All of the previously mentioned issues have led to the current difficulties that photographers have to deal with today. And who knows what issues future technology and social beliefs will create? Many professional photographers can no longer make a living with photography alone, and must have a full-time or part-time job to make ends meet. I feel that this will be the business model for most photographers in the near future.
There are always that 5% of the people, on the far right side of the Bell Curve, that make a very nice living doing photography. These photographers often have a team of support staff that deals with marketing, advertising, processing images and more. This allows the photographer to focus on taking photographs. But this does create a heavy burden for them to meet a huge monthly overhead, so only a few photographers use this model.
The majority of full time photographers must create multiple revenue streams in order to survive. These streams include:
- Commercial clients.
- Selling photos/articles to publications and blogs.
- Classes – online and in person.
- Workshops in the field.
- Books of their photographs and how-to on various topics.
- Selling Fine Art prints online and in galleries.
- Entering, and winning, high end photography contests. This can give them money, gear, prestige and publicity.
- Selling items with their photographs on them, including: postcards, greeting cards, posters, bookmarks, calendars, coasters and other similar items.
- Phone apps.
But that’s life. Change is inevitable, and you either adapt or die. The dinosaurs didn’t adapt well after that giant meteorite impact, and you don’t see any of them walking around today.
When the digital wave first hit photographers, one thing they did to maintain their income was to take photographs at hard-to-reach locations. For the most part, that no longer works. So many amateur photographers have high end gear, and some pretty decent photography skills, that they now take these same photos. They see a photo of a location they haven’t seen before, find out where it is, then plan a vacation there to get their own photographs.
I know a photographer who used to shoot at The Subway. It’s the Left Fork of North Creek in Zion National Park, Utah. He would go there at different times of the year, and he was usually the only photographer there. But that’s no longer the case. He goes there now, and there will be several photographers standing in line, waiting their turn to take the exact same photo that the photographer in front of them just took. To be there by himself he now has to hike out in the winter, when there are several feet of snow on the ground. It’s a condition that many photographers don’t want to deal with.
I had this happen to me at the Grand Canyon. I was way off to the side of a viewpoint taking a photo. When I was done, I looked over at my wife, who nodded for me to turn around. Standing behind me, on a rather steep slope of rock, were 7 people, camera in hand, waiting to take the same photo I had taken. They saw a photographer using a tripod, and figured I knew what I was doing, so they wanted that same shot.
A photographer can find a unique location, but within six months, amateur photographers will descend on it, and their photos will quickly appear all over the Internet. This flood of images devalues the photographs as the amateurs are happy to sell them for rock bottom prices. Or they give them away for free just to see their name in print. Then the pro has to start searching for a new remote location.
Photographers can no longer sit idly by and keep doing what they have always done, and expect to keep making money. They must explore, experiment and always be on the lookout for new ways to market themselves, and have new products and services to offer.