Dan Heller's Photography Business Blog Industry analysis from www.danheller.com

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Money's Role (or lack thereof) in the Photography Business

All too often do I see the discussion of money's role in photography in photo discussion groups, mailing lists, and open forums in industry trade groups. The predominating feeling is that rich people enter into the business, and displace other, hard-working photographers who are trying to make a living. An indirect way that money affects the photo business is through a technique called, "low-balling," where a photographer bids for assignments or quotes license fees that undermine the going rates, or street prices (or even the cost to produce the photo). The rationale is: the photographer doesn't need the money (and is just eager to get published), or the photographer thinks this will get him ahead of others, which he'll succeed in doing, but at the expense of the entire industry.

The assumption on both parts is wrong, as I discuss in this chapter of my book: http://www.danheller.com/biz-audience-pro.html

What that chapter doesn't discuss, and why I'm posting it here, are these finer details, which were prompted by a letter I got from someone who still wasn't convinced. His position was that, while money's impact may not be as strong later in the career as my chapter discusses, it's the getting started process that he feels is where money's role is more prominent. Here, he states that one has to have invested a significant amount of money, and dedicate a disproportionate amount of time to the project before any appreciable returns can be realized. This, he says, is what keeps typical working families from getting into the business.

While that's true, my response is as follows: (excerpts from my email)
The amount of resources (tangible and intangible) for getting into ANY business whatsoever requires a certain minimum than is (or should be) assumed by anyone attempting it. Therefore, when talking photography, it is reasonable to assume that this threshold must be met first, and that threshold is not uniquely prohibitive by most of the population. Indeed:

The amount of MONEY required to enter (and to garner some degree of income or "success") into the photography business is probably the least of all professions I can think of. Unlike most jobs, it doesn't really require specialized education or training, and with the cost of equipment today, one can produce extremely good images without spending nearly as much as one used to (or anywhere near the amount of equipment or time to develop an expertise as most any other professional career. One CAN spend more, but that in itself does not affect success. Now, it's true that money can "enhance" success, but that success must have already been achieved through other means first, or that money will have been wasted...

The means to succeed in photography is about 90% "business sense", which is really the entire focus of my "bigger" book. (The smaller book is more about easy, tangible tasks one can do in their spare time.) You're right that time is one of the most critical factors, but it's how you spend that time that really separates the successful from the unsuccessful. (That, and making good, sound business decisions, which will always trump money's role.)

With the "time" issue above, comes the lifestyle choices on has to make. This gets even further from the discussion on money, so I won't dwell further, but it does affect the decisions on how one spends their time. Again, this has a lot more to do with whether one succeeds at photography than people think. Most people who try often give up because they can't stand the demands on their personal life.

So, to apply all this to your statement:

> and it's difficult when working a
> full-time job, with other financial and time constraints, or with a family.

That's true of any profession, so it doesn't make photography stand out any differently. To be successful in anything, you have to be resourceful and have brains, and yes, your life has to accommodate the demands of the profession you choose. Your statement above can apply to anyone that wants to go to college (again, where money isn't an issue, such as qualifying for financial aid)... Your statement is "true," but no more applicable to photography than anything else, so it's eliminated as a lowest common denominator.

I got into travel photography doing the same things that millions of people do every day--some of whom also try to get into the photo business and fail. I had no access to equipment, people, time or money that is any different than anyone else who considers taking their hobby to a serious level in this segment of the industry. What's more, I make it abundantly clear--and cite many examples throughout my book--on how things are done that have nothing to do with money whatsoever, and which lead to success.


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