Photography’s Secret



I love photography. And I've spent significant time studying and practising it. I would never tell anyone not to pursue it, whether as a hobby or even a business interest - provided they weren't leaving loved ones up a creek. 

And in light of income...

The photography industry has an open, yet dirty secret. Many "Pros" and XYZ "renowned photographers" collaborate with miscellaneous interested parties – primarily manufacturers and sellers. Why? To generate desire to be a pro...with precious little room for actually making a living. All the while telling hopefuls that it can be done, if you just work hard enough.*

Of course, the "renowned photographer" gets a steep discount on over-priced gear, does training videos, etc, and another generation is hopefully hooked on photography as a career or intense hobby. (Mostly with hopes for a career.) Oh, and they'll eventually need to spend serious money along the way. 

Win/Win?

Cynical, certainly, but also reality. Every creative industry requires a significantly unbalanced pool of purchasers to creators in order to make an income. (Read: above the poverty line.) I'm not talking about being a millionaire - I'm talking about affording dental for your family, should you choose to have one. 

Yes, having the right connections/networking is a huge leg up, but more than that, you need an audience. It just so happens that we live in an incredibly complex, vapid, attention-starved culture, hungry for media to consume. 

Awesome!

Well, there's a catch. They also want it free, like never before. Largely because of easier access and an ever-growing crowd of creators who want to do what they love. Not that there's anything wrong with that! But, it illustrates the law of supply and demand succinctly and yet with great subtlety. Because unlike cold, calculating business, we're dealing with intense emotional connection, not logic. So, to draw attention to their work, artists of all stripes, but especially photographers, fall back to an old standby: do it for free.

Hence the rise of legitimate photo sharing services (and Google) offering a not-insignificant amount of quality work — for free. Just could you please, if you feel like it, attribute the photographer? And for every successful platform, you can and will find vocal individuals trumpeting their massive success owing to their participation in the game – you just need to do ABC to be like me.

Remember the required ratio, plentiful-purchasers to few-creators? Right - it still applies. And it’s not a “soft” requirement; it’s a hard and fast rule. Just now, it's a service being sold instead of a commodity, and by using widespread celebrity culture to pump up demand, a few souls make a very good living.

As Alphonse correctly noted: the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Am I just bitter? Absolutely! Yet, I can name well-known photographer after photographer (including some I truly respect) all doing the same sequence: work, then teach. Why are they teaching? Is it because they love teaching as much as photographing? Certainly! And is there a dollar value attached to the endless supply of hopefuls? Oh look! We're back to supply/demand, win/win again. 

Self reliance and not having to play someone else’s game all your working career is a wonderful thing. Truly. And few feel that more keenly than those with creative outlets for hobbies. (Myself included.) But I'm seriously asking myself a question: am I the supply or the demand?



*Disclaimer: if it were easy to make a living at, the proverbial “everyone” would be doing it. Yet it’s more complex and serendipitous than just working hard. Most acknowledge this when asked (I’ve done a lot of reading), but the industry glosses it over. And why wouldn’t you? You’re not going to sell many courses, softboxes, or become popular telling people, “You probably won’t make it.”

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