The Photography Industry Is In Trouble
Professional photography is hard these days, not because of the advanced cameras or technical equipment, but because of the market for professional photographers. I once spoke with a seasoned photographer who has been doing it for decades; he expressed something to me that I'll never forget. He said, "Photography these days is not what it use to be. Back then it was magical; it was special." Referring to the process of darkroom development with film and the scarcity of individuals who used a camera professionally to make money.
The Photography Market
These days, the photography market is over saturated, meaning that so many individuals are calling themselves "photographers" that it has lowered the overall value of photography. As of the 2000-teens cameras have become affordable and relatively easy to use. Photography as a hobby and a career is exploding! The chances are high that you know someone who is a hobbyist, an amateur, or even a professional. And that's all great, I love to see people discover and pursue photography but it has changed the game for those of us hoping to one day support our families and futures with our passion for the art of photography.
I'm Not Complaining
Now, I don't want to sound like a kid whining that all the other kids have the same cool toy as I do and that I wish they didn't have it. As someone who discovered my love of photography early in my high school years, I am genuinely glad to see many others discovering their love for photography. Instead of feeling jealous or thinking of competition I've come to a place where I celebrate when other photographers hit a new level of success and professionalism. As they grow in their craft and business, it helps the photography market as a whole become better. That is, as long as they are valuing themselves and their customers are valuing them.However, I can't help but notice now, and then a budding photographer posts something on Facebook to the effect of "Aren't you tired of photographers charging so much? Use me! Family photo shoots for just $20." and the photos that follow are often the equivalent of unedited, unplanned snapshots done with a decent camera. Once the average person received their "Good enough" photos, it's too late. They have their pictures and don't pursue tasteful, styled, well thought out portraits by an experienced professional. If you want to learn photography that is a great place to be today but it's the selling themselves short and passing them off as a legit photographer (not a learning photographer) that gets to me. It hurts everyone by lowering the customer experience as well as the expectations of quality and price.
The Photographer is an Artist
Photography is an exciting product to offer these days, and it is no different from any other form of art. An artist (in this case the photographer) is hired because of their vision or style, they plan ahead of time, find the right tools for the job, and skillfully develop a piece of art that is then handed over to the client. The photographers time put into a set of photographs as well as the uniqueness of the photos give these photos value. What happens when a potential client has an alternative that costs much less from a less experienced or developed photographer; they don't see the value in the professional option and go with the other option simply because it's cheaper. But in the end, they will discover that entrusting those precious moments in time to a photographer would have been better to give to an established professional.
If You Are an Established & Professional Photographer
Celebrate those who are learning and moving upward in the photography world, don't sell yourself short as your time and skill are worth money. Value your work, your experience, and your ability to serve your customer. Make your work the best it can be so that you will stand out from the rest.
If You Are an Amateur Photographer
Charge what you believe your limited experience and work is worth but see this time as a time of learning and self-discovery. Find a professional that needs an assistant so that you can mentor under them and learn the good, the bad, and the ugly of the photography business. Shoot all kinds of subjects to find out what you love most. However, if you are just starting out with your camera and don't know the ins and outs of lighting, posing, business, or editing I strongly suggest you don't charge anything for your services for a period until you reach a quality and consistency that will make your work worth something to the customer. Learning from others is the key to moving forward and becoming a more mature photographer. Don't undercut others or hurt the industry because you are new and want to make some quick money. Either charge what you're worth or don't charge at all. Not only does the $20 photoshoot hurt other photographers but it will hurt you more in the long run and multiple ways.
If You Are the Consumer
Be aware that photos and photographers are not made equal. With very few exceptions you will always get what you pay for, so I encourage you to see the money spent as an investment. How many times have you sat down with family during the holidays to look through those old, awful photo albums that we all love so much? They allow us to look back in time and remember something that was or help us re-experience an important moment. Don't misunderstand me; it's great to let a budding photographer experiment on you and learn but remember to also get the special moments captured by a professional. So get a good photographer, pay them what they are worth, and get those images printed for future generations to enjoy.