Response to: The Photography Business and the American Dream

Response to the article by Laurence Kim here.

Laurence Kim is an established wedding and portrait photographer with a thriving blog. He recently posted about, what we’d like to call, the sad realities of being a photographer. He has an MBA and over 20 years of business experience inside and outside of the photography business. We were inspired to write this post, being a photography association that helps empower photographers to strive on.


Quick Summary:
Laurence defined what the American Dream was for him: “living a middle-class or better lifestyle while building enough wealth to send your kids to college and retire at a reasonable age (i.e. before you’re too old and infirm to enjoy it)”. He then went to discuss key people in the industry and how easy / hard (as it takes time) they can achieve the American Dream: Investors, Professionals, Corporate Employees, and Public Employees. Then he presented what it is like being a photographer: zero barriers to entry, zero leverage/scalability, zero equity building, zero benefits! So, why still be a photographer? He says, “Just because photography is a bad business doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile pursuing.” Quickly he runs through some options for positive action you can do, some of which we’d love to share and comment about to you.

Undoubtedly, photography is not an easy career. John Harrington, author of “Best Business Practices for Photographers” said, “Dealing with the business end of photography isn’t always comfortable.” And that’s true. As a photographer, you’re almost always expected to know how to do everything aside from photography – marketing, accounting, writing contracts, designing, managing websites, sales, blogging, social media, and growing even more now, video integration to your business. There are a lot of hats in the process, and because of that it’s hard to focus because there’s not enough time for everything! But, while it’s a challenge, it doesn’t mean that’s it’s impossible. It’s crucial for every photographer to make some key decisions.

Re-evaluate whether or not to be full-time vs. part-time.
There are quite a number of photographers doing work full-time for companies, being an in-house photographer. It does provide constant work and constant income compared to freelance but photography is a full-time job. The time you need to market is so much, more, and according to this article: The Secret Life of Wedding Photographers, photographers only spend 12% of their time taking images. So, the real question is, do you really want to be a photographer? Unless you think you can truly juggle photography and do another business, plus have enough time for all your other priorities, photography is a full-time job with full-time responsibilities. Asking this question can help you take a step back and restrategize.

But, if you do plan to do photography part-time instead of full-time, do think of the photography industry as you work. Don’t be more willing to drop your rates just because it’s not your main money-earner. Do your responsibility as a photographer to educate your clients and to value your talent. Read books, articles, on how to write contracts, what are the good business practices for photographers, and help the industry protect their rights.

Branding for Photographers:
Learn a little from the ad agencies you work for. It’s not just about looking pretty, or just the design. Laurence touched on this topic mentioning how big companies in the market have spend millions establishing their brand and making it known. The brand of photographers is you. How you are to clients are most important. That’s how you can make yourself different. Remember it’s not just about having a logo and putting it everywhere. You have to be consistent with the feel of your image, as well as your service.

On the financial side of things, Laurence shared a lot of wealth-building strategies, cutting down on costs and investing outside from photography. Indeed, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. While your effort in every single photography endeavor must be 100%, you still have to create good strategies with your money.

Invest your profits outside of photography.
We’d like to add to this by saying photographers should have a strategic savings and spending plan. Because photography is not an equity-generating business, you need something to balance you out. This is great advice from Laurence Kim, who knows his business side of things.

The most effective ways to generate business and profits are free or nearly free.

In our previous posts, we’ve talked about visibility is key for photographers to get jobs. The more visible you are, the better. But, what you should remember is that, you should evaluate these visibility strategies. Purchasing advertising has a very low return on investment. What people need is a personal touch. While using new media like blogging, Facebook, Twitter and social media tools are great for talking to your client base and possibly your target audience, nothing beats a personal phone call, and talking to previous and potential clients. This helps tie in your branding, with your personality. That’s your edge.

Another key thing about your branding is to get feedback, just like your portfolio. Talk to other photographers – it’s really important to build your community – hear from them. If you know any art directors, or people in design-related industry, get their feedback and learn.

Gear and Software
Remember, you don’t necessarily need to spend that extra $5,000 to upgrade your equipment you just bought last year. Maximize on your equipment because the chances are, unless you don’t take good care of your equipment, you won’t be really using the extra new features. Save that money. That goes for software as well. What you need to really work on is your workflow – evaluate, time yourself, see where you can save some time.

And something we’d probably like to add is to really build your community – not just your clients, but also other photographers. Gone I believe are the days that photographers aren’t willing to share what they know, or aren’t willing to refer or use other’s services. Right now, especially with the social media networks, more and more photographers are willing to talk and share their issues and concerns, and find that being in a community helps for growth.


CAPIC is one such organization, and that’s why we have this chapters in every province. The Vancouver Chapter aims to be this community where photographers and photographer enthusiasts can learn and gain feedback from each other. There are a lot of established photographers in the industry that are part of this organization that have years of experience, business practices and technical knowledge to share, and so are a lot of upcoming photographers that have new marketing tools to share.

We look forward to be the bridge in this community, and continuously being relevant to this ever changing and ever moving photography industry.


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