Each keystroke, as I typed this article, became heavier and heavier. My mind and soul disagreed with the words and theme that came to life on my screen. The text wasn’t a reflection of my beliefs, rather the beliefs of the many photographers who’ve chanted the same mantra for a long time now – ‘you can’t make money from photography nowadays’.
I simply don’t believe that…I can’t believe that. Month-on-month my income from photography rises, as I run, what I consider to be, a successful photography business. I’m not an arrogant man, certainly not the type to brag, and always uncomfortable when talking about cash. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever written about photography as my business. But after hearing so many people repeat to me this notion that professional photography is a dying business, I find myself shaking my head. They may be right, but it is working well for me.
I deleted the original article I wrote. Initially I had written about the obvious devaluing of photography. In this era, every one of us has probably had images stolen, or companies wishing to use our imagery for commercial use but without financial remuneration to us. And now, with crazy-pixel smartphones everywhere, everyone and their dog is a photographer. However, the opportunist in me refused to accept the negative nature of the article I’d written – it just wasn’t me.
I wrote a post on facebook asking for photographers to relate their stories of people or organisations trying to take advantage of their photography. The response was huge and I was extremely grateful for that. Some of the experiences were truly ridiculous. Check out the post here: Photography Challenges.
For example, not only did Rohan Anderson have his image used without permission by a band, he was then publicly insulted by them when he asked them to remove it (read the story here). In the end, they paid the invoice Rohan quite rightly sent them.
Another example can be seen on shapelessmass.com, where the photographer owned a website where he published his images. He then closed his website. Shortly after he received an email from another website owner who had been using the photographer’s images freely on his website. This person was angry that the photographer had shut down the photography website. In fact, he was so angry at not being able to use this photographer’s photos for free anymore that he threatened to sue the photographer!
We also have the shameful decision by fotolia to create the Dollar Club, in which high-res images are sold at a uniform price of $1. This prompted the creation of the site boycottfotolia.org, which has been gathering impressive momentum.
Our challenges aren’t limited to individuals and organisations, we also have to defend our property from fellow ‘photographers’ who steal our imagery, and websites who refuse to take action against said ‘photographers’.
Take the recent case of Chip Phillips. On the 27th of April he posted on facebook saying someone on google+ had stolen his photo and cropped out his watermark. Surely enough, this turned out to be true. You can see the stolen image here, by Luis Gomez. Hundreds have commented on the image telling him to remove the photo. Dozens have reported him to google+. I’m writing this on the 2nd of May, 5 days later, and still google+ has done nothing.
With examples upon examples of this behaviour, it’s easy to see why photographers are quickly losing heart.
However, these challenges do not necessarily stop us from making a living from photography.
Let me change the tune slightly. John Derbyshire connected with me about a year ago on facebook – new to photography, very keen to learn, incredibly likeable guy who wanted to make something of photography. We chatted not that long ago. Last week it was posted on John’s facebook page that he had very tragically died. I felt for his poor family. It was a terrible loss for all who knew him, and for photography. I wish I had the opportunity to meet him in person.
Why would I mention something so terrible in an article about money in photography?
Sometimes we desperately need perspective. But I’m not talking about ignoring image theft and disregard for our property because one day we will no longer be here. Instead, I’m talking about devoting your life, however short, to something you truly love despite the potential challenges. Following one’s dream is a cliché, I know. But why shouldn’t it be the truest, most important cliché of our lives?
When we are on our deathbeds, would we really consider it a cheesy cliché? Or would we urge our children or grandchildren to follow their dreams, knowing how short and temporary our time is here? With this in mind, the challenges we face as photographers in the digital age are simply hurdles we must climb as we battle to make our art into our career, and make the most out of life. If we use these challenges as excuses for not chasing our dreams, we may live to regret it.
The last time I heard a photographer tell me there was no money in photography was Christmas time at a dinner. For around 10 minutes a young fella educated me on the falling income of photographers, and how it was impossible for new photographers to start a business. I asked him if he had tried. He said ‘no’ but that he had put his photos on many sites to be sold as prints, but never sold anything. I asked him how much time he devoted to marketing these photos. He asked ‘why should I? That’s the site’s job.’ I finally asked him how much time he devoted each week to actively developing an income from photography. He said he went out regularly to take photos and post them on flickr and other forums he liked.
This young gentleman had devoted zero time to making money from his images, but was utterly convinced there was no money in photography.
I will say this one, irrefutable truth: the more work you put into something, the more you will get out of it.
I can predict with scary accuracy how much money I will make on a weekly basis by looking at how many hours I worked the week before it. I can also see an obvious correlation between income rises and the hundreds of hours I dedicated to teaching myself aspects of business, marketing and communication that I deemed necessary for a successful business.
I poured money and time into making photography a job. I ignored the warnings that there was no money in photography. I looked at my weaknesses, asked myself if I was willing to work every day, all day, to make it happen, and then planned my route. I started my business long after the internet photography boom and the blogging boom. I can’t predict where my business will be in years to come, but I can predict the desire and commitment I will have to growing it.
The goal my wife and I set ourselves is to have a beautiful apartment, in a city we love, completely mortgage-free within the next 3 years. That goal is very quickly becoming a reality. Almost every penny of that has come from income generated through photography. I hope you can see now why I simply cannot accept the idea that there is no money in photography.
Yes, I have my images stolen; yes, I have companies asking to use my images commercially without paying (I never agree to that); yes, I have a large amount of competition. But I will not make these into excuses. Every business is tough. Every amazing reward requires dedication and planning.
I know that some photographers who wish to make a living from photography will read this and agree. I know that others will disagree. Performance research shows that most people won’t go above and beyond to seek what they desire. Most will sink back to their comfort zone. Some of these will justify that choice by stating there’s no money in photography, so what’s the point in trying.
But you, maybe you, will heed the wonderful words of Alan Watts, and make photography a career, if that is what you desire:
Dedicated to John, for his raw enthusiasm to an art we all love.