Changing Styles

January 8, 2019


I recently took part in an online discussion among several photographers, one of whom is so upset over the fact that his business is declining, that he actually advocates manufacturers raise the price of the cheapest DSLR to a minimum of $20,000.00.  And he was serious.

Yeah, he wants the cheapest DSLR to come in at around twenty grand.  Why?  He feels that the proliferation of relatively inexpensive, good to high quality cameras and lenses has caused everyone on the planet to think they are a photographer, and those people are stealing his business, which has been in a steady decline of late.  For what it's worth, he's a portrait photographer.  


According to this guy, none of these "competitors" know what they are doing, and their work is "crap."  He maintains that they are taking business away from him because they charge next to nothing.  


He's right -- the competition is taking his business.  But he's also dead wrong.  On so many levels.

For starters, his contention that his competitor's work is "crap" is . . . well, crap.

Without doubt, their work is different from his.  His work is very traditional.  His lighting, posing, location/background choices are all very traditional.  All of it.  Think about what portraits looked like twenty years ago, and that's what this particular photographer shoots, even now.  They're beautiful, but very dated.  

So if his work is so absolutely gorgeous, why is his business hurting?  Part of it is that his competitors do charge less.  In some cases, a lot less (see my blog post, "Value What You Do" for more on this topic).

But in this photographer's particular case, a big part of the problem is that the people he wants to appeal to (and has, quite successfully, for a number of years) want something different than the traditional portrait.  They want something that reflects their lifestyle and their views on the world.  They like "lens flair," something that when I was learning photography was a huge no-no.  They like what to my eye is some darn strange cropping and composition.  But that's MY view.  What this traditional portrait shooter can't understand is that it's up to him to change his style and his own preferences to match those of his potential clients.  It is not up to his clients to continue to like his style of work when, as the saying goes, the times are a changing.  

I've experienced this myself.  There is a huge move in portraiture and editorial photography to give portraits a color tint.  I don't like it.  I prefer natural color, especially in women.  And I really don't know what to think about fashion photography, where I have seen it used to an extreme.  I would think the fashion designers would be in up in arms over some photographer changing the colors of their clothes without the designer's permission or input.  

But that's my opinion.  Were a client to call me and tell me that is what they expected to see, I would do everything possible to give them what they want.  Whether I like it or not is totally immaterial.  The only thing that matters is pleasing the client, and when you are not willing to make the necessary changes in your shooting and/or editing style, you're not pleasing your client.  

When it comes to pricing, I get it -- there are just some instances when we can't charge what we think is a price that is fair to us.  The market won't bear it.  I have a friend who does toddler / baby / family portraits in a very small town.  As good as her work is, she just can't charge what someone in a larger market can.  Likewise, I cannot charge a small local company what I would charge a large national company for commercial photos.  Compromise is necessary. 


My point here is pretty simple -- as photographers, we have two choices -- we can change our styles and give our clients what they want, or we can dry up and go out of business.  This photographer's contention that DSLRs should cost $20,000.00 is wrong on so many levels.  It doesn't take into account the person who bought a camera to take photos of their children, or the person who wants better-than-cell-phone photos of their vacation.  And speaking of cell phones, I guess he hasn't noticed that the cameras in phones are getting better and better all the time.  Some now shoot RAW.  Pretty soon he'll be demanding that phone prices be raised to $20,000.00 . . . 

Quit complaining.  Instead of insisting the world conform to you and your style, try giving your clients -- or potential clients -- the images they want instead of the images you think they should have.

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