As yet another year in business draws to a close, I’d love to open a discussion for all the wedding photographers out there. Part-time, full-time, or pretty much anyone who has ever photographed a wedding is welcome to participate! In fact the more varied opinions from the more varied types of photogs, the better for us all…
Personally I am no economic forecaster or market analyst. I am just a wedding photographer who tries to pay attention to what goes on around him, and enjoys discussing it with fellow professionals. Of course if someone actually is a market analyst as well as a wedding photographer and cares to weigh in, that would be interesting! ;-)
So, here’s how I feel: While many pros (or wannabe pros?) out there are complaining that the industry is going down the tubes and that clients have horribly poor standards and will hire any regular Joe to shoot mediocre or even abysmal wedding photos, (and be relatively satisfied with them!) …I feel that the industry is in fact alive, healthy, and NOT doomed. In fact it is even growing, and will continue to grow!
The Wedding Photo Industry Versus Others
To me, 2012 and 2013 have proven that professional wedding photography is here to stay, despite the amazing and affordable digital cameras that have been coming out lately. Pros have been nay-saying and talking about the demise of our industry for quite a few years now, and yet many working pros have had better and better seasons each and every year, or almost every year, even in a down economy!
Some other professional photo industries may not fare so well against the influx of awesome cameras, I suppose. However a wedding seems to be one of those few high-pressure situations that demands more experience than most hobbyists and beginners possess. Many of the new photographers who “give it a shot” will find that they really don’t want the stress, and many of the brides who have hired a “nobody” and have seen the results are consistently spreading the word that hiring an experienced pro is the way to go. (At least, so it seems for those who I deal with; what about yourselves?)
Yes, there will always be “the bottom of the barrel” just like any other industry; don’t confuse this as a phenomenon only associated with weddings! In other words, not every human being on the planet has an eye for art, or the budget. This is one thing that pros need to wrap their minds around: Just because some people don’t appreciate good art, or don’t have $3,000+ to spend, doesn’t mean the entire industry is doomed. Art has always been subjective and it always will be!
On the other hand, unfortunately there will also be the couples who hire at “the bottom of the barrel” even though they could have afforded more. They might be satisfied at first, yet a few years after their wedding they’ll start to notice the difference and realize that they could have done better. Again, nothing about this is unique to our industry! Of course hopefully these couples will continue to spread the word about the importance of hiring an experienced, talented photographer.
So, that’s the good news. The industry is growing, and will continue to grow no matter what newfangled camera technology comes out. Even if next year pro quality results are possible from $600 cameras that weigh 11 ounces, people will still hire pros. People will always pay good money for art, for experience, and of course quality service!
Is there any bad news? Sorta. The industry has expanded very rapidly over the past ~5 years, and this will cause a lot of change. However in my opinion this is just change, not bad news, but it depends on your own personal aspirations of course. Either way, keep in mind that what I’m about to say is not founded on actual statistical research or anything, just my ~10 years of observation.
Here’s a simplification of what I think has happened over the past few years. I’ll use “yesterday” to generally refer to previous years, and “today” to generally refer to, roughly, 2013 and 2014.
If there were 10 pro photographers yesterday, there might be 50 today. However the number of clients out there may have only gone from 100 yesterday to 150 today. So every photographer who had 10 clients yesterday to do business with is only going to have three clients to do business with today. OUCH! Obviously these numbers are totally off the top of my head and simplified to be nice round numbers, but the concept is simple: The increase in working pros is probably far greater than the increase in paying clients. It’s that simple.
What does this mean? More pro wedding photographers are going to find themselves working part-time. You might think differently, but in my opinion this mainly refers to new pros who are just starting out and working part-time now yet hoping to go full-time in the near future. There simply isn’t enough paying work to go around, the pie may be growing but it is still being cut into far smaller pieces.
But I digress. Most full-time pros who are already well-established can probably continue to find enough work to support themselves full-time. Unless they really slack off on marketing or customer service, of course.
So if you’re currently working full-time as a wedding photographer, do you need to watch out? Sure, but probably not as much as some of the pessimistic people out there would have you think. Just stay on top of marketing / social media trends, give your clients good customer service and stunning images, and you’ll be fine.
However if you’re just starting out, it is important to be realistic about your goals and expectations. Maybe 20 years ago if you wanted to be a wedding photographer you could just print some business cards and book fifty weddings in your very first year. Unfortunately the pace of success has dramatically slowed down, for most. Unless you are the next big overnight rockstar, (which I’m not sure you’d want to be?) …you’ll need to come up with a much more stable, long-term plan for success. If your goal is to work full-time, you’re going to have to really work hard in every aspect of business, from delivering stunning images (duh!) …to marketing in new and innovative ways.
It may sound like a negative outlook for me to say that many / most new pros will not be able to achieve more than a part-time career in photography. Personally though, having worked both part-time and full-time as a wedding photographer, I really don’t feel like being a part-time pro is all that bad.
I know that many 9-to-5-ers complain about how their day job is soul-sucking, unrewarding, and that they wish they could quit and start a career that is more fulfilling. In my opinion this has more to do with one’s whole outlook on life, and less to do with actual daily tasks, bosses or workplace drama, etc. Why? Because working for yourself can seem equally unrewarding and stressful if you don’t have the right outlook on life. In some cases, being self-employed can be even more stressful, dramatic, or whatever. Yes, it is highly fulfilling to create beautiful images for grateful clients, however in my experience the end result is almost the same whether I do it part-time for 5-10 couples per year, or full-time for 30-40 couples per year. What it comes down to, for me, is whether or not I am pursuing my creative passion, and working efficiently in general.
2014 Pro Photographer Resolution?
So, looking forward to 2014, what might I “resolve” for our industry as a whole? To focus as much as possible on personal well-being and stability. To do whatever we have to do in order to pay our bills, whether it’s part-time or full-time.
I used to dislike the saying, “Work hard, play hard!” …just like I couldn’t stand the saying “Work smarter, not harder”. Yet the bottom line is we all gotta pay our bills one way or another, and we can choose to either let ourselves be consumed by that aspect of our lives, or we can just do our jobs well, get paid well, and focus on everything else that really matters most in our lives.
Happy New Year to all!