Wow! What a great response to my original post. This forum is like having a few hundred experienced mentors.
The responses I've gotten here have made me rethink what it is to be a commercial photographer. Pardom me, but in this tiny market in Rhode Island I've come in contact with quite a few photographers who are willing to do anything to pay for their over-inflated rents and computer upgrades. Many of the photographers I've come in contact with are "jack of all trades" types. I did a website for one who had at least 6 categories covered (i.e. architectural, portrait, food, product, glamour, editorial), but had no personal style. These types will do anything to get the client. They can have those types of clients. We should be striving to get clients who trust our vision, not our subscriptions to a particular technology. What I'm realizing from these posts is basically what Michael said above "define your product and market yourself".
Thanks for all the informative posts so far,
Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
Costs are a large issue, and marketing is a part of that. While Rhode Island might be a very small market, that might dictate a jack-of-all-trades approach, there is no reason to restrict your work to your area. If you are busy and satisfied with a small local market, then all is good. However, if you are looking for more work, or worried about future changes to your local market, then consider marketing yourself outside of your local area.
I split my time between two large cities in the US, mostly because neither has been enough of a local market, even though they are large cities. As Michael stated about defining your product, another aspect is that you also become a brand.
A different approach is carving a niche, which is what Cheryl Jacobs has done (yes, Jeanette, I noticed). There are photographers noted for a very particular style and approach, often more specialized. This could be seen as the opposite of the jack-of-all-trades, and might be a way towards greater longevity in this profession.
Costs and fees are another issue. Learning from doing motion pictures and video documentary work, those crews own the lens and rent the cameras and lighting. While it is good to own some lighting, and some cameras to keep those lenses busy, rental is something those new to the profession might find useful. Got a client that really wants you to use digital, and you don't want to turn down the job, then rent a body or back that fits your lenses; you might even shoot some of the job on film, have them look at how good film can render subjects and scenes, and persuade them that film can meet their needs. I have done this a few times with insistent clients, and the funny thing was that they liked the film images better; though that might have been because I charged extra for the digital back and computer time.
It is a tough to factor multiples or profit margins, but some photographers find out that digital capture is more expensive. Others try to lower cost undercutting, then find someone else undercutting them later, and they did not build in enough profits to go to the next upgrade. While the undercutting might have been good for initial profits, some soon find that disappearing. Lots of these type of discussions on PDN forums. The example that surprised me the most was an ASMP event with Seth Resnick, in which he comments about having over $100k of equipment, and needing to turn over and replace most of it every 18 to 24 months. I later read an article by him in which he discussed costs of using film in the past compared to cost of using only D-SLRs, and the numbers were lower for using film, even if one had a scanning and computer set-up. So based on my experiences and number crunching, film is more profitable for me; I think that is an excellent reason to stick with using film.
Well, I don't have different rates - I charge according to the amount of time the job takes and I make another charge for materials and other expenses etc. I guess I'm fairly experienced at this because my initial "estimate" usually matches the final bill.
Originally Posted by jovo
I adopted this method a few years ago after having a few clients who would ask for extra services during a job and then query the final costs. This way I can say, as soon as this sort of request arises, "that will take ** hours longer and cost ** more" - the client then has the option of giving me the go ahead or not and I don't end up frustrated or out of pocket.
As far as my work goes, yes, film is more expensive. A shoot for a clothing magazine, that I used to shoot on film and I now shoot digitally, used to cost iro £300 - £400 more in medium format film and polaroid. After the shoot, the mag would then send the transparencies off for scanning and I assume that this added to their costs too. By showing that I could produce the appropriate quality of work digitally I saved my client iro £500/month.
I try to produce digital images that don't need lots of PP, just as I did with film. With this particular client, the graphic designers at the magazine now work happily from my original digital files and I don't do any PP (what's the point of messing up my own digital files when I know that, whatever I've done, the magazine will go and mess about with them again anyway?).
There are jobs that involve PP but, again, I make certain that the client understands this, and the charges, too. PP requires me to use my professional skills and so it costs the client the same as shooting.
Lastly, I no longer spend so much time commuting across town to the lab.
All you need to do is retouch the negative (best if it's MF or LF) and you can crank out as many perfect prints as Ms. Thing's pimply little heart desires...
Originally Posted by Gary Holliday
"A certain amount of contempt for the material employed to express an idea is indispensable to the purest realization of this idea." Man Ray
Yeah, I know the feeling. In some ways I consider myself very ecclectic in my personal photography habits. However for the VERY small percentage of my stuff that I have shown to the public tends to be either architectural or rural (like cows, tractors etc.) But for personal junk I take whatever strikes my fancy.
Originally Posted by Ara Ghajanian
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Of course not. That is why people like Michael A. Smith, Paul Caponigro and Paula Chamlee have put all their old camera gear on eBay and used the funds to buy Kodak Easy Share cameras.
well, no I don't think it's possible to be a general commercial photographer, or do editorial work, or probably portrait/wedding for that matter without some digital skills--unless you have established that niche market for yourself already.
I say this as someone who is salaried (thank god) and still employed as a film shooter & printer. but to be honest, I had to learn on the job how to use p-shop (back in 3.5), how to use a 1.3 mp Nikon slr, and how to scan etc. I did it because the writing was on the wall--no matter how many arguments can be made about cost, longevity etc--the writing is on the wall. I intend to work out my 15 yrs until retirement--probably in one of the last stable areas of the profession--a salaried, work for hire photographer.
We just got a D2X---nice studio camera if you can live without movements. Nice file size. Great handling. So-so, events camera, but I like the high speed crop. The 17-55 we got with it is a dream. In the small bag I carry to work with me everyday? I carry an SRT 101 with a 45mm lens, and a few rolls of FP4 and HP5. Sometimes I use a medium format Fuji, other times I carry a Pen FT.
I see the rest of my years as this--more personal use of film & paper, less at work. It's not what I wanted, not what I advocate, but I'm realistic. It only took me about ten years to get around to that.
Is it better, easier, quicker? No--it's all about the same, digital is even more laborious in some ways--less enjoyable. Sometimes it's more convenient though. Sometimes it doesn't matter--those times, like a grip & grin? It's great. Delightful--who wants to shoot chrome & b/w, process it and then bust your ass to deliver the goods on a deadline for a check passing?
so--you gotta be realistic. if you cut yourself off, you have to have something to fill the void. personally--as a person who was dragged into it by neccessity?--I don't see how anyone can make a living as a general photographer without some digital interaction.
There are lots of film only shooters left. Some that still only deliver final prints...no digi at all. I'm all film. But in my opinion, unless film works specifically for your "look" and you are in a position to insist on it, then digi is almost a necessity. At least in commercial work and smaller commercial markets. Budgets are tighter, people are stretched thinner, drop days are two days off, etc etc. And with the price of film and processing these days vs the price of hard drives and computers, most guys I know can't get the profit margins to lean in favor of film. At least if there is any sort of volume. And they bill the same for film and digi...actually maybe a bit more for the digital with all the post processing/contact sheet/burning fees/digi tech. Like I said, I shoot film. But it works for me and who I work for. I feel with most shooters that go digital it's for them, not for the client. Once you get a workflow down, and if you play it smart, it makes jobs smoother and faster and it also can make you more money.
You'll always hear two camps: it's art, do what you want, sell your vision, they're all tools. And camp two: it's a business, you need to compete, digital is necessary to compete... In the end, it lands someplace in a gray area in between, and area that can only be dictated by you personally, your market, the particular client, what feels good in your hands, and maybe just what you stumble upon by accident.
I just spent the weekend in LA with a friend is a photo editor/producer for a "sports/wellness" magazine.
She prefers film and pushes "chromes" whenever she can get them.
She also stated that most of the photogs are now renting all of the equipment except the lighting, then they bill the magazine for the rentals.
"I think the business is changing, but there are photographers who make a living with just film, but even that number is getting fewer and fewer. We live in a McDonalds society, we want everything now, even if the quality is less."
Business is not changing, just new kind of business, on the similar matter is now around.
Film users are not fewer and fewer. Many in image making business used photography just because it was the only choice for them for inteligence to be "photographer" is not requirement, just $100. Now they got even and easier and less brain wear stuff.
We do not live in McDonald society. Who eat that? homeless, employed woman that do not value home life, family, and cooking, single man on the run, ...
And I-pod is around but still people like to see violin, TV is around but people still pays to see it in live, …
Photographer will never ever quit film, or better to say photography. Digital imaging can be mixed for some jobs, but to photographer photography is his life. I use beside photography sometimes and painting, sometimes graphical art, sometimes digital imaging, sometimes drawings, but I am photographer and I advertise myself as photographer, but if someone ask that is different story. Honestly the largest portion of time for the same money go to digital imaging, and I always consider working on it is for the people without hearth, love, and passion. People just use it without thinking, it is well marketed stuff, like I-pod that you can save on it 500000 songs and it is the reason that cost more.
Nearly everyone like more smell of bakery factory then stinky McDonald, BUT marketing and advert. can make a lot with stupid people.
And to add: today are no less film users that 30 years ago. Just the matter is in definition who are film users?
I think it is possible to stay in photography business without using digital imaging. Just one have to advertise his job as PHOTOGRAPHER and do not papy an idea about millions...