Monday, January 19, 2009

Successful Photography in a Recession

If at first you don't succeed - Diversify!

Things are difficult. Times are tough. Work is hard to come by. Good people are falling by the wayside. Clich├ęs are easy to write - but we don't have to accept them as the truth.

So, rhetoric aside, what do you do if you're a professional photographer who is finding it hard to make a living with the work that you have always done?

Very recently, I have heard myself saying - in response to questions about my work - "No, I don't do weddings" and, "yes, I'm an editorial photographer, that's all do" and "studio pack shots are interesting, but it's not really my sort of photography" and plenty more reactionary statements of that sort.

When I was teaching myself photography (I started about 30 years ago and I have no intention of jumping off that particular learning-curve anytime soon) I came across the concept of the "niche photographer". The specialist photographer who only worked in a very tiny corner of the market honing their skills on very specific subjects. Maritime photography; Sports photography; Portrait photography; Music photography and Medical photography are all examples of genres of the profession that I never fully embraced - to the exclusion of all others, although I have "touched on" one or two of them.

What I have done, though, is become very clear about what sort of photography I don't do. A few months ago, I was sent an email from a woman who had visited my website - and who wanted to ask if I would photograph her wedding. I didn't see myself as a "wedding" photographer, so I did the old trick of pricing myself out of the market. I said I would be interested in photographing her wedding but at a fee that was well above what she might expect to pay. Guess what? I never heard from her again. And whose loss was that, I ask myself?

When money is tight and work is hard to find, it pays to be as flexible as possible about the work we can do - even though it might not be the work we would want to do. So, I've been thinking (again) about what sort of photographer I am - and also where else my skills may lie.

The photograph, above, was taken at the graduation ceremony of a group of adult learners - and I was there in my capacity as a lecturer, and not a photographer (no, that's not me with the disposable camera). There was a time when I would put myself in a neat "box", and limit my potential. Even though I was an experienced photographer at the time that photograph was taken, I didn't work as a photographer - because I was a teacher. More recently, when I have been a photographer, I didn't teach. One thing or the other - but not both at the same time. Now, it's time to think outside the box and consider everything that I do well, and the possibility of combining them, where appropriate. So, I'm now teaching photography well, it makes sense!

So what can you do that you might not want to do? What can you do that you might introduce into your working life that might enhance what you do already? Give it some thought.

Oh; today I got an email from a woman who had visited my website. She complimented me on my work and asked if I would be interested in photographing her wedding. I replied, saying:

I don’t photograph weddings as a general rule, and certainly haven’t undertaken them on a regular basis for many years. But, I do make exceptions, and I would be interested in discussing your requirements with you.

A step outside the box, is it not?


  1. A very topical Blog Stephen. It raises many questions for your readers as it does not just relate to your photography, but( as your own introduction to your Blog Page states) psychology, life, work and photography.
    You now question the concept of the "niche photographer" vs ""the broad base style photographer.
    In any type of business this question is raised -- the specialist vs the standard or mixed bag.When considering these words i.e. specialist, expert or niche, they tend to raise the following words for me-- "all the eggs in the one basket,over reliant, is it prudent, what do we do in difficult times, diversity, and is the risk too high?".
    Sadly, the case of "specialist" Anglo Irish Bank, and the swiftness of their demise comes to mind.(not to mention the level of collateral damage their demise has and will cause)
    To relate this to people,in general, we tend to be better off, in the longer term with Balance. The big question for me now is will I practice what I preach, or as a first step will I even hear what I am saying?
    Regards Ger

  2. Yes, an interesting timely post Stephen. I too am a teacher (though in High School) and mostly find I like to combine both roles for the variety and it definitley reduces the pressure on me to make photography pay all the bills! Recently shot my first wedding and portrait sessions in years; paid well and it wasn't too bad either!


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