Right Place at the Right Time
I came onto the photography scene some time in the early 2000s. I had a love of photography and worked with film cameras, but was not convinced that digital cameras were comparable until an online friend challenged my thinking. I bought my first digital camera and being able to control everything including the post processing was right up my alley. I was hooked. Within no time, I perfected my techniques and decided to open up a studio. I knew business. I had two successful businesses prior to photography, and I was ready to go full force. It was perfect timing. There was a huge need for custom newborn photography on the East Coast. I hit the market and ran. It was amazing.
During this time, online forums became popular. I was part of one called ILP. Lots of us women shared our photography business journeys and our personal lives together. Some of us became good friends….some of us had love/hate relationships…. we bickered… we hugged…..but we were a community and were in a thriving amazing industry.
After the economy problems of 2008, photographers started feeling the after effects. I personally didn’t feel it until around 2011 in my area. It was like a delayed reaction. From $400,000 in sales revenue, I dropped significantly to half that by 2012. I closed my studio in 2013, acquired an accounting position in 2014 (to rebuild my resume to insure my future) but continued photography part time…. I always kept my foot in the door because I enjoyed it, and there was still money to be made. Read my full detailed photography journey here.
In 2016, I left corporate world and decided to make one last go of being a full time photographer as I finished up my business-related degree. When I “half left” photography in 2014, I was burnt out. I was angry because I had planned to retire as a photographer. I had no idea that the industry would tank the way it did. I had a bad attitude. I vowed when I came back into it in 2016, I was going to immerse myself in everything I could and give 100%. That’s just what I did. I needed to know what was still out there. I needed to analyze everything to evaluate if I wanted to remain or could remain. I got involved again in the online social side of the industry as well. I know so many like to say “who cares what others do?“ but that’s not how business owners outside of photography are. Business owners make sure they are well aware of the market, their competitors, and what others are doing in the industry to succeed so they can evaluate the big picture. Putting blinders on and ignoring everything going on around you completely will be a detriment to your business – maybe not now, but eventually it will. Ever look at yourself in the mirror and go – what happened? I need too update my look!!!! That’s because you weren’t paying attention to what was around you. What you shouldn’t do is OBSESS on what others are doing and don’t get emotionally involved. Take in what’s going on, and make your own decisions based on the data you have taken in and compiled and subsequently analyzed to come up with a conclusion. It’s about the big picture.
Analysis of the Big Picture
After nearly two years of re-immersing myself into the industry I have found some facts to be true:
- Photography is no longer a luxury. It is a commodity. Supply outweighs demand by far. You can find good and even great photographers on every price level. Can’t afford the “best”? Well, you can get “good enough” and even “rather fantastic” for cheap. The problem is, many photographers are not making a livable wage.
- Marketing has changed completely. If you want to be a success and book clients, you need to market. All we did years ago was simply put up a website, made sure we had good keywords for the search engines, and *boom* too many clients to handle. Now, marketing requires a good 2-3 hours per day. Whether you are getting clients locally from networking in person or whether you are social media-ing the heck out of your business, marketing every single day is key. It’s a hustle. Are you built for the hustle? Keep in mind, hustling that many hours per week requires you to raise your prices of your photography so you can cover a salary for those hours. We are doing more work for less money these days.
- Many (not all of course) photographers are lying about their figures in order to sell workshops and wares because they are not getting enough clients. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example – How many amazing photographers do you know that are now selling MLM products? They would not be selling MLM products if they had enough photography clients…. especially if their work is amazing and they have the passion for photography. I’m not downing those selling MLM, I’m simply saying – let’s look at reality.
- Photographers are embarrassed about their “failures” and won’t open up and be honest about their business status. Why? It has turned to a middle school competition of who is the most popular. Why? We are not failures. The industry has failed us. We did not expect that things would change this drastically. We are all experiencing some of the same things. Why can’t we all just be like “hey, yeah, this sucks….” and group hug, and reassure each other that we will get through it, and instead of the passive aggressive comments like “If you want to be a success, you need to work hard.” No. It’s not that simple. There is a ceiling that we hit every time no matter how hard we work and no matter how much we evolve the business. This ceiling did not exist before. Can’t we just acknowledge reality?
- Photographers with 10+ years of experience – many are hurting financially and are lashing out at others. While some are content and are happy with what they are still doing, others have felt last year was good but this year, they are in a panic and instead of talking openly about it, they are bottling it up and what comes out of them is anger and hatred and frankly, extremely unhealthy.
I just experienced this recently. I had a photographer that I have known professionally for 15 years (mostly online conversations and spoke a hand full of times over the phone) flip out and lash out in the most aggressive way I have ever seen. I tried to reconnect with her when I was analyzing the industry again because I respected her as a business person and thought if anyone is still successful that I knew from “back in the day”, it would be her. I didn’t always agree with her tactics, some of which she shared privately with me, but she tends to have a good business brain and that’s a very respectable thing these days. When conversing, I may have mixed up a few things as to why we lost touch on social media, but I was interested in reconnecting, not so much now but when I had initially friend requested. I even showed my heart on my sleeve as a gesture of humility by saying something like, “How are you doing with photography now? It’s such a weird time. I’ve realized that either you have to hustle and swim or sink, and I’m not built for the hustle.” There. I flat out admitted that I’m not cut out for this hustle anymore.
What happened next, I can only tell you, I have never seen a 40+ year old behave this way. The vile hatred that spewed. I eventually stopped reading the message after message that was being fired at me…. another… another… another…. bits and pieces that I can remember were meant to be degrading toward me.,,, Telling me I am no longer in the industry and I should leave (well duh, I just finished my degree and am interviewing now, but I won’t leave completely if there is still money to be made on the side and photography that I enjoy)…. that I’m the biggest industry bully (You keep using that word… I do not think it means what you think it means)… telling me I think more like a chick than a guy (well, being that I’m female, I would assume so.. was that supposed to be derogatory? I mean, lady balls really aren’t a thing…..). The last photographer I experienced doing this was well known for this behavior but she simply made fun of my daughter (yup, adults make fun of children publicly and then call others bullies) and called me a herpes (still makes me laugh) and that was that….. This one was different – more intelligent with her manipulations of words, more aggressive, more evil…..
I feel bad for her. That’s a lot of anger and bitterness to carry. I can only assume it is from the panic due to lack of business because I can’t imagine that anything else could cause that type of behavior. My daughter always says, “The stairs to enlightenment are right here. You can walk up them if you want or you can simply stay down there. It’s your choice.” I’ve always learned a lot from my daughter…. she’s wise beyond her years.
I decided not to engage the photographer anymore. I couldn’t help things so may as well let it go. I went outside with my horses…. to regain my peace and breathe.
When I came back in, I saw yet another message. It was a threat. She told me I was to stop talking about her in the photography groups or this will not end well. She claimed to have private messages between the two of us since 2013 (hmm… I have them since 2005 from forums) and that she would start posting them publicly.
I responded if you do that, I’m going to have to share these threats. I don’t want to share them and have no intention of sharing them or hurting you in any way. I have not used your name in any photography group. You can do whatever. I cannot stop you, but let’s think rationally about this. Just let this go.
She demanded an apology. I’m not sure what she thinks I need to apologize for. I really did not and do not understand this. I tried to reconnect. Maybe she thought it was weird I tried to reconnect but I didn’t think it was that weird but I admit, I’m not always the best with words. We had started into this industry at the same time. We both experienced mega success in the industry. There should be some sort of camaraderie there deep down for experiencing much of the same things… but apparently I was wrong for feeling this, and that’s okay. We don’t need to be friends. I’m good with that…. but why are you acting like this? You have spoke for photography organizations and kept a very public profile doing so. Why would you subject yourself to the possibility of me sharing your behavior publicly? This is blackmail of sorts? Why are you stooping like this? Aren’t you a success still? Where do you find the time for this?
My silence apparently upset her. She sent me a message that said, ‘I decided to delete that’ so I assume that she thinks I’m stalking her social media (frankly, I haven’t looked at her social media since I friend requested – yeah, I kinda have a life…. lots of farm animals to tend to, a part-time business to run, interviews to prepare for, dinner to cook, house to clean) and I assume that she must have shared a screenshot of our private messages. Again, I wasn’t going to engage.
I went out to cut the grass and came back in when the storms started. She sent a JPG. I haven’t opened it. I assume it could be a screenshot. Maybe it’s a screenshot of something she feels would be incriminating to me? Maybe it’s a screenshot of someone professing their hatred toward me? I don’t know. I don’t care. The thing is, no one really cares. Start sharing weird stuff like that? What purpose does it serve? No one cares. The industry is completely different. She and I are both has-beens in the big picture whether she thinks so or not. If she would walk up the stairs of enlightenment, she will see clearly.
Why Am I Sharing This?
I’m sharing this because it is important that we understand what this industry has done to good people. There are people out there who have lived their lives supporting themselves on photography income. Some of us live in a high cost of living area and it hurts us more than others when the value of photography has gone down. This story is the perfect example to show the damage – not just to the industry but also to the people in it. I won’t share who this photographer is. It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s the same story many have been through – the past year, I have been watching photographers drop like flies and giving excuse after excuse because they don’t want to admit how bad it is. Why can’t we just look around and say “it is what it is” and not be so mean to each other.
And while this may be disjointed to say right now please, anyone in the photography industry, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Insure your future and make what you can out of the present…. but ultimately, just find your path to happiness and peace. I needed the last year and a half to really see clearly what the state of the industry was and this latest interaction solidified my thoughts on it.
And…. we all have our demons. I know depression well. I know anxiety well. If you find yourself bottled up and ready to lash out, seek help. For real. It’s not a healthy way to live. Once in a while, yeah, we all deserve to let loose with frustration, but if you find yourself going a bit overboard or feeling some big time hate, walk away…. let it go…. try to relax, and find your happiness. Life is too short.
Jodie Otte is a Maryland professional photographer and designer.