The “Business” of Photography

- - Photography Business

Don’t know how I missed this comment from the “Crapshoot” post but It’s really good and worth bringing up front.

BRRRRRR wrote:

It’s admirable to think it could all be about the images, and it’s inspiring to think of the art world as a model. But this is about business, and business doesn’t work that way. Look at most of the content that goes into these stories or ads or whatever the assignments are: it’s silly crap to begin with. How can the hullaballoo that surrounds it not contain a degree of silly crap?

It’s pretty easy to sit outside the big markets and complain about how incestuous they are. Then you step into those big markets and you realize they contain whole universes. The competition is fierce. No, talent does not always rise to the top. But professionalism often does. A temperament and a capacity for managing the business environment, the clients and their often wacked out notions, peers, reps and agents, editors, the egos of all concerned, so on and so forth — and then on top of it to get shots: that’s what will get honed in those contexts. You don’t have to like it; hell, many of the people who go through it don’t *like* it. But most of those who manage to negotiate it one way or another will acknowledge they got something out of it, and that it made them “better” in some sense of the word.

Art, or voice, or vision, or whatever you want to call it, happens as an accident in this world. Everybody in the business is interested in it to some degree, but it’s rare that any of them get the chance to foreground it. Someone else’s expectations are always driving the car, and someone else’s credit card is always putting gas in the tank. Getting the job done — whatever the job is perceived to be by the ones who are paying for it — becomes priority one. Time matters; familiarity with the game matters; proximity matters; track record matters. You can’t blame people for minimizing risk when that’s part of what they’ve been explicitly charged with doing by the guys who put bread on their tables.

Also, the fact is that there are so many people working in those big markets that you often don’t *have* to go outside them. I guarantee you there are 20 young photographers in Brooklyn who don’t just know Nebraska (or wherever) but actually grew up there, and are willing to fly there tomorrow and work for a song. They are as hungry as anyone else, and a few of them might prove to be as talented. It may be vicious, but it’s also real.

Someone earlier nailed what may be one of the best strategies: do your time in a big market, endure it, get your game on, then take it to a smaller market and clean house. I have a good friend who did exactly that last year, leaving NYC after several tough but productive years and going to a smaller market, where he’s not just surviving but thriving, in part due to all he picked up.

There Are 13 Comments On This Article.

  1. Back to Business

    Thank God we’ve steered the ship back on course. Whoever wrote this hit the nail squarely.

    Hiring commercial photographers is probably the Ultimate “Buyers Market” — there are so many more photographers out there, than actual Jobs. I agree, with Manhattan and Brooklyn alone, why the need to go anywhere else, unless it’s a front-of-the-book assignment?

    And the advice to “do your time in a big market for a while” is great advice. I know several who’ve done that. There’s just something to being exposed to high quality crews that changes your standards, and then, when you move, you bring those standards (hopefully) back to the smaller market. My only caveat to that — you might need to move back to the Big Market after a few years, to goose your standards again. Ah, the dangers of Complacency.

    Whatever the case, this was a great Comment, and this is an excellent Blog. It’s a mini Master’s Course.

  2. Not to mention that when you move out of the large market, the astronomical cost of living there works in your favor if you’re selling a house, but at least breaks even if you’re renting since the cost of an apartment in Nebraska will cost virtually nothing in comparison.

    Although the marginal downside is the lack of good assistants. In my experience, you’re going to have to train your own if you’re in a small town.

  3. What people between the coasts seem to forget is that most of the NYC/LA photogs emigrated from the hinterlands to the coasts for the good work. They didn’t want to stay in Smallmarket, USA and have to be generalists to survive. They came to be near APE et al. The proximity to each other, the cross-pollination of styles (or referencing, or ripping off) pushes the medium forward. It’s a pressure cooker and it produces results. The ones that seem to survive have the ability to build or appropriate a style and also the business acumen to market themselves and then deliver the goods. The “talent” then is not just photo talent – I would say that the photo part is maybe 1/2 the game. The ones that do the best have the complete package.

  4. Back to Business

    One little-thought-of Equalizer in this largemarket/smallmarket conversation is the issue of rentable equipment. Yes, you’ll pay $2500 a month for a nasty apartment in Greenpoint, but the flip side is, you can go to any number of rental houses and rent most everything you need to pull off a job, thus freeing you from the financial burden of purchasing ever-increasing digital gear, plus insuring it, plus storing it, (which, in NY, is a major issue).

    In a smaller market, there is a very good chance that, in order to be prepared, you’ll need to OWN most everything that you use, (and backups too).

    And not to mention the accessability in the larger markets of knowledgeable crew and freelance labor. Whereas, in the smaller markets, in order to have these things, you’d almost need to employ them full time.

    Would be interesting to see a spreadsheet, and see, at the end of the year, who comes out ahead. All of a sudden, $2500 a month rent might not look so crazy.

  5. OK … chew on this a little: Once successful competing nationally, is it possible to say that the smaller market photographer is better than the larger market guys? After all, they have to be – talent carries the day. They have to overcome the cache, politics, and visibility of a larger market businesses. Makes sense doesn’t it?

  6. but they’re handling a different type of expectations. there’re too many overgeneralisations; they’re two different playing fields and it’s hard to say who’s “better”..

  7. It’s interesting to read these coments, i’m from across the ocean, and from a small county. In here, outside from the major two cities, there is no market except for wedding photographers and 30 minute photoretailers.