The Dirty Little Secrets of Photographers

The Bubble Burst.  Let’s all just Admit it.

When I decided to close my studio and go back to exclusively on location, while I was happy to kick the rent monkey of of my back, there was a part of me that was shocked at what the photography field was becoming.

How does one go from up to 10 clients per week paying several thousand per order to…….. nearly crickets?  I did a quick check

Where is my website in the rankings?   My website was still ranked within the first three in my area and search criteria.

Am I still relevant?  I’m still photographing newborns, and there are newborns being born every day.  I’m still getting the wows…. all the time.

Are there still people with disposable money?  Absolutely.  Marketing to the Greater Baltimore, even DC area – yes… very successful people still out there spending.

Am I marketing enough?  I was marketing enough to continue bringing several hundred potential clients per day to my website, per my website analysis.

I had to face it.   Social media bombarding with selfies and family snaps, an I-phone camera in every pocket……Does everyone really need professional photos anymore?  Not really…. not when I-phone images are good enough in many cases (because they are – be honest!)… the actual-buying-customer pool decreased.   Also…. No barrier to entry into the photography business……and…..

The Photography Bubble burst.  It is what it is, and anyone that tells you something different is trying to make money off of you.


I saw the shift in photographers moving toward selling to other photographers instead of taking in clients per my article here or were just stopping their businesses altogether.   I also was taken aback by the excuses.  Photographers who typically remained in the spotlight because of their associations with certain people or organizations were now making excuses as to why they were shifting or closing down.

We decided to move back “home” to be closer to family.

We decided God was calling us to travel for mission work.

My child was diagnosed with X, Y, Z (nothing life threatening BTW).

I decided to live simpler and downsize

My studio takes care of itself, so I decided to travel and teach photographers and give back.

etc. etc.

Each one of these excuses could be real…. could be.   It is highly unlikely, though, especially when you start seeing a huge trend of everyone making these same excuses or similar excuses.   In this day and age where the unemployment rate is so high and we are still dealing with the aftereffects of economic downturn, no one closes a hugely successful business or shifts away from it.   If it’s too much for them, they hire others to manage it for them so the income still flows (no one leaves easy money on the table)…. or they sell it (but photography businesses have no value with no clients so who can sell a photography business with lack of stable clients and a photographer on every corner?).

Where Is the Honesty?

I’ve never kept it a secret that I have back taxes from when my business was ridiculously booming and the insane income took a nosedive.  It’s taking years to recover, and we are still not recovered, but still doing what we are supposed to be doing to recover.

I’ve been open and honest about my journey because I knew there were other photographers out there in the same boat.  There had to be.  If *I* was one of the highest paid photographers in my area feeling this change, I knew I wasn’t alone… but no one wanted to speak up.  Whatever.  I continued to speak up because that’s what I do.

The Dirty Little Secrets

I began to receive an outpouring of  *Thank Yous*   from photographers in the US and all over the world.   No one really wanted to admit their struggles publicly.  Understood.  No one wanted to admit their failures (although when an industry tanks, it is not your failure).  These photographers who had had amazingly successful businesses for years began to open up with me.  They were going through one or several of the following and have been open and honest with me about it – some issues more serious than others…

Closing the business indefinitely because the business was costing them money, not making them money.

Dealing with back tax debt and liens.  I’m there, I get you!!!! haha!  It started as a small back tax debt.  They hit you with penalties and interest.  Your clientele began to dwindle, you couldn’t pay that back and pay estimated for the following year, and before you knew it, it accrued…. and accrued.

Giving up house and having to downsize and/or move for spouse to find work.

Taking on a day job.   Going back to previous employment or falling back on degree, or even going back to college (I’m there! :D)

Filing bankruptcy.  You made bills and lived life when you had your great income and now you can’t make ends meet because you didn’t anticipate the bubble bursting.

Hitting rock bottom and going on government assistance as the reality of not having a resume beyond “photographer” (no matter if you once had a higher salary as a photographer than the management you interview with) for the last few years has no meaning in Corporate America.

No Shame

This is nothing that any of us should be ashamed of.   We were all living in a bubble.  The Photography Bubble.  It burst.  Just like what happened with the housing market.  It burst.  It was inevitable, but none of us thought it would because we are artists, and great art should last forever…. (although we seem to forget about the idea of starving artist ;))

Accusations from the Rockstars

Many rockstar photographers facing their own dilemma with lack of clients, began and are still selling the dream and accusing the “grumpies” and the “whiners” or the “realists” like me of not trying hard enough because that is the way they use your insecurities to buy what they are selling.   Don’t fall for it.   Funny cause many of these rockstars never made the kind of money some of us did or have an extensive photography business history.   *sigh*

My point of all this is…. we need to be honest.  If we are not honest with each other, how do we expect to ever turn photography as a career around?   The more everyone lies and says how amazing they are doing if they aren’t, the more they entice others into the market…. the more in the market, the higher the supply, the lower the demand, the lower the value.   Why do we set new photographers up to continue to beat their heads against the wall while they chase a lie?

incense-smokeAmazing?  What are they Smoking?

And what is “doing amazing” anyway?  There are photographers who claim that they are insanely busy charging $200 at 4 clients per week, but in reality are making $10/hour.   I’m sorry but that’s not my definition of a business owner doing amazing.    There is no comparison there, but telling everyone how amazing you are doing is simply adding to the problem.

Operate with Your Eyes Open

There is still money to be made, but only few are going to make it.  Chances are, you will never make the money in photography that others falsely represent to you.  If you can accept that, you may do okay after all.  If you operate within the realm of reality, you will see clearly and make decisions accordingly that will make you a success.

Check out the other Honest Articles for more of what no one wants to talk about.