Photography: Jeff Bauche
As times grow harder, it’s likely that the number of professional photographers is likely to grow smaller. Photography businesses that have long lived on the edge of breaking even will find their cash flows squeezed by wedding couples who cut back on their expenditures and by companies that choose to spend less on product images. Some corporate clients, of course, will disappear altogether.
As at least one commenter on this blog has pointed out, that means richer pickings for those photographers left behind. Photography companies with solid client bases and established revenue streams may well expect to come out of the recession stronger than they came in.
But what do you do in the meantime?
If you know that another photographer is going to the wall, do you lend them a hand to keep them afloat? Or watch them sink and sweep up the remains? There might be little room for sentiment in business but there’s plenty of room for solidarity between fellow photographers struggling through hard times.
Brother, Can you Spare a Lens?
In fact, there doesn’t always have to be a contradiction. News photographers – perhaps the most competitive photographers of all – might fall over each other to swipe the best spot at a news conference and they’ll certainly keep scoop-winning information to themselves, but they’ll think nothing of lending a fellow photographer a lens if they haven’t brought the right equipment or, in the old days, sharing a roll of film with someone who’s on their last load.
That sort of small-scale co-operation is easy to understand. The competitor is in trouble because of bad luck or a one-off mistake in preparation, not because their business plan is flawed or they don’t have the talent to stay in the profession. They’ll still be around next year, even if they’re having a bad day, and if it’s the kind of mistake that anyone can make – and everyone does – then helping out is just good sense. The next time you pack the wrong lens, you can expect the same assistance in return.
The kind of co-operation you can find on Flickr makes sense too. The site is famous for groups in which professionals advise amateurs, swap tips among themselves and help enthusiasts move from part-timers into paid work… even though that might mean less work available for them.
It’s even possible that we’ll see even more of this kind of co-operation as hobbyists look for ways to justify an expensive pastime and camera-owners start to see their equipment as a way to bring in some useful extra income.
Photographers are willing to help here because they don’t really see those they’re supporting as direct competition. Distance might mean that they’re operating in very different geographical markets, and if one photographer is asking for help, that’s a good sign that they’re working in different qualitative markets too.
Help in Wyoming, Not Wichita
There’s a big difference between an experienced wedding photographer in Wichita helping a new photographer get started in Wyoming, and telling a new photography business in the same town how to trawl for clients and what people really want to see in a portfolio.
But co-operation can sometimes extend to photographers working in the same market too. Wedding photographers, for example, often need back-up in case they fall ill on the day of an event or find that they can’t make it to a shoot that’s already been agreed. On those occasions, the damage inflicted by a broken contract and a disappointed client is likely to be far more harmful than the loss of a good client to another good photographer. That’s especially true when the co-operation works both ways and each photographer is able to rely on the other for emergency support.
In fact, when clients become so much more valuable, being able to promise guaranteed back-up becomes the sort of sales point that can help to land deals.
You can think of this kind of co-operation as happening in the best of circumstances: when you have more work than you can handle, even if you’d like to.
And that’s perhaps the most popular form of co-operation between photographers and one that could well be a huge opportunity for those photography businesses that do manage to survive the financial storm. New photographers are likely to be less enthusiastic about starting up on their own when credit is tight and clients hard to find. Instead, they’ll be happier to work with an existing studio, take a salary – even a small one – and build up experience until they’re ready to start their own businesses. Assistants then should be plentiful, allowing photography businesses that are looking strong to grow at the right pace and with minimal risk of over-reach.
There is one more type of co-operation you can look to perform though, and that’s with businesses that aren’t competitors. There’s never a better time to set up joint ventures than when money is tight and everyone wants all the help they can find. Help related businesses stay open now, be generous with your assistance, and when the recession blows over you might well find that you’re not the only one still standing – and that you’re standing strong.