Is Professional Photography Dead?

professional photography

Is Professional Photography Dead? with Sal Cincotta

Right now, it’s very easy to watch the news, the doom and gloom, and believe the walls are caving in around us. Trust me when I tell you, during this isolation, I went through a roller coaster of emotions. Fear, depression, anxiety. We are all experiencing something that is truly impacting our lives and everyone around us.

As a community, we have always been able to rally around disaster. Normally, when disaster strikes, it’s in a part of the world or country where those that can help do. Think earthquake in California or flooding in New Orleans or tornado in Tennessee. However, this is different. This is impacting every single one of us. How do you offer support when you need support yourself? How do you worry about your fellow photographer when you need someone worrying about you? This is what’s happening right now and it’s happening to all of us.

So, where does that leave us as an industry? I have been reading some really shitty articles and watching some videos just predicting the end of times for our industry. First of all, it’s pretty shameful. Feels very very clickbaity, which to me is always disingenuous.

Here is the reality: as I write this almost 30 million Americans are unemployed. Will they get their jobs back? Time will tell, but I’m sure we can agree that 30 million people will not go back to work immediately. Some businesses will never recover. There will be long-term unemployment. That news alone is concerning to any business owner. If your customers are unemployed, how will they afford your products or services? Fair question.

So, that leads us right back to the headline. Is professional photography dead?

Here are several reasons I don’t think it is dead.

There will always be a higher level

It doesn’t matter what your craft is. There are always hacks and do-it-yourselfers out there. Plumbers, electricians, cooks, and yes, amateur or aspiring photographers. This should shock no one. Don’t you cook your own dinners at home? So, should people stop becoming chefs? Have you not done your own home-improvement task? Should carpenters, painters, etc. just quit?

I know how ridiculous the above sounds and I think that’s what we need sometimes. In a word, perspective. Without perspective, it’s very easy for us to lose sight of reality. And the reality is, people will continue to need and search for professional photographers who master and continue to hone their craft.

Are you that person? Are you a master of your craft? Or are you just a hack? By the way, it’s okay to be a hack. Photography is an amazing hobby. But now more than ever, you must find a way to stand out from the crowded field if you are going to survive. Now is the time to invest in upping your skills— lighting, posing, editing, etc.

Events are still happening

People are still getting married. Families still want to document their lives and the special moments in them. Corporate events, headshots, family shoots, weddings, engagements, boudoir, etc. Use common sense. You think all of a sudden people no longer care about these moments or documenting them? Of course they do.

While yes, there is going to be a hiccup in our economy, it will recover. We saw this back in 2007 and we recovered from that. Strong business owners know there is still a market out there for their goods and services.

Service will always win

We live in a service economy. That isn’t going to change overnight. Yes, there will always be the “friend-with-a-camera” scenario, but is that really what you think the majority of clients want?

Is that what you want? You need a plumber for your new installation of a dishwasher and you call your friend who has a monkey wrench to install it? Really? How do you see that working out? Probably as disastrous as the never-ending horror stories of brides who hate their wedding pictures because that friend really had no idea what they were doing. This doesn’t change because all of a sudden we were in isolation for a month or two.

People spending money on weddings or any other type of event want great service and they will continue to pay for it. If you lose sight of that you will end up in a very dark place with your business. So, what should you do? Up your service game! Isn’t that the obvious answer?

Not everyone lost their jobs

We have to shake off the doom and gloom mentality. People are still working. People are still making money and lots of it. So, instead of convincing yourself no one has money, change your mindset and realize the reality of it all. People do, and will continue to, have money for the things that are important to them. This is human behavior 101. Sure, during the middle of the pandemic, toilet paper was the most important thing to people for some still unknown reason.

However, as we are coming out of this and businesses and people are coming back online, they have pent up demand for discretionary items. Make sure you are in their face with your services. Squeaky wheel gets the grease they say, well you better make sure you are the squeaky wheel and you better be LOUD and in their face with marketing. If not, no one will know you even exist, which was probably a problem for you before the pandemic hit.

The similarities to the 2008 crisis are eerie

They say history repeats itself. Well, here we are. Yes, I get it, one was a man-made disaster, the other was a natural phenomenon. Regardless, the point remains. There are similarities here that cannot be ignored. The economy will recover. People will begin spending again. Businesses, smart businesses, will thrive again. We built our first business, Salvatore Cincotta Photography, during the middle of the 2008 financial crisis. Within 2–3 years, that business crossed $1 million in sales. Photographers around the world could not wrap their heads around how we were able to do it.

We did it by offering a superior service to our clients. Giving them a top-notch experience. And creating a very powerful and lusted after brand. In a nutshell, we did it, not by cowering in fear, not by waiting and hoping for customers to come. We did it by grabbing the market by the balls and controlling our own destiny. The same will hold true this time around. Again, history has a funny way of repeating itself.

Final thoughts

As you can see, I am very optimistic about the future of my business. Is it going to be hard work? Of course it is. Nothing worth having is ever easy. We all know the saying, “if it were easy, everyone would do it.” Well, that statement has never been more true.

Photographers will close up shop. They will lower their prices to their detriment in the pursuit of a quick buck. They will operate from a position of fear vs. a position of confidence. This will all lead you down a rabbit hole of financial distress. Weird. The exact same thing that happened in 2008.

Instead, we will use this history and knowledge to lean into this market. What do I mean by “lean in”? Our plan is to out market our competitors. I want to ensure customers know we exist. I want to target people who are spending money. Who still need a photographer for their 2020 wedding. I want to target high-school seniors who had a pretty shitty senior year and offer them the best photography experience possible. I want to target families. I want to target businesses who need updated headshots and team shots to use in their marketing that they are going to implement because they, too, see the opportunity ahead of them.

I will do all this, all without lowering my prices. I will invest in my marketing. I will invest in my craft and equipment. I promise you, this will pass and my goal is to ensure we are here and ready for customers vs. a stranded ship without engines sitting in the middle of the ocean waiting for something else to go wrong.

We have to move forward. Sitting still is the kiss of death for any business, especially photographers.

Let’s do this!

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the June 2020 magazine.

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