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  1. #1
    wrench's Avatar
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    Can I build a business doing B+W portraits only?

    Is this a crazy idea? I just opened my studio last summer, and at the time, it seemed like a good idea to run the gammut of offerings; color, black and white, weddings... whatever people wanted. As it turns out, my best work far and away has been the b+w jobs. I'm really not happy with my business as it stands right now, it's just all over the place. I don't feel like there's any focus and I really need to work on marketing, but I'm kind of stuck for ideas because the only thing I really want to do is b+w work, and I feel like marketing myself as an 'everything' photographer just isn't working. I happen to be the only photographer in a very isolated are with a relatively small population which seems to work both for and against me. People seem to think that my price is high (I start at $135), but they don't want to go 2 hours away to Sears who they're comparing me to. My feeling is that if I market myself as something totally different, then people will quit with the comparisons, but my potential market might shrink if I'm only doing b+w. So I guess I'm looking for advice about whether this is just crazy, or an idea worth pursuing. Thanks for you help.
    Best, Laura

  2. #2
    q_x
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    You know your market, Laura. With focus on the subject you'll have your teritory grow. For me this is rather business to make online, not in studio - unless you living in megapolis. Maybe it will be better to swich slowly - just making more marketing in b/w portraits, changing pics in the window, doing exhibitions and so on, but untill you'll be sure and ready - just doing your job as before?
    Use the Force, Luke!

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by wrench View Post
    Is this a crazy idea? I just opened my studio last summer, and at the time, it seemed like a good idea to run the gammut of offerings; color, black and white, weddings... whatever people wanted. As it turns out, my best work far and away has been the b+w jobs. I'm really not happy with my business as it stands right now, it's just all over the place. I don't feel like there's any focus and I really need to work on marketing, but I'm kind of stuck for ideas because the only thing I really want to do is b+w work, and I feel like marketing myself as an 'everything' photographer just isn't working. I happen to be the only photographer in a very isolated are with a relatively small population which seems to work both for and against me. People seem to think that my price is high (I start at $135), but they don't want to go 2 hours away to Sears who they're comparing me to. My feeling is that if I market myself as something totally different, then people will quit with the comparisons, but my potential market might shrink if I'm only doing b+w. So I guess I'm looking for advice about whether this is just crazy, or an idea worth pursuing. Thanks for you help.
    Best, Laura
    Always a good idea to do what you believe in, and if the CUSTOMERS think your best work is your b+w, too, you're about 90% of the way towards a decision already! The most important thing in portraiture is to develop a USP and a personal signature in your work - souinds like b+w is the way to go for you!

  4. #4
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    Laura, I think what you're planning to do is some kind of luxury business. Because of that, it could be hard to start such an undertaking in a crisis time, don't you think? You know, people are now starting to think about some saving, not spending their money on luxury items or services. Especially, when you can ask a friend to take a picture and make it look stylish b&w in photoshop :/
    That's my humble opinion, of course.

    Anyway - I'm very curious how will your marketing strategy look like. I think it's very interesting and wish you luck.
    Marcin "Rudolf" Szymczak
    Author of 13th Frame
    marcinszymczak.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by rudolf View Post
    Laura, I think what you're planning to do is some kind of luxury business. Because of that, it could be hard to start such an undertaking in a crisis time, don't you think? You know, people are now starting to think about some saving, not spending their money on luxury items or services. Especially, when you can ask a friend to take a picture and make it look stylish b&w in photoshop :/
    That's my humble opinion, of course.

    Anyway - I'm very curious how will your marketing strategy look like. I think it's very interesting and wish you luck.
    B+w photos are no more luxurious than color! Yes, there is a recession, the risk that always accompanies a business venture is greater than at other times, but you are only young once! And yes, people think that everyone's a photographer and that everything can be fixed in Photoshop, which is where your USP comes in -everyone can use Photoshop (at some level), the ability to light a b+w portrait well is very rare (make sure your lighting skills are impeccable).

  6. #6

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    I do not think you can allow yourself to even think you can be compared to Sears or the friend with Photoshop. If you try to compete at that level you will fail. If you feel your work is best as B+W then that is what you should do. (I feel the same of my work) The Great Recession May be difficult or it may not. People may still view the portrait as a familly neccesity. Your advertizing can vary around special recession deals if necessary.
    If you do not so what you like you may come to dislike Photography.
    Be honest, with others but also with yourself
    "There are a great many things I am in doubt about at the moment, and I should consider myself favoured if you would kindly enlighten me. Signed, Doubtful, off to Canada." (BJP 1914).

    Regards
    Bill

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by rudolf View Post
    Especially, when you can ask a friend to take a picture and make it look stylish b&w in photoshop :/
    That's my humble opinion, of course.
    This is entirely the point. The person who will settle for this is not the client Laura will want. Most amateurs cannot create a handprinted black and white image, and so those that want and appreciate the real value of one, will pay the money if at all able. This is where clever marketing and brand value comes in. You are no longer competing on price, because there is no comparable product. People will pay, or they won't.

    I think photographers will suffer across the entire range of budgets/markets, but those at the lower end had better be producing something a little special, because the poorer will revert to the DIY approach more readily.
    I was at the SWPP Convention in London, and quite suprised by the number of people who with job uncertainties were making the move into photography. As someone who takes the monochrome, hand printed approach, I am so glad not to be competing in that oversubscribed league.

    I think at the higher end, the work will remain - but there will be less of it and the clients will become even more discerning. Offering a service which is becoming quite unique can only help set you apart, if of course it is marketed properly and to the right people.

    Laura: you will have to make your own mind up. DO look at your costs and the value of your time carefully. Be sure that the area can sustain the prices you need to charge, or think about the logistics of marketing further affield.
    Also think about the products you are offering. Are you framing? Custom framing? Putting work in albums? Leather albums?

    Be careful not to disillusion the customer base that you do have, but there is much to be said for a focused style. Why not specialise in black and white, but shoot a few rolls of colour if the client is really keen on it. That's what I do. They know what I'm best at and my preferences, but shooting a few rolls of Fuji in addition is no hardship.

    Research and ask questions,
    Ciaran

  8. #8

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    Bill, I dislike predictions of doom and gloom, but have a feeling things will get much tougher before they get any better.
    I don't discount, but instead am offering print credit with the session fees. It isn't enough to buy a framed print, but encourages people nonetheless. It is important to put on an expiry date, to get people booking right away. I'm also thinking about introducing some sort of first year package for kids. Again, it's about putting some urgency behind the idea of having a session. The way I see it, is if times are tough people will put off a session for a three or four year old, but if they have determined to have a photograph of the child as a baby, then there is an obvious timescale they have to work with.

    I agree completely with the idea of working to your strengths and interests, otherwise photography might be best left as a hobby.

    Ciaran

  9. #9

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    Sure you can. I have friend who have built successful businesses doing only B&W weddings, another doing only B&W dog portraits.

    The secret is your portraits have to be of a quality where the client won't ever think of color.
    When I grow up, I want to be a photographer.

    http://www.walterpcalahan.com/Photography/index.html

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Solarize View Post
    I was at the SWPP Convention in London, and quite suprised by the number of people who with job uncertainties were making the move into photography.
    I find this really interesting and quite surprising. I would have thought that this would be the worst time to move into photography. (Nice work on your site Ciaran of Ally Pally in the snow.)

    I think Ciaran is right that it would be best not to give up non b+w commercial photography, especially if you already have an established studio. Perhaps offer traditional as a bespoke, specialist service as an addition to what you do and promote it almost as a seperate side to your business. However I appreciate that the difference in what you want to do compared to what you have to do may not balance.

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