure they ever really existed.

    Any business requires its owners to out sell, out hustle and out work your competition. Do otherwise and you will find yourself out of business in a short period of time. To those complainers…spend less time complaining and more time honing your craft.


  • Robbie said on September 22, 2010

    Very well said Zack! If I as one of those of us in the over saturated, do it for free (if I Choose to) crowd, aren’t responsible for the “Pro’s” success, I can’t be responsible for their failure either.

  • dav.d said on September 22, 2010

    Thank you, Zack!

  • Clark Dever said on September 22, 2010

    Nice post Zack, You hit the nail on the head. It isn’t going to change anytime soon, but at least now we see photographers starting to share information with each other. As I’ve traveled to 4 different ASMP chapters this month, it’s become apparent that the members and the e-boards are really starting to “get it”. Folks are much more open to sharing information and working together. That has been my challenge to each chapter at the end of my talk – “Create a local community of professional photographers and use each other as resources”.

  • Chris Bergstrom said on September 22, 2010

    My strategy is to do free photo shoots that I want to do. I have approached several lovely ladies as of late and found out that one of them used to do professional modeling. Once the first free photo shoot was over, the lady posted them on her facebook page and I started getting immediate clients from word of mouth recommendations. Sometimes working for free is an opportunity and I’ll jump on that. I shoot for myself too, which is also practice so that paying gigs flow that much smoother when it really counts. Anyway, just my ramblings, but I hear you Zack. It’s nice to see someone I look up to as a photographer break it down like this. Thank you!


  • Tim Skipper said on September 22, 2010


    Thank you. The last few days have been depressing for me as a photographer.

    I needed this to remind me that I do this, not just to make money but because I love what I do. So everyone might as well leave room for me in the pool, and please don’t pee in the water.

  • Mike Kang said on September 22, 2010

    In any creative field that is even remotely fun, there are always going to be more people vying for work than there is available work. That’s life. Maybe it’s part of the photo gene but I rarely ever see musicians whine about how many other musicians there are. You don’t see painters or sculptors complain about the lack of customers or that the “industry has changed.” They just get day jobs and keep working until they can afford to live off whatever it is they love doing.

    Videographers should watch your backs. Your day is coming too. :)

  • Stacey Newman said on September 22, 2010

    thanks for saying better what lots of us say to a chorus of whining at times.

    maybe it’s that I’m also a writer, but doing what you do for a living for free is lame for all involved almost always. cool article and great attitude. nice work too….

  • Andy S. said on September 22, 2010

    Thank you for this post.

    I’ve been trying to just get my foot in to door and it’s tough. It’s tough because

  • Andy S. said on September 22, 2010

    Thank you for this post.

    I’ve been trying to just get my foot in to door and it’s tough because of the numbers of photographers around.

    The fact is that I’m no more entitled to my shot than anyone with an entry level DSLR and ambition. I respect that. My goal is to be better than the competition. Plain and simple. That’s true for any market, no matter how saturated it is with wannabes and hacks.

    People WILL pay for quality. I’m not saying I can deliver it yet, but I’m on my way. YouTube, Google, DVDs….especially this “OneLight” DVD with some crazy dude with a cool goatee….they have all contributed to my learning.

    The market is different now…we young punks with DSLR cameras and ambition are here to stay. If you don’t want me taking food off your table then be better than I am…

  • Ben Sassani said on September 22, 2010

    Spot on, Zack. Great post and great articles for those starting to read.

  • Brence said on September 22, 2010

    You are right – the over saturated market is here to stay, that is something that is not going to change. It really starts to come down to how we each as individuals distinguish ourselves in the market, and also look for ways to complement the new over saturated market, rather than fight it.

    You are a great example Zack – where you are embracing the new model, and sharing knowledge and finding ways to make something new.

    It reminds me of the initial backlash against Napster when digital music first hit the market – now look at iTunes etc today.

  • Wolfgang said on September 22, 2010

    Great post, and great links, Zack!
    I made the experience that – if you ask for real money, you get the real clients.

  • Mark Matthews said on September 23, 2010

    Hi Zack,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I, Mark Matthews, is very much a part of this over saturated market. Before I was making photos I was making music, I still do, which pays for my photography habit. I’ve been making photos now for 6 months, and it’s a love I have for myself that I have never seen with my music, and I’ve invested over 15 years playing a saxophone!

    I agree with so many points Zack, and I hate that I am part of the problem that people whinge about, but at the same time, I’m not going to go away, because I found something that I am proud to be making, and I’m sure that so many people in this generation of internet and technology will agree, that the thirst for discovering who we really are (through whatever medium) is greater than the need to be dictated by society on who to be and how much money you should be making. The internet and technology as it grows makes this reality so much more accessible to everyone. I wouldn’t even know you existed if you didn’t have a website, or a blog, or something posted on youtube, like a discussion with Chase Jarvis. My whole knowledge and experience of your existence is totally web-based!!

    All I can say is that as much as the Photography Industry is “cut throat”, I think it shouldn’t matter so much. I think that as long as you are honest with yourself and what you do, no matter what industry you’re in, you will always come out knowing your work is an honest representation of yourself and your life/life experience. Pretending to be something you’re not only gets you into years and years of frustration and anger. I should have picked up a camera 10 years ago.

    greetings from Sydney, Australia! 😛

  • Nina Beheim said on September 23, 2010

    QUACK QUACK!!! Yet another duck in the pond…

    It’s been my experience the seasoned photogs (>10yrs) simply want to see the integrity of the industry preserved. Competition is good – it prevents complacency.
    The $500 weddign?
    $500 weddings attract $500 customers. ‘Nuff said.

    I loathe the element who don’t know an f-stop from a bus stop and don’t care. Happy to shoot on Auto or “P” (for professional… NOT). They’re more interested in cool actions and photoshop magic, content to turn out $20 8x10s of families photographed outdoors with raccoon shadowed eyes and blown out backgrounds. No desire or effort to learn lighting and posing.

    Its all about determination, and education. There’s no excuse for a lack of education with all the stuff out there!

    It is very tough master your craft AND build the necessary business skills to achieve success. For some reason it seems folks ignore this part… Ya know, I’m not seeing how this is any different from any other industry… LEARN, WORK, ACHIEVE. Wow, what a concept.

    This is a righteous article – I can’t wait to read the upcoming segments!

  • Max said on September 23, 2010

    Back in the days of the good old economy,the IT market was over saturated. People that used to sell fire estinguisher jumped on the train just because it was more economically rewarding or it was cooler to say:”I’m a system analyst” than to say : “I’m a photographer”
    And guess what, the situation was pretty much the same that you are describing.
    Database administrator working almost for free and stuff like that.
    But talented people, people who really wanted to be part of that world, who really wanted to succeed, succeded eventually.
    The other ones now sell fire estinguisher again.

    It’s not the job.
    It’s the way you do it.

    Just my 2c.

  • Hal Robertson said on September 23, 2010

    Another oversaturator here – and proud of it.

    I started (many years ago) in the audio world, working as an assistant in a recording studio. I learned the craft quickly and became one of the better audio engineers in my little neck of the woods. Then digital audio came along and anyone with a computer had a “recording studio”. Lots of people fell for it at first, then it became obvious that having 3124 audio tracks and a ton of virtual gear didn’t make for good recordings. Instead, it took skill and expertise – something the newbies didn’t have (and might never have).

    Then, I started working in video. Same drill – started at the bottom, learned the craft and got pretty good at it. Then came cheap digital cameras and video editing software. Any doofus with a handycam and a Mac was suddenly a ‘video producer’. And they sucked because they didn’t know what they were doing.

    Now, it’s photography for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. And the same thing is happening. Just like before, there will be some of the newbies who work hard, learn to be real photographers and they will succeed. The others will be selling their gear on Craigslist or ebay in the next year or so.

    I’m already watching for deals on used lighting and lenses…:-)

  • Scott Urista said on September 23, 2010

    It’s not like these problems (over-saturation, cheap competition, Internet making it easier for others to enter the market) are only relevant to photographers. Part of my day job is related to translation. Zack, I could take all the articles that were posted, as well as your blog post, and it wouldn’t matter if you were talking photography or translation.

    I don’t mind if young translators are offering their services for pennies a word. Heck, I *want* them around – a) it gives me a great pool of potential talent to pick from when I’m looking to hire, and b) it *helps* to have ‘bottom-feeders’. If I can charge $2-3,000 for a wedding, why should I care if someone offers only $500? That couple could probably only afford $500 – and when they (or their friends and relatives) are willing/able to pay $2-3,000 for a wedding, they’ll be able to appreciate the difference in quality.

    I would only be worried if someone was able to offer my level of quality and service at (significantly) lower pricing. My experience has been that people complaining about bottom-feeders (i.e., people competing on price) are the ones least confident/secure in their ability to complete on quality.

    My $0.02,


  • Tom Parnell said on September 23, 2010

    Absolutely agree with your perspective, Zack. Reading the Black Star Rising post, I was struck (not for the first time) by his anti-market way of thinking. As if some (established) photographers have a right to their market share, and these free-shooters are ‘damaging the industry’. They’re not damaging the industry, because, as your post implies, they *are part of* the industry.

    They’re actually just damaging the established photographers who can’t cut it in today’s market.

    Too much complaining. If John Harrington has a problem with free shooters, he needs to up his game to beat them. Price doesn’t have to become the deciding factor in a marketplace (just look at Apple, who dominated the mp3 player market with one of the most expensive items around — by being f-ing good!)

    And too much talking as if anyone owes Harrington, or his mythical ‘industry’ any favours. We’re all individuals, and we do what we can to get by. We sink or swim. That’s business.

  • Lou Janelle said on September 23, 2010

    Love the reference to the kid in Canada who traveled around the world, took some great pictures, and wound up shooting ad campaigns …

    90% of this business is about business. Those who know how to do business will survive.


  • zack said on September 23, 2010

    @ James (Comment #44) – Well said. Very well said.


  • Ian Kreidich said on September 23, 2010

    I’m not too worried. The bar is high and that’s where it should be. By the e-mails we receive from people looking for jobs, I’d say most can’t write a sentence let alone make it in this industry. What do you tell these people? Do you lay it out for them and sound like a jerk or do you let them down easy? It’s something we’ve been struggling with lately.

  • johnwaire said on September 23, 2010

    saturation = competition

    look back at the ‘sea’ and get swallowed…or look forward, carve up the wave and enjoy the ride!

    another great post zach…

  • Thomas Churchwell said on September 23, 2010

    I’m a longtime artist. When William Alexander and Bob Ross came out with their PBS program of how to do a landscape painting in half a hour using their “Magic White” and “Use the brush to make details,” so many “true” artist were upset thinking “Now anyone can paint and sell paintings” which was the point. But guess what Zack? It didn’t hurt the business. It promoted those artist who have been artist way before Bob Ross showed up. It also showed a new appreciation from people who would have never knew how hard it was to paint. My thoughts here is if you are a part of the over-saturation of anything then do something unique with your talent that will make you stand out. Being visual and having millions see your work in a flash is what it is in the 21 century so knowing that do something that knocks everyone for a loop. You can only imagine the response of artist the first time their images appeared in a gallery with all the other great artist around them.
    Love you stuff Zack


  • Reg said on September 23, 2010

    People complain to much… if your a fulltime pro and worried about a $500 – $1500 dollar shooter, your doing something wrong. Up ya game paut nah… (not you Zack, collective)

  • Angel said on September 23, 2010

    The photo industry is over saturated but at least it isn’t over saturated and looking at being out-sourced.

    Someone swimming in the same pond

  • Tammy C. said on September 23, 2010

    Well done Zack!

    Straight from the hip and right on target! Thanks for saying what needed to be said!

  • Brian palmer said on September 23, 2010

    Damn it Zack, I wanted to tell James “well said” before you did! Grrr! Anyway, I agree with you both James and Zack.
    James, well written – seriously! 100% on the working for free for a reason, yes everyone involved benefits from that especially if that is only a starting point and the work then goes on to a gallery showing, gets more jobs based off the idea.
    As for the market being over-saturated or not… yes and no, but then again so what. I’m putting in the work, even as a somewhat weekend warrior. Learning, practicing, reading, testing, knowing my equipment more and more daily, so that when I can finally go full-time, I will be 100% ready and my work will speak for itself.
    Funny thing about using actions, they are just that, someone’s actions. Just like learning at a workshop or from a book, or posing guide. Yes it’s someone else’s initial though…IF you want to use them correctly, DIG DEEPER INTO THEM. So you bought the newest action set, good, test each one out and know what it does. Then…forgive me for suggestion something so crazy and ape-shit, start changing the settings it applied. You could have already did the exact same thing before you bought that action set You just didn’t know how or didn’t care to learn. That is the perfect opportunity to understand Photoshop, lightroom, or whatever more. Learning what the author has done will give you a greater understanding of how to use these tools…or modify them in a way that will work for your style. Then when you are shooting you can pre-conceive what the end result will be…by end result I do not mean the image the pops up in the LCD screen you are chimping at, but the final image/print.
    The same with learning at a workshop…everything you learn is a starting point…the difference from being a copy is taking that information and building on it. Read your manuals, experiment, test, study the results…and understand why you got them, then do it again. James is 100%, right the key factor in all of this is talent, followed closely by hard work.

  • Phil M. said on September 23, 2010

    In one of his wonderful photography books, Bryan F. Peterson gives the following advice to budding pros (I’m paraphrasing):

    -Do what you do and do it well, you’ll have plenty of competition.
    -Do what you do and do it better than most, you’ll command an audience.
    -Do what you do and do it better than everyone else, you’ll have the world at your doorstep.

    I haven’t heard Joe McNally complain that he lost a Nat Geo job to someone who got their first DSLR six months prior. Did I miss something? And somehow, I don’t think when Sandisk are ready to lauch their next international ad campaign they’ll look on Craig’s list to pick a photographer. And it’s pretty much the same in any field. Don’t you think the music market is over saturated? And that most of the bands are mediocre? I bet that even the waffle waitress market is tough these days.

  • Alton Marsh said on September 23, 2010

    Yep, yep, yep, we wannabes are a problem, all right. We read all the advice blogs we can, causing advertisers to be attracted to your site who give you money. We buy all the equipment suggested by the many pros we respect on the Web, causing manufacturers and camera stores to have a good day or year. We attend seminars, buy books, take training classes, creating more income for photographers but none for ourselves. Damn us!

  • Eric said on September 23, 2010

    If you’re angry that anyone can pick up a camera and be a photographer, then do better than them. Don’t be mad that they’re taking business away from you.

    There are two possibilities. One, the customer they “stole” has no eye/appreciation for art and they don’t care, either. They just want a photo that doesn’t have their outstretched, camera holding arm and bathtub in the background. They probably really weren’t your customer.

    There is a second, much scarier, possibility. YOU aren’t nearly as good as you think you are. You’re every bit as bad as the weekend warrior/Mom with Camera/Uncle Frank who just bought a DSLR who is stealing your business. Except you charge more. Customers generally aren’t stupid. If you could get the same quality of work done for less, wouldn’t you? If not, call me when you need car/house/computer work.

    All of the negativity about too many photographers is like peeing in the pool. You’ll eventually be able to keep people from getting into your pool, but it’s full of pee.

  • tracy said on September 23, 2010

    Funny you should quote Florence lyrics, I shot her recently and I’m told the results were great. Couldn’t make a penny out of them though!
    The pricing thing is so hard, I am the cheap one in town, but still can’t get work because I’m told I’m too expensive or I don’t do selective colour. I don’t want to go any cheaper in case I annoy other photographers.

  • Matt Radlinski said on September 23, 2010

    @ Phil, Comment #89

    True, but didn’t Nat Geo used to have like two dozen staff photographers? Now I think they have 3.

  • James said on September 23, 2010

    Funny, most of the comments on here from people that are defending the over saturation of the market and saying that they are happily over saturating it, fit into the “photographer” category (vs. photographer with no quotation marks). Not being mean, but I looked at most of your websites. Just saying ….
    What I’m finding is that there is an equal amount of complaining and animosity coming from you! You’re complaining about us, that we have spent years working on our craft, and that we get annoyed that anyone, without a creative bone in their body, can pick up a camera and say that they do what we do. Forgive us for having integrity for our craft. I know basic first aid, do you think that a doctor or an EMT would take kindly to me saying “oh yeah, I can do what you do”? Maybe I’ll post an ad on craigslist, “Amateur Doctor For Hire”. I like that idea. Sounds crazy right? Sadly, it’s not crazy when you use a job title in creative the field. Writer? Designer? Totally acceptable. Lawyer? Not so much.

    That being said, I’m ok with there being a lot of photographers in the world. I’m not worried that amateurs are going to come and steal my jobs. Actually, I’ve had the opposite experience. One of my out of state clients recently told me that she has local amateur photographers come into her shop all the time asking her to hire them and asking if they can just “hang out and snap some pictures, and i’ll give them to you”. But to her, it’s worth it to have me travel out of state to do the job for her. She said that their photos are just lacking something. So, that’s not why this is a hot-button for me. What bothers me is that these people think that after watching a DVD, or reading a blog that they can do what I do. I spent 2 years in school learning lighting and having constant feedback on what I was doing, and I have spent the 2 years after that never ceasing to shoot and push myself to learn new things constantly polishing my craft. It devalues what photographers are doing to say that “anyone can pick up a camera and be a photographer”, Eric. Ever see The Incredibles? “Everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super, no one will be”. That quote was accompanied by maniacal laughter.

    Also, we’re not peeing in the pool. There’s a difference between peeing in a pool, and peeing into a pool. The over saturation of “photographers” is like peeing into the pool. No one likes being pissed on. Chew on that for a minute.

    If anyone is wondering what exactly talent is, and how you get it, here’s a video on youtube to help you out.

  • Erin said on September 23, 2010

    Yes, it’s next to impossible to work for Nat Geo.

    Zack, I love ya, but you gotta admit you’re speaking from a place of privilege. I’d say 80% of newbies are after families and weddings, not musicians.

    One of the reasons I don’t like all the Harrington hate here is bc he’s looking out for other photographers. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to care about the community, or the broke journalists who need the $ to fund trips to Haiti. Sure he didn’t have to be mean about it, but that’s not really the point.

    The “screw you guys, I’m looking out for #1” attitude in these comments is kind of sad.

    Harrington isn’t saying “go away,” he’s saying “charge what you’re worth.” And for the record, I’ve been to several hippie lovefests in DC where John was sharing so much he was practically letting us copy his contracts.

    I just don’t feel that lovefest vibe in this discussion.

  • Andy said on September 23, 2010

    And to think, I’m considering a move to Atlanta where there are more photographers than interstate exit signs.

  • Marcus Delgado said on September 23, 2010

    As a lawyer and (very) amateur photographer, it’s interesting to watch the photography industry experience the same issues that have faced the legal industry in the past. I think the problem lies in the perception that this is something other than a business. Lawyers say “we’re a profession, not a business.” Photographers say “we’re an art form, not a business.” They’re both wrong. It’s a business.

    In the legal profession, we have certain barriers to entry (Zack calls them “paths to entrance”): you must go to law school and you must pass the bar. Beyond that, you’re free to practice and charge what you please (within certain ethical guidelines). For years, we assumed that this was a “profession” and money should not govern the relationship between the client and the lawyer. Over the last 20 years, however, with tighter budgets, clients are looking at lower-cost legal options. They (we) will choose the best lawyer at the right price. If I could get a “good” attorney for a very low price, I will choose him/her. That’s the way the market works. Of course, “you get what you pay for”, but that cliche goes for every industry from used cars to health care.

    Twenty years ago, the photography world had its own barriers to entry: you needed money to buy a camera and film, and the skills to develop and print the film. Typically, that required some form of education and apprenticeship. Today, thanks to technology, one only needs the camera. So, naturally, this business is becoming extremely commoditized. Just like the legal profession, a client will pay as little as possible for the best possible photographer that suits his needs.

    Unfortunately, photographers, like lawyers, believe that low-cost entrants into the marketplace somehow bastardizes the entire industry. For lawyers, it’s largely arrogance and a culture that developed as a “gentleman’s profession.” For photographers, it’s the fact that this is supposed to be an art form and low-cost entrants have zero respect for that art form.

    Unfortunately, most clients are not paying for art. They’re paying for photos. In some instances, they’re even paying for snapshots. A bride wants a memory of her day that she can show to her friends and family. It’s unlikely that she will hang any of these photos on the wall. She doesn’t care (at least consciously) about composition and light. This is the reason why we see so many photographers today emphasizing “having a certain look to distinguish yourself”. That’s the way the marketplace works–your product must stand out or otherwise I will choose the lowest cost option.

    Fortunately, most good photographers do, in fact, stand out. No matter how much I’ve tried to copy Zack’s white seamless look (and trust me, I’ve tried), it will never look quite like Zack’s. And a client will see the difference instantly. Similarly, any fool with enough money can buy a 5D Mark ii and a 1.2 lens and try to create beautiful shallow-depth photos of engaged couples. But he probably won’t do it with the quality and consistency that Jasmine Star can provide.

    And that is why I’ll keep my day job and Zack will keep his. The market has spoken.

  • Gabe S. said on September 23, 2010

    I agree with your post Zack.

    Just wondering if the blog is digging at certain people that are not named….

  • zack said on September 23, 2010

    @Gabe – I’m not digging on anyone in particular. You can definitely see references to well known folks in our industry but even their stories are much like so many more out there. These are statements painted with a broad brush.

  • Broch said on September 23, 2010

    Currently glad that I’m a systems administrator for a publishing company. Also glad that this allows me to provide portraits for under-privileged high school seniors who wouldn’t normally be able to get portraits. I don’t just deliver cd’s and leave them in the lurch. I deliver prints to these kids and the “Payment” of seeing the look on their faces, and their parents faces far surpasses any financial gain that I would have gotten.

    I’ve never for a moment thought that I was taking food out of anyones mouth, because I’m not. These are kids who would just bypass getting portraits at all. I’m working my last paying gig this Saturday, and from then on, it’s all pro-bono work for me.

    God bless all of you pro’s out there. It is a rough way to go. I still pay for a pro to shoot by daughter, as they have the pixie dust to bring out her personality. She just won’t do it for dad. =-)

  • Brian said on September 23, 2010

    Horrible blog to write for someone who sells lighting DVD’s for $100.00. Your part of the problem, stop crying!

  • Leoraul Torres said on September 23, 2010

    Maybe someone should stop Chase Jarvis and Vincent Laforet of making all those BTS videos and making me believe that I can do just like them.


  • zack said on September 23, 2010

    @Erin – I wouldn’t say I coming from a place of privilege at all. I’m coming from a place of working my ass off. Plus, I still shoot 15 to 20 weddings a year. It’s not all bands for me.

    @Brian – Not sure if you are talking to me. If you are, I’m not crying. I think I made the point of everyone needs to stop crying about this. Plus, this is a multipart blog series so I’m not done yet.


  • LeRoy (One LIght Alum!) said on September 23, 2010

    Personally, I think you need photographers to fit every budget. Just like you have cars to fit every budget. Let’s be realistic, not everyone can afford 3K for wedding pics, now does that mean they don’t deserved to be photographed? NO, it means they need to find someone they can afford. Just like everything in life, there has to be variety to serve those with various means.

  • Ryan said on September 23, 2010

    I suck at photography. There I said it.

    I am not in the pool right now, because I have not found the Richard Avedon button. So take my comments for what they are worth. This situation is basic economics sorry folks it happens. It happened to my Grandpa with the family farm. It happened to Corey Luke’s dad (comment 48) And it happened to me with the dot com crash. You have to move forward and either change what you are doing or get out of the game. How many of you are going to cancel your Netflix accounts so that Blockbuster can stay in business. It is just not going to happen. Although, at in the end of the day those that know their craft, their style, and their methods will be better off than they were before. In all of the examples above, those that endured through the attrition process became more profitable, because their work had better value for the money, and people recognize that fact.

    Now the working for free bit. That is all I do, because I can’t in good conscience take $$ for the work I am capable of producing. However, with each picture I take and each time I fail and learn I develop the skills to be a “pro”. Someday I will be able to walk into chaos and create something amazing (I hope). That is why I work for free, not because someday I am going to make the big bucks, but because I love it and it makes me better.

    @James I liked your comments, I wish there was a website to visit so that I can be inspired by someone who is further down the road than I am.

    Final thought: if you are picking up your camera because you have to and not because you love to… maybe you want to try something else anyway.

  • Trevor Dean Photo said on September 23, 2010

    zack… Great post and I will look forward to hearing more on the topic. I, currently, am one of those $500.00 wedding photographers. Not because I feel like it will get me lots of business, but because I feel that is what my images and talent are worth as I am just trying to establish a decent portfolio. I don’t shoot weddings and family’s because that is where I think I can make money. I shoot them because I enjoy the interaction with the families and I really enjoy seeing how happy they are when they see their images for the first time.

    I don’t plan on shooting weddings for $500.00 for the rest of my career. Not only will I not survive, but I won’t be shooting the market I want to be in. I would rather shoot 5 weddings a year of people who fit my targeted clientle basis, than shoot 20 weddings a year of people who are telling what they want and how to shoot it. That said, it will take a whole Sh1t load of hard work, learning, trials, errors, woes and many other things that make a seasoned professional no matter what trade your in.

    I chose photography because it’s what I am passionate about. Because I can’t see myself doing anything else (believe me, I’ve tried) and mostly because it puts a smile on my face (most mornings) when I get out of bed and pick up my camera.

    @Brian… I think you have totally missed the entire point that Zack is trying to make. It doesn`t sound to me like he`s the one who is crying nor is he part of the problem. It sounds to me like he is trying to advocate that we all need to take a look at why we are in this business in the first place. If we got into it soley for the money or so we could make a quick buck, then those who did will find out very quickly it is the wrong business. If we decided to become photographers because we can`t imagine doing anything else, than we need to dedicate ourselves to being the best damn photographer we can be. Whether this means going to photography school, buying DVDS about lighting, or assisting another photographer, we need to make every effort to better our craft every day! The fact that Zack is willing to sell his DVD`s for an extremley reasonable price is not a hinderance to photog society. It is a blessing that people like Zack are willing to share their knowledge. You don`t buy the DVD because overnight it`s going to make you a great photographer. You buy it so that you can learn more about the topic. Then take what you learned, break it down in tiny little parts and then work on those tiny little parts one piece at time for months & months to really get a grip and understand why someone does it that way. The person who buys that DVD and then goes out and makes a website the next day is not going to take away business from even me (a very infant photographer). Just like buying fine art, people may not see the technicals behind the photo or that you used Manual instead of copping out and shooting in auto. They will see a beautiful image and if that is what they want, they will hire you.

    Yes it is wrong for someone who shoots in auto all the time to call themselves a professional, but there are no photography police who are going to stop them from doing it. You merely have to make sure that your portfolio Blows theirs out of the water!

    Anyway I`ve rambled on too far and probably stepped on toes… All I want to say is that if your not in it because It`s your absolute PASSION then your not in it for the right reasons. We should all be so fortunate that there are people like Zack who want to see more people succeed and live out their passions.


  • Edd Carlile said on September 23, 2010

    Looking forward to this.
    I had an interesting situation happen lately.
    A certain country national opera
    approached me to use one of my images as the focal point for a new opera production next year with a national advertising campaign.
    They offered me a VERY minimal sum and a couple of free tickets!
    I gave them a realistic licensing proposal and they cried off on being a charitable organisation….I replied that I doubted the lighting crew and sound technicians were asked to work for less than union fees so why should my work be valued as a cheap commodity?
    No answer to that one.
    After many many emails and an overseas call from them to me I had to tell them my work was not for sale.(on their scale)
    Some would say I am a mug for withholding my image and losing the publicity…but no.
    I value my work and I wont let it go for a pittance.
    (so there!)

  • Phil. M said on September 23, 2010

    @Matt, comment #93,

    I don’t know what the situation is at Nat Geo but it is true that McNally was fired from Life magazine. If you read into my comment that the top photographers have it easy, then I didn’t express myself clearly. First of all, to be that good is pretty hard work. As the saying goes, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. And that is true of basketball players, concert pianists, mathematicians, cinematographers, pastry chefs…. It takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice to be very good at something.
    So, the top photographers are going to be in high demand and therefore have some sort of ‘job security’, but that ‘job security’ can only be obtained at a price. And having ‘job security’ now doesn’t mean you are going to have it tomorrow. Not so long ago, you could be really good at making typewriters and make a nice living at it. Now those typewriter companies that didn’t see the personal computer revolution coming found themselves filing for chapter 11. Any industry is going to be evolving and you’re going to have to adapt. While the digital photography revolution brought many downsides to working photographers, like those shooting stock, some of the ‘assholes with cameras’ were interested in improving their photography and that opened a market for photography workshops.
    The demand for images may never have been greater, it’s just that the market has changed, so what used to be a viable way to earn a living a few years ago may no longer be (like being a staff photographer at a famous magazine), so you have to find new outlets for your photography.

    @Erin, comment #95,

    I’m afraid I came across having the “screw you guys, I’m looking out for #1″ attitude, and that is something I didn’t intend.
    You may decide to opt for the “I want to be #1” approach, and if you get there you will be in high demand and have some sort of ‘job security’, but the downside is that the cost may be high (divorced photographers anyone?)
    Or you may decide to value your social/family life more than your status in the photographic community. You are clearly not going to be as good as if you are totally devoted to photography 24/7 and your business may be more vulnerable to economic downturns.
    There is no right or wrong answer. Everyone has to decide what is right for them. I just don’t think you can have it both ways.

    It could be more productive to discuss what new opportunities there are for working photographers to eke out a living in the current over saturated market rather that bitch about how good things used to be.

  • Erin said on September 23, 2010

    Hey Zack, didn’t mean to imply you didn’t work your ass off to get where you are. You worked harder than me! I was saying that you are in a different pool.

    …But apparently not! I had no idea you did weddings. Sneaky :)

  • Edd Carlile said on September 23, 2010

    Incidentally….if anyone is interested in the image the National Opera wanted to get(basically for free) it was this one:

  • Dan Routh said on September 23, 2010

    Just a couple of points. Don’t really think the market is any more saturated with good photographers than it ever was. For 34 years it’s always been a competitive profession. What I see now as pressure seems to be coming from the client side. I think clients know what good is, and I think they know what it costs. Most however these days aren’t able or willing to do so. That’s the only way the so-called “bottom feeders” enter the equation. They are there as the alternative. Until the economy makes a jump upward, that probably won’t change.

    As for young guys having trouble getting info and guidance from the guys that have been around, let me share my experience. Our state ASMP chapter has made a push to provide education and mentoring for up and coming photographers. In addition, our local members get together for lunch once a month just to talk. We invite anyone in our area who is a photographer to come by. You don’t have to be a member, we don’t have an agenda, and we end up with some great open conversations. Takes the place of the labs and camera stores where we used to go and hang with other shooters to talk and socialize. We have a few young guys show up and they add greatly to the discussion, but for the most part these hungry new kids looking for information never show up.

  • Trevor Dean Photo said on September 23, 2010

    btw… Not that it matters but I just noticed that in the photo you have leading the post… It’s all Canon’s except for one little nikon speedlight sticking up in the bottom of the frame lol. You hatin on us Nikon guys :) jk

  • Rich Cox said on September 23, 2010

    Interesting blog. Suffice it to say, most professional markets are over saturated due to the economic mess. People want work and are going to price themselves to survive. I was a scientist, got laid off as did thousands in the drug industry. I work part time as a pharmacist and have never seen such a competitive landscape in 30 years. The photography market has lower barriers to entry for the reasons you stated. I’m tired of hearing the moaning from lifers, but I understand it.

  • pixtiva said on September 23, 2010

    Back in the day…

    I did a lot of available light, mostly journalism features centered around -people-, not things, pictures of people getting awards, all that fun stuff.

    Basically PR…

    Then I did a bit of event stuff… Again, mostly available light…

    And then, got laid off from that gig… and a coupla years after that, picked up a camera again…

    And discovered the world of “Damn… We can fiddle with this… And we can shoot 20 shots to get just the right light, and the boss isn’t going to get pissed about all the film developing.”

    I’m new, but I’m old too… Older than dirt…

    But I’ve got some dungarees, I’ve got a comfy pair of boots (actually several… combat, winter combat, jungle, desert, jump (aint’ gonna do that one again…), and my favorite vasques…), numerous t-shirts (mostly tie-dyes), and… a comfy leather vest. And a beard. It’s not a trendy one tho – more of the unkempt variety.

    But I’m ready to break in… again…

    And on the first photo… Who is the Belt & Suspender guy who has the shoe-mount flash with the cord on it?

    (Oh… I also have a camera/flash bracket that was old when someone was working at Kinkos…)

  • David Moore said on September 23, 2010

    Great post. Isn’t it just better that there are more people really excited about photography now than there used to be? The cream will rise to the top (and be rewarded for it – if cream gets paid), and the folks who were cashing in on just being there before the rest of us will find it harder. But there’ll be lots more great images out there in the world, and that’s got to be good (as well as many many more bad ones, which is OK too).

  • kirk said on September 23, 2010

    There’s this little experiment they like to do in biology classes in college. The get a petri dish and fill it with a food source called agar. Then they introduce bacteria.The bacteria eat and reproduce. At first the colony doubles in size. Then the growth becomes geometric and then the growth logarithmic and then they eat all the agar in the dish. And then they all die. All of them. Every single one of them.

    Don’t know exactly how that applies to hordes of photographers willing to work for free but I guess we can all guess.

    How do you become a wealthy photographer? Marry a doctor.

  • Jeff Lynch said on September 23, 2010

    I don’t want you to drown Zack but just stay away from Texas. We’ve revoked your visa, unstamped your passport and lost your luggage. Texas is big but there ain’t room enough for both of us yankee!

    Just kidding man. Kirk and I will have a cold one waiting for y’all whenever you’re fixin to come down.

  • Wale said on September 24, 2010

    Zack, looks like we’ve “saturated” this particular blog post with responses 😀

    Let’s face it: life is competitive. I work as a finance manager and have “saturated” the photography market for about 5 years. I only started becoming commercial recently as I needed to build skill, confidence and learn a lot. I like to be undeniably good at what I do if I’m going to ask someone to part with their money because when I part with mine, I like to feel that I got a good product at a price I was comfortable with. In the field I work in, the competition is crazy stiff and the equipment used to run the enterprise is really expensive but the market is there because its a necessity. So how does the company thrive??? Innovation.

    They say, necessity is the mother of invention. With character and morals in stride, a man/woman will ponder on how to stand out from the crowd. That’s where all that business talk about niche marting and like came from. How else will you do it?

    Competition can hurt or you can have a paradigm shift and see competition as a reason to improve and sharpen your skills all the more. We’ve all seen the terrible effects of little or no competition. The insurance companies and banks are beginning to feel the heat with the new government policies swinging in.

    Just like any business arena, a serious business person will sit down and and study the market, see what its deficiencies are, cost of business, etc and make a plan. The problem is that many do not plan at all. I was in Spain some months ago and watched as a nice British couple moved there with their life savings to start a business. Never been ther except for a short holiday. They just had notion that Britons are moving there and so they might want british food. To cut a long story short, it failed pretty woefully. You’d think people would learn from this mistake but nope, day in day out, the same happens over and over again.

    Then there is the passion element. Some dabbled into the enterprise because it was the fad of the day or like buying houses was the big thing not too long ago, folks jumped in to start flipping them. I’ve learnt an invaluable lesson over many years: when becomes all about making money, one is a prime candidate for failure. Success will cost you but you determine what the exchange is. It can cost time, money, energy or it can cost relationships, friends, family and ultimately reputation. Whatever route you choose, it will cost something. For me, it’s cost a lot of dedicated time, a few portable drives, a lot of my pocket money, a lot of patience, a good number of free gigs and some rejections but I’m beginning to reap the fruits (much to my wife’s relief). For some it appears they must scramble at every opportunity they get. Not so. I decided that if I must give a lot of my precious time to free work, then it must be for a charity I believe in which is what I’ve done for the past few years. I feel both fulfilled and happy that I’m making the charity smile while building valuable experience. I’m sure we’ve all been paid to do something for someone who turned out to be a total jerk and had wished we could take it back and do it for someone else free?

    Zack, keep on keepin’ it real bro!!!

  • Christopher said on September 24, 2010

    I’ve been shooting professionally for nearly 20 years, and despite all that experience, I never stop learning and practicing photography. I’m often inspired by other photographer’s work, and I’m the first to admit that there are plenty of talented artists out there with cameras. But, guess what? Artsy photography may not get you any work and if you’ve got the attitude and ego to go along with your “art”, you can probably kiss your photography career goodbye, because nobody wants to work with jerks. I do a lot of commercial work. This means meeting with clients in corporate environments, being professional in my conduct, producing and delivering high quality images, and managing my business. My images don’t need major Photoshop adjustments or actions. They don’t often have to be cutting edge or terribly creative, just good properly exposed images that will reproduce well in publications and online to meet the needs of my clients. If you’re pursuing a fine art photography career, best wishes. It’s a tough climb and you may have to support yourself with another job while trying to sell your work. But if you’re interested in being a portrait, wedding, event or commercial photographer, then it goes way beyond your ability to create a nice image. It’s a business, not a hobby. And it’s definitely a lot of work. So, if our industry is overloaded right now, it’s only a matter of time before those not fully committed to really being professional photographers will be weeded out.

  • Jamie MacDonald said on September 24, 2010

    Hi….My name is Jamie and I am a drain on the collective soul of the proffesional photography world. I am the evil parasite who is shooting $1000 weddings, the one who is leaching off of every single bit of information the big names put out on their blogs and websites and streaming seminars. I am the guy working nights in an automotive suppliers quality lab and out shooting on the weekends in order to fill a void in my soul that can only be found through a viewfinder. But remember this, I am needed. My market can’t be filled with $5000 wedding photographers when so many people are struggling to just pay for a wedding.

    I LOVE my camera and what I create with it, and I’m not stopping any time soon. So for those who have disdain for my business practices, let me say this. I do this for love, and I fill a niche that $5000 shooters can’t.

    We ALL can be a part of this and not kill it. There is a need for every level of photographer as far as I’m concerned. It takes a soccermom w/ her first dSLR to make the rest of us lok that much more appealing. And it takes people like me to make people like Mr. Arias look even better yet. LOL

    I apologize if this wasn;t very coherent, it is 4 a.m. and I am at my “day job” exhausted and looking forward to a big event I have scheduled for the weekend.

    *shameless plug* http://www.photowalklist.com/jamp-kensington-metro-park-photowalk/

  • W Pierson said on September 24, 2010

    This post makes my brain hurt. Why?
    (This is a rambler, too, but Zack’s posts and many responses get me thinking…)
    Well, I’m the amateur / wanting-to-be-“pro” photog, “weekend warrior” – that has a regular 8 to 5 job and shoots every moment I get a chance, whether that’s at night or on the weekend, and have yet to make a buck. I shoot because I enjoy it. I have a deeply rooted passion for it, and think about photography an extraordinarily high percentage of the time.

    The photography industry, from my perspective, is a big, scary place. What? I can do something that I thoroughly love and enjoy, and get paid for it? Seems to good to be true.

    I learn from those who know more than I do. I don’t have one teacher, I have many, all of whom have different techniques. Does Zack need to post what he knows online to help those of us fine-tune our skills? No. But – it seems that good photographers value the knowledge that they’ve been given by other photographers/teachers, and, it seems, thinks the best way to thank those who taught them is to share the knowledge with someone else. Kind of a photography pay-it-forward. I don’t think that I’m at the level to help others, but when I see someone running around with the built-in camera flash in green mode, I’m going to take a moment and open their eyes to other options, if they want to learn. I’m glad someone did that for me a few years ago.

    Photography is one of those professions that can also be a hobby. You can be a career professional or a career hobbyist. For example, in my 8 to 5, I’m a programmer. When I was 12 years old, it was my hobby. I loved it, I enjoyed it, I thought about it all the time. The programming industry was a big scary place. What? I can make programs for people that do cool things and get paid for it? Sounds too good to be true. I continued teaching myself until doing whatever it took to land a job doing something related to it, ultimately working as a programmer in my early 30’s, and have been doing programming-related work since.

    I honestly think that, regardless of saturation, or industry, or anything else – those that are meant to be, will be. If someone wants something bad enough, they’ll do whatever it takes. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. (I was in the Marine Corps, too, by the way.) They’ll have to be unique, be creative, and take it all as a challenge, which ultimately benefits the industry and keeps mediocrity to a minimum. The funny thing is – “mediocre” is relative. What’s in today was out last week. What’s in 3 years ago has resurfaced as the fad. If Mrs. Johnson is delighted with the pictures you took of her grand-daughter, that’s all that matters.

    How many painters were around when Picasso was pushing out paintings? Plenty. Is there some kind of mysterious threshold that exists and dictates when someone should stop trying to be x, because there are so many x’s in their local market? Hell no. What about professional sports players? How many people can throw a football? Does Payton Manning give a rats ass? Hell no. He’s practiced, worked his ass off, honed his skills, and makes a handsome paycheck doing something that was once a hobby. Everyone that holds a paintbrush isn’t Picasso. Everyone that holds a football isn’t a professional quarterback. Everything that owns a camera isn’t a professional photographer. Conversely, each and every one of us that has a passion for the craft of photography has the opportunity to do whatever it takes to make it to photographic basecamp, and slowly ascend the mountain, who’s peak is a lifelong journey of learning, patience, stick-to-it-ive-ness, get-off-your-ass-ness, and earning a living doing something that you enjoy with every fiber of your being.

    Regardless of anyones perception of the industry, I’m going to keep plugging along until I get my first paid gig. I’m going to shoot my ass off and deliver some damn good photographs to people that are going to cherish them, and pay me for using my skills and knowledge as a photographer. If I get the opportunity, I’m going to teach others and share the knowledge that I’ve obtained.

    I’ve said this several times before, and I’ll say it may more times – THANK YOU, Zack, for sharing your invaluable knowledge.

  • Rupa said on September 24, 2010

    Well said — stop crying about it is right! I realizing that this is the time time to set myself apart — to differentiate myself from other photographers and show clients why they should hire me. If done consistently and right, it will be the strongest thing I can do for my business now and in the future!

  • Mike M said on September 24, 2010

    THEY ARE AN ARMY OF CLONES. They all shoot the same subjects with the same gear and the same formula techniques. There may be millions of them but they’re all taking the same damn picture. The clones are only competing against with each other and the source from which they are derived. If Zarias is a source, then he should be careful because as time passes his own work will become indistinguishable from his 10,000s of clones.

  • zack said on October 2, 2010

    @Mike M – Trust me… the more I teach what I do the more it pushes me to jump to the next stage of my career. I’m aware of that as much as anyone. I teach from a position of where I’ve been and where I currently sit. I can not teach where I’m going because I’m still trying to get that one figured out.


  • mike_Levad said on September 24, 2010

    @Matt #54 I tried your little game and if I had actually been drinking I would be blotto now. Thanks for a good laugh.


  • mike_Levad said on September 24, 2010

    @Matt Radlinski: #54 I tried your little game and if I had actually been drinking I would be blotto by now. Thanks for a good laugh.


  • Michelle Feeney said on September 25, 2010

    Thanks for this post Zack. Always appreciative of your insight. :)

  • brec__ said on September 25, 2010

    If I’ve read this two days ago, I’d join the discussion. But I just got back from Photokina and I first have to digest what I’ve seen there. Over Saturated doesn’t even come close to what was going on.

  • brec__ said on September 25, 2010

    oh and by the way – I’m in a market with too few young guys coming up. This is going to be interesting

  • Stephen Jackson said on September 25, 2010

    I’m waiting on pins and needles about your second part where you tell us why you’re all for $500 wedding photographers. I’m hoping that you’ll give me food for thought, because, I’ll be honest, I’m one of those that think either charge reasonable prices or do it for free and let people know it’s for the experience.

  • Josh legault said on September 25, 2010

    Thanks for posting this Zack, there seems to be a wave of this going around. Good words!

  • konastephen said on September 25, 2010

    Seriously though. Is there a way we can rid of all the posers?

  • David said on September 25, 2010

    This is on my mind constantly. I have a profitable career but would rather work in photography. Yet, as you say, the market is saturated with people like myself.

    I’ll probably be cutting my income in half and the future of the field is unclear. Yet I still want to do it, because it is fulfilling and my career is not. It is terrifying to think about.

    I am glad you are addressing the subject, and look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

  • Frank T said on September 25, 2010

    I think Marcus Delgado said it right: to paraphrase, the market will speak. People who do sub-par work for less money will not get the return business. IMO, suck-sess is when you get repeat business, or business from word-of-mouth referrals.

    Great article, lots of discussions here, Zack. Getting people thinking about what being a photographer is and how saturation is both good and bad.

  • Randall Douglas said on September 25, 2010

    It is true that the level of photographers doesn’t make sense relative to a somewhat shrinking pool of work, though, so as demoralizing as it is it, it’s not bad that some people have the courage to have the conversation rather than ignoring if in favor of a drink the koolaide situation favored by some equipment mags.

    Although, for the most part, I’ve recently decided to stop blogging about it on my own blog or initiating this debate. I’m getting kind of tired of the discussion in a way. New photographers basically tune out the message anyway, so the pool is the pool. I’m basically in the same place. It is what it is, and you can try to do something about the situation to make yourself look like a more attractive option or get into something different.

  • Al said on September 25, 2010

    Not sure if this has been mentioned but I think certain areas of the photography industry will die. For example, family & child photographers will slowly be replaced by “moms with camera”. Not just because of the availability and cost of cameras these days, but also because of the way our images are published ie Facebook. Framed photos at home will be replaced by LCD picture frames that automatically suck down photos from our favorite social networks. The iPhone will become the new family photographer’s tool of choice. The remaining family & child photogs will just be weekend warriors, charging a few bucks for a session plus CD. I’ve already seen this happen and witnessed the decline over the past two years. There’s just no business left in this particular area anymore.

  • Joanna Kapica said on September 25, 2010

    Thank you.
    I am just touching the water in pool with my big toe, but now it doesn’t seem as scary as it was before.
    Great post and I appreciate for making this clear, how it all really works in such a descriptive and easy way.

  • Hansel said on September 25, 2010

    Zach, this is a great article. I am definitely part of the over-saturation, but my photography business is doing quite well and I charge a healthy amount for my services. However, I don’t do this full time because I have a core career in real estate that I do quite well in and is hard to leave. Here is what is funny; the real estate professionals in my little niche have the exact same complaints. Isn’t that funny? I have heard the same complaints from creative professionals in areas other than photography, but also some professional areas such as the one I work in. This isn’t isolated to just photography. People are truly having a hard time out there and I’m going to keep my mouth shut when it comes to a Mom or Dad doing whatever they can do to put food on the table for their kids. This is a free market economy and I will fight for my piece of the pie by taking better and better pictures and providing better and better customer service.

    I believe that there are some price points at which no matter how hard someone works, they won’t be able to provide a level of quality and service equal to a higher priced service simply due to economical restraints. It’s a tough ladder to climb, but people will continue to make that climb with a pair of feet populating every rung of the ladder. I’m not going to mock the guy on the first rung of that ladder because I was there; shooting a $100 wedding from Craigslist at a YMCA in the bad part of town with more bottles of tequila than guests. Yeeha! Bob the grandmaster of photography might have hated me for under valuing the industry by charging $100, but I just can’t believe that I was his competition that night surrounded by the Cuervo family. At least I hope not. :)

  • opinion said on September 26, 2010

    If the market is over saturated is due to the ignorance of the peoples that can not differ from what is good or bad and the general media are promoting bad things.

    I have meet new improvised photographers that they don’t even know how bad they are. Because they don’t have the talent to see them self.

    I am a Sr. graphic designer and the same thing is happening with advertising and design industry. Every one think is a designer just because they owns a Mac and knows how to use a software.

    I remember being a designer when posters where done by hand with airbrush. Now it seems that concepts don’t matter and what is important is to look pretty. Pretty and them what?

    Now there are too many programs teaching young people how to use softwares. That’s does no make a designer. I rather to have an employee how can conceptualized an idea even if the person is a mediocre using the softwares.

    Remember the CONCEPT is what matter. whatever is pretty and have not a concept, then soon it will die.

    Concept is the skeleton of everything, without nothing can stand on itself.

  • markowen said on September 26, 2010

    It’s a global saturation of the market. In 1980 there were 4.5 billion people on earth today in 2010 there are 6.8 billion people. It’s only natural there will be more and more people clawing their way to the top of any field anywhere in the world.

    Through the internet and digital technology we can now reach a wider market than previous generations of photographers. On the down side the competition also got a whole lot bigger and it just keeps bringing more sharks into the pool.

    An old pro with 40 years of experience told me to expand and become more versatile in order to survive in the business. Not a bad suggestion. If you think about it being a purist is kinda limiting if business isn’t booming as you’d expect.

    It’s easy to buy a camera and watch a few videos make fairly decent pictures but people will hire you will base on your portfolio and the originality and vision/ideas that they know that only you can produce.

    Equipment and technical knowledge is the get in the door fee but creativity (not only in photography but in business as well) and a unique vision will hopefully help you stand out from the rest.

    Anyone can be a photographer these days but not everyone can be an artist. Just like not everyone who can sing can become a professional singer and not every professional singer can sing either for that matter,Sure some of the music out there sucks but it’s still big business and there’s still more people trying to get in more than ever but how come that hasn’t killed the music industry (yet)?

    We need to raise the bar for ourselves as photographers. Sad to say many people think that owning a camera is enough reason to start charging for services or calling themselves a pro, I admit i am part of the problem.

    Non-photographers think that being a photographer is as simple as pressing the shutter but older pros know that a lot of the work actually comes before that (business, technical, logisitics, blah blah blah)

    David Buchemin was on to something when he said

    “I think it’s motivating to remember that merely perfect photographs don’t move the heart, only art does that. We can do better than perfect histograms and compositions that take no risks.”

    in his post (http://www.pixelatedimage.com/blog/2010/09/beyond-craft/)

    Let face it in the digital age we need true artists more than ever. Not technicians but true artists with originality, vision, creativity and technical know-how to match.

    Our generations challenge is to raise the level of the art/craft beyond where we found it , beyond the technical and give the world a fresh perspective on Photography and the business of Photography.

  • brec__ said on September 26, 2010

    everything that markowen says in his comment is true and makes sense. I look at it that way:

    common sense will solve a lot of problems for you and so will a complete ego trip or so will taking risks, or so will talent and so on and so on. this whole issue is so complex. It’d be great to sit down with you guys for a beer and discuss, but since this is the internet, I’m just looking forward to zack s next post on this topic and see his approach.

  • Steve Atkins said on September 26, 2010

    I started reading the over saturated comments, but noticed the scroll bar had a long way to go… so I zipped straight down to the comment box (ignorance is bliss).

    I’ve just got back from a glorious weekend photographing Exmoor.
    A lady running a rustic cafe said to me… “we’ve had 4 bad years of rain in a row”.

    She’d probably welcome as many tea drinking saturated photographers as possible, and I’d be very happy for her.

    ; )

  • Opinion said on September 26, 2010

    Everyone is contributing to create this chaos!!!
    There are too many photography magazines out there like “Shutterbug” rewarding bad photography. If you take a look at their contest and take a look at the winners you immediately realize that those people are no willing to create a serious magazine about photography I personally call those contests “The Fiesta of plug-ins”

    The magazines in other to sell more they are focusing in teaching photoshop techniques and “TRICKS”!!!

    Photography is no about tricks is about being able to SEE!. Photography is everywhere you only have to be able to see it. You don’t need a trip to Alaska or Bombay. if you don’t make good photography of you own toilet y doesn’t matter weather you get a ticket around the world your photos wont be better.

    And photography magazines are promoting and misleading young inspire photographers with workshop in Egypt. Morocco. This new lens, this and that. MASTERS PHOTOGRAPHERS IN THE PAST DIDN’T HAVE THE QUALITY OF TODAYS CAMERAS, they good quality lenses. But what make them good was their vision, not a PLUG-IN, NOT PHOTOSHOP, SIMA VS TOKINA, OR A TRIP TO THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE. YOUNG PEOPLE ARE BIENG MISLEADING IN EVERY POSSIBLE WAY!!!

    When young photographer manage to make a plug-in creepy effect out of their photography they and their grandmother assume they are a photographers…and this is the idea hundred magazine out there are selling.

    Everyone is contributing to create this chaos!!!

  • brec__ said on September 26, 2010

    @Opinion – what you describe as a chaos is actually a market of it’s own. It’s not exactly an independent market sine it will affect some ‘serious’ photography markets, but I like to see it as a different market.

    If you’re not in the game for plug-ins or hunting for the ‘next” big post processing look, than you shouldn’t be affected at all.

  • TheHolyFatman said on September 26, 2010

    I agree, it’s saturated. I compete on a daily basis with assholes with crappy digital cameras. Some I see with great potential. Others are just shooting flat, souless snapshots that they pass off to people.

    I went to a expensive art college, learned the craft via Film and Darkroom experience. I was charged with finding an internship at the end of my senior year–I interviewed at such places as National Geographic and Smithsonian…Only to be turned away because I was a single mom and 40 hours of non paid slavery was “Not what they thought would be optimal for me” So..The Rich Kid beat me out and I ended up walking from school entirely–opting for a job that paid the bills.

    8 years later I had nothing but a dusty darkroom and a hardly used F 100.I decided to go digital. In 2008. (late comer, I know) In 2009 I lost my steady job and got a small potatoes job with a well known area wedding Photographer. They did well, but I wasn’t really impressed with their style (I believe the Photojournalism style of wedding photography is played out and unimaginative.) I decided to take my ideas and strike out on my own. I read the “Don’t do FREE!” or “TFP will KILL YOUR BUSINESS!”

    But my phone never rang. Once I was out there, doing photos to gain notice, I was asked what my rates were. what was my rates? How the fuck should I know…

    I’ve had a lot of paying clients. Some can barely afford to pay me huge amounts, other more commercial clients that pay my invoices without batting an eyelash. i still can’t make ends meet and endlessly search for a 9-5 job that will give me the steady flow of income.
    I have great concept ideas and an awesome circle of really off beat creative friends. I decided that instead of just shooting for a portfolio–I needed to apply my work to something bigger and more fun–a marriage of my ideas, friends, creative concepts and more. The internet makes it easier–the difference is standing apart from what else is out there and people taking notice.

  • Zachary Long said on September 26, 2010

    Loved the meat of the ideas in this post except for the fact that even for the “old timers,” they were new once before too. Back when they first started over 10-20 years ago I’m sure the photographers of their era cried the same way that their market was “over saturated” and that, gasp, we can’t possibly have TWO photographers in the same city BOTH shooting weddings!!

    Times change and I don’t see myself being part of the problem; as other commenters have mentioned there is a market for the up-and-comers who can’t afford the $3000 wedding photographer. The cream will rise to the top, and sure someone may shoot a $500 wedding once or twice but only if they are truly dedicated to this craft will they see this as a sustainable business model. Those that start at $500 -and then improve- will gradually carve out their own niche and prices will adjust accordingly. I see this as the new way we have to pay our dues, gone is the need for an assistant in many cases with the technology at our hands. We all have to start somewhere.

    I am proudly part of the problem, the *SUB-$500* wedding I shot yesterday? I put the effort into that shoot as if it were a $5000 wedding. I am paying my dues, I am part of the problem. My bride would have never considered a $2000 photographer, and when she sees the images and shows them to her friends at the quality she got for SUB-$500 – that’s my marketing expense.

  • Opinion said on September 26, 2010

    This is an example of what I was trying to say in the post before. I am about to tell you something nobody tell you before to all of you to the new inspire photographers.








  • Opinion said on September 26, 2010

    Last thing:

    If anyone want your job. No matter who is the person, your relationship with them and whether you consider yourself a pro or not YOU SHOULD CHARGE FOR IT! not matter what! If some is your real friend. Your friends should be the first in appreciating your work and efforts.

    When you go to the supper market you will have to pay at the cashier then you will remember everything you have done fro free. I hope you have money to pay…..

  • Brian S. Allard said on September 26, 2010

    I’d have to say my favorite part of more affordable cameras / no expense processing is that talented people can actually make great art. I’ve seen more amazing photos in the last three or four years than I’ve ever seen before, simply because more people are shooting and sharing.

  • Skye said on September 27, 2010

    Stop backyard photographers selling professional services.


  • Jezzer said on September 28, 2010

    When I graduated, I had a ton of debt to pay off, so I fell into dealing with that and stopped making pictures. I know 2 of the people on my course are pro’s now. But both were quite wealthy and I hate to say it neither were amazing photographers, but because they had money and no debt to service. They were out of the gate quicker.

    I meanwhile am coming back to this after a 10 year gap. From what I can see. Digital is democratizing the proffession….Amen to that!!!

  • Matheson said on September 28, 2010

    A message to the $500.00 wedding shooters who say they charge that much because they feel that is what they are worth:

    If you can shoot an entire wedding day, deal with the insanity that is a wedding, deal with the variety of conditions (weather, lighting etc.) a wedding throws at you, are proficient enough with post to do effective but minimal retouching, do all of this in a timely manner, with a smile on your face and make your clients happy with the end results, than you are worth more than $500.00

    If your clients hate your poorly exposed, out of focus and retouching that making everyone (including the groom) look like cheap porcelain dolls, than have at her. Hell, good for you for getting that much (kidding).

    The thing about $500.00 Craig’s Listers is that they are soon to have their lunch eaten by the Craig’s List $400.00 shooter. I have seen listings for $400.00 that include a second shooter. Not kidding.

    In a race to the bottom, everyone looses. There will always be someone willing to do it cheaper than you and someone else willing to to do it cheaper than that.

    All that said, I have 0 problems with you doing it. I wish you all nothing but sukses (did I spell that right?).

  • Metin Katyap said on September 29, 2010

    Very much appreciated Zack Arias!

    The price you set, is the price you deserve…

    I see arround me that many amateur/ semi-pro photographers, are willing to take photographys for free.

    Actually there is nothing wrong for shooting for free, but let the customer know that it has a value in dollars.

    Unfortunately I am a IT geek who wants to enter the world of photographers. My company had clients day on a golf course. I was asked to shoot some pictures. So I did. But when people were asking can I see the picture, I told them that a portrait like this is worth a fortune. You should thank my boss that he hired me to shoot… Giving your potential customers a mindset is really important.
    And then the picture presentation is important, when the customers asked me when can we see the pictures? I told them and my company will place the pictures Monday or Tuesday. Monday at 16:00 I was stalked by my colleagues, and on Tuesday two clients called asking about the pictures.
    Pre-sales mission accomplished.

    Show the customers that you do understand photography in every way impress them with your knowledge!!!

    Just a few seconds ago a colleague another Manager told me that I misspelled on my website. This is great news!!!
    He looked and read my text. And warned me for possible customers that do not appreciate spelling errors.

    So be happy do get encouraged in every possible way, beacause there are a few WOW moments. PRINT THEM AND TAKE THEM WITH YOU ALL THE TIME!!!
    Discouragement is easy. LOOSE IT!
    Make other people see what your worth, and charge them!
    Everyone has to start somewhere and somehow.
    For some a glorious super start and for some a bumpy ride…

    Being persistent will take you everywhere……..

  • R C Shots said on September 29, 2010

    Zack, I hear ya and agree that everyone is looking for the easy money and think photography is a point and shoot industry and therefore a breeze to do and make an income, it never was and never will be as simple as that, those who have talent will rise to the top those who are dross will be at a loss. Any veterans of photography will have reputations to carry them over and will have added more strings to their bows as well a massive bank of stock images. Real photographers are those who are all weather all terrian professionals who will go anywhere and do anything to get that shot, not wedding, family photographers or studio photographers. I however do not wish to get in the pool because I shoot shots for my own pleasure and anyone asking for copies will be more likely refused or ask to pay a sum that is in line with the market but a one off. I also would not say yes to anyone wanting me to photograph a wedding or family shots, “Sorry I do this for my pleasure not to save you cash” I don’t want to be a full time photographer because it is my hobby I enjoy it, why would I want to make it work and me miserable.

  • Kyle Bromley said on September 29, 2010

    The rant was very useful Zack! I couldn’t help chuckle at the Florence reference at the end. I was listening to that song while reading this. Way too funny.

  • Shavit Tzuriel said on September 29, 2010

    I totally agree with you. you should always charge for your work, no matter who is the person.

  • Regina Pagles said on September 30, 2010

    According to John Harrington:

    “So, you want to “help other people. How about helping those who earn a living producing photographs by not undercutting them? That’s the best way to ensure that great photography continues to benefit the world.”

    Why should I, would I or want to help those who earn a living producing photographs? Most of those people are not helping me down my path to pursue photography as a hobby. In addition, I did not choose photography as a means to benefit the world, nor do I think many pro photographers did either. They chose it to make a career/$$$ from it. I chose it because I like it. I have no desire to ever make a dime from my photography.

    Just because a person chooses photography as a way to make a living, doesn’t give them the right to judge or berate those that take photos for free.

  • Sara said on September 30, 2010

    Haha, Regina, did you even read the question?

    The answer is directed at someone who said “I want to help other people.”

    Obviously you don’t want to help anyone so calm the heck down.

  • Brett VonHoldt said on October 1, 2010

    Thanks for a great article Zack, i’m looking forward to the next one.

    You think the photography business is over saturated, try being a web developer. Holy crap, kids in school are doing web development, or short courses. The entry cost is virtually zero (assuming they are using pirated software) and it’s hard to get clients to see past the low prices and barely passable work ‘the kids’ offer to explain to the client that the el-cheapo website is not their best option.

    I too have jumped in the photography pool, and i brought my rubber ducky for company!

    Thanks again Beardy Light Guy.

  • a midle aged not quite saturated dude said on October 1, 2010

    All very interesting and much pounded out points.
    A couple from my perspective. I started making money out of photography in the waning days of film. I certainly benefited from digitization and the internet. But i understood a few things from the get go thanks to my peers.
    1. It is really easy to sell the odd photograph but you gotta have something else, whether it is a good library, a cool style or business competence.
    2. Like someone else said, the 500 dollar shoot will be forced out by the 400 dollar shoot. And its like dating a woman who has cheated to be with you, she is going to cheat on you one day too. Your clients are racing you to the bottom and you will be happy to use some one cheaper than you.
    3. Will you still be here in five years time? It took me two years of relationship building to sell my first shot too lonely planet and i just did a product shoot in the Scottish highlands for a client i met and sold stock to in Central America three years ago. I observed at the beginning of my business that most photography businesses take 5 years to break even and ten years to mature. I still hold that to be somewhat accurate. So you made some extra cash for a few years out of selling on flickr! Congrats, but you going to be married with a mortgage one day and that aint going to pay the bills. How commited are you to the big picture is this just another sound bite fad for you while the job market suxs.
    4. The pricing thing. Guilty kinda here. I do not charge what someone like John Harrington charges or what many full time pros on this board do. But my pricing is consistent and it does pay my bills, my flights, my equipment upgrades. My secret? I am single and do not have a mortgage. To be honest, i could not have a family on my income.

    Well, just some more randome sound bites for everyone to have forgotten by tommorow. Gotta go pack for that 77 day assignment in Peru

  • Paul Kyte said on October 1, 2010

    .. post 145 I’ll be impressed if anyone gets around to reading this one!

    to quote Zack ‘..unless of course, you’ve been at this for twenty or more years. In that case, my apologies to you..’

    Please don’t apologies Zack as a professional myself who’s been ‘at this’ for twenty years or more what you have just quoted is in fact my biggest selling point. As a photographer I know that I’m better than some but not as good as others, but for 20 years I have delivered photographs on 10×8 transparency (look it up in you history books folks) on Ilford pushed processed black and white film and now on this digital stuff, to a high professional standard time after time after time ….

    When I’m talking to a potential client I simply ask the question ‘..with whom would you like to entrust your budget, your reputation, your product, your campaign, your special day?..’

    .. and if it ain’t me then they are probably not my type of client and I go look for someone who might be.

    So no complaints from me regarding others entering the field, I’ll play to my strengths, find clients who appreciate what I do and continue to work just as hard if not harder than the competition!

  • Opinion said on October 2, 2010

    @Regina Pagles
    When you do something you really don’t love to do you automatically become a mediocre.

    The purpose of art in some way is to make a better world is you become a photographer to make money you probably end up being a mediocre of mediocre.

    All successful artists first they love what they do with passion an then they were able to make money. If you have not passion, a need and love for what you do forget about it………..DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME A BECOME EN TECHNICIAN IN ANY OTHER FIELD….FORGET ABOUT IT YOU ARE NOT AN ARTIST…DON’T DREAM IT.



  • Neil said on October 2, 2010

    Yea you and your damn photoporn DVD empire. Skunk.

  • Opinion said on October 2, 2010


    Trying to stop backyard photographers make not sense at all. I life there is always been good and bad. Is anything good that stands out is because there is a bad too. Bad make the differences too.

    You sound like Hitler. You should be too concerned about bad photographers. Sometime the it might be annoying but is part of our life. You should be focus in your work only.
    Only if you feel to very close to them and feel insecure you may have reasons to feel nervous about it.

    Arts world is very tou. When you go to a museum you only see the survivors but history don’t show you those who struggled and died in their way to success.

  • Dwayne D.C. Tucker II said on October 2, 2010

    Dude you killed this shit! I’m in that market as well but to remain sane I stick to my mission which is I aint tripping I’m a get there in a min.

    Just doing what I have to do and say f the rest of the bs.

    Miami, Florida | Nassau, Bahamas

  • Heath Mayfield said on October 2, 2010

    Wizwow can suck it.

  • Mick Motor said on October 2, 2010

    How many Canon AE-1’s were sold? oh right, “Backed by a major advertising campaign, the AE-1 sold five million units, an unprecedented success in the SLR market.”

    5,000,00 million!

    Quit fucking bitch’n

  • Novak said on October 3, 2010

    If you and your rat pack of strobists weren’t so talented, you wouldn’t inspire us, and the pool wouldn’t be so saturated! (that’s a compliment)

  • Darryl said on October 3, 2010

    I can see where Zack is coming from….being a former telecommunications employee.
    during the ‘gold rush’ to put fiber in the ground telecommunications companies were throwing money to people to get their networks built….I was able to become an ‘Engineer’ at my company despite having a Business Administration Degree….to make a long story short….hundreds of companies wanted to get in (saturate) on the gold rush….our suppliers were making machines smaller and able to carry more…and more…and more capacity (bandwith)….we were building routs that sat empty….as the excess supply of bandwidth sat with no demand….we eventually were laid off.

    It’s been ten years and now with all the multimedia devices we use now days I imagine the idle bandwidth we installed will be finally used.

    Today’s photography market reminds me of the telecom gold rush I was a part of. I think that all of the new features of photography…video…web…..audio…etc…are all converging together…if they aren’t converging why are camera makers incorporating digital into DSLR’s…..

    I just think the industry is evolving really really fast…

  • Ralph said on October 3, 2010

    @James 94 “Not being mean, but I looked at most of your websites. Just saying ….”

    I noticed you didn’t include your website, I would like to see it so I can see what a photographer you are.

    It’s easy to critique other people an not put yourself out there for critique. Just saying……


    Thanks for everything I hope you keep it coming. Looking forward to part 2

  • Jimmy said on October 3, 2010

    Great post, not much to add that hasn’t been said. Love that song, you should link to this version. Her performance was amazing.


  • jay.eads said on October 10, 2010

    hahaha, i love the drama :)

    first, before i say something about what you wrote, zack, i have to say this:

    james (if that is your real name), don’t poke photogs in the eye for not being very good if you aren’t man enough to put a link to your work. pussy. (sorry, i rarely swear, but come ON)

    now, zack. you said “Us young punk kids actually really need you to stick around.” and i couldn’t agree more.

    the young punks need to be honest about the fact that there are here only by standing on the shoulders of those before them. if you truly think you are original and do not copy or imitate, you’re an idiot. everyone does. the MASTERS did. the CURRENT LEADERS do. show some respect for the people who opened the doors and allowed you to come in. someone had to build the room you’re in to show off your ridiculous dance moves.

    not all young punk s are punks at all. some genuinely want help and want to be better. a number probably read this blog because you (Z) help. even though you have your own work to do, and plenty of it. a “mentor session” is a pale shadow of what a true mentor used to do, and i for one am thankful for the time you put into digitally mentoring in your own way. we need the old dogs to stick around because there’s a lot to learn. to ignore someone like a joe mcnally because he isn’t 24, wearing TOMS, a cowboy shirt and fake glasses is to ignore a lifetime of work and knowledge. there are plenty of “joe mcnallys” out in the world who have much to share.

    sigh. many of the joe mcnallys of the world will not share because they are scared. everyone loses on that one.


    all that said, i know i am new to this. i have a loooong way to go, and i consult those who know more than i do. i hope to be in their shoes one day.


  • Abelardo Ojeda said on October 14, 2010

    Great post Zack, this one and “Cheap Photographers Only Kill Themselves, Not The Industry”

    Inspiration to innovate an be creative, the only way to be noticed.

  • JC said on October 21, 2010

    wow i didn’t see a nikon shooter on the pool.

  • Bobby Joe said on October 21, 2010

    Put me in the “free for now” category.

    I’m lining up free shoots (babies, bands, and aspiring actors/models) to get a basic portfolio going, but after 10 shoots I’m going to charge $50. After 10 more, I’m going to $100, and I’ll keep raising as the quality of my work improves.

    And if it doesn’t work, who cares? I’m giving it a real shot instead of just thinking about it.

  • T/D said on October 21, 2010

    I’m just a SQUIRREL….trying to get a nut.
    When you have a family to support, you just gotta do what you gotta do. Thanks Zack.

  • Alex Campbell said on October 22, 2010

    Great post. This is my first time posting.
    I do not feel that the market has really suffered in such a negative way. The thing is that there are a lot of people who still know good photography and the difference between true professional photography and amateur shooting. I think that a persons work speaks for them and that anyone who really cares about quality photography will most likely seek out a good photographer. if you are truly a professional photographer and are charging $350 to shoot a wedding, you need to charge more. I frequently here people I know saying that they know someone who got a cheap photographer and “got what they payed for.” The person paying $350 for a wedding most likely never had the intention of paying even $1000 let alone 3 or 4k. It is probably the difference between having someone shoot their wedding and having friends email them shots.

  • Vizcara said on October 27, 2010

    Sorry those are “NOT” photographers they are paparazzi’s the slugs of the entertainment world or more likely called “Cockroaches”

  • Pete Ferling said on October 29, 2010

    Photography is like running from bears, you don’t have to be the fastest, just faster than your competition. Word of mouth, trust, etc. is what still works. No matter how good my portfolio is over someone else’s, I’m still locked out of certain gigs because of relationships, trust, and other things that can’t be overcome. Likewise, I have the same foundation with others. The only you can do is to keep trying, and love doing it.

  • Luke said on November 16, 2010

    Put in the time to deliver what your target wants. It doesn’t make a difference how you learned the skills.

    2 years of schooling, learning the rules to placing lights and reading meters doesn’t make you a better photographer than the guy who spent the time reading blogs, subscribing to tutorials and
    and learning in the field.

    The flood/saturation has it’s ups and it’s downs. Sure you might lose a job to an AM in the short term, but are those people going to be able to stick out the business end, the rejection and the time it takes to last… In my opinion… not a chance.

    They serve 2 very important purposes though. Both of these have been discussed here but I will reiterate.

    1. there are brides with $500 budgets for photography. They need a photographer in their budget. They can’t spend more. You can’t charge less.

    Example, You can’t buy a $20,000 car on a $10,000 budget.
    So as much as the product wont be “the best” you buy the car you can afford. People still buy the $20,00 car. If you want people to pay your price for your product it’s simple. stay strong and market yourself to those who can afford it. if your worth it they will pay.

    2. They just help to reinforce the you get what you paid for adage.

    Not saying that all lower priced photographers suck. But I have yet to lose a job based on cost and see the chosen photographer’s product be anything short of disappointing.

    I am speaking from an almost exclusively wedding business.

  • Joe Bodego said on November 25, 2010

    Tell you what’s absurd, it’s charging the hundreds of dollars you do for these seminar things you have. Anyone who is foolish enough to spend that kinda money on these stupid photography thingies has the right to fill the market with more saturation. Keep it real dude!!!

  • zack said on November 26, 2010

    Joe – If I could figure out how to put on a workshop for $50 and still feed a family of six and a studio of three then I would gladly do it. You may be able to sit there with a calculator and multiply workshops seats X $price but you don’t know the expenses that go into this stuff.

    Also, if you haven’t been to a workshop you can’t say. If you had been to a workshop you would have never made the comment you did.

    I understand where you are coming from though. From the outside it seems crazy. I can tell you this… from the inside, it’s even crazier. Just in a different direction than you might think.


  • Joe Bodego said on November 26, 2010

    I am always amazed at workshops and what the real purpose is. As someone who’s worked Mac world for years showing photoshop, Illustrator and QuarkXpress to the throngs of folks who are now designing some hideous looking artwork, bad Fontography, you name it. Not wanting to attack your hussle but to write about $500. Dollar wedding photographers then on the other hand throw seminars which anyone can attend, what do you expect. Super amatuer John Smith with some cash now thinks he is a photographer because he just pluck down $800.00 for one of your seminars. Without any practical experience he’s now shooting weddings for $500.00. Culprit here:The Seminar and economics. Once again it comes down to money and our need to make it. Love you brother anyway, do your thing, I watched your DVD 10 times and I gotta say I became a better photographer because of it. I just want you to keep it real dude and take this post down, it broke my heart to see this. By the way I have a d700 and do charge $4.000 for an average wedding once a month but in real life I am a web developer now but I use to be a prepress dude. Have a good day zack

  • Jimmy said on December 16, 2010

    Supply and Demand, folks.

    The market will reach equilibrium at some point, can’t tell you when though.
    The influx of cars at the beginning of the 20th century didn’t do away with taxi services, did it? I wouldn’t be too worried. One’s portfolio speaks for itself, and those $400 wedding photographers probably cannot deliver quality, innovative shots.

  • Daniel Stark Photography said on April 30, 2011

    Great read–just found your blog. diggin it!

  • Kristin Smith said on July 17, 2011

    Would like to see you revisit this subject. We have seen many “studios” in our local market close – we see them selling everything on craigslist – maybe 1-2 studios a month. Many people have bought into the hype about being a “photographer,” but they have not built a business. How do you keep it going when you have to pay your 940, 941, occupancy tax, sales tax, etc, etc. And then you have to make sure you have adequate COS to live! I think we are at a point where it has to shake out and the people who are photographers who run a business like a business will survive.
    What are your thoughts?

  • Kevin said on August 21, 2011

    Using a pool as a metaphor is interesting, and likey very accurate. If the old-timers are the lifeguards, and looked upon to teach the tadpoles to swim, the problem is… we’re in a pool – not an ocean! There’s no room left to teach anyone anything with all this flailing about and unnecessary splashing going on. Listen, I’m all for education – I think without it the industry is doomed. But the tadpoles don’t want to learn the breaststroke or how to quietly dive into the pool without disturbing others, they want to cannonball into the pool and flail wildly to the other side because they know rave reviews await them when they get there – from every “friend” they’ve ever known!

    Keep blogging. This conversation needs everyone’s attention. A solution awaits…

  • Zack said on August 25, 2011

    @Kevin – Plenty of the tadpoles who don’t want to learn will quickly drown. :)

  • Elvira said on September 8, 2011

    It’s damn lucky you claim to feel that way, since you make your living feeding it.

  • tim gray said on April 27, 2012

    “there is much more to being a photographer than buying an entry-level DSLR,”

    There is much more to a photographer than Carrying a 1dS or a 5D Mk III and L series glass as well.

    I see more exceptional photos shot with “entry-level” DSLR’s than I see shot with “professional” DSLR’s.

    Never be fooled that gear = skill, because most of the time the guy with the 1dS is usually very medicore but wants to impress people with his disposable income.

  • Rudolf said on May 8, 2012

    hey, look on the bright side, things could be worse. oh hang on… http://tinyurl.com/4h46wkh

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