The Most Surprising Challenges of Professional Photography

Photography: creativity+

Ask most new photographers what they struggle with most in the business and you can expect two difficulties to be top of the list: finding clients and figuring out how much to charge them.

Selling is a problem in every industry. You have to identify your market, calculate what will make people buy, craft a message that pushes their buttons, stand out from the crowd… and find a marketing budget that gets your message across.

In this blog we talk about lots of different ways of doing that — including some of the least common. It’s not easy but once you’ve figured out the marketing streams that work for you — and built up enough happy clients to spread the word — you should find that at least some of the selling takes care of itself.

Pricing too is a question of understanding the market… and being brave enough to charge market prices even before you feel like a real supplier. There’s plenty of software around that can tell you the correct rates, and a quick look at what competitors are charging can give your negotiations a good starting point.

So what else can get new photographers scratching their head and wondering what to do next?

One Photographer, Lots of Light
Sometimes, it can be something as simple — and as complex — as planning a day filled with a variety of different kinds of shots, even when you know technically how to create them. Bakari Chavanu, for example, a wedding and event photographer who has been a full-time professional for little more than a year, told us:

My toughest experience hasn’t been with a subject, but more just preparing for various types of shots throughout the wedding day. This involves dealing with often various and conflicting lighting situations where you might be shooting outdoors for a while and then quickly need to take indoor shots before you have time to make changes on your camera in order to prepare for the changes in lighting.

That’s the sort of practical challenge that tends to get beaten with experience — or watching how other experienced professionals handle them. For Bakari, the solution came with taking more control over the shot. He moved away from the JPEG format used by amateurs and towards the RAW shooting that gives professionals more control, and relied less on the camera’s automatic settings.

Basically I find shooting in RAW mode helps a lot with various lighting situations. By shooting in RAW, I can leave my custom white balance on auto, and if need be make adjustments in post-production. More and more I’m also shooting in full manual mode so that I can have more consistency in exposures I take throughout the wedding event.

Long-Term Storage… and Retrieval for your Heirs
Shooting in RAW solves one problem for Bakari, and it can solve many other problems too, not least the challenge of creating images with the correct white balance, the minimum lossy compression and the highest quality. But it creates another problem too: how to archive the image so that it will always be available in the future. As Seth Resnick, an award-winning photographer, and founding President of Editorial Photographers, told us:

Photographers… don’t understand archiving or even what to archive. Because of their proprietary nature, using RAW files as the archival format for long-term storage of digital images is a very risky choice. In order to ensure that your image will be available forever, you will have to save the image file, computer, monitor, operating system software and RAW conversion software you used to process the image. [Only] then you and your heirs will be able to open and process your award-winning image indefinitely.

That’s not the sort of thing that many photographers worry about — at least not at the moment. But perhaps they should. After all, as Seth pointed out, if you can’t access an image, you can’t sell it. By archiving a photo in a format that could disappear in time, a photographer could kill off the income from his portfolio just as he’s looking forward to retirement.

Seth’s solution is to store RAW files in Adobe’s DNG, or digital negative, format. Although it’s not open source — so you still have to hope that Adobe will still be around and updating in 20 years’ time — you’re less reliant on a computer operating system that might not be able to open a RAW file coded by a camera company.

What’s Another Word for ‘Difficult’?
And finally, although digital photographers have now come to understand that their job continues post-shoot in front of the computer just as it used to for film photographers in the darkroom, little attention is paid to the art of keywording — a vital element for stock photographers. As Yvan Cohen of ImageKeyworder said:

[M]any photographers complain that their work is getting ‘lost’ in an ocean of images. By using keywords to describe the relevant elements and meaning of an image, you are ensuring that your images will be returned appropriately in a potential client’s search. It’s not about having lots of keywords, it’s about having as many relevant keywords as possible which should include synonyms and alternate terms which have the same meaning.

Although services like Yvan’s offer one solution to the problem, for most photographers, keywording is about looking at similar images, creating synonym lists and having the patience to be as comprehensive as possible.

There are all sorts of challenges involved in becoming a photographer, whether you shoot it professionally or for pleasure. Learning to overcome them is part of the fun

[tags] challenges in professional photography [/tags]

4 comments for this post.

  1. Lynda Lehmann Said:

    Interesting post and good advice!

    I think that 20 years from now, whatever formats we currently use, will be totally obsolete!

  2. Jonathan Enns Said:

    True, but hopefully any 2038 applications will still understand what a jpeg is ;).

  3. Denver Photographer Said:

    Being a software developer I know all too well the power and importance of archiving. And creating backups of your images in various places. I want everyone to think about what might happen if your house burned down? Would your entire portfolio be lost? That's why a backup strategy that involves an off site back is totally important.

  4. Chicago Wedding Photographer Said:

    My questions is, if you have already edited the file to where you want it why not just archive the hires JPG or TIF. Of course if you think you need to come back to the file a DNG would be fine but if you've already rendered the file and you are selling from it it seems TIF or Jpg would make more sense. Denver Photographer you are absolutely correct. Off site backup is a must today. It's so cheap to send the data to the cloud!

    Thanks for the good read Dean.

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