Photography is a Sunset Industry

Photography is a sunset industry. This doesn't mean that people and businesses don't need photography anymore; instead, it's in a greater demand and the demand would continue to increase - social media triggers the need.

The issue is that professional photographers are finding it difficult to make a living. More masterclass photographers would abandon the job while some would switch over to videography. The standard of photography would fall to a certain low with the loss of real talents. Eventually, there will still be some demand for very high quality work by big brands and thus good photography won't be totally dead.

The problem isn't caused by any economic crisis but a few major trends:

  1. Oversaturated market
    While technology advances and good cameras are more affordable, more people are beginning to own a piece of DSLR. Therefore, it seems like "everyone is a photographer", especially when social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook allow people to showcase their work easily.

    I don't see myself as a masterclass photographer since there are still many things I don't know. However, I have seen the work of many so-call professional photographers and they make me feel better with my work. My point is that there are just too many photographers, including newbie.

    There's absolutely nothing wrong with new photographers trying out to do it professionally - I started up as a newbie as well. However, what I did was that I practised on family and friends first, until I was satisfied with my work, before I started taking up requests from clients. I quickly increased my rates in order not to spoil the market. Unfortunately, some "photographers" start with ridiculously low rates and maintain it.
  2. Bad judgment of photo quality
    With the huge number of "photographers" who have been sharing their work online, internet users' judgment are somehow influenced by the amateur work. It could be instigated by peer pressure.

    For instance, when a "photographer" who has high popularity posts a new photograph, his friends would tend to react to his post, adding in flattery comments, and thus anyone who sees the post would think the photograph is a masterpiece. Likewise, if the post is a photograph of a hot girl, the reactions would be even more intense.

    When I was new to photography, I mistook some bad photographs as good work also. I think most people aren't born with good art sense. I work hard by looking at more good work, do more actual shoot and learn from the professional before I develop my judgment of work, and I'm still learning. Therefore, I wouldn't be surprised that most people can't differentiate between good and bad work.

    Many people, including model-wannabes, have been approaching me to take photographs for them. They sing compliments of my work until I almost float in the air. However, further interactions would show their ignorance as they start complimenting the work of some hobbyists as well. Some weeks later, they start posting amateur photographs of their photoshoots. Of course, they have stopped replying me "due to their busy schedules".

    During the first couple of years when I started photography, I was requested to guide people in photography - I wasn't even good in looking at light. This further proves that many people are clueless over the qualities of photographs.
  3. Low budget
    Due to many reasons, clients have set low budgets for photography. As they experience with more ridiculously low quotations from "photographers", they start assuming professional photography should be cheap. This has somehow led to the lowering budget.

    When a corporate client has set a (low) budget, the high quality of work that a very experienced professional photographer can produce doesn't matter anymore. Eventually, the client would decide on a photographer who can accept the low rates.

    Don't expect all big brands to set a high budget; some may be using their brand name to bargain for a low photography rates. Therefore, don't assume that all photographers who shoot for big brands to be earning a lot.
  4. Social media - time-consuming and over-saturated
    Social media is a double-edged sword. It helps photographers to reach out to people from all over the world but at the same time, it requires more time for the photographers to manage their accounts and thus less time for the actual photography work. Updating social media accounts properly can be very draining.

    Social media platforms want to make profits. Therefore, they have been making sharing of work more difficult. A fan or follower of a page may not get to see the new posts in his newsfeed and thus social media platforms are trying to push owners to purchase advertisements in order to reach out to more people.

    While it makes reaching out to potential clients easier, social media also invites more time-wasters and creeps. Most people tend to approach many photographers at the same time. There are also many creeps who would contact me because they mistake me as a female model after seeing me posting photographs of (different) girls.
  5. Most clients just need a photographer
    Most clients cannot differentiate between good and excellent photographs. With tight budgets, they just want photographs to be taken, as long as the photographs aren't ugly looking. Having good skill and putting in extra effort in photography don't help much in this case.

    From my experience, I can see that some clients seriously don't need very high quality photographs. There was once when I worked with a very established education institute in Singapore. Their main goal was to put together all the photographs into a photo montage (video). Given that the video wasn't in very high resolution, the high quality of photographs wasn't very necessary. Therefore, I thought it wasn't necessary to engage my photography services. Nevertheless, the person-in-charge of the project wasn't someone who could appreciate good photography as well.

    Since most people would only upload photographs to social media like Facebook and Instagram, which would automatically reduce the resolution of the uploaded photographs, much of the details would be lost. Furthermore, nowadays, more people are using their mobile phones to view photographs and in the small screens, flaws of the photographs can hardly be seen. Therefore, most people probably don't need too good quality photographs.
  6. Lack of respect for professional photographers
    While almost everyone is a photographer nowadays, people are showing less respect to professional photographers. There are many misconceptions of professional photography.

    Some people think editing photographs is as easy as selecting a few options on their phone applications. Therefore, they think they can do the job well.

    There are some clients who would demand for raw files. They actually indirectly indicates that they can do better post-production work than the professional photographers.

    The great improvement in phone cameras (in both hardware and software) create the illusion to some people that professional photography is redundant. Given very good lighting, camera phones can do very good job. However, the sensor size, by far, is impossible to match an entry level DSLR's APS-C one - with bigger sensor, bigger glasses (lenses) are needed and thus inpractical to be built into a phone. Due to the fact that most people nowadays view photographs on small screen sizes, they don't see the real quality of the photographs.
  7. Photographers spoils market
    Both photographers and "photographers" have been undercutting the market in order to grab more businesses.

    Many experienced photographers are charging low rates in order to secure more jobs. In order to survive, they will have to reduce their effort though.

    For example, when I was quite new to taking up event photography jobs, a friend got me to shoot as a second photographer for a community event that covered a large area. The pay was pathetic but I decided to help out for the sake of gaining experience and also to help him. After the shoot, my friend highlighted that I didn't need to edit the photographs and then instructed me to not generate "too big" JPG files. It was an eye-opening experience for me to find out how professional photographers could afford to charge low rates and how some clients wouldn't care about the quality of photographs. This is the real world.

    There was once when I had personal thing on and thus I referred a businessman friend to my photographer friend who had at least eight years more professional experience than me. After that, I found out from my businessman friend that the photographer friend charged $30/hr lower than me (at that point of time). My businessman friend approached me in the subsequent years and after comparing the photographs, he saw that I produced higher quality work. I supposed I got the job because of the friendship, or otherwise, my businessman friend would have gone for the lower quality work because of the much lower price.

    There are many "photographers" in Singapore. Many are hobbyists who have been paying freelance models for shoot. Given the opportunity, they don't mind being paid peanut in order to get to shoot, which is a rise in "status". In other words, a "photographer" who usually has to pay models to shoot, not only has the chance to shoot for free now, but also be paid for shooting - he doesn't mind earning just a cent, which is an income finally. One of the most ridiculous stories I have heard is that a "photographer" has offered $30/hr for a wedding shoot.

    Charging clients at ridiculously low rates is highly damaging to the photography industry. There are many naive and big-headed people who think lowly of the cost and effort of professional photography. Therefore, I won't be surprised that after getting to know about the freaky $30/hr wedding shoot quotation, they would assume professional photographer would simply charge double that rate.

    I have heard stories about bridal shops that come out with wedding packages to attract clients and they pay really pathetic rates to amateur photographers. At least, clients don't know the exact amount the photographers make from such wedding packages, which doesn't hurt the photography industry as much as how solo "photographers" do by quoting the low amount directly to clients. Nevertheless, those bridal shops have also helped in lowering the values of photographers.

    There are also photographers who come over from neighbouring countries. Due to the money conversion rate, any cent they earn in Singapore (strong currency) is a few times of their own countries'. Therefore, they can afford to charge lower rates in Singapore in order to attract clients, since they will still be earning a lot than back in their own countries.

    For photographers who have been charging extreme low rates, they probably will realise that it's unsustainable in the long run, unless they are only taking up photography jobs as a hobby and the income from their main jobs can support them. The rest would have to give up. However, there will always be new pools of photographers who would continue to damage the photography industry.

    I know of a full-time photographer who used to work for a photo studio for many years, being badly utilized by the company. I suppose the company tries to stay competitive and thus offers lowly priced packages and the employees are being dumped with excessive work. Therefore, this photographer has probably been exposed to low rates that he assumes are the market standards, and also, he's used to the quality of work that can be produced with minimum effort. He seems to be doing very well after he starts his own photography business.

Conclusion

The problems discussed above are inevitable. It's the trend of society and we can't blame any individual. There will always be "cheapo clients" and desperate photographers who are willing to accept ridiculous rates.

Take for example, the problem of photographers undercutting the market. If the photographer can only produce a certain (low) quality of work, he can only charge a very low rate in order to attract clients who can't tell or can't be bothered with quality, and also have very low budget. If this new photographer were to quote professional rates, he probably won't get any job, unless he's a great speaker and the client is naïve enough.

I'm hoping for a miracle to happen so that the standard of the art can improve. For now, I'm also struggling to keep my passion going since photography is expensive.



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