Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tip of the Day: Add Value

My most recent angle of adding value for my clients. Fashion (or in this case lack thereof) videos.

It simply isn't good enough to be a photographer. As photographers around the world have demonstrated, taking pictures is the easy part. Every week I get a forwarded email from my mom that contains a set of amazing images ranging from landscapes to animals to portraits. And the more I see, the less impressed I become.

And that is the fundamental problem with images (and music too).

Just as music has become commoditized, so too has photography become commoditized. These days you can go to a website like Getty Images and buy amazing images for pennies. Actually it costs the buyer more than pennies, but the photographer usually gets paid pennies on the dollar. I know because I've seen these contracts.

So when photographers lament that they can't get paid shooting what they love, the question they should be asking themselves should be, "Why should clients pay you to shoot [fill in the blank with genre] over another photographer?"

And if the answer includes words like "photographic skill" or "artistic eye" or "better quality images" then you're missing the point. Because clients often can't tell the difference between A and B (unless educated). Usually they're making decisions based upon their very limited knowledge of photography and often the deciding factor is something unrelated to photography like price, clout, recommendation, access to talent, access to location etc. Things that I call "value add".

But why isn't it good enough to just be good at your craft? Simple economics can answer this question. Ever try and get a modeling agency to pay you to shoot a test? If not, have a go and let me know how that works. Chances are they'll politely decline. And their politeness is purely out of habit because agents are nice people that know not to burn their bridges. What they're really thinking is, "I wish I'd never answered this call".

Basic economics tells us that as supply increases, demand decreases. Sadly for most photographers, the demand for their images has not increased. Not only has demand not increased, that demand has probably decreased due to the recession (e.g. advertising). And to make matters worse, there is now an increase of pictures stemming from the increase of photographers caused by the advent of digital photography.

Problem is, many photographers still remember stories where so-and-so was made a million bucks a year shooting editorials for magazines etc. And it wasn't that long ago. Probably less than 20 years ago. Just before the Internet slowly put the squeeze on publishing (and before every rich kid with a 5D Mark II called himself a professional photographer). Now, those same magazines are likely extinct and those photographers are scratching their heads trying to figure out how/why that well dried up so quickly. It probably didn't help that they were spending money like they were drinking water. And worse that they refused to adopt digital photography.

Not to sound bemoan the obvious but the world has changed. These days all I have to do is type in the latest Katy Perry song into YouTube and I'm bombarded by AMAZING independent artists that cover the same song on different instruments. Once again confirming that it was a great idea for me not to pursue my music career.

But deep down I still believe I could have been the next Katy Perry.

And yet these same talented musical artists are struggling the same way some of the best photographers are struggling. And while their passion is in their music (or photography) what they haven't discovered is that the clients need more than just the music (or photography). Labels want to see if you're marketable, moldable, have appeal, etc. Just look at Brittany Spears for an example of an artist that achieved great success without having fundamental musical talent.

These days it's less and less about about the music or photography. Because I have thousands of friends on my Facebook account that can take amazing pictures. But few of them make any money doing so.

The answer to the value add question isn't an easy one to answer. Which is exactly why so many professional photographers struggle to pay the bills. If it were easy, then everyone would figure out the answer and then we'd be in the exact same situation we're in now because everyone would be doing the same thing. Quite the contrary, the solution is unique to each individual. I'm sure that's not what you wanted to hear, but if you're reading this, chances are you know that I don't do canned answers on this blog.

The point is that the old paradigm of photography is dead. You wouldn't believe how many private workshops I've taught that start out with the photographer saying, "I want to be paid by magazines, top modeling agencies, and fashion designers." I'm convinced half of the fashion photographers out there simply don't understand this industry at all. Otherwise they wouldn't be looking where the money isn't. Your goal should be identifying where the money is. Then ask yourself whether or not you can provide any additional value to obtain a piece of that pie.

While most photographers dread the business development process, I personally love it. And I thoroughly enjoy assisting photographers in realizing their own formula for success during our private workshops. The past year I've consulted photographers from around the world to help them create business plans for their particular markets. And because every market is different, each photographer must tailor his/her business plan accordingly. So via our discussions and Q/A, I often uncover hidden skill sets, talents, and connections that these photographers can potentially leverage to generate new revenue streams for these markets. In conjunction with shoring up fundamental requisites of photography (shooting and retouching), each photographer finishes his/her private workshop with a new angle of attack that should put them on their local map with proper execution.

But whether or not you take a LUCIMA private workshop, you should consider your particular angle of attack. What specific value do bring to the table? The more specific and unique the better. Every formula for success must be different. Otherwise you're just competing with everyone else for the same tiny piece of the pie.

1 comment:

  1. My Mom always said that if you want to build a business, you have to find a niche and an angle to sell your product. If you don't have those things, you won't be successful. She used a Vietnamese word that doesn't translate very well, but the closest word to it is, "Gimmick." You've got to have some kind of gimmick to attract customers, or else what in tarnation are you doing getting into business?