Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hybrid Cameras, Hybrid Photographers

Tired of waiting for clients to call? Are you sick of hearing, "Sorry. Got nothing for you right now." Are you frustrated with photo services ads that don't pay off for one reason or another?

I know I am.

It's a new world. A digital world. A high-tech world. A world-wide-web world! Nothing new or startling about that bit of 4-1-1 but it's getting more so with each passing day.

Today, it's a world where, too often, it seems that being a specialist, a craftsman in a specific endeavor, isn't enough. Unfortunately, it also seems like being good at what you do, even great at it, isn't a guarantee for making a big difference in terms of success. I'm sure there are exceptions to this observation. Possibly many exceptions. But, for now, I'm going to focus on the stuff that isn't an exception.

Obviously, I'm talking about photography. That's why you're here, reading this photography blog. And since there's a good chance you're a photographer too, there's also a good chance you know exactly what I'm talking about.

These days, you need to be hyper-competitive. You need to be more about business than photography. We find ourselves competing with people who can barely turn a camera on, much less capture engaging, quality photos, yet some of those people still manage to be competitive.

It gets worse.

There are times when we're competing with free! How do you compete with free? I have no idea how to do that but I do know it's a tough thing to do. Even offering an exceptional, quality product or service might not be enough. Yeah. Quality is part of it. Maybe a big part of it. And quality will get you work. It's gotten me plenty of work. But, in my opinion, it's not enough. Leastwise, not these days and not for many of us.

What's my advice? Other than the advice you'll read about on many photo forums? (e.g., spend more time learning business skills instead of photography skills.)


Expand the products and services you're offering.

Hybridize yourself.

And learn some business and marketing skills too.

Just like many of the latest-n-greatest dSLRs are offering still and motion capture in one device, we need to offer multiple capabilities in one person. It ain't enough to be able to chew bubble-gum and walk at the same time. You might have to add juggling, balancing, bullet-dodging, dancing and more to the chewing and walking.

One obvious answer is to offer both photo and video services to your clients and customers. I've done this for quite some time. But now, I'm discovering, that isn't enough. (For me, at least.) For many of you, it shouldn't be too hard to accomplish. After all, digital photography and digital videography are more than a little similar, both in technology and skills required.

When quality, hybrid-cameras started being released, I thought I was in a great place: I have plenty of know-how shooting both. Unfortunately, I've discovered those two sets of skills aren't enough. They may be enough if, for instance, you're a wedding and event photographer. But for me? No dice. No cigar. No brass ring. It ain't cutting it. Besides, I've been shooting stills and video for clients for quite a while, albeit not with the same camera. So, shooting both, whether it's with the same camera or different cameras, is nothing new for me.

So, I did some self-assessment. I took inventory of the things I know how to do. Trust me when I tell you, the list wasn't as long as I'd hoped. That aside, I identified another skill I possess, one that I've pursued in one way or another for a very long time. One that I've had some successes with and, IMO, I'm pretty good at.

Besides being a photographer and videographer, I'm also a writer. I'm not only a writer, I'm an experienced blogger. Also, I'm a guy who knows something about using social media and other internet applications to brand and market things. And guess what? There are real jobs out there for real people, like me, with blogging and social media and branding skills! Couple those skills with my abilities to capture images, still and motion, and I think I've got a marketable skill-set. A hybrid skill-set. A somewhat unique skill-set. And one with some amount of demand with people who write checks for services rendered.

Here's an example: I did some searching on and, guess what? I found some positions offered--some full-time, some part-time--that have requirements which closely match my hybridized skill-set. Not only that, there were also job offerings that only partially seemed to match my skill-set. Instead of moving on to the next listing, I'm using those job offerings as opportunities to write personal marketing letters asking if the company might be interested in employing, whether part-time or as an independent contractor, an experienced, creative, and knowledgeable person who could help them achieve their marketing, sales, and branding goals through a combination of blogging, social media, photography, videography, and more.

I'll admit I cannot yet report successes or failures. But I'm optimistic! I'm trying to think outside the box here, leastwise, the career box. As such, I'm attempting to fill the void vacated by business lost to wildly increased competition coupled with clients and customers who, seemingly, have lowered the expectation bar and appear mostly interested in price over quality. In fact, I've also lost business to "free." And frankly, as mentioned, it's awfully tough to compete with free. Near impossible.

So if you're finding yourself troubled by declining photography jobs, diversify and determine what kind of hybrid person you might be or might become. Hey! What's to lose? A few hours of your time otherwise spent in front of the tube or surfing the net?

I'm just saying.

The gratuitous pretty girl at the top is Lupe, snapped a few months ago in a client's studio in front of a white cyclorama. Lupe was born in Colombia, spent most of her life in Spain, and now resides here, in the USofA. Besides being a total sweetie and quite easy on the eyes, she's a lot of fun to work with and knows what she's doing in front of a camera.


Lin said...

We are in the same boat, Jimmy, and we have come to the same conclusions. The only way forwards is to diversify and sell a highly specialised skill set.

It's a brave new world out there, especially when competing with free.

Useful biz blogs you might be interested in are: (read the back posts)

And I hesitate to add to the list (as he can be a bit over the top at times) but there is no doubt that all these guys make a small fortune from online marketing, blogging and competing with free.

G'luck with the new marketing venture, and please let's compare notes periodically - I'd love you know how your biz strategies are working out. There are a few of us ex-photographic bloggers trying to utilize our skill set to pay the bills, with varying results, and it always helps to bounce ideas off each other.

Ed Araquel said...

I agree that we all need to diversify in order to stay relevant. Myself, I'm a photographer, videographer, graphic designer, video editor, motion graphics designer, software developer hybrid. :-)


Just another Jim said...

I'm still flogging the specialization conceit. But, of course, "I" is really "we"... Video is real and with the iPad coming even more relevant.
That said, I feel reasonably comfortable sticking with my favorite business concept: Price, Quality, Speed... Pick any Two.
Simple and if(!) a client match can be made it is fool proof. We've seen a modest uptick in client activity lately and the truth is they've all been bombarded by Free or New or Better continuously. But my three>two above seem to always win out in the end. (Thank God I appear to be patient!)
And, you know Jimmy, I continuously pine for the single freelance life until you bitch slap me to what your well reasoned reality looks like.
I've only got payroll, personalities, collections, technologies, sales and marketing, oh and the banks, to think about.
Wouldn't know how to trade... But...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's getting more and more difficult.

To me, it almost seems that a photographer, web designer, retoucher or other artistic talents should form loose associations with others. That is, JimmyD is still a photographer or videographer, but is well equipped to handle all artistic challenges. His friend Sally is an outstanding web designer and will take-on any web portions of an assignment. His other friend Jenn is an outstanding retoucher, and she handles retouching. His other friend Joe is outstanding at getting prints made and delivered to the client. His other friend...

You can all be independent contractors, but you have familiarity and access to other talents. When a client comes to you for a photographic assignment with need for other talents too, you take the lead position. If, however, someone approaches Sally and wants an outstanding web site with photographic content, she takes the lead.

In essence, you and your friends are virtual companies. For a specific project, you work together. When the project is over, you disband. The key is to get buy-in early from all the different talents on the costs so that responsibilities can be assigned and budgets can be adhered to.

I believe that it is hard or difficult for any one individual to do all things well. Thus, I think it is better to approach the marketplace as a collection of talented individuals who can fully address any need. The benefit of being a collection of individuals is that you are a collection for a specific assignment only. You don't have to carrry others when they are not needed. Thus, those real companies with brick and mortar are burdened with excess infrastructure and an ability to carry on business through lean times. Virtual corporations are leaner by design. And they have the benefit that they tend to regroup for various projects only when they have a proven record of working successfully and reasonably harmoniously. It's never perfect, though.


D.L. Wood said...

I don't rely on photography for my income. But I do have my own business in sales and also know of the - we're not buying right now – xyz is cheaper – yada – yada – yada. I think your commentary fits many businesses not just photography.

Your comments about today's photographer needing diversity struck a gee I remember just reading something about that. I found it in the Dec. Digital Photo Pro in an interview with photographer Chase Jarvis. His article is called Master of the New Media. In the interview he made some of the points you did about needing many skills to get ahead. He also shares your uniqueness in sharing how you do what you do with explanations and behind the scene knowledge.

As he says in the interview – “the times they are a changin”.

You can deny it, you can hate it, you can fear it or you can accept it, embrace it and learn to work with the new rules.

This is the last paragraph -

“Unfortunately, most of what’s going on right now is a fear-based response in the photography industry,” adds Jarvis. “You know the adage, anybody with a D-SLR is a ‘professional,’ and for those photographers that are really thinking in those terms, if that’s your vision, then you need to become either a better photographer or a better businessperson. You shouldn’t be threatened by a kid with an EOS Rebel. You really have to be able to differentiate yourself. I hope that this fear-based response goes to something more positive because I think it’s the most exciting time in history to be a photographer. There are more images being used now than ever before!”

The two points that jump out – Be Positive – Differentiate. We all need these now

D.L. Wood

WillT said...

Insightful article and excellent comments.

KS's comment strikes a particular chord with me: That's pretty much how I ran my software business for over twenty years. It works.

Like the others, I'm looking forward to your follow up post.