They say that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. It’s a metaphor that speaks to the inability of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually.
Of course change in photography has been going on since it was invented, but I can remember when the “water first started to warm” for me. It was when I was handed a Kodak NC2000 in the early 1990’s to photograph a Presidential debate in Lansing, Michigan for the Associated Press. It was the start of digital photography for me. (Rob Galbraith has an excellent essay on the NC2000 here.)
And change continued. And the water got warmer. Digital cameras over the next 20 years evolved to where they are today: incredible machines that take astonishingly good photographs for as little as about $200. And now, the water is indeed boiling and many photographers are being “cooked to death.”
Now clients are taking their own photographs for their basic needs and call one of us only when the situation, setting, or circumstances require a better-than-basic knowledge of photography. But I didn’t set out to reminisce or complain in this post. Rather, to suggest that because of this change, you need to do a couple of things to remain successful.
First, get better clients. The more sophisticated the client, the more they appreciate excellent photography. The more they understand licensing. The more they appreciate YOU.
Second, listen closely to what prospective clients are telling you they need and find a way to deliver it profitably. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you simply buckle and charge less for the same or additional licensing.)
Third, differentiate. How are you different (read: better) than your competitors? If you cannot show your unique value to a prospective client, why on earth would they hire you? Your value is what make’s you a better choice for your client. And, in many cases, your value will permit you to charge more. Don’t become a commodity.
And last, don’t be an evangelist on behalf of the industry or all photographers. The minute you start explaining to a client why he or she doesn’t really need unlimited usage, why you don’t do buyouts, why, why, why, why… they will click the back button in their browser and move to the next photographer in the list that Google returned when they entered their search query. You lose.
California-based photographer Mark Loundy wrote in his excellent blog “Common Cents”: “Telling them [clients] about my costs of doing business or how many hours it takes for a project’s post-production is like explaining Purina’s manufacturing process to a dog — they just won’t care.” I couldn’t have made my point any better.
The water is boiling, many of my friends have left the business. Ask yourself, how can you adapt to the new photography business? Are you willing to change your business model? Willing to reinvent yourself yet again? How has your approach to our business and your clients changed? If you’re willing, share your story in the comments below.