Friday, May 27, 2011

Some Cold, Hard, Inconvenient Truths

A photographer wrote to me today and said he's seriously considering quitting shooting altogether. He asked me for any advice I might have regarding what he's doing wrong. He wonders if his work is "just shit?" He's curious why people (make that people who might pay him for his work) don't give him respect and if that's why nobody ever offers to pay him for his photography. He can't understand why he pours so much effort into his photography with so few rewards... monetary rewards, that is.

Whew! Tough stuff to respond to!

Still, I took a stab at it. Basically, here's what I told him, although I've edited and/or added more for the purpose of this blog update:

These days, there's few career choices tougher to succeed at than photography. Leastwise, in terms of getting paid for your work, especially if your work is shooting models. It seems more than a few photographers, for whatever reasons, are pursuing photography "careers" either for some bizarrely altruistic reasons or as a result of some other, career-building strategies... if strategies they be. In other words, they're willing to work for free or for very little which means others, i.e., those not so willing to work for free or for very little, find themselves often competing with free or with absurdly low rates. No surprises there, right?

This is especially true for shooting models, whether it's glamour, fashion, beauty, commercial, whatever. It's also true for headshots and portrait work, editorial, even sports and some other photo-journalism gigs. Photography, in this digital day and age, is now on a par with writing, acting, being a musician and so many other creative and artistic endeavors which have always been extremely tough career choices. Often times, the toughest of career choices. Know anyone who has tried to "make it" in Hollywood as an actor or a writer? If so, you know what I'm talking about.

With photography, there's an incredible amount of competition these days. (Not just from those working for free.) There's probably more competition than ever before. That competition, I told the dude who wrote to me, probably has more to do with what he's experiencing than anything else. "Do you need to continue learning and developing your skills?" I asked him. "Of course!" I answered for him. "That never stops."

But I also explained that the decision he should first be considering might have more to do with whether he's willing to keep on truckin' in a crowded, uber-competitive, field. I told him he needs to consider and evaluate what his level of determination might be and, once he does that, honestly and truthfully does that, if he's willing to persevere and compete in an almost unbelievably tough industry. You know, that sort of stuff. I also told him it's not so much about whether his work is "just shit" because, whether it is or not, he can always continue developing and bettering his skills providing he's investing enough time and energy learning, reading, experimenting, and practicing. "Practice, practice, practice!" I told him.

Still, there are no guarantees no matter how hard someone tries or how much time or resources they invest in learning, in gear, in honing their craft. These days, I'm not sure if the cream always rises to the top. Unless, of course, it's actual cream and it's poured into a cup of Joe. (Other dairy and non-dairy products act similarly.) Accepting that it's a really, really tough photo-world out there is a really, really tough thing to come to grips with when someone really, really wants to shoot cameras pointed at models for a living.

Sure, some photography genres might be easier to make a go at: weddings and events and other, related genres come to mind. When I say "easier," I don't mean they're easy. I guess what I mean is they're sometimes easier to get paid for doing than, say, shooting models for a living. Like it or not, that's the cold, hard, inconvenient truth. And by the way, these days it ain't so easy for established model shooters to keep getting paid for what they do. Certainly not as easy as it once was. (Not that it ever was all that easy.)

Sucks, don't it?

For this update, I thought I'd post a "cleaner" pic than I normally do. It's from 4 or 5 years ago and I'm not too thrilled with the post I applied to it back then. Oh well. WTF, I'm posting it anyway. For the life of me, I can't remember the model's name. Getting old (and all that goes with it... like big, gaping holes in one's memories) sucks even worse than trying to still make a good living as a pretty girl shooter.


John said...

"These days, I'm not sure if the cream always rises to the top."

Photography By Joe said...

Heck 23 years ago I wasn't even shooting Models but I was making money shooting weddings and babies... I have always been told to shoot for your self first then money second because if this becomes a job then it's no fun anymore. I learned long ago that someone shooting TFP will always win... but never think your going to make money shooting models... always have a fall back plan... in my case it was shooting weddings.

Here Look! said...

The fact that there are so many photographers today, and there is no money in it makes me think of other strategies. So I think an answer might be to go either up or down the food chain.

Down means supplying equipment or services to the tens of millions of wannabe photographers.

Up would mean a business that uses photography, like publishing.

You're going down the chain with your books, etc. I'm trying to go up with Here Look! online magazine.


M.R. said...

You're spot-on Jimmy. One thing you you should add though is the incredible sense of entitlement that a lot of people have these days.

Here's one example that a friend of mine sent me:

In some ways I can understand a "legit" model thinking that way. However, in my own case I've had the nanny-home-makers, two ton tina's, and the bastard offsprings of Phylis Diller + Bobo the Assclown literally try to either pull on my heart strings, whine that they can't afford (and in some cases lie that they lost their jobs so they can't afford it and were hoping I'd shoot it for free... and they were the ones who approached me to shoot them), and in some cases tell me to my face that I should be paying THEM for the privilege of shooting their photos. I've had paying clients try to piecemeal my work down to the bare minimum, then later try to get me to do a lot more work for them (i.e. create advertisements using the photos) for free, and then get pissed at me when I wouldn't do it since it wasn't agreed upon initially.

I really wish I was lying about any of that, but unfortunately the sad truth is I'm being 100% honest. Truth be told I'm not just talking about pretty girl shooting either. I've had people pull some of that crap in an attempt to get me to shoot their weddings, baptism's, corporate photos, other life events, for free.

I haven't been able to figure out exactly why people think that way; if it's some over-inflated sense of chivalry gone wrong (in the case of women wanting free stuff from men), digital's impact on the market in general (in their eyes it takes no talent to do any of this since their cameras have an automatic mode and can give them acceptable results), or simply because they feel that they're just too good to have to pay for anything.

I stopped trying to figure it out though and I just trudge along. My usual advice to anyone who asks me now about turning this into a career is DON'T. Find another job that pays the bills and just relegate this to a hobby/part time job. :(

jimmyd said...

@M.R.: Thanks for this morning's entertainment reading that MM post. I LOLd more than once reading through it. Course, the biggest LOL was the OP. BTW, this universal problem/attitude/whatever seems more than a little unique to the digital age. I don't ever remember it being this way during the Jurassic Period... I mean in the film days.

EleganceAndChaos said...

You blog entry has a lot of truth in it.

I thought I would post another post that Chase Jarvis posted on his blog.

It talks about doing what you love and though he works in advertising photography I think it applies to all areas of photography.