13
Jul

Although none of us can predict the future, it is beginning to look as if 2009 is going to be the roughest economic year in recent memory for most industries.  The wedding industry, and more specifically, the wedding photography industry is no different. In fact, some would argue that our industry has been especially hard-hit by these bad economic times.  From the view from my work station, It seems to me that our industry has been hit by two troubles.  The economy has no doubt been a major factor in the slow-down of our industry, but I also believe that we have hit an apex in the flooding of the market with the “start-up” photographer.  These two reasons together I believe, will prove to create a truly challenging market environment in the coming year.

We could sit here and discuss the reasons that caused the economy to tank, while pointing fingers at greedy lenders and irresponsible borrowers in the housing market, but that will not help us figure out how we are going to keep our doors open this year.  What we do need to have a firm grip on, is that our industry, and the services and products we provide to our beloved clients are indeed luxuries and as we all know luxuries are the first thing to go out the stained-glass window when hard times come.

I myself have had numerous brides inquire about my services this year.  However, getting them to sign contracts is like pulling teeth.  Photographers all over the country are experiencing a bottleneck of clients who inquire, but have a hard time letting go of even the retainer fees for fear of what the economy will do next.  We as Americans are fearful of what the future holds economically, and are in a “wait and see” mode with regard to feeling comfortable about spending our expendable cash.  The problem is that a “wait and see” approach is the antithesis of what an economy that depends on the transfer of cash to grease the wheels of commerce, needs.   However, if this were not a big enough crisis for your studio to overcome, I believe we are also seeing another major obstacle to the success of a professional photography studio.  The massive influx of the aspiring photographer into the industry caused by the digital revolution.

We are indeed head-long into the digital revolution where every third person you meet is an aspiring photographer.  I do not have to tell you why we are seeing so many start-up photographers everywhere we look.  The digital revolution has created an environment where the average person can create a portfolio of acceptable images that they can then throw onto a free website template.  Truth be told, the camera took those photos, while the upstart photographer simple pointed the camera in the correct direction. They then show this website full of images that their digital camera took to their friend’s coworker’s daughter, who herself is struggling financially during these hard times.  She tells herself that this is a door that was opened for her to save some money, and she accepts the offer the photographer has made to shoot her wedding for next-to-nothing, or many times nothing at all in order to build up a portfolio of wedding images.   The quality of these images is disappointingly predictable. Neither the aspiring photographer nor the bride truly realize that photography is a mixture of art and science, requiring years of training and experience to do well. 

On average, I get 3-4 emails per month from aspiring photographers who are introducing themselves and offering their services free of charge in order to gain experience.   Many times, the emails I receive from these aspiring photographers are not even addressed to me.  I can only assume that they are copying and pasting the body of these emails into multiple emails and just sending them off in hopes that an established photographer will take them under their wings and show them the ropes.  However fewer and fewer established photographers are willing to show their potential competition any sort of attention these days.  They are worried more and more about their own business and its profitability in ’09, and less and less about being nice to people who are not paying them for their services.

We are beginning to see price reductions at studios all over the country.  What strikes me as odd however, is that we are also hearing loud cries from photographers that these reductions in prices are “terrible for the industry” and that we’re “betraying our colleagues”, and “Unity” and “stand your ground” and so one and so forth.   I can’t for the life of me understand why we as photographers think that our luxury based industry is immune to price reductions in tough economic times.  Do we not notice the price tags for everything we see being slashed?   Why would our services be any different?  If you consider the possibility that this is the bottom of an economic cycle, and that cost bubbles correct themselves during these cycles, you can see how it’s a realistic scenario to find yourself being the one without a chair when the music stops, if you have not adjusted your pricing to an affordable amount.    You could be setting yourself up to be known as the highest priced photographer in town.  I don’t mean to be snide, but I hope you have the quality portfolio and the affluent client base to support that reputation.  Are your clients from last year still able to afford you this year?  If not, a slice of humble might actually taste good if it brings you some work.

               

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