Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A Career in Photography

...  Is it a good idea to plan a career as a photographer, or more specifically as a wedding photographer?

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Newcastle wedding photographer in Tuscany!  

This question has been running round my head for a few days.  One of my wife's friends is a career adviser.  I met him once in an Edinburgh pub and must have waxed lyrical about the ups and downs of being a full time professional photographer as he remembered me two years later and got in touch to ask what he should be telling his students about training as a photographer.  He tells me that there are increasing numbers of kids drawn to the idea of pursuing a photography career - no great surprise - if you keep half an eye on social media or follow any wedding blogs, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the job is SUPER EXCITING AWESOME UNICORNS RAINBOWS!!!!!1!!!11!!

And actually, it mostly is, once you've served your time; put in the hard work, developed your site and your blog, built up a solid client base, made your mistakes and learnt from them, carried on regardless, learning from the best and taking every opportunity to learn some more - I started with 'A' levels, went on to a degree course and continued with workshops and carrying bags for some of the best in the business - that was almost a decade ago now and I'm still learning.

Anyway, when the email from my career adviser friend pinged into my inbox, it had been a long day - I was tired after a very long drive and I bashed out this response in about ten minutes.  I may have been in a slightly jaded frame of mind but would be interested to read any comments from my photographer friends ( or anyone else! ).

"Hi Chris and please excuse my tardiness in replying - we have been enjoying a break at my parents' house on Skye.

I do remember most of that conversation, despite having had a few ales...  I fear I can only really talk about wedding photography with any degree of accuracy and these days, there really aren't any bars to entrance into the profession.  Were I to start again, I might consider an HND rather than a degree (shorter and more practical).  Most of the photographers local to me just picked up a camera and got on with it, for better or for worse!  I would most definitely consider a joint honours with some business admin content - it's about a 90% business to 10% taking photos ratio.

The advice I was given was to find a very specialist niche and become the go to person for that specialism.  I suspect this still rings true and I suspect the more boring the niche, the more work is available.  Wedding photography is seen as a 'soft' option sadly, as is portraiture.  That is, anyone can do it but not that many stick with it long enough to do it well.  For those who do, it really is a daily battle to stay under the noses of the target market - the competition are all doing exactly the same so taking time off from self-promotion (yuck!) is just not an option.  My specialism (other than weddings) was wind farm visual impact assessment photography but even this curious corner of the photography world is now over-run with those willing to work for expenses.  It's now dog photography ( www.hairydogphotography.co.uk ) which runs as a sideline to the wedding business but since starting that three years ago, at least four other clone businesses have sprung up within a 20 mile radius.

So, business skills, excellent social media skills, a willingness to adapt and where necessary, do the boring work and being a bit of a character are all helpful.  Being a good photographer helps but is genuinely less important.

All other areas of photography are seeing a similar decline - there are very, very few press photographers on the payroll as the major papers lay off staff and encourage the public to send in i-Phone photos.  There is most certainly still a demand for high quality imagery but numerous stock libraries are happy to sell contributors' images for a few dollars, whilst new photographers are often willing to work for free (in all disciplines) in order to build a portfolio.  Add to this the willingness of major brands to just pinch the photos they like from the internet and it all looks a bit bleak!

Crumbs, sorry, how depressing!  I suppose I would be very unwilling to suggest photography as a career, unless it was a very specialised skillset or a pre-defined career path, such as forensic photography.  It is still very possible to make a good living from photography but more than ever, it's not a career for those looking for wealth or glamour!

Must run as the wee fellow needs put to bed - hope that isn't all too depressing for words and at the end of the day, it's still a fantastic, rewarding job.


Since writing this email, I can't help feeling that it was perhaps a little negative.  Despite the slow times, the panicky times when the enquiries dry up, the months when bills are paid late, it's all worth it for the joy of sharing a couples' unique day - working so hard to produce the best possible set of photographs.  Pouring them into the computer and polishing them over the next few weeks - there are few better feelings in the world than looking at a set of wedding images which you just know the couple will love.  Not to mention their family and friends, for decades to come.

Do take two minutes to have a look through Emerson Photography's portfolio of north east wedding photography :-)


Chris Longley said...

Good post Jim, I was laughing so much about the clone businesses cos I was tempted to do the dog thing when I saw you do it :D Too lazy though! I think you should keep pushing that because people see their mates' dogs on FB and know they can't get a photo like that with an iPhone, especially dogs running; even the amateur who did their wedding as a favour can't get a dog photo like that and they can't pinch one off the net either. The web has been a double-edge sword for photographers. One of the few professions who can put their actual product online but a free-for all for stock, who would hire a photographer these days because they needed a generic image of any common object for use in some advert, booklet, manual?

mandy charlton said...

It's a massively tough market and a difficult job if you want to do it properly, I look at people in a weird way when they tell me how excited they are because they're going to be a photographer! The rewards are huge eventually, especially when you reach your goals, would I give it all up, no way, would I do it all again, yes for sure!