The Future is Bleak for Small Business Photographers and Filmmakers

**UPDATE: This blog post was part 1 of a 3-part series. Be sure to read part 2 (The Future is Bright) and Part 3 (The Future is Bright or Bleak). 🙂 **

Why don’t we all just admit it. If you’re a small business making a living by shooting photos (e.g. weddings & events, portraits, etc.) or making films (e.g. weddings & events, small business promo videos, etc.) your future…OUR future, is bleak. You got sub-$1,000 cameras with 2-digit megapixel capabilities and 1080p video features allowing any Tom, Jane, or Harry with a credit card to become a “professional.” You got companies like Bella Pictures playing the “Wal-Mart” role to the indie photog studio’s “general store”.

You have TurnHere practically giving away web videos to small businesses. Soccer moms are shooting their own kids senior portraits. Craig’s List photogs and videogs are a dime a dozen. It used to be that even if you weren’t that good at actually selling your photography and video services, you could at least give workshops. But now even that business is going down the toilet because of resources like CreativeLIVE where you can get 20 freaking hours of education for FREE if you watch it live, then only $129 after the fact. (Say goodbye to the $1,000 workshop boys and girls).

Honestly, I think we all should just quit!

I have to go now, but tomorrow I’ll have more things to say about this whole mess.


18 thoughts on “The Future is Bleak for Small Business Photographers and Filmmakers

  1. I’ve definitely wondered myself about the future of photography. I looked at the Bella Pictures website, and didn’t see any actual prices. What do they generally run?

    As far as people going for video learning only, I thought that might be the case too for a while. If you look at how many photographers are successfully holding workshops though, it looks like people may still continue to do workshops. For example, Imaging USA has over 10,000 attendees this year – the most ever. It seems like the newer photographers would rather have a more in-person learning experience.

    One good question to ask is to think about what you’d do. Are you done with workshops because the videos came out? I know I’m not. In fact, we’re looking around for more expensive workshops so we can get a top quality instructor.

    I’m with you on how upsetting it is. I don’t know how this thing will turn out, but maybe it will be better than what you might expect.

  2. This is a joke, right? Give me a break. There have never been as many crappy photographers as there are today and that number grows daily. Step up your game, offer real value and you can flourish. If you think you have to compete with Bella Pictures or the soccer moms then you might consider getting out now.

    As with any other craft, you have to hone your skills and be really good at what you do. That is if you actually want to make a living. So get it together, do your thing better than everyone else and work harder.

    You missed the mark with this one amigo. And I have a feeling you did it on purpose.

  3. At first I was a little shocked at the post, but then I thought…uh, no. He’s wrong, mostly, and will probably show up tomorrow with a ‘cream rises to the top’ or its all about ‘story’ lesson for us all 🙂

    Good bait Ron. 🙂

  4. I, too think Ron’s post is a set-up for tomorrow. So, I will beat him to it. 😉 I’m working the wedding filmmaker side of the street & have been for 28 years. I have seen many recession come & go, this one was a bit different. The last 3 years have been tough for all my wedding vendor friends. But, I look at it as a kick in the butt to improve my skills, marketing, branding & networking skills. For many years we had it easy, now we have to work harder for that piece of the pie. We should have to work harder, we are taking these brides hard earned money & in return she should get something better than the low end peeps are offering. We have to make her seen beyond the budget & know talent when she sees it. Will we all survive this? Some will & some won’t…that’s the way it should be. 🙂

    Steve Moses

  5. I call it realistic optimism. You’ve got to face the reality honestly, then dig down deeper and overcome the challenges. It will be interesting to see what you shoot back at us next post, Ron.

  6. nice post! i’ll probably wait until your “follow-up” to give intense feedback.

    i don’t even buy into the “fusion” movement, let alone the “prosumer movement”. there will ALWAYS be a market for individuals who are specialized in their field. there are people who have been doing photography professionally for decades, and they still haven’t mastered that art. yet they expect to be able to pick up cinematography like it’s just a new button on their camera. how much more so is that the case for people who don’t even do photography professionally, but simply “have a good camera”?

    i’m sure you have some good thoughts for us anyways though….so we’ll see what’s up 🙂

  7. I see this more on the photography side of things. Prices are stagnant but expenses keep rising and entry costs are dropping. Companies like iStockphoto are hurting commercial shooters. And clients want video thrown in for a song.

    I’m more encouraged by what is happening on the video side. Sure, more beginners are trying to enter the field and the cost of entry is getting really low. But with video, there are lots more ways to screw up. Just getting good audio can put you head and shoulders above much of the competition.

  8. Ron I have to agree with you to a point. Yea any Knuckle head with a credit card and point a shoot camera can call themselve a photograher or Videographer. But as you know or should know it takes time and hardship to be to be a real professional. I feel your pain (i.e. Bill Clinton) when you compete with Bella and turnhere who give good work away ( and the Professionl that work for them has to do three time the work for what should be charge for one job) but hey stick to your core value and thing should work out. Peace! Nice words

  9. Ha ha ha… classic Ron Dawson 😀

    Our national pro photography organisation has been publishing articles in its monthly newsletter predicting this doom & gloom for months. But you don’t have to go far, Zack Arias has also been blogging about this issue extensively too. We can see first hand what is going on in the photography world, there has already been enough navel gazing, what we need is answers…

    But Ron, I want to pull you up on another point, I don’t think you can bundle photography & video production in the same boat because the hobby sector is still a long way from competing with professional video producers & their end products.

    There are too many competancies that technology is yet to catch up with for video production, you can’t just be a button pusher and fix it in post. Until such time as when we get RAW, PS Actions and software that can fix up under-exposed footage, bad framing, crap audio and then cut the whole lot into a watchable body of work complete with custom edited soundtrack, video will remain to fight another day.

    I really feel bad for the mid to low-end wedding & portrait photography businesses out there because they’re the ones worst hit by the tsunami of hobby shooters who work for peanuts. Not surprised to see videographers these days also offering photography, after all, they’re using the same (and sometimes better) equipment that the official photographer and hey let’s not forget the added bonus of not having to deal with rockstar photographer egos on the day 😉

    The way I see it, only the top-end photography businesses will survive and until such time as when hardware & software comes out to make video production easy for the consumer, video businesses owners still have a chance to run a viable business.

    The Masked Vidiotographer

  10. As a young artist and business owner, I think that people comfortable stuck in their current market, are the ones who feel this the most. This industry is always changing, and always has been. It will continue to change whether you are apart of the change or your left behind wishing that things could have stayed the same.

  11. Ron

    You and I have spoke many times on The DV Show podcast – we think alike in many ways and this is one instance of it happening again. However I can’t agree with the whole “quit this mess” tone in your post.

    Quit the old business model, yes, but don’t quit thinking of creative ways where you can monetize on this shift and stay afloat to some extent

    Take the newspaper and magazine industry for example. The internet made a huge hit to their profits and interest levels declined. Smaller “think inside the box” shops closed down for good while the pioneers continue to be pioneers in their space because they ADAPTED.



    Read that aloud and really think about that word.

    A business that adapts survives. Period.

    Let’s have another podcast together discussing what can be done to battle this shift. I’m ready to argue with you. =)

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