Sobering Truths About Making A Career Out Of Photography

- - Business

This post that I found via Steve Coleman on Facebook lays out the cold hard facts of starting a wedding or portrait photography business in 2011. You can certainly apply most of it to commercial and editorial photography as well. Photographer Laurence Kim takes his MBA and 20 years of business experience to explain how the photography business compares to other career options.

First, the options you may or may not have for building enough wealth to live the American Dream (live a middle class or better lifestyle, send your kids to college and retire at a reasonable age).

1. The Investor – Use money to make money.

2. The Professional – Advanced degrees command high fees.

3. The Corporate Employee – Climb the corporate ladder.

4. The Public Employee – Job security and a retirement.

Finally the photographer.

Zero barriers to entry – A camera and a cheap website then you’re off.

Zero leverage/scalability – Your are trading your time for money. Stock used to provide leverage but that’s dead.

Zero equity-building- What’s Joe Smith Photography worth when you decided to retire. Zero.

Zero benefits – Buy your own health insurance and match your own 401k.

Laurence’s conclusion: “I actually can’t think of a worse business than photography.” And the bottom line: “from a wealth-creation standpoint, photography is a lousy career.” Yikes!

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, I’m different, I’m going to become the next Dan Winters. Sober up for a second and read his post (here). The key here is not just making a living at photography, but a career: enjoy life, raise kids, retire and die happy.

I rarely give in to the devil on my shoulder and write about failure, but I’m feeling the negative energy people are sending me and this post was too honest to pass up. Everyone needs a kick in the pants once in awhile.

There Are 239 Comments On This Article.

    • Motivated Gerry

      I am so sick of all these naysayers, stop whining! I’m at the point of not even reading this blog anymore, or any other blog for that reason, and just concentrate on my own work, nose to the grindstone. There are plenty of young photographers making a living doing great work what they love. Not everyone cares about retirement, a steady paycheck, paying for their kids college, etc. If you really want to do this, and your heart is in it 100%, then you will figure out a way to do it! 10 years from now I will know that I made the right decision in following my dreams and passion while using every skill I have to make it work. To hell with the rest of the naysayers…go get that miserable desk job so you can retire. I don’t know if I will even live to be old enough to retire, I’m going to do what I love with the time I have left on this earth, and at least I can die knowing that I did what I wanted with my life instead of just bowing out…there are hard times in life and good times in life, it’s a roller coaster for christ’s sake, hold on as tight as you can, scream like hell, and go for the ride! I know I will be on the coaster, will you?

      • @Motivated Gerry,

        Ahhh… the hubris of what I can only surmise is “youth.”

        If this post was ten years ago, I’d have been saying the same as you – wait, actually… I did say exactly that! I was living the dream and could not have cared less what else was going on.

        I hope like hell that you make it, but at least pause for a moment and reflect deeply on the fact that life changes on you in crazy ways and the photo market is sure as hell gonna change on you in ways you can in no way control. There are powers far stronger at play here than just “passion” for photography.

        I am in no way advocating that you or anyone give up their passion for photography. I have kept that flame burning for close to 20 years as a pro now and it is vital to who I am. I plan to keep stoking the fire after I am out working as a RN. But please consider that given the steep odds photogs face in this climate – there is no dishonor in cultivating a parallel career that can support you in the lean times and/or even take over if needed.

        Best of luck to you!

        • I don’t understand why this is even a topic. Obviously being photographers is hard, just as hard as being a musician or artist. Uh, yea, you’re gonna have a backup job and you should expect to likely be poor. Who are all these people who are expecting a paycheck? I know plenty of starving musicians in their mid forties and they’re still going strong. OMG i am going to delete myself from this blog. I think it’s just filled with wedding photographers or something.

        • oops i should have proofread that post. haha. sorry for the grammatical errors. i was in the pit of passion

      • Kenneth Schneider

        Bravo…I believe do what your Heart says is right…if Photography is your only way of life…you will find a way…

  1. And this is why half the photographers I know are in nursing school right now! Hmmm, what’s going to allow to not be a 9-5 desk jockey and hey, I don’t have to ask 3 times if I’m going to get paid within the year…

    • Andre Friedmann

      IIRC, Long Island University ran a magnificent ad campaign for their Nursing School. In the campaign, they offered the example of one of their own photography majors returning to their Nursing School in order to make a living.

      • @Andre Friedmann,

        No way! Funny, but sad, or the other way around. Thanks for sharing Andre. Best with the photo biz.

        • @Nicole,
          HA!! That’s me – back in nursing school after nearly 20 years as a photog. Am I any good as a photog? I dunno… but I think that surviving so long on only photography is an indicator that I can “make it.”
          However, I do not see the glass as half full anymore – nor have it for the last few years. I truly admire those that do, but I feel that they are working on this ephemeral “passion” we see in these comments. Yes, there is always room at the top for talented photogs. But when you look at the seismic changes in the market over the past 5-10 years, what makes people think that the trend will flatten or even get better? If changes need to be made, are they not easier to do earlier in life? I am 41 and making this change and it is hard enough as is. I cannot fathom what it would be like to flounder along a few more years in today’s photo world until I am a 50 or older finally grasping the reality that passion does not provide everything one needs at that stage in life?
          I sat at the crossroads for a long time and tried to divine the best way to go forward and feed my passion for photography yet still have a viable life and lifestyle. The conclusion that I tried to avoid for a long time but which eventually overwhelmed me was – nursing school. So I made the leap. What other profession out there is nearly recession proof? Remember the 65+ age group is going to grow at rates estimated from 30-40% in the next 5-10 years as the baby boomers continue to age. What other profession pays that well out of the gate and has great benefits? What other career can you take virtually anywhere in the US or even the world and find a demand for your skills. And most importantly as a photog, in what other career can you work 2-3 days a week as a fulltime employee giving you the majority of the week off to chase that photography passion?
          If you have your bachelors already, there are accelerated BSN programs that can be as short as 11 months like mine. So I am giving up one year of my life and putting my nose to the grindstone to get out with a very viable career path that gives me tons of time to pursue my photography. Financially, I am investing maybe as much as a couple of new DSLR bodies, a lens or two, and maybe a promo campaign or web redesign. I am still running my photo business on the side (albeit at a reduced pace) and I am still licensing stock.
          The bottom line to all this is that I have been in the same game as all of you and I spent a lot of time talking about passion and art and all that other crap. The truth is that we offer a commodity no matter how you like to talk yourself out of it. Sure you may be unique with difficult to surmount barriers to entry into your niche but the relentless march towards squeezing more from less is eventually going to touch your photo world. Maybe not tomorrow or even in five year, but it will get there and you need a plan for when it does. I too looked at a parallel career like nursing as “selling out” or “giving up.” But now halfway done to my BSN, I think it is the exact opposite – it empowers me to shoot images for my passion. It gives me the psychological, emotional, and financial freedom to walk away from bad deals and not sweat it. I can shoot what I want and how I want and license it to whoever I want – all on my terms.
          I have been very active for a long time with a variety of photo trade groups that work towards mentoring young photogs on the fact that this is a business and things like contracts, copyright, fees, rights, and the like simply cannot be treated cavalierly. But now, I have seen the light and advise all young photogs to look deep into the crystal ball and see what they want/need later in life and get a degree that gives them a career that is going to last and provide for these needs. Then if they succeed as a photog, the point is moot. But if they do not, then they have a viable alternative that does not include work for hire, istock, undercutting established photogs, and all the other practices that photogs more eager than forward thinking unleash on our world. It is time for photogs to grow up and realize that being a great photographer fueled by passion is not necessarily mutually exclusive of having a realistic plan for a viable career that can run simultaneously with the photography or in its place if needed.

          • @Murse,
            “It empowers me to shoot images for my passion. It gives me the psychological, emotional, and financial freedom to walk away from bad deals and not sweat it.”

            This is the truth!

            I started PT school last week. The reality of having time, but not the money to do what I wanted made me realize while I’m a good shooter, it’s not offering me enough financial stability.

            While I’ve been thinking about this for a few years, I agree that 38 is better than 48 or 58 to pull the trigger.

            Kick but in school & thanks for sharing your thoughts!!!

          • @Murse, Good luck on your new career, and your continued passion with photography. Isn’t it interesting how years of experience provide insight and wisdom for better choices to move forward.

            • @Bob & Nicole

              Thanks! But, I guess that the proof will be in the pudding. I am comfortable with my decision and am eager to see what the future holds. At least I now know that I have taken proactive steps to position myself as positively and flexibly as I can for whatever the photo world tosses my way. I can only hope that more photogs realize that the boundary between “selling out” and making good decisions for the future is less daunting and more “gray” than most would like one to believe.

        • @Nicole,

          Hey Lady,

          This is the NURSE speaking, ex Time Magazine and U.S. News & World Report photographer turning RN-that’s right & if you look at my website, I wasn’t exactly shabby either. I worked at a time when I made great money, saw the business change and still had quite alot to show for it in the bank..and cashed out. Becoming a nurse is the best decision I could make at this point in my life. I rode the high tide for 18 years but saw in ADVANCE that trying to continnue in a business where anyone with a website and digital camera had the nerve to call themselves a photographer could undercut and undermine the whole business and that is what happened. I have photo friends trying to live off of 25K a year-what a joke. Don’t mock those that are turning to other lucrative careers & believe me-to stay within any reputable RN program takes a lot of brains, more than I thought. I would rather preserve my love of photo and make my money elsewhere working 13 days a month that grow old and poor and resentful of a profession that brings me NOTHING.

          • 25-k a year is actually pretty good. I make less than that and I’m happy. What’s wrong with you people

  2. This analysis fails for the professional commercial photographer who licenses his/her work. There is residual value in the images which can continue to generate passive income after creation.

    Moreover, the smart photographer invests her/his money in other income generating tools (for example, buys a building for her/his studio or simply invests in stocks & bonds even) to provide for future needs.

    Yes, it’s tough, but it’s not as bleak as this post makes it seem.

    • @Leslie Burns,

      If you read to the end of his blog, you will see that he ends it with just the same suggestions you make above. I don’t find the blog post depressing at all, it is, in some weird way, inspiring.

      Maybe it’s just me.

    • @Leslie Burns, “There is residual value in the images which can continue to generate passive income after creation.”

      Leslie, How long does this residual value last in images today?
      Exactly what is that residual value for most images?

      Even the stock images Getty was directing 10 years ago are becoming dated in style today. How much passive income are commercial images from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s netting (averages) today?

      Didn’t Time magazine recently license an image used on the cover for $30.00? Sadly they may have found it even cheaper. In the past Time covers would bring in 5 figure incomes.
      http://open.salon.com/blog/future_of_journalism/2009/07/29/photog_thrilled_to_get_peanuts_from_time

      It’s not difficult or unheard of today for a designer to buy 20 images @ dollar stock, hire a retoucher and comp together finished art on the cheap. We haven’t yet experienced what could happen with an increase of image supply out of China and India – either from creative editing of already existing images (flcker?), or custom content creation. For products, these offshore studios are already in place.

      In order to invest income in other areas, one needs to produce enough income to invest in other assets. For many photographers this is not a reality – especially in some of the more expensive areas of the country where photographers live and work. Are you still in San Diego? How many photographers working in San Diego are able to buy their own house and buy a building to build a studio? It’s not impossible but what are the percentages of those able to do so?

  3. Quite frankly Rob I’m surprised you posted this. Its weak to begin with, no substance , just a few lines of kaka to rile the troops? Feels like FOX TV on
    aphotoeditor????
    Surely there are more interesting posts to pass on?

    • @selina maitreya, This coming from a women who makes a living trying to teach photographers about how to market their businesses… yet has no real data about the industry she works in? Give me a break – spend 6-10 years working towards building a photo career for yourself and tell me where you’d be at right now. Rob is reflecting the reality of what is going on right now… not the dream.

      • Ricky Bobby

        @Clark Patrick, yeah Selina you and the rest of the “photo consultants” are full of Crap! Any photographer giving you money is being robbed!!!

        • @Ricky Bobby,
          @selina maitreya,

          Wow. I guess that having a thriving business for 20+ years as a consultant was way, you know, WAAAAY easier than being a photographer.

          I mean, being a PHOTOGRAPHER has so many special, uh… you know, it’s different… well… you just wouldn’t understand how hard it is to start a business. In PHOTOGRAPHY, for God’s sake.

          Even though Selina has, well… uhh… actually- you know – done that. In Consulting. I guess her 20+ years of success are based on NOT doing a good job of it.

          Riiiiigght. Go buy another lens, that’ll help.

          I personally KNOW people who are doing really well from hiring consultants. I know more who are better off than those who are worse off.

          But – hell, some folks gots them PRO Flickr accounts and they KNOWS shit.

          Ricky Bobby has shown us the truth.

          At least on whatever planet he lives on.

          Dick: (Ricky short for Richard and Dick being – well an appropos nickname in oh so many case) You have Nooooo idea of what you speak, sir. But speak away.

          Gotta love the first amendment.

          Just watch out for published slander, and restriction of trade statements… heh.

          Just… you know, sayin’

          • Donnor Party

            @Donald E Giannatti, I don’t think anything anyone has written is defamatory. Your veiled threat, referencing “published slander” is offensive, not just because slander is a spoken form of defamation and what you meant was libel, but it seems you are trying to chill speach, which is taken seriously in the States.

            • @Donnor Party,

              Veiled threat?

              Sort of a joke, note the use of “heh”…

              I’ll have to get over to the ‘states’ sometime. Sounds like a fun place!

              The fear of chilling free speech… that was a joke right? LOL – a good one too.

              You are telling me to shut up so that I DON”T CHILL FREE SPEECH? Since the statement that was referenced didn’t have anything to do with me, how would it be a veiled threat. Even those who don’t live in the ‘states’ know that a slander/libel suit cannot be brought by a third party.

              Do they have, like, critical thinking or, like, skools there in the states? ScKules? Whatever… ;-)

              Just – you know – askin’?

              • Donnor Party

                @Donald E Giannatti, I stand by my statements. You back peddeling posing as aggression doesn’t change anything.

                • @Donnor Party,
                  OK. Pop-Psych degree acknowledged.
                  I do not backpedal on anything I say. Never have. Simple explanations can be difficult to comprehend. I know.

                  • @Donald E Giannatti, your ego infused sarcasm is a real turn off, bloke. Please get over yourself, and get a grip. Your biting comments to Donnar Party are ridiculous, as he happens to be a person on this blog who regularly responds in an informed and fair manner. Please examine your motivations, and consider the fact that you may just done a disservice to your own business, because of your inane rants.

          • Donald,
            You really need to be better informed before posting.
            “Hey here’s a quarter, go buy a clue”
            Selina may have been marketing herself as a consultant for 20+ years, but she has not worked directly with art directors nor ad agencies in the current economic environment or even the last 10-15 years for that matter. So she is selling an idea of HOW TO that is severely out dated. Of course their are those that can not think for themselves and find her ‘Earthy Crunchy’ approach reassuring. That would be until they pay for her services and find that she has sold them a bill of goods. Check around and you’ll find many photographers that has lost money and clients from following her out dated advice and crappy portfolio editing.
            But you just keep on drinking that Selina Cool-Aid my friend.

        • @Ricky Bobby, I’ll have to respectfully disagree with your comments about Selina.

          If Selina’s approach doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean, it doesn’t work. I haven’t used her services, but I have heard her speak a few time and read her book. Both were invaluable in helping generate new business and more importantly, rethink what it is I have to offer and how to offer it. Of my peers that availed themselves of her 1 on1 consulting services, everyone thought it was well worth the price. The reality is, that most of photographers I know that are having difficulty maintaining their business, are the ones who can’t get past the idea, that their work should speak for itself. Selina offers sound advice on how to get past that way of thinking.

          • Ricky Bobby

            @Chris, Thats cool, maybe I was a little harsh. To each his own. Good luck with your creative pursuit!

            Photo Life= the good life

            • @Ricky Bobby, and others…There are no figures in this industry that anyone has or could have to prove that certain theories work. I have my clients many who are working, as my information that my ideas are sound and the many emails i receive from photogs all over the world who report back to me their successes from my information that they have used and made their own. I have a very good relationship with Rob and my comments were not at all meant to create the toxic atmosphere that you all whipped in and generated. As usual negativity as destructive as your posts serves no one . There was no new info gained.
              Apologies Rob if my post to you was not the highest in content or positive thought.Ill take my own advice in the future and remember that negativity breeds like energy and I’ll thanks those of you who wrote nasty, negative comments for reminding me of that.

              • @selina maitreya,

                Selina, I have not used a coach or consultant in the past. I’ve read your pieces, and believe I’ve heard you talk several times at events. Out of all the consultants you come across to me as one of the better more effective consultants.

                Rob posted a strong impression and comparison of various career options relative to that of image making. Your response: “Its weak to begin with, no substance”.

                But your response itself is an opinion. Why not post facts to support your opinions? Post facts which counter the argument. Support the opinion that a career in image making is (in fact) a good sustainable business choice.

                PDN has done the 30 contest for at least a dozen years, along with numerous other contests. Then there is the CA annual, the Graphis annual, the AP annual, etc., etc. Where are these (creme of the crop) photographers now? For those that are still in the industry, how well are they doing now? Are they still working in this industry? Do they have equity? Do they have retirement savings? Health insurance? What percentage of their work time is creating images as opposed to all the other routine repetitious tasks which are common to virtually all other career choices?

                Opinions and myths are very common in this business – what are the facts?

  4. hugh hamilton

    You could say the same thing about acting, writing and music, in fact any creative field. Financially sensible people don’t do these things for a living.
    They never have.

    • @hugh hamilton, acting and writing don’t require thousands of dollars in upfront and maintenance costs in equipment, studio space, software, post-production, marketing materials etc. Even the relatively high cost of music is very cheap in comparison with photography. Many art forms require talent, ambition and sacrifice. Photography requires all of these plus #$%&$loads of money.

      • hugh hamilton

        @Nate, my point is still valid. Financially sensible people don’t pursue the arts…at least not as a career. But if finance was what its about we’d all be on wall street I guess. Or accountants. Photography is not at all special, especially compared to film and video and their attendant costs. Its always been expensive, its always been risky. And its not getting easier. But I don’t want to trade places with anyone. I’m happy with my work and I like the risk. Its never boring. And thats the point.

  5. Rob, great post and something I tell every new photographer who asks me to give them advice. To put this in perspective, a few years ago the PPA ranked my studio the 2nd highest grossing and netting home based studio in the US. For 20+ years I have supported my family and made a great living through Photography. I have travelled the globe and had a chance to work for some of the most famous photographers in the world. What’s that worth as a business??? Zero. That is the reality of this business, I was at “the top” and it still wasn’t enough money compared to the hours I was working which was 7 days a week while trying to raise 2 kids.

    But as Matt rightly pointed out, I’ll take doing something I love over a desk job any day of the week. However, as Laurence points out it is not easy, there are long hours, no health benefits, zero scalability and at the end…. a truck load of physical ailments from neck injuries to chronic back pain.

    If you are just starting out, you have to weigh out all those factors and realize that you will have to work your ass to make a living but as challenging as it is, it is also deeply rewarding. I have made thousands of people happy with images that tell their story, I have supported my family and I have seen some amazing things. But it wasn’t always easy and I had to start another business (PurePhoto.com) to plan for something else in my future because it’s hard to make a living at this when you get to a certain age.

    Do it or don’t, but make sure you do it for the right reasons and because you love it. There is no easy money in this business and to be successful you better understand that and be prepared to work your ass off!

  6. “No one retires from photography”- Richard Avedon.
    I’m a staffer at a monthly metropolitan glossy. My salary is a joke, comparatively speaking. And so is the Editors and anyone else who has given it up for art. But you know what? I’ll take “Hey, nice double page spread dude,” over “Did you get the memo about those TPS reports?” any day.

    I think a lot of this whining comes from “photographers” who take a few shots, put up a “site” then feel entitled to be called photographers. They whine on here when no one responds to their 1 millionth email blast.

    The field is crowded, sure, but it’s an interesting comparison to the dawn of photography when suddenly, everyone had a Brownie and studio and was taking portraits. I’m sure that marketplace was crowded too.

    You want some advice?
    hone your talent
    Stop the email blasts.
    Use your head.
    Work with a writer on collaboration.
    And stop worrying about retirement. You want that, go work for the city and SFU.

  7. Unlike others here, I’m fine with this post.

    We all know that:-

    a lot – a really lot – of people would love to be photographers

    the obstacles are there to deter those without enough passion or perseverance

    that the truth hurts if you aren’t able to carry through

    The list above are facts, like them or not. But they absolutely should not – WILL not – put off anyone who is determined enough.

  8. That’s an overly simplistic look at the times.

    First of all, I think you have to separate being a photographer from working in a particular genre. Individual genres may appear or disappear over time, but that doesn’t mean the profession overall is facing the same fate. And there is an analogy in corporate life. If you were working on Wallstreet for most of your life, you could have written a very similar sounding post on your corporate job. Individual industries go through ups and downs, just like genres in photography. Personal portrait photography certainly has been impacted differently by the age of DSLRs than other genres. Ultimately think of yourself as a professional who creates images (still or motion) that have value for your clients. If you define your career under those terms, things don’t look so bad. Of course, from an artistic point of view, some genres may be less appealing to you, but that’s a different issue.

    I would also argue the barrier to entry point. Yes, anyone who buys a camera can call themselves a photographer and find people that won’t argue with him/her about that label. Yet, we all know how much it takes to create a portfolio that will get you a meeting with an art director. That is a significant barrier to entry, and one that has had plenty of discussion.

    Now to equity. There definitely is equity – it’s not in cash, it’s in knowledge and trade skill. Just like it takes a corporate employee skill to climb the ladder, a photographer who spent 20 years honing his skill and developing an identifiable vision and style has a huge amount of equity. A quote I recently heard went like this: bystander to famous photographer – “Would you please take my picture if I gave you my camera?” “Sure, this will cost you $4,000.” “Why? I already gave you the camera, and you’re already here” “Yes, but I spent 20 years learning how to take a great picture”.

    Your scalability comes from your equity. With the equity of your vision and body of work you can demand higher rates than someone who just enters the field. Which means you would have to work less for the same amount of money.

    Benefits – that’s a national debate and has nothing to do with photography.

    It’s not easy going starting or keeping a career in photography. But then no job is really easy going. Take someone who climbed the corporate ladder for years out for a beer and ask about the real price, stress, integrity bending, politics. Not to mention that you can get fired any day over things that may not make any sense.

    I did the corporate thing for 15 years. Had enough. Now I’m doing photography, and I’m enjoying it. Is it easy, absolutely not. But then I didn’t expect it to be.

    • Dylan Haley

      @Jan,

      “Ultimately think of yourself as a professional who creates images (still or motion) that have value for your clients.”

      Exactly! Well put.

    • I only skimmed the responses, hunting for those with a positive rebuttal to this god-awful post.

      Jan, yours was the first, so thanks for that! Well thought-out and terrifically encouraging.

      I get really frustrated with Rob’s occasional doomsday “the sky is falling” post or quote. If you pay close enough attention, you start to see various quotes contradict one another. It’s like watching a personal project of Rob’s, the “365 Guess what mood I’m in today?!” project.

      Adding insult to injury, he left out the last portion of Laurence’s original post which offered a positive, though in my opinion misguided, conclusion. Rob practically ended on “you’ll never be Dan Winters or anyone of equal value”… I don’t have nice things to say in response to that, so I’ll just not say them.

  9. B-O-O…. H-O-O

    Man, Im not really sure what to say to that one. If I took that kind of advice, then I guess all my stuff would be up on ebay and Id be pushing papers around like one of the thousands of miserable bowling pins you see commuting to work everyday. Im sure that must be a real joy do spend your life doing.

    Funny because just the other day I was shooting a corporate job at a huge headquarters and spent a good part of the day there. All I could think as we dragged our gear through floor after floor of seas of cubicles, passing hundreds of middle aged, miserable looking, bored out of their mind, drone like workers, that all pretty much look identical with the same weak suits, and the same pale skin under the awful florescent light, calling the same 10 sq ft cubicle home for 8-12 hours a day, drinking the same coffee, doing the same thing over and over again for years on end (You get the idea)…. was “I think it would be a toss up between finding the roof access so I could jump, or would I be better off throwing my desk chair through the glass and just doing a superman out to the parking lot”.

    Id never want a desk job, I think Id go out of my mind. Its funny, because the cited examples of the shortcomings of photography all seemed to focus on the premise of money. Well if thats all that matters and how you gauge success, then by all means. Id probably need a Mercedes, a yacht, be mortgaged to the balls and have credit like swiss cheese as well to offset the misery Id have doing a desk type job. All the while trying to figure out how I could leech more money from some new loophole or climb over someones back, while my wife is home getting plowed by her personal trainer that Im paying a grand a week for. Where I have “equity” and someone else is covering my expenses and 401k and I retire at 60 and go spend the rest of my life wasting away on a golf course.

    You want security? get a dog and a gun. Oh you mean job security? hahah ok, sure you have that when theres someone else calling the shots.

    1. The Investor – Use money to make money. You mean use other peoples money and skim some for yourself?

    2. The Professional – Advanced degrees command high fees. You mean high fees to pay off your debt and student loans? Wheres the innovation? you paid $200k for your degree and you sat in a classroom and had someone else tell you how things are done, now you just go out and rinse and repeat.

    3. The Corporate Employee – Climb the corporate ladder. You mean climb over peoples backs? Ever notice how nice of a foothold you can get with your Ferragamos right in the small of the back?

    4. The Public Employee – Job security and a retirement. Really? I wont even go there, we are all too smart and can see that one coming

    Sign me up ;-)

    Hows that for honesty?

      • @Matt Dutile, Thank you! I mean really, this is the biggest bunch of bullshit. But what do you expect. This same comparison could be written about any career path. Just insert title:
        Sobering truths about being in finance
        Sobering truths about being in real estate
        Sobering truths about being in politics
        Sobering truths about being in service….

        May as well have read the Sobering truths about manufacturing rubber dog shit in Taiwan!

        Show me any job that doesnt have sobering truths to it and Ill kneel down and open wide.

        So sober up, get smart and keep your eyes on the ball. Its called hard work, being confident and being good at what you do. If you want to roll over and die, then go right ahead and spend your days trolling monster.com for a job and pick up “gigs” on craigslist

        hahahah!

          • @Matt Dutile, Exactly, till you find out that the guys lawn on the other side of the fence is actually imported sod flown in from out of state, he has a team of gardeners and he spends a ton each month on Ortho weed be gone and turf builder

            • @christian,
              I think I’m in love with you. If you didn’t post all of this first, I probably would have had a big glass of wine and posted the same thoughts. well put. smart, funny, cynically positive. i have always hated the thought of ‘getting a job to make money and buy things to make us “happy” so we can climb up and make more money to buy more things to buy more happy’ and so on. there are too many assholes that have mediocre work at best that call themselves ‘photographers’ and they are the ones that are making us scared? the best and the brightest and the photogs that look ahead 5 or 10 years will prevail, and the others that get scared from posts like these will join the ‘office space’ drones that trust me, HATE their jobs. name 5 people you know that are really happy in their jobs. I can’t.
              anyway, Christian, you rock my world.

        • @christian, Indeed. Talk to someone who works at Foxconn making our beloved iPhones and iPads and their corporate working conditions which are so bad that you have to sign a pledge not to commit suicide as part of your employment agreement (not that you really cared if you did).

    • I laughed out loud at “just doing a superman out to the parking lot”.

      Probably because every time I get discouraged and think “I should just quit being a photographer”, I’m reminded of the few desk/cubicle jobs I had and how much I despised them. I never lasted terribly long at them. Why? Because I HATED those jobs! I wasn’t enjoying the work much (used to be a 3D Animator) and I loathed the thought that my blood, sweat and tears were generating income for people who knew nothing of my work and still managed to yell at me for problems unrelated to my work. And oh how I hate the idea of EVER going back to them, or any other job I can’t get excited about for that matter. I actually tried selling vaccuum cleaners for a little while, blinded by the promise of big bucks. Almost tried selling cars for the same reason.

      And I failed miserably.

      What I learned from my experiences was that I’m only ever successful or happy and I only ever show progress or enthusiasm when I’m doing what I love. And I’m sorry but I am entirely convinced that this is UNIVERSALLY TRUE, save for the few psychopathic CEOs we all talk about as somehow being the ultimate form of success.

      Fuck these people.

      When I think of real estate, I lose interest faster than you can say “SUPERMAAAAN” and then splat into parking space 1A. Even with the time it takes to hit the ground, that’s like 4 seconds, unless you’re jumping out of a skyscraper. So I lose interest pretty fast.

      But look… Photography is hard. Real Estate is hard. Law is hard. Politics is hard. The guys that make real estate, law and politics look easy are the ones that either love their jobs or love money.

      Those that love their jobs are set.

      Those that love money find that it’s an endless pit of shit from which you extract no happiness. You just need more and more money to keep you content, and then you might do some stuff on the side to keep from blowing your brains out.

      The sky isn’t falling, and it never will.

  10. John Smith

    Having tried to carve a career for the last 2 years as a photographer, I’m pretty much down to the giving up now. I’m still gonna do it as a hobby and shoot the stuff I enjoy,but as a job I really cant see me making any substantial money to afford me to do the things I want…

    Yeah i love it but I dont love being poor any more and I dont love chasing the money that is owed to you. Im gonna get a job doing something that i done my apprentice ship in and hopefully make some descent money so i can continue to the things I love….

  11. Sobering indeed and a reality for many that make a decision to become professional photographers. However, there are many that do well despite all the odds. As many have said, it’s a lifestyle choice. One I would never trade.

    I have been at this for 35 years and it is more challenging than at any other time I have experienced. But I continue to make money. I and others have had to change our business models and look for new opportunities. And I believe that their are many new opportunities being presented with changes in technology.

    And I strongly agree with Leslie that is now more important than ever to maintain and control the copyright to the work you create.

  12. It is good advice but very generalized. To me the take-away is that given those realities, how do you set yourself apart?

    Read Nate Silver’s commencement address to the Columbia School of Journalism: http://www.journalism.columbia.edu/system/documents/477/original/nate_silver.pdf

    “…this
 conundrum 
‐‐
 this 
inability 
to 
be 
defined 
by
 the 
types
 of

    labels 
that 
we 
once 
thought 
we 
deeply 
understood 
‐ ‐ 
is 
really 
at 
the 
core 
of
 the challenges 
that 
many 
of 
you 
will 
face 
as 
you 
embark 
upon 
the 
next 
stage 
of 
your 
careers.”

    His own story of numbers to blogging to the New York times is fiercely individual and not able to be replicated. One of a kind. That is exactly how it is with photographers – to be successful you have to find your specialized niche.

  13. Finally. I’ve been waiting for this post, or a post along these lines, for a long time. Sure, this is just a short thought and not a whole manifesto about all the levels of the business of photography. But, the reality is that where the business is now is an entirely different place than it was prior to the digital and web revolution. There was a level of stability and normalcy that could be achieved for a photo business of one type or another that no longer exists and not enough people from inside the industry are willing to accept this reality. And they definitely aren’t willing to speak openly about it. No one wants to be the person to admit the game has changed on them… or the rest of us either.

  14. Here’s another thought: There are so many much more easy was to make money. i.e. starting other businesses that can make you a lot of money over time and afford you much more stability in the long run. – If you want to run and own a business that works well, makes a lot of money, and then still be a photographer – you can do that without needing to sail on a sinking ship.

    About 6 years ago I remember reading a New York Times article about the guy who started Photoshop World and at that time he was worth something like 60 million dollars. I remember thinking… “Dang, this dude has got it figured out. Get rich first, then be a photographer.” The part I don’t understand about the reality of our business now at all levels is why are so many people trying so hard to run a bad business? Why not run a better business and take photos of whatever the fuck you want? And you don’t need to shoot for the cover of Vogue to be validated as a shooter either. You can have whatever lifestyle you want without having to run a bad business to get it.

    • @Clark Patrick, This works too. Nothing wrong with more than one source of income especially if you like all the sources (kinda what I am trying to do now).

      But that “work at a shit job you hate to hope for benefits and stability (as if labor stability exists outside of government and military jobs) and then hopefully take some pictures on the side” is a terrible recipe for life. It’s hell and I’ve been there too.

      I love Christian’s comment above and yours.

  15. Jean-Marie

    In strategic consulting, the only thing that sets you apart is your area of expertise. The more focused, narrow and deep the expertise the better because it reduces or altogether eliminates competition. Often that area of expertise is limited to a particular industry vertical. Much of the ‘making’ of the traditional arts (design, photography, architecture, etc.) has become a commodity- it’s not that hard to find people who are excellent tactical-level, service-oriented craftsmen. Many /most photographers are excellent tactical-level craftsmen, and that’s it– there’s no way for them to differentiate themselves from their competition. For most photographers, their competition then becomes every other photographer in the business.

    The only way to survive is to have niche expertise that few or no one else can say they have. If you can’t tell someone at least 10 things you know that your competitors don’t know, you’re not differentiated enough in your area of expertise– you’re doomed to be a commodity. That’s not to say you won’t be able to find work, but you’ll be competing against everyone else, and/or you won’t have leverage with clients both in terms of your ability to direct them, and in the fees you command.

    Ultimately this is the reason I got out of the photo business. I’m an excellent photographer with a unique vision (I think CommArts annual, PDN annual and Graphis inclusions count for a little something), but I realized I didn’t and probably never would have enough niche business expertise to be able to differentiate myself over the long term.

  16. I like the doomsday aspect of it and I’m not surprised the consultants chimed in first but here’s the upside to looking at the business like this. You simply need to do things to build wealth:

    Create a barrier to entry. Choose a style that is difficult to emulate, a level of professionalism that takes years to cultivate.

    Create leverage and scalability: Never sell all rights. Always License your images so the more they’re used the more you make.

    Create equity: Teach workshops, sell books, sell prints.

    Create benefits: Travel, do fun things, don’t work in a cube.

    • @A Photo Editor, Better way to look at it. The first analogy could be made in any business. Each career path has its challenges. The simple answer is do what you love in life, find a way to monetize it and enjoy the ride.

    • @A Photo Editor,

      Yes exactly, this article seems to assume existence in a vacuum and approaches it from an employee’s point of view, rather than an entrepreneurial one.

      A mentor of mine was owner/partner in several businesses, photography was his day-to-day fun job. Likewise, in up years I re-invest the profit in other ventures.

      A wise person doesn’t put all their eggs in one basket. That’s true of any business.

      • @craig,

        Okay, on actually reading the post (I should really do that before commenting…) he does advocate this as a sensible way of building equity, and not being a gearhead.

        Well, duh. Or maybe it’s not duh to some people. What’s better than owning a business? Owning TWO (or more) in different areas to act as a back-up to the other.

        I think his post is more rational than this thread gives him credit for.

  17. I am shocked… shocked I say.

    I was unaware that photographers could not save money!
    I was unaware that photographers could not invest!

    I guess being a corporate guy saving his money and investing in real estate would have been better…

    Wait…

    Job Security? What job security?
    At a corporation? Are you kidding me?

    I have a neighbor who always kidded me about getting a ‘real job’. He would see me working at odd hours – or packing up gear for a shoot – and kid me about not being a grown up. Like him. Corporate guy. 401K. Benefits. (And don’t get me started on what the hell happened that we think the company who hires us has to also pay our health insurance. Bullshit.)

    In the past 10 years, he has lost his job, refinanced his house for a ton of money, spent that money, been foreclosed on (so now owes taxes on his refi money), and has had to find a cheap apartment while his wife works at Target. Oh, and did I mention he still owes student loans!!!!

    Me – I still get up before dawn, load gear, write articles, shoot and design. Kids have braces. House is not underwater. Even going on a simple, inexpensive vacation. Is it easy?

    You gotta be kidding me? Easy is NOT an option anymore. That is gone like a 59 Cadillac – and it aint comin’ back.

    So – there’s my ‘example’.

    85% of the college kids are moving home.

    We have schools who are taking money – scads of money – to get degrees in French Lit, or Comparative Religion.

    Job security there, eh? Anyone want to take a stab at the employment opportunities out there for someone with a degree in Nineteenth Century Art?

    I gotta tell you that the whining is way out of control.

    The business has changed. The world has changed. The debt level that the world is carrying now is simply unsustainable. That means more changes are coming. To photography, law, “environmental studies” and refrigeration repair.

    To simply go on and on about ‘woe-is-us” makes no sense at all to me.

    But, it does its work by thinning the herd. So – there’s an environmental lesson for ya.

    Go back to school. Get a huge student loan. Get a good degree in Literature, or “Gender Studies” and get a real, you know, high paying job. I am sure it’ll work out for ya.

    • @Don Indeed. Every industry has its process for thinning the herd. In corporate that is called performance evaluation and firing the bottom 10% of performers every year. Harvard Business School will teach you how to do that (after taking your student loan). In photography that same process is called whining. Matter of fact, the ideal unemployment rate is not 0% despite popular believe, but more somewhere around 4%. The rest is simply unemployable, period.

      • @Donnor Party,

        “The New York Times reported that the 60-year-old trade school had been under investigation for some time by the bureau and had sent an undercover investigator to the school. According to the newspaper:

        The California bureau, in addition to finding violations in Brooks’s records, sent an employee to the school, posing as a prospective student. The report said she was told that she could expect her starting salary to be “$50,000 to $150,000” in her first year after graduation from Brooks – enough to pay off the debt she would take on as a student. “The sky’s the limit,” the admissions official said of her prospects, according to the report.

        But the bureau’s examination of Brooks’s records found not one 2003 graduate at any degree level whose reported wages and employment tenure were enough to generate even $50,000 of earning potential.

        Indeed, of the 45 graduates reported by Brooks as employed full time, the average income was about $26,000, the report said. The average indebtedness of this group was around $74,000.”

        http://ddunleavy.typepad.com/the_big_picture/2005/07/investigation_c.html

        This was happening a decade ago. The last few years may not be much better – in fact the present may be worse for most.

    • ResoL101

      Ironically your “scads of money – to get degrees” comment hit too close to home as I find myself deeply involved in a Visual Comm degree…at SCAD. Think it’s time to rethink this bus trip before the Cheeto’s and Mountain Dew are gone.

  18. I think the article is a good start but as others have noted, fails on a couple points.

    First, it certainly does not seem to cover stock and residual income. And, while I know that the article is about commercial and editorial photography, it also ignores the fine art and gallery world.

    Second, there are different tiers in the world of photography just like in the world of acting. Does the guy who performs for the local drama theater make as much as say George Clooney? Probably not. And within that spectrum there are different levels such as the broadway headliner, commercial actor or the non-principal sitcom actor. Same principle applies to photography.

    I think his article is addressing the thousands and maybe millions of people that he describes as those who pickup a D5100 and a $50 web site. It is not comprehensive of the rest of the industry.

  19. I’m totally annoyed that this article is getting attention all over again. A few weeks ago I left his comment on Laurence’s blog:

    “…most photographers aren’t entering this business to chase a dream defined by culture, trend or their neighbors. I believe most photographers enter this business because they have something to say. They see the world in a unique way & want to translate that into something that stirs people. Because of this, they don’t measure success like an MBA.”

    The problem with Laurence’s argument is the premise & if the premise is misguided, the argument falls apart.

    • Bob Thomas

      @Trey –

      His premise isn’t wrong because it is his premise. He defined the discussion and presented a very clear and thorough discussion of the issues surrounding it. If you don’t seek to reach the goals he set out as his premise then the article isn’t for you. The knee-jerk reactions from some (see christian and his followers) are misguided. If you make a satisfactory living, as defined by you, then you should be glad that Laurence poses a daunting career for newcomers or the latest “Guy With Camera”. Your goals and expectations may be different than Laurence’s or others on this board but they are your expectations just like his expectations are his.

      • @Bob Thomas, I’m not sure that’s an entirely correct assessment Bob. He was speaking in mostly broad generalities throughout his article. I know he tried to disclaim his personal bias, but when talking about an entire profession or concepts like “The American Dream”… you can’t then confine those two things to an incredibly narrow, personal interpretation.

  20. Oh yeah, pick-up a cheap camera, get a nice font and watch yourself wallow like all the other people too cheap to invest in themselves.

    A guy in business for twenty years who decides to become a photographer is now an expert on the industry. A man who writes on his blog that film is hot again and oh by the way, I’m selling my hot Contax camera that you can’t find on eBay.

    Question the source people.

    Blah blah blah. Another day and another opinion. Some of his points are good but suggesting that someone buy a D700 over a D3s – are you serious. Suppose they’re a sports shooter and need to shoot fast and in low light. “Well, gee Mr. Client, sorry I missed the shot because the buffer on my D700 was full”

    Get the best kit you can get. Period! It’s funny, Mr. Kim suggests just getting a D700 while he is shooting with a Phase One camera and Phase One back. Funny, that he does not take his own advice.

    But then again, there is not much difference between a 12Mp Nikon camera and a 30, 39 or higher Phase Back. I mean none of my clients notice the difference between my D3s files and those produced by my Aptus 75. :-)

    • c.d.embrey

      @BD, He is a Wedding and Portrait photographer addressing an audience of Wedding and Portrait photographers. Not Sports shooters. Not Photojournalists. Not Fine Art photographers. Not Commercial/Advertising photographers.

      My guess is that there is little demand for photos of Other Peoples Weddings, so the library probably ain’t worth much.

      For his audience he may be giving good advice. But I wouldn’t know, I don’t shoot Portraits or Weddings.

      • @c.d.embrey, Makes sense. I wish that his essay mentioned that it was focused on that market segment. Ron does such a great job with the higher end world and I just assumed that this was the market he was addressing.

  21. There is a difference between making a living and making a life. Choose wisely.

  22. digitalcowboy

    Actually, there are many points here that are quite off the mark. BUT… none the less, I agree with the overall premise that the Photographic industry is undergoing a sea-change that will likely result in a business failure rate of 50 percent, or more before it stabilizes. I think the most important point to take away from this discussion is that if you’re new to the idea of earning a living in photography, and you want to do it because you “love” photography, you should probably show some respect to your “love”, and seek a different career field. Art/Technical schools have been churning out Photography graduates left and right for the past 10 years. Essentially glutting the market with new faces, all the while the market has been undergoing the changes of the digital revolution. Agencies are shooting many things with the company camera and Photoshopping it into a usable image, Detroit has fallen to the magic of chi, Wal-Mart, JC Penny, Target are all increasingly sending commercial advertising photography overseas where the products are being manufactured to save money by generating imaging via a turn-key operation on site, and all those new graduates are undercutting the competition (and themselves) to sell-out for the “chance” for that big paying job down the line. Well, that job will never come because there’s another fresh graduate standing right behind the last with a willingness to undercut anyone to get the job. This is an age-old issue within the industry, and one that will never change. On top of all this, the same Art/Tech schools that churned out the glut of photographers also turned out an overabundance of Art Directors who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, and wouldn’t know good photography from bad if it punched them in their hipster faces.

    The ship is sinking, and there is NO righting it. Sure, there’s going to be a damn lot of dinghy’s floating around, but the days of smooth sailing in this industry are over… forever. Anyone who tell’s you differently is angling to sell you something because it’s the only way they can pay their rent at this point. Good luck!

    ~cowboy

    • @digitalcowboy,This is the truth no question about it.
      Not saying one can’t make a living but it’s completely diluted and people are continually damaging the industry with their low ball bids to get a chance.. I’m seeing advertising rates on par with editorial (just for the tear) and the art buyers are happy to go along

      • @Sarah, Where are you seeing editor and advertising rates that are the same? Do you have examples? I’m super curious.

        • @greg ceo, Hi Greg. not saying it’s all doom and gloom but I have seen senario below several times as of recent.
          Lets say you shoot an editorial with usage (great subject) maybe make 1500k with day rate and space. Then make income from syndication; which depending on the subject may not be shabby. Plus have some (athough thats shifting) creative control. I have seem several ad jobs…not creative. No real value in owning the images (no one will want them) and photogs bidding 3k for their day rate and believe me they didn’t make it up with usage fees. That was just as low. And this is Advertising for HUGE co’s. National campaign.

    • @digitalcowboy, I think you summed it up very well. The same exact thing happened in the graphic design field beginning in the 1990’s. Once the average person could get their hands on a computer and found 30+ fonts at their disposal, they were “professional” designers. Not only that, but they’d design your logo for not $5,000, not $500, but $50. After all, all they had to do was pull something out of their $20 “500,000 image clip-art library” and slap some type underneath it.

      The photography industry is now experiencing the same thing. If you try to quote to a client rates or fees suggested by organizations such as the APA, you’ll be laughed out of the office. Licensing fees? Residuals? Not so much, anymore.

  23. digitalcowboy

    Grrrr….

    Edit to the above… Detroit has fallen to CGI… Damn text-edit software.

  24. None of this matters. On Saturday May 22 at 7 pm I went to heaven. I was photographing a function in wonderful evening light and someone offered me a beer. Heaven indeed. Scale that.

  25. I have supported my self, family for around 30 years off of taking/making photos. I have seen friends in all the other ‘more stable’ careers come and go. I have had some really amazing years financially and some really amazing years work wise. I am not throwing in the towel yet. There is all ways room at the top, its the bottom that is crowded. Not that I consider my self ‘at the top’ but it is a place to aim for. If you have a choice then yes photography doesn’t make sense right now in a financial model but if photography is your ‘passion’ you don’t have any choice. Aim for the top, work hard, learn your craft. I am not sure when this idea of a ‘middle class’ artist happened but I think it is a relatively recent phenomenon. Look around and see what is happening to the ‘middle class’ in general, oh and I really do not think Public Employee=job stability.

    • @Eric Swanson,

      I read EVERYWHERE that “photography is my passion”. Ya gotta know that if photography isn’t your BUSINESS then ya aint gonna make it. Passion is for your spouse. Photography is where you have to have extreme skills in art and business. “Passion” will certainly get in the way.

      (imho)

      • @T. C. Knight, Hah exactly right I put the ‘passion’ inside of ” due to my verbal inabilities. I’ve tried to quit photography a few times over the years and couldn’t stay away long. Perhaps instead of ‘passion’ it should be ‘hard headedness’.

  26. There are more bad, untalented photographers making a good living in photography than good, talented photographers simply because they have put the business of photography before the art.

    We all want to get great assignments and have our names published in high profile places, but unless you can make the business part work, you are doomed to eventual failure.

    Be a business first and a photographer second.

  27. JeffGreenberg

    “Stock used to provide leverage but that’s dead.”

    1. can’t tell from presentation who stated this
    2. can’t tell if they were joking
    3. the statement is FALSE to the point that stock
    is still a full time 6-figure net income for many

    • Donnor Party

      @JeffGreenberg, How many? I’m asking seriously. Stock was a nice way to make money on the back end of a shoot, but not so much since 2005 or so.

      • @Donnor Party,

        I’ve been with Corbis for two years and just I had my best month with them. Decent four figure amount to me from a little over 13K in sales for one month. All were shot specifically for stock or came from recent editorial shoots. I don’t know about your world Mr. Donnor Party but 5K is nothing to sneeze about when it is in addition to my 14 ears with Getty. Stock is not dead. Thinking you can get away with sending in seconds from shoots is dead.

    • @JeffGreenberg,
      I made the statement. Stock was a source of income for ALL professional photographers up until very recently. Now it’s a source of income for a FEW. Sales for all but a FEW will be a never ending downward trend.

  28. Donnor Party

    My main issue is that this is a false choice. The personality type and the intellectual ability required for the professions listed differ too much to make any sense. Few people have the intellectual ability and temperment to be able to make a real choice among those options.

  29. Actually I face the dilemma of (like so many others), trying to gain exposure in an overcrowded market. Photography has been a passion for probably 50 years of my 57-year-old life. Went to professional photog school in the seventies, got my degree in photojournalism in 80. Worked as a corporate freelancer for a few years, got into graphic design and wound up as a high profile consultant doing information architecture for Fortune 500 ecommerce initiatives.
    Now that I’m retired, I’m back in photography for the passion of it.
    I don’t need to make a living at it, in that I’m financially secure. I just want to give back to many causes that I believe in; namely environmental ones. I want to donate a high percentage of any proceeds I would make on my work to worthy and notable concerns.
    The choices of exposure are immense for sure. Just don’t know which ones are right for me. I know it sounds weird to say I don’t want to make a living at it per se. Just want to give back.

  30. Mike Moss

    Thanks to Rob for posting some “doomsday” type of stuff to balance out the happy talk coming many of the you-can-be-a-pro workshop teachers, how-to bloggers, and gear hustlers. The US dollar is failing and it is going to have severe economic ramifications for everyone regardless of occupation. There are entire industries and fields of expertise that are systematically being wiped out right before our very eyes. Unfortunately, during times of hardship and uncertainty many people are prone to fall for delusions and schemes. They can easily come under the spell of self-help, motivational, inspirational and positive thinking to avoid reality. Dreaming of a career in photography is very tempting for a person that is unsatisfied with his/her current job or is uncertain about the future. But the reality is that there aren’t too many WORSE fields to enter than photography and right now is probably even “worser” than ever before lol I hope that everyone (especially young people) will be careful not to fall for the romance that comes from a lot of the popular online sources in regards to careers in photography. If a person were cynical, he might even find it reasonable to believe that some of the folks selling the you-can-be-a-pro dream are not much different than late night infomercial salesmen giving false hope to confused people living in uncertain economic times.

    • @Mike Moss, Much truth to that. I think it’s interesting to inspect the word ‘professional’ in the first place. It’s a label that is often used to give the false sense of value and accomplishment. Just look at all the products being sold to consumers with the claim to be ‘pro’, yet it’s just a marketing gimmick because the sense they instill lowers the purchase barrier. Luxury isn’t luxurious or aspirational if it’s readily available, something Tom Ford was very clear on when he only allowed 100 invited friends to his SS10 show last year.

      Ultimately there are no short-cuts to become a pro. No workshop, book, consultant can make you pro other than you spending the time and effort to develop mastery of a field. That is not to say that many people have the ability to become ‘pro’ with the proper investment, unless some physical capabilities are required that time and money cannot buy – such as height for fashion models or basketball players. That said, way fewer people have the resources and endurance to make that investment.

      I believe even in this market it is possible for a few dedicated folks to be successful pro photographers and enter the field. But it’s not a realistic expectation for the masses. They’re just falling prey to those who have been thinned out from the herd and are now hawking the illusion of a dream. And all things equal, I’d rather enter in a down economy and make it, then enter at the height and then not know how to survive once things turn hard.

      Be wary of anyone teaching who is no longer actively working in the field. Be suspicious of their intentions and motivations. However, in the current economy everyone who is actively working is too busy making money that they won’t teach. Ergo, most workshop, seminars, and other advocates of any kind out there should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

    • @Mike Moss, PS: To that extend I was a bit dismayed to see Rob suggest in his comment above to “teach workshops, sell books” in order to create equity. While I think it’s important to share information and experience within a profession, the workshop and book business has taken an unhealthy turn in photography. I would rather see folks create more professionally oriented equity.

  31. I think he’s living in the previous century. Here’s a more modern analysis:

    1. The Investor – lose money in the stock market or business that goes bankrupt. Unless you’re good at moving mfg or jobs oversees, then you’re okay–for now.

    2. The Professional – Go into serious debt and then join a saturated market that’s not hiring anyway. Move back in with parents and take job at Starbucks to pay rent to them. Try to figure out how to fill that gap in your resume, because the schools keep cranking out fresh degrees.

    3. The Corporate Employee – Get laid off, get hired, get laid off, get hired but have to move (and take a loss on the house) and do two jobs both below your abilities, can’t sleep at night because your boss is literally a sociopath…

    4. The Public Employee – The Tea Party hates you, and haven’t you heard, states are in serious financial trouble and all want to see less of you. And for your retirement, hope those hedge funds don’t lose all of it for you.

  32. In late 2006 I began to feel the world rumble beneath my feet in Brooklyn. Stock income was trending downward. The life in Brooklyn looked OK, but it was time for a bigger place somewhere where I could stretch out and shoot more stock in a place where I wanted to be. (I also thought our 1 bedroom apartment was ridiculously overvalued!) Looking around everywhere we liked, we landed in Savannah, GA in 2007 and shortly before the move, a teaching job came looking for me. We traded the $2500. a month photo studio share on 29th Street in NYC for a 2500 sq. ft house with a 750 studio out back. (Can you say overhead reduction.) As stock income trended downward, I cranked up the wedding photography business in a town where there are lots of weddings. (We are first in an SEO search most of the time for Savannah Wedding Photographer and this helps a lot.) And then I started to shoot for local clients and diversify my work. So my income comes from 5 or 6 sources, not just stock and advertising work anymore. I’m combining the specialization of shooting corporate aircraft with stock, weddings, and anything with a check attached to it that doesn’t move too fast! And believe me, if someone has a 2 hour elopement 1 mile from my house and can afford $600, I’m there! And I’m going to make the best pictures I can for them!

    The family life is good too. With the studio out back, I work long days– teaching full time and running a studio is challenging, but I get to spend lots of time with my wife and son and I don’t fight traffic getting home every day. I’m almost always 10 minutes from home.

    Last year, I hired a full time retoucher and his work and work ethic is amazing. We’re working on some really cool stuff that I hope to launch soon. The barrier to entry should be pretty high with the new stuff. That will be fun.

    My wife is my studio manager and her law degree and smarts certainly comes in handy! She makes things run. Without her I certainly could not do what I do.

    I’ve shot big ad campaigns, magazine jobs, weddings, Gulfstream Aircraft, resort interiors and exteriors and many other things and I love it all. I’m a photographer to the core. Is it easy? No. Would I trade it? Nope.

  33. scott Rex Ely

    I have never met a photographer who retired.

    Did Avedon retire?

    Did Irving Penn retire?

    Has Albert Watson retired?

    Has Jay Maisel retired?

    Has Bill Cuningham retired?

    What is this retirement crap?

    • @scott Rex Ely, Not everyone has the option of being able to work into their old age. People are living longer. Heath issues galore…Retirement as in making sure they have enough to live on should they not be so fortunate to have good health and the ability to create their work in their 70’s, 80’s. I’m hearing a bunch about health insurance this and that. How many of these photographers posting have disability and long term care insurance. These big name photographers you name are few and far between. In the grand scope of things this is also a very ageist field and society.

  34. Retirement is for people who hate their jobs.

    When you love your job…you never work a day in your life.

    The cost of cameras and technology has gotten cheaper but…if medical degrees became cheaper would that kill off doctors. NOPE. In fact the good ones would be in even more demand because there is more garbage out there.

    I love my job and will photographing till the day I die.

    • @David Larson, I agree, but some photographers are crippled at the end. Just go back in time and sit with Edward Weston in his last year. He couldn’t shoot. On the other hand, Aaron Siskind kicked me under the table when we were out to dinner and he saw a pretty waitress coming to take our order. I thought, “what the hell? who is kicking me under the table….” and I look up and Aaron is head motioning toward the waitress. Then he winks at me after she leaves. I think that was a few months before he died. He was 86 or 87 years old. (When I was printing his stuff that year at the lab, he kept wanting it more and more contrasty. I guess he could still see, but the contrasty stuff looked better to him.) Some of us can still lift a camera into our old age and some of us won’t be able to go to the bathroom without help.

  35. I wonder, though… I wonder what advice is to be given to those of us who have no other option but to make photos. For those of us who breathe, sleep, dream, live photography, images, pictures – not because it’s cool to pick up a camera, but because we’d rather die than do anything else. For those of us who have tried the corporate world and ended up on medication and a doctor writing a note telling us not to try that shit again; for those of us who can’t function without spilling our dreams across the canvas of pixels… for those of us who must “make”, regardless of making a dollar or making an itch stop itching, what say you? Will you stop long enough in your own angst and frustration to consider how far across the world your canvas is stretched before you paint it with the sick bile of defeat? Will you consider the eyes and ears and hearts of those who might stumble upon your words and consider, just for a second, that someone ELSE in the world is suggesting their dreams are worthless and juvenile?

    Maybe you should. Maybe you should hang your hat up and put paid to the whole thing. But for the sake of the rest of us who are sick of the whining and ready to adapt in order to do what we love, do so quickly, quietly, and without regret. Make your decision, and leave the rest of us to ours.

    -Em

    • Sick of the whining? That actually sounded like a bit of whining. “No other option but to make photos”? Sure you have an option. Get a job and shoot your pictures on the side.

  36. With smart, hard work and lots of creativity tremendous success can still be had in photography. I do think that creativity hast to extend beyond just the imagery…one has to incorporate creativity into the money making aspect as well.

    I was just talking to a fellow stock shooter the other day, a conversation in which we both agreed that the return we experience on our stock shoots blows away returns generated from investing in the stock market.

    There is still plenty of money being made in photography, it just isn’t quite as easy as it used to be. Wait, is some ways it is WAY easier! Digital cameras are easier to use, Photoshop not only saves the day but opens new worlds of creativity, the Internet makes publishing much more accessible. Despite the challenges that face us photographers…I wouldn’t go back!

    John Lund

  37. Nikon FE Todays price ~$50.00
    Nikon 50 f1.8 Todays price ~$100.00
    Film & processing & proofs ~$15.00

    The freedom to create images and love doing it Priceless!

    This is not my first career and I am fortunate that I have health benefits from my military retirement. I have found to be successful is not about having a great eye, skills at composition, or even technical skills. It is about great business skills. Thus the clear statement in the blog!

    Those that want to be negative about Rob’s decision to post this, I feel sorry for you because you wasted a lot of energy to express your negativity. I imagine it surfaces in other areas of your business and life. JMHO

    • @Ed, Ed, are you saying that you are making money without making great images? I hope that’s not what you’re saying. If it is what you’re saying then the silliest part is someone is paying you to create bad stuff and cluttering the visual environs with more trash. Please tell me that’s not what you mean.

      • @joseph dominguez,

        I don’t do anything for free, even my personal projects have a cost associated with them. You have missed the parody and point. Now days a successful photographer is not only good at creating images but he/she is also a good business person. Note the troubles of being bad at the business by looking at Marcus Klinko and Annie Leibovitz.

  38. Having started a transition from a job as a consulatnt of ten years to going full-time as a photog in February of this year I find reading all this both troubling and heartening.

    Troubling because I love photography and live each day to learn something new and to capture something that catches one’s eye.

    Heartening because, as in many things in life (like the stock market), when the naysayers are loudest the bottom may be near.

    I am not working cheap (except for model test shoots). I’ll forego the job that pays little and work part-time doing some consulting. I value what I do even, if I am still a bit green. I joined ASMP and am disheartened at the negative attitudes of some of the old-timers (though I certainly understand).

    I have done many different things in my life of 54 years and none have been easy. No new business I started was easy. Many told me every time that I was crazy. I don’t see why photography would be different. And yes… in all those previous endeavors I had a PASSION to do them. And yes… I have a passion for photography and will continue to.

    In many ways, I am getting so tired of the whole blog/internet expert ranting that I am ready to shut it off and just shoot. Who knows… it might improve my state of mind and my portfolio…

    Thnaks to all for all the comments and rants.

  39. byostello

    a business is a business.. photography or otherwise.. how much you work at it or scale it is down to yourself…

  40. Bravo, Rob! This thread is on fire. Your candor is admirable :)
    It may be presumptuous, but might my post yesterday be one of the devils on your shoulder?
    ( http://plain-glass.flywheelsites.com/2011/05/24/thirteen-things-i-learned-on-my-last-panel )

    Failure is not necessarily negative. The state of the commercial photography marketplace is also not necessarily negative. Both of these are by-products, feedback about our individual businesses and the causal relationships in the industry, culture, and global economies. Taking it personally, getting upset, or denying this feedback probably won’t be very productive. The market doesn’t care if a photographer gets upset, or is in denial.

    Some of the responses to Rob’s post are representative of problems trying to understand the industry. Many of the responses are based on beliefs, assumptions, theories, distortions, limited perspective, irrational thoughts. Less so facts, reason, critical analysis.

    Just because other areas of employment have had recent problems does not mean photography is a good place to create wealth.
    Why does any other job but photography invoke mindless, boring, drone? These are distortions of thought. Mind traps.
    All-or-nothing thinking, Overgeneralizations, Mental filters, Magnification and minimization, emotional reasoning.

    The business of photography is very much like the business of many other careers. It involves tedium, repetition, routine, in short: work. A healthy image making career today involves much more time allotted to business over the creation of images. For most (financially successful image making businesses this is true. If the business is successful enough to have reps, studio manager, bookkeeper, marketing assistant, and possibly investment or business manager, the ratio of business to image creation may change. But what percentage of working photographers are in this tier? How many can afford to delegate these roles to employees?

    I don’t believe anyone posting here has enough hard data and perspective to draw complete (factual) conclusions about just where the commercial industry is going, how far off it is from the past. The top tier agents in NYC might have that data and perspective. However any aware person who has been working in the industry for the last 15 years or more will have enough empirical knowledge to develop a sense how far things have shifted.

    We are talking about a career here, not a part-time gig, a hobby, or even a great campaign or a great year.
    What product are image makers producing which are so vital to others, and so unique that only they can produce them?
    I get it. The PASSION, the love of imaging – you want to play! Don’t we all?
    But what are you doing that others (besides you) find so valuable?
    Are you saving lives? Are you providing jobs? Are you making communities safer? Are you developing new technologies which help civilization?
    Nobody is denying or restricting an image maker from enjoying their “passion”. But if an artist is starving, going without resources, the art will suffer.

    Why should commercial or editorial photographers be concerned about the wedding genre? In 1998, many of those editorial magazines (those that actually paid for photography) were paying the same rates as they paid in the early 80’s. Many weren’t paying anything at all. Shortly thereafter most of the news corps created draconian (work for hire) contracts. Many PJs left the news business, they switched to other genres of which their camera arts were applicable. Meanwhile 2 giant corps bought up almost all the stock agencies. This lowered the amount of work commissioned in advertising, corporate, commercial, and editorial. It also provided a huge vacuum in the stock genre which allowed entry by numerous royalty free and dollar stock type businesses. As the paradigm shifted, and more people changed the way time and money is spent, editorial, commercial, and advertising photography assignments further declined. Restless image makers tried other markets. Some moved into family photography (weddings, portraits). This genre has become over-saturated with supply as well. As the marketplace changed, players shifted to find new income streams. Now virtually all of the market segments are experiencing the same affects: oversupply, low ROI, much higher risk.

    How many working photographers carry health insurance?
    How many can weather a serious illness (self or family) which takes $100K out of their accounts (covering the deductible, 20% share, increase in premiums, rescissions, etc.) without losing home, business, credit, marriage, livelihood?
    Remember we are talking about a career, not a hobby! The opportunity costs for pursuing a career in photography may come at a cost of a healthy life, family, livelihood, and even the resources to create good work.
    Rumor has it that Sisyphus didn’t have enough passion or perseverance to be successful. Or maybe he (mis)applied that energy to the wrong game?

  41. charles waldorf

    After reading all these very early this am, and having time to digest all the info. I’ve come to two conclusions.

    1) This is, has been and always will be a problem. So I’ll focus(see what I did there) on doing it how I see fit while the next person focuses on doing it their way. I do however appreciate the fire these debates fuel within, as I’ve always seem to be the type of personality that strives to succeed even more when told I can’t.

    2) The negative Nancey’s should spent 1/3 of the effort on their own work as they do spreading negativity(some call in honesty) and they would be in a much better place.

    And sorry I love analogies, so here it goes, there are a ton for this topic but I’ll stick to one I feel works. Do you think Michael Jordan woke up every am telling himself winning 6 NBA championships would never happen(insert negative dreamer response here). Or that he would never be named the NBA MVP 5x, or make 14 All star game appearances, or rookie of the year…. No, he WORKED for it(yes he had talent most are not blessed with). No one hands anyone anything now a days, and everyone thinks they are owed something. No one owes you anything… that’s the “truth”. You have to do work to get work, and it better be good work that your doing…
    Now feel inspired and go make images that people want to pay you top dollar for :-)

  42. I sat in New York City cubicle corporate lands for 15 years, shifting paper from one side of my desk to the other, making a ton of money at a very young age, having everything brand new every six months, all the material things we all aspire to have. but my soul was empty. and the last few years have been challenging financially, shooting toilet paper, for instance, just to pay my rent. living a life of austerity, and setting aside little bits for my future. but it has been the happiest, most fulfilling years of my adult life.

    there are a ton of ways to make a living at this. the market is saturated with photogs. but, substance and talent and persistence of those who do this with our heart will weed out those of us who are not cut for it. dreams will die, but a few dreams will make it. honestly, the cliche always applies: you have to feel it in your spleen and heart.

    btw, Selina, whose services i have never used, is a bonafide presence in our industry. consultants get us over the wall we can not climb ourselves. we, a rookie like me included, need her in our industry like air to breath.

    we are in the midle of an awful storm. sit quietly, and do your work, if your heart is in it.

  43. matthew pace

    Who ever got into this for a money making proposition to start with? May as well be a painter for the money too…buy paint brushes,canvass and a cash register..voila!

    This is a passion..money can be its reward.The difference in the amount of money shouldn’t negate that…if it does,this is not for you. There is a down side to all fields ,nothing is easy except finding the negative side of things.

  44. Live frugal. Be creative. Follow your passion. Money isn’t everything. And if lots of money is most important to you then our crazy business of photography may not be for you. At this stage in my life (57) I can’t imagine doing anything else, with no expectation of retiring.

  45. Sanford S.

    Like always Rob, great post, thanks. Just a few months ago I read a very positive post on our profession. I appreciate your well rounded, unfiltered approach. I trust myself to digest the information. Now back to work I go.

    S

  46. Simple solutions 1:Kill all the lowballers and RF stock hounds. 2: Licensing. You want to shoot and charge? Get licensed before a panel of your peers before state allows you to charge. 3: Aggressive pricing education

  47. Gabe Sturdevant

    I work as an auto detailer for an Audi and Mercedes dealer. I don’t get paid per car. I get paid per hour.

    The sales guys freak when they see a little scuff or nick on the car that could ruin the sale of a $60-90k vehicle. I get that scuff out within seconds. I am a god to them for that time. Then when I bitch that they bring me cars to clean 5 minutes before we close, they say “Well at least your getting paid”. Yea, I am. I am getting an extra $3 for spending this extra 15 minutes to clean a car you are gonna make $500 bucks on. Wheres my cut for helping you? I am sweaty, dirty, and wanna go home and have a beer.

    I have not been sitting behind a desk all day. I have not been cruising the net looking for customers. I have been washing cars. Its hot and dirty, but it beats being a drone any day.

    When I work on my photography business, at times I think its pointless. I am just another poker trying to stoke a 5 alarm housefire. Then I realize some things.

    1. My grandmother took photos all her life. She never got paid for them, but damn it, she loved it. I feel like I am continuing down her path, but getting paid once in a while.

    2. I have met incredible and awesome people who make me laugh, smile and occasionally cry. They are real people, doing what they love, just like me.

    3. I could be an office drone till I am 65, pushing papers that don’t mean anything. Yet, I could be forced to retire at 50, with my pension taken from me, and no 401k because the business went bankrupt and the CEO sold off everything.

    4. Zack Arias knows my name.

    So yea, photography might not make me millions of dollars. It might be hard. It might suck some days. It might be awesome the next. Thats part of life. At least washing cars and taking photos I am not stuck in a 100 floor office building. I can look outside. I can hear the birds sing. I can feel the passion of a shutter click. I can feel alive.

  48. I think the other Alex said it best, the difference is between making a living and making a life. We are photographers, we do, not just be. While some retire, the truth is that those of us that are truly passionate and have the business nous and skill to back up that passion never retire. We can’t.

  49. K, I went and started reading the blog post from Laurence Kim and then started skimming – his audience is wedding and consumer portrait and I may be mistaken but the readership here methinks is more along the editorial and commercial side. And yes there are droves of new photographers and a whole matrix of consultants, workshop offerings, seminars, contests, portfolio reviews and portal sites feeding on photographers. I don’t mean to be cynical, there is after all a market ie: droves of photographers to feed on especially the part time wedding /portrait side. I was always a photographer but also a commercial fisherman, physicist /engineer, climbing guide, marketing manager.. for years though it has been JUST photography – like others have said it is a choice that brings great reward, many moments of doubt and pain and a hell of a lot of work to make it. yes. it is not an easy road and although the ranks of photographers will continue to swell as the equipment, services, and whole industry structure enables that there will also be a lot of photographers that decide to bail – it’s a funny pyramid we’re building as the base keeps getting bigger and bigger. I’m goin’ for the summit.

  50. NYC12AdPhotog

    I just want to say that I was a very big photog shooting major ad campaigns, with a very big agent in New York for 9 years. $80k-100k profit for a shoot was normal. I was dropped from my agency a few years ago and it’s been very hard since. I’ve only got better as a photog. There is no reason for such a drop other than changes in the industry. My 2 small childeren and wife are feeling the effects of this. I understand the ‘passion’ you all speak of. But I’m at the point where I can’t pay the bills and soon will be forced to find other work. It’s really sad and I’m not the only one in this position. I have several very talented friends in the same spot.

    • Donnar Party

      @NYC12AdPhotog, I was there as well. This is the reality that is embittering, that is the yardstick against which the magical thinking of unbridled positivity is measured. And frankly it hurts, hearing all the rosey its “passion” and “make a life not a living” rhetoric, called a whiner. Its painful because, as my world started to come apart, I wanted to believe, I wanted to will things back to where I was certain I could pay tuition for Brooklyn Friends, make my quarterly tax payments, pay my maintenance fee on my condo. I wanted to do this through sheer positivity and force of will. But positive thinking only goes so far before its delusional. Nothing brings that truth home more quickly than being unable to provide for your kids. And I realized that the downside of the digital revolution in photography is the devaluation of photographic imagery. The culture just doesn’t value pictures like it used to.

      • @Donnar Party,

        “as my world started to come apart, I wanted to believe, I wanted to will things back to where I was certain I could pay tuition for Brooklyn Friends, make my quarterly tax payments, pay my maintenance fee on my condo. I wanted to do this through sheer positivity and force of will. But positive thinking only goes so far before its delusional.”

        Right. So what did you DO beyond wishing? Did you consider any lifestyle changes in order to continue to do what you needed to do for your business? THAT is the painful fact of necessity.

        You know, my mother went from making $80K per year and was laid off and is now trying to figure out how she is to survive on $24k per year. She’s making 3 car payments, a house payment for a 2 story 3 bedroom condo, she is eating out, going to movies, living well beyond her means at this point and hasn’t the first clue why she’s hemorrhaging money.

        Do you love photography enough to make the really tough sacrifices? Is it that important to you? Because there are people out there that are doing just that, and yeah, it sucks, but they have no other option. That is passion.

        • Donnar Party

          @Em Thomas, I mean no offense. I also don’t wish to offend anyone with the following super long post.

          Perhaps some more explanation is called for. The devaluation of Photography is twofold: 1. the public sees digital as being free (like music); and 2. the public is saturated with images to the extent that they are not seen.

          I’m not knocking digital, but in the days of film, with its upfront cost and mystery, people understood that a photographic print was expensive to create, and it was a one off. Film and processing was often in the thousands, and to make a print involved alchemy, or so it seemed. With digital as good as its become, it seems free to people in the market to buy, and people selling, photography.

          The public is overwhelmed, and many “AD’s” and designers need to fill a box in their crappy designs with a picture that has blue and red in it. I do think that images are the fastest way to communicate. I also think that so many buyers of photography don’t understand that, don’t understand visual communications in general. The public response is to glance at and ultimately ignore most commercial images out there. IMHO, of course.

          And to answer your question, I never relied on wishing to change my situation. When I saw the writing on the wall, I, through my own private Gotterdammerung, transformed myself into a DP. I started a production company. I teamed up with some film guys and we shared our contacts, started shooting music videos, commercials, in store video displays, I shoot the stills. We started offering full service film and stills to agencies. We knocked on every door in Manhattan and LA, Portland and DC, and even Richmond VA. The recession put a damper on our plans, so I drifted into working in film. I worked as a gaffer before when I was assisting in the 90’s. Now I’m IATSE and happier than ever, and what I realized is that the passion for photography I had wasn’t shooting ads for BBDO, or pressing the shutter button, but communications. Yeah, pushing the button is thrilling, but writing a short, lighting it, assisting in its direction, working with actors, is, to me, a higher order experience. When you see what you wrote and shot, edited and color graded, its as magic as watching a black and white print emerge in the developer.

          And you know what? I still carry around the same Leica M4P I’ve had since I was a photojournalist back in ’89. I still shoot two rolls of B&W a week. I smell like Rapid Fixer a few times a month, even though I’m allergic to some of the chemistry. That is passion. Passion is not shooting an AD’s comp on white. Passion is not banging your head against the wall, losing jobs to kids shortchanging themselves on usage. Passion is not sacrifice for no reason.

          As to changing your lifestyle to pursue your passion, its all fun and games until you have kids. If you disadvantage your family for reasons of ego, well, I wouldn’t do it. I’ll leave it at that.

          If you are young and unattached, then go for it. Eat Ramen and rock ‘n’ roll. Swill PBR and live in that glow. Its a good thing. What else are you going to do in your 20’s? I did it, spent all my money on coke and at Mars Bar, went bankrupt, came back, better than ever. But once you have responsibilities, you have to man up and do things you may not like, or make a sacrifice, such as giving up being paid for your passion. Its rough but you know, its life.

          It is also apparent, to me at least, that the joy of photography is there if someone is paying you or not. Seriously. “Professional” is usually, but not always, the opposite of art.

          • NYC12AdPhotog

            @Donnar Party,
            I’ve also transformed myself into a DP and started a production company. That’s been my only saving grace. But, it still isn’t quite enough.

            • Donnor Party

              @NYC12AdPhotog, It is hard making the transition. Having partners made the dark days a little brighter.

          • @Donnar Party, I knew from your comments in recent months that you were seasoned, but I had no idea you had been through all of these changes. Good luck, bloke.

  51. I don’t think the person who originally wrote this is or was referring to photographers who shoot big ad campaigns or even for large magazines. I shoot for the passion of it, but I’m also making a living at it. I’m a photographer, that’s who I am as a person, but I’m a business woman first when it comes to shooting as a profession.

  52. Negative? I think this article is quite positive!

    To me it says: get the whole “get rich quick” nonsense out of your head and focus on your passion. Making a living doing what you love is a reward in itself.

    So, stop whining people, and get back to shooting!

  53. observer

    You know, I’ve always had this theory that the people in photography and other art related fields who talk about having and surviving on “the passion”, and about sacrificing quality of life and certain basic material things just to be able to follow that passion are often those who grew up in an atmosphere where money was not a concern; in other words, I believe they come from privileged backgrounds and have no concept of what it takes financially to make a decent life. I saw it in art school during college with the students who had no problem buying their equipment and living in nice apartments and driving nice cars, and I saw the same thing during my time in NYC while trying to be an assistant. It’s very easy to proclaim that you will sacrifice having quality of life and basic comforts for the sake of following your passion when you have never been without those things and have no idea what living like that is like. You take somebody who is poor and is scraping and scrounging just to go to college to try to make a decent life for themselves, and they take an honest look at the photography business nowadays, if they are smart they will run like a scalded dog. If you don’t ever want to have a family, maybe sacrificing basic comforts for your art and passion will all work out for you. However if you do have a spouse and kids, try explaining to them, especially your kids, that the reason they can’t have certain basic things in life is because you are following your “passion”, and you don’t want to work in a boring job. I have been on both sides of this equation – I was not from a privileged background, but I did have a passion for photography and have had a very good career, the business has been very good to me for a long time, both financially and from the standpoint of the incredible experiences I have had…but there is no denying the business is changing drastically and it is not as good nowadays, no matter how talented you are or how much you love it. It makes me as sad as anyone else, but I’m a realist and I have a family to take care of, and I’m looking hard at other ways of making a living. I love photography, but not enough to sacrifice the quality of life for my family…the one good thing I do have going for me though is that I had a great run during the glory years, and I did what I set out to do in this business, so I don’t have any regrets. I feel bad for the people out there just starting out who don’t have as good an opportunity nowadays to do that…

    • @observer, you’re welcome to believe what you want, and I can only speak for myself, having thrown around that p word in here. I would like to assure you that I am currently dirt poor in terms of money. I was born that way, I’m currently in that situation, and I may die that way for all I know. I have never been to art school, though I have put myself through college 4 times. Mommy tells me to go get a real job, daddy couldn’t care less. The only support I was under the mistaken impression that I had in the persuit of my dreams dropped the ball on me today. I am in my mid 30’s, and I have my own children. I do photography because I would rather die than do anything else. If that makes me delusional, so be it. If that makes me “not smart” in your eyes, that mean absolutely zilch to me. I have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

      • @Em Thomas,

        I apologize in advance, for I mean this in the best possible way.

        You are not a monk and have a family to raise. There is no honor in choosing poverty over viable alternatives. At a point it simply becomes pathetic, regardless of self-proclaimed passion.

        I do not know you of course, but I would implore you to seek alternatives and cease the unhealthy egocentrism. You can pursue your passion while also providing for your family in other ways.

        • @craig, thank you for the incredibly off-base unsolicited assessment of someone online that you have never spoken to and have no knowledge of. You’ll have to excuse me while I ignore your pathetic observation in lieu of my own personal reality and insight into my own circumstances. Whatever you hoped to gain out of playing armchair psychologist just then, I sincerely hope your ego was sufficiently stroked and you can move on to whatever it is you’re actually supposed to be doing out there in the world.

        • @craig, I agree. Following the “passion” obsessively at all costs comes across as a selfish disorder. There are countless paths to happiness.

      • observer

        @Em Thomas, like I said, I have been on both sides of the equation. I did not have a lot of money growing up, or in college, or for several years out of college. I scrapped for pretty much everything I had for awhile there. I loved photography, but I also loved the idea of making a good living and a good life for myself. Back then, if you had talent and were willing to work hard, you could do that in this business. It was hard then too, extremely competitive, but it was doable. That has changed greatly, in every segment of photography, from high end advertising to national magazines to weddings to family portraits. It’s simple economics – the supply outstrips the demand and the prices get driven down, resulting in less income. Combine that with the economy we have had the last few years and the rise of the internet (everything is free!), and it is the Perfect Storm. Some folks are willing to sacrifice quality of life to be a photographer. I am not. However, I know that I can always continue to shoot for my own satisfaction even if I do something else for a living, I can still do some assignment work as well as my personal work. I really think this is an option that more and more people are going to have to look at. Ideally, some of the ideas I am kicking around as another way of making money will keep me close to the business, because I am realizing that it is pretty much all I really know how to do, and I do enjoy it.

        Also, I certainly didn’t imply that you in particular are “not smart”. What I was saying was that a young person entering college, a person who is not from a wealthy background and who has to make a life for him or herself, would not go into photography at this point in time if they are smart, and I stand by that statement. It’s just basic common business sense. You say that you are “dirt poor”, and if being a photographer is worth that to you, then that is fine with me…though I do hope that situation will change for you. I too sincerely wish you the best of luck.

    • NYC12AdPhotog

      @observer, That’s usually the case. All the photogs I know in NY who are currently doing ok and living for passion, came from money.

    • Also +1 to observer. If you had a quarter for every time the P word was used here, you could retire ;) . All this nonsense about “die before I do anything else”. It’s like people can’t be responsible adults just because they want to call themselves an artist. Quite a few “me me me”s in here.

  54. It’s been a while since my economics classes, but the more scalability and leverage a business can apply to its buck, the more likely that business is to grow that buck exponentially to the amount of work put into getting that buck.

    Every business in every industry faces its fair share of growth problems.

    But many others have already pointed this out.

    While the principles in the orignal post are pretty sound, the definition of winning at the game of business isn’t necessarily.

    Easy to say that the goal is 2.4 kids, a labrador, and a white picket fence that someone else paints around a 3,000 square foot house that someone else, for all intents and purposes, owns.

    That’s certainly not the case for everyone; and that opportunity is becoming less and less possible for a growing number of people in practically every industry.

    Assume, for a minute that there is actually a finite amount of money out there. While not practically true necessarily, it is theoretically true.

    Everyone’s goal is to amass as much of that money as possible. That process usually involves selling a product that cost less to make than the revenue it generated. The seller then reinvests some of the revenues in supply line optimization, new product development, and selling more of the old product to name a few.

    Another way to amass wealth is through loan instruments. I think we all get pretty well how those work.

    There are plenty of ancillary jobs that support those above business initiatives, but generally speaking, you either make something and sell it, or you loan money so that someone can make something or so that someone else can buy something.

    In either case, the money pools at the top. This is partly the reason that we’ve seen real wages in the U.S. decrease, and the average consumer have less buying power than in years gone by. Fewer people have more of the money, and they have absolutely no incentive to let go of it in a way that doesn’t all but guarantee them more of it.

    Driving everything to the credit market has further

    ensured that more of the money has pooled at the top, and the workers on down the line have less access to “new” money.

    Bear in mind that in 2006, the inflation-adjusted “real” median household income in the richest country in the world was $50,233. Most households in that quintile had nearly two full-time workers – for a whopping $25,000 per year; equally divided.

    That isn’t a hard mark to hit – even for a photographer. It’s just a slice of the new economic reality.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some raving communist calling for an end to capitalism or anything…

    What I’m trying to point out is that this is a more generalized problem than the original post would let on to. Photography happens to have been a weak industry to begin with, and so struggles more with economic shifts.

    The other thing that the article hints at is that there might be more to photography than just taking pictures.

    Another commenter mentions she got sick of working 13 days per month. Frankly, that’s about what I shoot now; at least paid-assignment time.

    That leaves a whole lot of time to make money in other photography related ways that don’t cannibalize your time and primary service.

    That may come in the form of consulting, teaching, product design and development, retouching, post production, etc.

    Cooperatives can go a long way to reducing individual overhead, and allowing photographers to spend less making their money.

    But no matter what your field, the way to financial security is to invest extra cash so it works for you, even when you’re not working.

    • Donnar Party

      @Will, I know many people who spend their non-shoot/prep days as digital techs and retouchers. I also know people who started working for ad agencies as art directors, junior at first but then rising to make a real income at something they find surprisingly fun, despite long hours.

      • @Donnar Party,

        Me too. While I don’t do retouch work, I have AD’d on a few small projects, and have taken on digital asset management consulting for a few mid-sized businesses. It’s generally either planning, implementing or both.

    • NYC12AdPhotog

      @Will, It’s true that most of us can scrape together 25k from photography jobs still, like the rest of the country. But, the rest of the country didn’t spend 200k on equipment that has now depreciated to about 8k, 100k on a worthless art school degree that qualifies us for nothing, 100’s of k’s on developing their portfolio, 15k per year on Lebook and other promos, etc. . . They were able to just make that strait out of high school.

      • @NYC12AdPhotog, I’m not saying $25k should be the goal at all. I’m just saying that in any industry, it’s pretty bloody rare to see huge bucks these days. Your likelihood of making big bucks at anything are about the same.

        $200k in gear? That’s a wild amount of equipment. Like a RED kit plus a full MF digital kit. Why would anyone buy that; especially knowing the depreciation rate?

        Including paperclips and extra toner cartridges, I’d weigh in at under $25k of owned equipment. If I need something weird or expensive, it gets rented.

        I’ve never spent more than $500 or $600 on a book, and I’ve never bought an ad.

        $100k on portfolio development make sense over a reasonable length of time, but I know a lot of people who have spent a lot less in, say, a 5 year span.

        Far be it from me to tell you how to run your business, but you’ve mentioned nearly a half million dollars on overhead.

        If I woke up tomorrow and found an immediate need to finance a half million dollars of overhead to stay in the game, I’d probably go do something else to do.

        It’s entirely possible that your business needs are different than mine. I’ve never been in a position to need to own the latest and greatest newest stuff. I don’t do high end advertising work, so I don’t carry tons of cost on post, multiple assistants, etc.

        All I’m saying is that the overhead you take on is as.important as what jobs you take on.

        I hope it doesn’t cost $400k-$500k to make less than 10% of your investment. It sure doesn’t for me.

        I could be talking apples and oranges. A New York commercial photographer, I am not.

        Just trying to entertain a conversation.

        • NYC12AdPhotog

          @Will, When I purchased the equipment and spent the money on my portfolio, it was because I was in the position to do so and making a ton of money. I was on my way to paying it off with renting it to myself in 3 years. I got one year in before the bottom fell out. My agent required me to spend a minimum of 15k per year on advertising. The idea is that this will pay off over time and it hasn’t.

        • Donnar Party

          @Will, The thing about big money ad work in NYC is that it is expensive to shoot, and when times are flush buying an Aptus, a back-up Aptus, two H2 Blads, associated lenses (two each of the most used lenses, the 100 2.2 and 50 3.5), $40k in lighting (a mix of Profoto and Bron) seems like the right thing to do. Owning that stuff turns into a profit center as you charge for its rental, until of course you can’t any more, either because the clients won’t pay premiums on rentals or they force a haircut to your bill that effectively removes any profit you would make from rental. I deleveraged my books by selling the Bron lighting, duplicate Profoto gear (why an Acute and a Pro Ringflash?) and mainly the digital backs. I realized I can rent a tech and two backs for $1500 a day billed straight to the client.

          • I know that huge ad productions come with huge budgets (hopefully, anyway) and huge costs.

            I also know that light rigs and grip doesn’t become “obsolete” as quickly as backs and bodies tend to.

            I’m just amazed that even in the best economy that it would be so tempting to buy the rig as opposed to leasing/renting it. Even if ownership can pave the way to “self-rental” profits; or even just a smaller headache in sourcing equipment, the risk seems absolutely enormous – and almost guaranteed to lose simply because of the speed at which some of the hardware reaches obsolescence or just plain dies.

            Thanks for the insight.

            • Donnor Party

              Will,

              Here was my business model and justification for the outlay: Say $70k for two an Aptus 22 and an Aptus 75s and two H2 Blads and lenses. In order to beat the stock market I’d need to make 8% – 10%, or $7000 in a year. I was making that from the rental of that equipment every two months, until of course I couldn’t charge for it, or as much for it, and was left holding the bag. C’est la Vie.

    • @Will,

      I think you misread Catrina’s post. I am not trying to speak for her, but being in her same position, I think that she is looking FORWARD to working 13 days a month not complaining about working 13 days a month.

      The appeal that, I believe, Catrina sees in nursing is the same that appeals to me. Beyond the satisfaction of a great job lies the fact that you can work ONLY about 13 days a month while earning more than the average photog’s income, get full benefits (retirement, health, paid vacation, etc…), and then have more than half the month free to shoot photos fueled solely by one’s passion rather than also dealing with factors like keeping a roof over your head, food in your belly, your car on the road, and your health intact.

  55. NYC12AdPhotog

    My advice to kids starting out. . . do something else. There are too many of us who are very established and talented who can’t pay their rent anymore. I may look into that nursing thing . . . I don’t know. It seems like a waste after 17 years of shooting many of the biggest campaigns in NY.

    Nobody wants to say how bad it really is. Agencies are closing or just trying to hold on. This forum is great because you can be anonymous and that’s the only way to get people to admit what’s really going on because we’re all holding out for one more of those 100k jobs and we don’t want the word to get out that we haven’t had one in 4 years.

    • @NYC12AdPhotog,

      A big AMEN!! to – “My advice to kids starting out. . . do something else. There are too many of us who are very established and talented who can’t pay their rent anymore.”

      But utter horseshit to – “It seems like a waste after 17 years of shooting many of the biggest campaigns in NY.”

      I agree that nursing in particular may not be for you (but it might be?), but something more sustainable out there is. And whatever lies out there IS NOT mutually exclusive of shooting the jobs you speak of.

      I’ll not pretend to tell you or anyone what to do. But my experience from almost 20 years in the photo world and now as I transition to a parallel and complimentary profession tells me that needless suffering or deprivation for a passion is the true “waste” when there are viable solutions out there.

    • @NYC12AdPhotog, I never shot a 100K ad gig in my life – I shot some big ass corporate gigs that came close it.

      I wander how many people invested in bonds, stock and real estate instead of chasing after a new car, younger wife, etc.

      Even though I took a 50% hit in the dot com years, my remaining investments have done well and I continue to invest – hopefully with a semblance of intelligence.

      I wish, really wish, that all the colleges and universities pumping out the photo degrees would live up to their responsibility and start teaching basic business, investment and life skills.

      I had to work hard starting out (still do) and I learned from my mistakes. There were no backups or second chances or plans. There was no plan B. I can’t understand why anyone would pursue a 100K plus art school college education in photography. A strong liberal arts program – yes. A strong major at a superb institution, yes. To learn how to use Photoshop, hell no.

  56. Seems like we’re skirting a bigger issue – the myth of the American Dream versus the reality of the American Compromise. Word to the wise: Pursue the dream but know that the instability of our economic system compromises it too. Worst of all, the stress of our system weakens art and innovation. For most professions there is an element exactly the same as the lamentations here. It’s just more evident and daily with careers such as photography, music, writing (once mine), etc. Now I own a business (green building supply) based on my other passion, yet the problems of pursuing a dream remains the same. It’s a wiser choice for a father, but in reality, the snake is already eating it’s tail. Pursuing a dream here isn’t what it used to be. It’s mostly politick real!

    This is the American economy in decline. Every empire has seen it. Power gets concentrated and the party is over. Art and innovation die. And then the rest of the chips fall down after that.

      • @Laura, Depressing, but not irreparable. Few things (love, life, career, etc.) exist in isolation. In order to overcome the reality we first must know it. Though art and innovation suffer from this demise, they are also our only way out of it. Contrary to what some of the passionistas here seem to suggest, you don’t have to sacrifice passion for sensibility. I just have to wake up at 4:30am to follow my passion for writing. I get up at 5am for good waves, anyhow. I do it because I have passion for my wife and children, too.

    • Donnar Party

      @Fletch, the wheels of the system are old, breaking down. Our politics are too entrenched by freightened nostalgic fantacists to provide a solution for the future.

  57. I’ve been reading this for a few days now…it’s tue. Just because one is passionate and good doesn’t mean they are making it. That’s it. No more shooting brick walls for me!

  58. After reading through this entire thread, if you omit the snipes and personal attacks, then replace any “photography” reference with the corresponding “insert-industry-name-here” reference, the story would be exactly the same. My “day job” is commercial construction superintendent. I’ve made less total money in the last 5 months than I did in the first 2 weeks of 2009. That’s for a guy with a degree and 27 years experience in the field. My brother who’s a software engineer, also with a degree and 23 years experience, was recently hired after being out of work for 1.5 years, due to his division being dismantled and outsourced overseas. My Ex, just lost her job as a teacher along with 1400 others, she holds 4 degrees including a master’s in astrophysics and had worked steadily for the past 15 years. These aren’t sobering truths about photography, these are sobering truths about the new world economy. Deal with it…

    • NYC12AdPhotog

      @Jet, I suppose that’s true. It’s hard for everyone right now.

    • observer

      @Jet, Yep, as an attorney friend of mine described it today, it’s the new normal.

      • confused

        @observer
        @NYC12AdPhotog

        How did you guys just completely change your minds in one sentence. You guys complain of times changing and digital this and that.. and now this paragraph has changed your minds that quick huh?

        “NYC12AdPhotog wrote:

        My advice to kids starting out. . . do something else. There are too many of us who are very established and talented who can’t pay their rent anymore. I may look into that nursing thing . . . I don’t know. It seems like a waste after 17 years of shooting many of the biggest campaigns in NY.”

        • observer

          @confused, I’m confused too, I don’t know what the hell you are talking about.

          • confused

            Nyc knows that I’m talking about.. Jet is right all economies are suffering.. imagine when you were a kid and someone told you not to become a photographer because it’s not worth it anymore.. Even if you are broke and sad now are you seriously saying you regret it?

    • NYC12AdPhotog

      I’ve been thinking about all of the posts here for days. This is the only one that sticks in my mind and is helping me to accept my situation. Thanks Jet.

  59. nonamegame

    If your primary reason to be in this business is making money and not fulfilling a passion you’re in it for the wrong reason. This can be said of chefs, writers, stage actors, and other creative career people. Photography isn’t a business. Selling your photography is a business. I see those as 2 separate endeavors.

    It’s the reason that people that go into photography to make money that fail.
    The new paradigm in art buying is to find an original voice, which can only be created by someone passionate about what they do.

    You wanna start a business taking pictures of softball teams? Great-go for it but that’s not photography. We need to start making clear distingtions of what is photography vs taking a picture of something to make a living.
    Those are 2 totally different careers.

    You mention RN’s and suck-are x-ray technicians photographers? I say no but they take a picture of something don;t they?

    My wish is that money making picture takers wouldn’t flood the inbox and marketing channels that should be used by creative photographers. How hard its it to know what your want to do and marketing the right damn people. Get with it folks-figure this stuff out.

    We all use a camera of some sort-I also use a computer-does that make me an IT specialist? Nope.

    • nonamegame

      @nonamegame, I meant “such” instead of “suck”. Some of my close friends are RN’s :)

      You mention RN’s and suck-are x-ray technicians photographers? I say no but they take a picture of something don;t they?

    • NYC12AdPhotog

      @nonamegame,
      I didn’t get into photography for the money. I was dirt poor and shooting only what I loved for 10 years. Then it started to pay off organically. I got married, had two kids, and bought a small condo. Now I can’t afford any of that anymore. I didn’t get into it for the money, but I built a life and family around the money that I was making. I have daycare, mortgage, and food bills that I can barely pay.

    • @nonamegame,

      Do you not pay your own bills?

      The big deal is not to “make money”, but simply make enough to get paid enough for your labor to afford to raise a family, remain healthy and have enough left over to get through the pitfalls of life.

      Further, most work with any sort of quality requirement requires professional “make money” photographers for whom its their day job because, surprise, most work isn’t done after-hours.

      • nonamegame

        @craig, Yes I’ve been paying my own bills since I was 17-now going on 42. I’ve worked in the photography business for 10 years. 1st as a highly paid commercial photographer in lifestyle fashion. Hated it but didn’t mind the money. Stopped and moved into postproduction while I rebuild my work and portfolio into something marketable in the kind of photography I love.

        I see a lot of “photographers” that like the idea of doing what I do but don’t give a damn about the actual work. These are over glamorized careers we’re talking about-which makes them appealing to nutbag crackpots. How can you want to be a fashion photographer and not know about fashion, or fashion magazines or really anything related to fashion besides the models? It’s to them I say get the #$@! out of everyone else’s way and certainly don’t complain to me when you can’t afford your 2 bedroom loft in Williamsburg.

  60. been there

    just thought i’d add my two cents. before all of you go out and start applying for nursing school please conduct a reality check. i highly recommending doing a volunteer stint at a local hospital to see if you actually like the work and the people in the field itself.

    i did the same thing and the hospital i volunteered at was full of stressed out nurses that really didn’t care about the patients. it was just another way to make money. some of the most miserable human beings i’ve ever worked with to tell you the truth.

    you’ll also spend a *lot* of your time inputting everything you do into a computer system to protect the hospital from liability. meaning that you’ll spend a lot less time actually taking care of people. there’s a pecking in order in the hospital. you’ll learn your place quickly.

    be prepared to work night shift when you come out of school b/c that’s all that will be available to you to start.

    finally, this whole nursing shortage is completely overblown imho. you’ll find they can play a foreigner a lot less than you to fill many of those positions.

    think before you leap. no need to have a bunch of people enter that profession that don’t really dig taking care of people. otherwise, you may as well just go work in a bank or some other crap job.

    • @been there,

      Other than the advice to “volunteer” to gauge your interest in an RN, everything else in there is complete hogwash.

      I am in the hospital every week and can vouch that there IS a future to be had as an RN working 13 days a month. Sorry to hear that your experiences were not so good. As for a nursing shortage, that is geographically dependent and will disappear rapidly as the baby boomers continue to age.

  61. I think the sheer amount of comments on this post is telling to many individuals views on what they’re passionate about. I wish the industry overall was more candid and empowered enough to have these conversations and actually get somewhere with them…
    Just be informed no matter where and how your personal passion is directed.
    Whether you’re an idealist or not remember this.
    “It’s not the Money…It’s the Money”

  62. This whole thread reminds me of my favorite aphorism:

    A person who buys a violin owns a violin. A person who buys a camera is a photographer.

    It’s all dandy to say we love what we do and screw the man, we didn’t get into the biz to make money dammit… well, that’s exactly what our clients are banking on — mostly we’re a bunch of schmucks who’ve bought into the idea that we should be eternally grateful that we get to do what we do and that should be compensation enough… horseshit… your bank doesn’t care where your mortgage payment comes from, nor does the grocer or your health insurance company… photographers who say they only do this because they love it and the money isn’t important are generally young and single; supported by other fiscal realities (thanks dad); or delusional and should be closely monitored for other self-destructive tendencies.

    • Donnar Party

      @no deva, I really do worry about the souls of the posters behind some of these responses. Its clear their sense of self worth is tied to being a “photographer”.

  63. People do creative jobs like photography because they ‘feel a calling’ – a need to express themselves, to make something, to do something creative. The trick is also making a living at it.

    You don’t get into photography ‘because of the money.’ This is true of any creative endeavor. You may be successful as a musician, artist, filmmaker, photographer, etc. but these have never, ever been easy jobs to succeed in. Yes, times are changing, but the world has never been an easy place to be a creative person.

    However, if you’re talented, approach photography as a business, work hard, save your money and try to spend it carefully, hopefully have a partner bringing in some money as well, etc. then I think you can be successful as a photographer. Most people lack a combination of the above qualities – they’re talented, but have no business sense; or business-savvy but untalented; or both talented and good business-people, but don’t manage their money wisely, and so on.

    Good to see someone being realistic, because the best friend of any creative person is realism. It’s only by being realistic that you can learn how to make an actual living from your passion.

  64. Fooo-eee! I’ve been making a good living at wedding photography for 15 years. It can be done. It can be stressful. But, what isn’t that’s worth doing.

  65. great post. it seems that many of the opinions here are focused on the extremes, ie. either making millions or filing tps reports at some drone office, as if those are the only two options. there is alot of ground in between.

    passion, adaptability, and hard work are great and from what i have seen our “profession” is not short on these attributes. however, this passion needs to be sustainable for it to be a “profession” and sustainability requires profit. as we all know, there are costs associated with producing imagery of any kind. i haven’t seen too much of a decline for work opportunities but i am seeing rates drop to the point where they barely cover the associated production costs. there is no profit. how is this sustainable? is our passion the reason for this? do passion and profit need to be mutually exclusive?

  66. I came out of photo/design college broke. Think I can afford a studio and pay rent? No way, not even close. To make matters worse, being uneducated about pricing put me even further in debt, because everytime I did a shoot, I was losing money (overhead). So I have to pay my schooling off, and now upgrade my entire body and lenses to enter the world of professional commercial photography… where am I going to get this money?

    This is the reality for 95% of us.

    Unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of a “working spouse” to rely on to pay all the bills. Single, with no plans on ever marrying. Must be nice for those stay at home moms to just pick up a camera one day, and start a “wedding photography” business, meanwhile the man is breaking his back to support her and buy new lenses/camera bodies, etc. along the way!

    Working a $10/hr job just doesn’t cut it. That’s not where I aspire to be all my life, yet I am not the type of person to pick up a trades job… I’m an artist and creative, and that is where my true passion in life is…. otherwise, what’s the point at all?

    To all the haters of this post…. must be nice being rich!

    • confused

      37.5 + 30 hres a week = photography and another job. That was my solution.

    • I like that it’s all stay at home moms becoming photographers in your world. In my experience, and I went to photo school and have been assisting ever since, its actually MEN who are supported by their wives with “real jobs” in their photographic endeavors. I have yet to meet another female photographer who had a man “breaking his back to support her and buy new lenses/camera bodies, etc. along the way!”

      The photo industry is already a good ‘ol boys club full of enough sexism, your comment just perpetuates it.

      • Donnor Party

        I know of many “fashion photographers” in NYC whose wives are lawyers or doctors. Theses guys just shoot tests and hope to be published.

  67. Somewhere in the past here at APE, I read a quote that has really stuck with me… (maybe slightly paraphrased)

    “Competing to be the lowest price is miserable business.”

    That is the situation that so many photogs have found themselves in for a variety of reasons – some beyond their control and some of their own doing, sadly. Sure there are the insulated photo niches out there that have not been hit hard with this runaway train. I wish I had one of those niches and hope like hell that all you who do can hold onto them as long as possible.

    But it is NEVER too early to gaze in the crystal ball, ponder the potential impacts on your business, formulate plans to offset any losses, lay the groundwork to diversify, and maybe… just maybe, it is never too early to think about a viable plan B now while you can rather than waiting till it gets shoved down your throat.

  68. Wow, interesting read. Been a photographer for 40yrs and done OK financially.

    First, everything is cyclical so embrace the changes and deal with them in a way that is best for yourself.

    Second point is Warren Buffett a wise business guy said there are only four professions that you only need to be moderately good at to make a fine living, Real Estate Development, Law, Medicine, and Finance. All others you have to be the very best in your field and others gotta know it.

    Certainty in life is death, taxes and change. One window closes and another opens, find it.

  69. christian

    wow, the follow up post just got ridicules! Take the price difference of a cheap and expensive lens and invest it for 30 years for 8% interest.

    I know this and the initial post is just figurative spoken, but it’s not extremely credible coming from someone taking about having 20 years business experience.

    My 2 cents are, photography can be as much or as little be a business as you want it. You can go with the flow or you can invest and grow.

    • NYC12AdPhotog

      Not my site, I’ve been shooting for since he was a toddler. Just thought it was funny.

  70. I’ve been reading this for the past few days and my favorite comments are from Christian Garabaldi (hilarious, cynically positive, comment no. 41 and his comments thereafter) and Martin (short, sweet, positive, to the point – comment no. 198).

    This business will only work for you if you A. have amazing talent and offer something to a client that is rare and hard to replicate, B. have an amazing, smart business sense that has to be, most importantly, innate and then honed by learning from smart folks OUTSIDE of the photo biz, and C. extremely hardworking, positive, and resilient through the hard times like now. If you DON’T have a strong combination of all three, this business will NEVER work for you. The reason why there is so much ‘WAH WAH WAH POOR ME’ in this thread and in photography meetings, blogs, forums, etc. because the people that are complaining have crappy work, don’t know how to run a business (or didn’t constantly look ahead 5 years to reinvent themselves and their businesses to change with the times), or just don’t have it in them to work their ASS OFF.

    This all is coming from a woman with no kids, no mortgage, etc. so I can’t speak for the folks that are supporting families, etc. I just have my business that I am in love with and will do ANYTHING for. I would die for my photo career. And that said, I forgot the forth: D. you have to be a little crazy or on the brink of crazy. Crazy brings the best art, crazy brings amazing things to a business like photography where there is seemingly no benefits. Keep pushing, keep changing, keep reinventing yourself. And with these thoughts, I leave you with some amazing inspirational words that I found recently in GOOD Magazine. Read it all the way through, and it will take away a bit of the horrible dark depressing cloud that this post has brought everyone:

    “Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow. Let’s scratch our heads and give up and wake up and try again. Let’s fail at digging the well the first three times to get it right the fourth. Let’s build faster horses and then strap rocket ships onto them. Let’s start a company, let’s watch it fail, and then let’s start another one. Let’s be the boss. Let’s take the boss down. Let’s order too much of something just to see what our limits are. Let’s take a chance precisely because it might fail. Let’s take the hard way out. Let’s go to the moon. Fuck it; let’s go to the moon again. Let’s quit our jobs. Let’s work at being better at what we do by fucking up faster, not less. Let’s fuck up really fast. Let’s wrestle sharks, fight monsters, and disagree with the board. Let’s borrow so much money it becomes someone else’s problem. Let’s start a 10 hour drive by announcing “I’m not into you anymore”. Let’s dump everything out of the garage onto the sidewalk and build something really cool in that space. Let’s start out to build a better mousetrap, and halfway there let’s decide to jump on the mice’s team. Let’s bet on a longshot. Let’s buy her a drink. Let’s start baking bread in our cubicle. Let’s try bringing fresh water to distant villages precisely because we have no idea how to do it. Let’s pool our money. Let’s take their money. Let’s solve that hard problem. You know that one that keeps you up at night? Let’s tackle that bastard. Let it kick our ass a few times, and then finally get it right. Let’s find out what’s at the bottom of the ocean. Let’s tame the Kraken. Let’s just fucking tell people we’ve read Infinite Jest and move on. Let’s forgive our parents. Let’s do something with the goddamed planet. Let’s rent an electric generator and open a food cart that sells nothing but frosted PopTarts, but makes a lot of fucking noise. Let’s have a breakthrough. Let’s have a breakdown. Let’s agree that bruises fade, bones heal, hearts mend, and tomorrow we’re right back on that horse and that THIS TIME! we’ve at least got another rocket strapped to it’s back.”

  71. 1. The Investor – Used money to make money, but spent entire life never actually creating anything.

    2. The Professional – Advanced degrees command high fees (at least that’s what they told them in college).

    3. The Corporate Employee – Climb the corporate ladder. After getting laid off one too many times wishes they had done something with their career that was lasting and significant.

    4. The Public Employee – Job security and retirement. With nothing to show for it.

    Finally the photographer…

  72. I do alright from photography, OK it’s taken me around 10 years as a freelancer but, hey I’m free, I don’t work every day, I do what I like, I have to be creative both photographically and in the business sense and I am consistently diversifying which is making my career more interesting photographically, socially and financially.
    Photography is not for people who just want a day job with a fixed rate of pay.
    I probably work half time and make half time money, but hey, it’s enough to live and there is still a lot of growth potential in the various business models I have adopted.
    If you want to make this business succeed you must be a creator in the business and photographic sense always seeking to expand in every way. I must say, it’s quite liberating.
    Also, photography is extremely competitive, so, as was said earlier in these posts you have to take good pics and be excellent at mktg.
    Invest in websites, clever advertising, networking and creating original photography. NOT high end gear if you can only afford the former or the latter. Of course both is ideal but high end gear makes a lot less difference than a creative eye and savvy marketing.
    I noticed in the US a lot of emphasis is placed on hardware. Spend more time learning to take great pics, that’s what will get you out of hot water.

  73. I wish I were younger so I had chance to fulfill my dream to be Meisel. But maybe I knew photography a little bit late. And since I had done a lot of business in my life, and I hate to admit that business of photography is much more difficult compared with my other business that I have ever done.

    Another bad thing is that, what I want is to shoot like Meisel or Dayan does, but in a country like Indonesia, I was stuck with a lot of wedding job which I can’t enjoy. Finally, I really could’t enjoy my job anymore. It was not as fun to do as before

    Now, I’m running my new shop. I sell electrical tools. I have no regret. I have much better finance security. I can still photograph people. And the more important thing I photograph what I like. In the future, I guess i can have more money so I can make a personal project with much bigger budget which I wasn’t able to do when I was a pro

    Sorry if my writing insult some people, I just share my experience. Honest.
    Happy shooting, everyone!

  74. The old saying, content is king has never been truer.

    The mistake that many make is that they don’t know the difference between medium and message. Photographers are like writers in that their tools are so common.

    It’s not about what tools are used, it is how they are wielded.

  75. Please visit the authors website and judge for yourself. When you’re portfolio looks like a college students then college students will steal jobs from you.

  76. Giselle: you must live on another planet. Even big name wedding photographer Jasmine Starr said herself that she had a husband to support her as she started out!

    • I’ve never worked in the wedding photography world, just the advertising and editorial side and have worked for plenty of men that had wives with “real” jobs and garages full of expensive gear while they rarely shot anything.

  77. I’m blessed – I’m a disabled person (with photography training way back when) who is looking into photography as a way to try to make money around sick time. I’m currently supported by disability and will always (as long as it exists, at least) be insured by Medicare. I figure if I make enough to support myself, fine, off I go into the world as a professional, full-time photographer. If I DON’T, that’s fine, too. I’m doing this all the “legal and up-front” way, staring with the “Ticket to Work” program which guarantees my income while I remain an honest and upstanding citizen who reports what I make with photography. If I make too much in enough months, I lose disability payments. If I don’t, I stay on disability, get reevaluated when reviews come up, and life keeps going.

    I am actually only hoping and praying to make enough to cover my growing obsession with photography gear!