Join any photography forum, Facebook group, or gathering of the minds and it will only be a matter of time before you hear something along the lines of “photography is dead”, “the new photographers are destroying the industry”, or something else along the lines of a doomsday prophecy.


Now I’ll admit, after running a group of photographers 70,000 strong, and hearing the horror stories from brides and brides-to-be in another group I help run that’s 20,000 strong, about their “professional photographers” ruining key moments, backing out last second, cancelling dates or operating outside of contracts on the chance they actually provided one, I have to say, it’s not them.


Yes, the market is saturated, overly saturated if you ask anyone in it. There are photographers undercutting professionals by hundreds if not thousands of dollars and operating on prices that don’t even work out to be $2 an hour. They don’t do things professionally, they don’t have liability insurance, gear coverage, contracts, heck you’d be lucky they even have a backup for a dying battery. But it’s not them.


I could go on about the costs associated with the trade, how operating legally has a price, how it’s not just the 4 to 14 hour wedding days, but it’s the time leading up to the wedding, the consults, the sit-downs, or the 20-60 hours of editing after the wedding, or the hours of creating physical products after that, or delivery, but that’s no small feat and would quickly devolve into a miniature lesson on economics that NO ONE wants to read about. Maybe this is part the problem.


In 1981, proposed resolutions to the Society for Nutrition Education's encouraged increased local food production to slow farmland loss. At the time, the resolutions were met with strong criticism from pro-business institutions, but have had a strong resurgence of backing since 2000.


-And thus a lot of your shop organic, buy local, #shoplocal trends were born. Encouraging people to buy local produce and foods to save a dwindling market, farms.


Spawned off this idea was the idea to take #shoplocal to a new level including local businesses, coffee shops, and building a sense of community. You know where your dollar is going and what it supports once it leaves your hands.


Unfortunately, the arts weren’t or haven’t yet seen this resurgence of community-minded spenders and the marketing for new clients doesn’t support that idea either. Photographers are encouraged to travel, pack up and do out of state weddings or even out of the country, and while those dreams sound amazing (Who doesn’t want to go to some blue watered beach to shoot an exotically themed wedding?) that is not the average market. That’s a niche and a rather small one at that for photographers.


Photographers are told to “spam Instagram”, “space out your content and post it to Facebook every day regardless of how often you shoot”, "fake it till you make it", spend money on Google and Facebook ads to find your “ideal clients”. And if all else fails, “do some workshops, YouTube, sell Photoshop presets.” But no, I do all of this for free, on a smaller scale, already. I’m sure I could make a quick buck off of my less skilled peers selling some underwhelming preset package and promising stunning images in one click, but I value this craft.


I WANT them to be good at it, both for themselves and for the people they do business with in the future. And If I find something to sell, I want it to be because it’s worth the price tag and adding real value to their workflow. I don't want to do sell to them just because they are easy prey for desperate photographers trying to sustain themselves in a strangled industry. This is something that ADDS to the issue. I’ve thought about how “I could”, but what all of this overlooks, is that my ideal client is not a 40 hour non-stop drive to California away from me, and I am not in the photography industry to sell to my struggling peers. And you shouldn’t be either.


A community is a two-way street, and with that, social media is NOT a “social” media. Sure you can go do some creeper behavior things and add thousands of people as friends on Facebook and then ask them all to like your business, or follow everyone on Instagram and then “unfollow” them once as soon as they follow you back, but that’s not "community". My ideal client is the person up the road from my house who loves art, wants memories to be preserved that they can cherish forever, and has nothing to do with their economic status as a person.

The issue here is that we’re all a little shaky financially aren’t we? So I create payment plans and step out of my role as photographer and into the role of an accountant to help plan reasonable but safe budgets for our clients. Sure I want to be paid a livable wage but I’m also not trying to rob our clients, our friends, from being able to be successful after the wedding, the maternity shoot, the newborn baby photos, etc.


So shouldn’t that be enough, a sense of community, a fair price, and a quality product?


Unfortunately, something HAS changed. The new photographers undercutting the veteran photographers is not new. That’s a story as old as the trade itself. But what has changed is 1. The cost (not of the trade mind you, but of living.) and 2. How we value art. And we are to blame for the second part, we advertise weekend specials that happen every weekend of the year. We offer limited time discounts that never seem to have an actual limit or end, we play these games trying to trick “consumers”, while never considering that these are people. And if you walked into a local grocery store and this was done to you, you’d never shop at that place again.


Or look at Hobby Lobby as a prime example of this, are you really going to buy those picture frames TODAY? You know they will just be on sale this weekend. And while yes, I love going into Hobby Lobby for my creative itch, and the process works well for them on the business side, the VALUE of their products is only as high as the sale price would be.


The second part would be an easy fix if we could just be more empathetic to our common humans. The first one, unfortunately, is not so easy of a fix.


In 1988 according to the New York Times: ”The average cost of a formal wedding - characterized by a bridal party in traditional attire and followed by a reception bedecked with flowers and ample provisions of food and drink, not to mention a photographer and musician or two (or many more) -is $10,379. (or $22,606.48 with inflation factored in) In big cities, that number jumps to $35,000 ($76,233.45), and a surprising number of weddings go well over that.”


And yet according to a survey done in 2017: “The national average cost of a wedding day in 2016 shot up to $35,329, according to a survey by The Knot. That's a jump by $2,688 from the 2015 average of $32,641”


This means that while the times they are indeed “a changing” the wedding industry has not. The average cost of a wedding has not changed in the past THIRTY YEARS.


Meanwhile, the cost of living has changed quite a bit:


1988

“Average Income per year $24,450.00 with inflation this would be equal to $53,254.51

Average Monthly Rent $420.00 x12 = $5,040
Average Price for new car $10,400.00
1 gallon of gas 91 cents.”


2017

“Between 2015 and 2016, US median household income rose 3.2% from $57,230 to $59,039, according to a new report released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday. It's now the highest income year on record, beating the previous high of $58,655 in 1999.”

The renters of unfurnished apartments in the U.S. paid a median price of 1,492 U.S. dollars per month." X12 = $17,904.


The average car price now tops over $34,000.

The national average price of a gallon of regular gas is a seven-year low, as only six states have an average price above $2 a gallon.


All of this to say, photographers are, like everyone else, paying more to live. Yet on average, they are making the same amount they would have made thirty years ago doing the same thing comparatively. And no, I don’t want to argue about the complexity of shooting film vs digital cameras, that may be part of the elitism that brought us here. They are both equally as tedious of tasks requiring skill and training to complete.

So how do we fix the first issue? I have no clue, I’m a photographer, not an economist. But what I think we can fix is the issue of community. For starters, your peers.

  1. Be quick to teach them. At the end of the day, this will not only make you feel good about giving back, but it’s likely to help your business in the long run, which should be the goal here.


  1. Stop spamming us for likes, stop blowing up Instagram with follows and sliding into my Facebook messenger with promises of “Affordable but good” pictures. As a side note stop thinking “good” is good enough, have a bit of pride in what you do and aim to be the best, aim to be amazing.

And finally:

  1. Get outside and into your community go grab a cup of coffee from your local coffee shop and RESIST the urge to ask the person making your coffee if they’d like a card. Buy them with your genuine time and effort. Build strong relationships in your community and they will come back to feed you when you’re hungry.


And when that out of state photographer tries to advertise those $20 sessions in your area, don’t worry, your name is cash in your community. Don’t let that be a reason to slack.


Be awesome, otherwise, this will very much be "The Death Of The Career Photographer".