The Falling Photo Bubble

The Popping Camera Bubble

The Popping Camera Bubble

Over the course of the last several days, a conversation has been happening in the NAPP forums regarding the “photography bubble”.  I am calling it this because just like the tech boom, the housing bubble, and other historical events, the photography industry seems to be having something of an adjustment in recent weeks and months.  Have you noticed it too?

It’s happening in many communities, workshops, seminars, and other such events where participation has dropped considerably.  From what I understand of things, communities everywhere are seeing marked drops in the active member rolls.  Many colleagues who teach workshops and seminars have also noticed a drop-off in attendance and interest.  The economy is certainly having an impact on the disposable income of many enthusiast photographers.  But it’s not just that…

Even the Worldwide Photo Walk, which only two years ago drew crowds that maxed out four different locales around Denver (at 50 participants per walk) is now barely cresting the 100 member count among only three active ones.  The downtown Denver one is maxed out for 16th Street Mall, but the Louisville one and the Boulder one still have several openings.  Know what the requirements for these are?  Nothing!  They’re free!

All you need is a camera.  It can be a camera from your phone!  It can be a film camera!  A pen camera, or even a pinhole camera would be enough to go out and take photos with.  Yet the attendance has dropped more than 50% from a mere two years ago.  Probably the biggest indicator for me is the amount of Meetup activity.  Leaders and managers for photo walks are not as active, and walks are getting fewer people.

So that means attendance at free sessions has even waned to less than 50% of where it was even two years ago.What happened?  Now a lot has changed between now and two years ago.  Economic times are harder…I get that big time!  But a larger trend is occurring in photography, and I think we should be standing up to take notice.  Why?

I suspect a certain degree of market saturation has happened, believe it or not.  Many people have hung out shingles.  There’s been so many workshops, seminars, and conferences held – everyone believing that there is an infinite desire to learn from anyone wiling to teach, lead, or share.  While the capacity to learn is endless, the capacity of the market to sustain an infinite amount of instruction is likely not sustainable.

The market has peaked!  Just like the tech bubble of the 80’s, the housing bubble of the 90’s, and even (as a friend put it in the forums) the CB radio bubble of the 70’s, the bubble has burst.  People are starting to hang up their hats, cameras, and photo gear.  Many have said “enough is enough”, and simply just don’t have the time, energy, or interest to sustain their habits, creative endeavors, and SOHO businesses in photography.  The market waxes and wanes, and the time to wane has come to pass…

It’s kind of sad to one degree, because it’s never easy to sustain a creative vision or energy in a shrinking market.  Monetizing that vision is even more difficult because the almighty dollar has been stretched to capacity – and as a result, I suspect that as the dust starts to settle in the coming weeks and months, many will have stopped their craft.  As I said, a sad thing, but lest we all be concerned that our own craft will die, or go silent, it’s times like these that we must muster the energy, motivation, and vigor to continue on.  Not necessarily unimpeded, but at least try to continue…it’s those that continue through the best and the worst of times that will be more successful in the long run!

***

What kind of indicators have you seen that the market for photography, and photo education has seen a peak?  Has your own interest or ability to participate waned in recent weeks and months?  What trends have you seen in your own market and demographic with regard to the photo community?

Finding Clients…

I don’t often use the blog as a venue for talking about photography business, but recently many colleagues have asked me about how I approach things here, in terms of finding sponsors for contests, giveaways, workshops, and all the content that gets delivered here.  I should preface my comments by saying that the blog, my photography, writing, and podcast endeavors are not my primary source of income.  I should also probably say that I’ve gotten more wrong than right in my style and approach over the past 3 years.

Having said that, I am starting to get more right than wrong lately, and the portion of my income that is generated by the blog, podcast, and writing has seen something of an increase relative to my “real job” revenue (in IT).  So, what’s been my secret to “finding clients”?  Here are 4 methods I’ve used the most to attract people to the blog, the podcast, the contests, and my writings:

#1 – Be personable

With so many people out there that offer products and services, there’s bound to be someone that can do exactly what you do.  Or, they can do it better.  For the same price!  Or less!  Or free!  How can anyone expect to compete with that in today’s day and age?  It should come as no surprise to most that what sets you apart from others isn’t your service, it isn’t your product, marketing, revenue, client list or anything like that – at the end of the day what sets you apart is you! People will come to you because they like your approach, your personality, and how you treat them.  In my case, that means people come to listen to the podcast, or read because they like my attitude as much as my content.  The same holds true in your business – so rule # 1 is to be yourself!  I do that by socializing with fellow photographers through meet-up outings (like photo walks), user groups (like DALPUG), and basically staying engaged and connected with my peers and colleagues.

#2 – Be reachable

Let’s face it, with Twitter, LinkedIn®, forums, websites, email, instant messaging and smart phones all giving us 24/7 access to whatever we want anymore comes with a price.  With our access to others comes a certain measure of reciprocity, which means others also expect some measure of access to us.  While you don’t have to give answers or respond to inquiries within seconds or minutes – make it a general rule to respond to people within 24 hours during the work week. After all, with e-commerce moving at lightning speeds, not responding to an email or message in a timely manner can be a deterrent as much as anything else, so be reachable!

 

On weekends if you prefer to shut off, that’s fine, but let people know.  On Friday, set up an out of office message and say that.  “I’ll be spending the weekend with the family – looking forward to the down time.  I’ll be back on Monday!”  This lets people know that you like to hear from them, and will respond, but that it isn’t as immediate as you normally are.

#3 Be approachable

I spent an afternoon with someone a while back who was pretty well known in local circles.  The subject of conversation was photography of course, and in the course of discussion just got a sense that this person not only was well-known, but knew it.  I wasn’t talked down to by any means, but I got the distinct impression that I should be “honored” to be graced with his presence and flattered that he gave me a few hours to talk.  While it was all well and good, the conversation made it seem like I should be quick, get to the point and don’t waste time.

While we all have multiple commitments, and are moving at what feels like the speed of light just to keep up, it often can come across as an attitude.  Make sure when you are with colleagues, clients, or potential clients (because you know to treat everyone the same, right?), that you slow down, listen as much as you talk, and pay attention to cues that you might be giving off the wrong vibe.  This guy was so engrossed in talking about his latest project he just assumed that I was interested, would be flattered to even be considered for inclusion in it, and didn’t realize that I hadn’t talked for almost20 minutes.

Suffice to say, he was a little surprised when I did the wrap up.  “Well, thanks for your time, it was fun talking to you.    I’ll have to pass on the project right now as I’ve got too many other ‘irons in the fire’, so to speak.  If I have more time next year, I’ll let you know then.”

#4 – It’s okay to not know everything

There is nothing wrong with showcasing and highlighting your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses in anything whether it be a pitch to a potential client, or even showcasing your body of work or resume to a potential employer.  It is another thing altogether though, when in discussions to say “I can take care of that” to any question that comes up.  If your knee jerk response is to say yes to everything, you could be in for a serious problem come delivery time and they realize your InDesign® skills are far inferior to your Photoshop® and photography skills.

Clients can (and will) ask for the world.  It’s important to keep them on track and your time scheduled carefully.  Taking on anything and everything to get the gig will not only reduce your total revenue for the job in terms of labor hours, but quality will suffer, and the client will often leave unhappy.  Unless you want scores of unhappy former clients giving less than stellar feedback, because you promised ABC and D, but only really gave them A and B, it’s a good idea to not promise the world.  In my experience it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver rather than the other way around.

So, there you have it – four tips for finding clients.  It may not be the most sexy thing in photography, but it can increase your revenue streams to those ends exponentially.  I’ve found that these principles and a dose of common sense can be a good foundation for starting any business, but it especially works in the field of photography…based on what I’ve seen thus far.

Having said that, I am of course not an expert in the field, so I’d like to turn the question outward – what techniques have others used to find success in their markets?  Others have told me that networking among peers is a good thing – when a friend can’t take a gig, it helps to be in regular contact with that friend, because then they might refer the potential client to…yup, you!  But that’s just one I’ve heard from colleagues.  What about other tips and tricks for finding clients?  Sound off in the comments!  Have a great weekend, and we’ll see you here next week to wrap up the Month of May! (Which means someone is gonna win a Hoodman Loupe too – have you entered your own image yet?  It’s not too late to enter:  Flickr thread here!)