Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I'm A Professional - Now What?

True to this blog's title, this installment is going to be a rant (for a change).

As a professional photographer, there are a lot of things I know about photography and the business. There also are a lot of things I don't know. To find out about what I don't, I go to forums, read magazines and ask other photographers.

Seems pretty reasonable - right?

One good way to poll other professional photographers about what they know and what you don't, is to ask questions in forums. Specifically, forums dedicated to professional photographers, or ones that have sections frequented by professionals. There at least you can get good, solid, information from working professionals that are up on the latest trends.

Umm. Not so much.

There are few free forums dedicated to professional photographers (other than the ones associated with the professional organizations) and even fewer paid ones available. And even the ones dedicated to professional (with very few exceptions) seem to be populated by wannabes and amateurs.

For example: On one popular forum that deals with photography and photographic technology, there is a section for professionals to post questions and answers. While not strictly prohibited from doing so, amateurs are discouraged from posting and answering questions, because, well, they're not professionals. This is not to say that an amateur can't have the answer to a specific question or a solution to a problem that may be useful. But the odds are against it.

Here's a typical question in the "pro" section of the forum:
I am planning to start a photography business in my basement. I will be doing weddings, seniors, children, but plan to do scenics as well. What camera would be suggested?Never mind the grammar problems. It's an International forum so the poster may not be a native English speaker.

Then there are the amateurs that want to know how much they should charge and what equipment they should bring because they have to shoot a wedding in a few days!

First of all, how do these people get hired to do these jobs with no experience? Second of all, why do these people even get hired with no experience?

I realize everyone has to start somewhere. But jumping in with both feet on day one is not a recipe for success. Not only that, but it hurts the industry.

When Joe decides he wants to become a professional because he has a little point and shoot camera and his mom tells him he takes good pictures, and he convinces his brother/friend/co-worker to let him shoot the family Christmas card for no or little money, and he does an OK job and takes a snapshot, everyone thinks it's great. But then everyone starts to think, well Joe is OK and he will do it for free. Why should I pay you -- a "professional" -- upwards of $300 for a Christmas card?

They don't expect high quality (because Joe can't provide it). And they expect it for next to nothing (because Joe can provide it). So they don't want to pay a professional -- who has to pay rent on a studio, pay for advertising, buy equipment and supplies, maybe pay an employee or two, pay insurance, etc., etc.

The old saying is true here: "You get what you pay for."

I'm not opposed to amateurs trolling the professional forums. I'm not even opposed to them asking questions. But I am opposed to them asking stupid questions that are not well though out and researched. Do some preliminary research on your question first, then if you get stuck, ask in the forum.

Don't ask what you should charge for a particular job. No one knows how much you should charge, except you. It depends on a number of factors, including the job at hand, what the end use of the photography is (will it be a wedding, stock, advertising, portrait), the market you're in, what your time is worth, what your overhead is, etc.

Don't ask something like: "I'm setting up a portrait studio in my 2x4 foot basement with an 8 foot ceiling. Where can I get Profoto equipment at a cheap price and what should I charge the client? I also plan to do models and nudes."

First of all, you're not doing any of these things. You have to decide to do one thing and do it right. Shoot family portraits. Shoot models. Shoot children. But you can't do all three successfully in a tiny basement room. Basically, you can't shoot anything successfully in a tiny basement room, but that's another story.

I know what, you're thinking. "So what if an amateur asks a stupid question. You were an amateur once. How else is someone going to learn."

Well, yeah, I was an amateur once (a long time ago). But there are plenty of amateur forums out there where amateurs go to learn and ask questions. I bet some pros even hang out at some of them offering advice.

The pro forums should be a place for pros to talk to one another and ask questions relevant to their business, without having to put up with the incessant "What should I charge?" and "What equipment do I need?" questions that have been asked and answered about a million times in the past.