What Kind of Year Are Professional Photographers Having?

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by Skip Cohen

A few years ago, frustrated with the economy and spending a lot of time talking to photographers who were finding new ways to “fight the battle”, I started my own campaign: “Just because the media says it’s going to be a bad year, doesn’t mean it has to be!”

Well, here we are with two months to go in 2013. While the government would like us to think much of business has recovered, since they couldn’t get their own act together, I’m curious where everybody else sees business headed.

In talking with photographers this week at Shoot NYC and PPE in New York, I’m hearing the usual mixed bag of challenges. One issue that I hadn’t heard until recently is about weddings being down this year because too many people are superstitious over the “13”.  Others have talked about bridal spending down because of the continued fear in the economy etc. Then there have been photographers who are talking about this being one of the best years in their career.

I’m not minimizing the challenges with the economy, but I do see light at the end of the tunnel and I’m seeing it because of photographers who are doing well, but let’s define the word “well”.   “Well” means they’re trying new things. It means they’re holding their own and still making a decent enough living to support their family.  “Well” means they’re exhausted, but in a great zone about how they feel about themselves and the future.  Lastly, it means they still wake up every morning smiling.

If you want an even more objective definition of optimism, opposite what’s typically been one of the biggest shows in the country, PPE, Hasselblad, for the last four years has been doing their own program, Shoot NYC. It’s free and runs for two days yesterday and today. What helps in my definition of optimism is ShootNYC had over 3000 photographers register! I had a group yesterday morning in my short workshop on blogging/social media and they couldn’t have been more positive about building their business.

Here’s what I’ve learned from so many incredible incredible photographers this year. These are the keys to beating the media and ignoring the economy, at least enough to keep your business strong:

It all starts with your attitude.  Stay away from self-fulfilling prophecies.  There’s that old statement – If you define a situation as hopeless, then it will be!  You’ve got to stay focused on the importance of your contribution as a professional photographer.

Diversity in your skill set
:  Okay, you’re a commercial photographer and you really hate shooting weddings, but do you at least know how to do it right if a client asks?  Or, you’re a wedding photographer and your brides from the last few years are all starting families – they loved your work the first time around.  So, are you going to contact them and do the first portrait of the new baby or sit back and give the work to another photographer?

Listen to your vendors!
  This one is critical, because every photographer we consider iconic is working closely with several vendors. Every one of the SCU partners has new products to show or services to help you build a stronger business.  The vendors are all putting their efforts into finding new tools for their clients to help find new business.  They’re investing time and money into ways to help you!  Is it philanthropic?  Of course not – but they know that if they can help you build your business you’re going to need their products and services and everybody wins as the economy within photography at least, starts to improve.

Utilize your network! Every photographer I talk to is involved in something outside their direct business. They’re blogging, guest blogging, shooting with other photographers, attending other workshops, reading every newsletter and article they can find and they’re never slowing down.  They’re involved in many of the online forums because they believe in working together to find more solutions.

When I ask anybody the question, “How’s business this year?”  Those who say they’re holding their own always finish with the same comment, “But I’ve never worked so hard in my life!”   Nobody said it was easy, but nobody is afraid of hard work either.

I’ve been accused a lot of being overly optimistic.  People have told me I’m too much of a cheerleader.  But here’s the view that I get to see, which you don’t – I’m talking to hundreds of photographers every week.  I have an advantage of a front row seat looking at the big picture.  I’m getting feedback on new ideas, the economy and technology. 

If necessity is the mother of invention then all of our survival is based on the necessity to continue to be part of the industry we love so much and find new ways to make it stronger.  The media keeps telling us things are bad and from their perspective they are, but we’ve all got the opportunity to make changes and best of all as photographers, to make a difference!

Two great quotes I’ve used more than once in the past, both from Zig Ziglar that bring it all together:

You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.

It is your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude.


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