Monday, June 6, 2011

The Roller Coaster Ride of The Business of Photography

Picture of business people riding a plunging roller coaster car in a humorous metaphor for the ups and downs, adversity, and challenges of the business world.
The photography business is one of constant ups and downs, highs and lows, that must be dealt with for long term success.

The Photography Business Is A Roller Coaster Ride
The photography business, whether stock, assignment, editorial or weddings, is a roller coaster ride. It is a continuous series of ups and downs, highs and lows, praise and rejection, adversity and successes. In the long term, to do well in the business of photography one has to recognize that reality and find ways to deal with it.

Low Royalty Reports, Refunded Sales and Negative Forum Comments
The highs and lows of the photo business are myriad. For me, as a stock shooter, a high comes in the form of a great royalty report, a particularly large RM sale, the completion of a creative and well-crafted image or perhaps in winning an award. The lows are rejected submissions, low royalty reports (or the dreaded refund of a previous sale…usually for a large amount), and perhaps from spending too much time reading negative comments on photography forums and photo blogs. When I regularly shot assignments there were the lows of losing bids, difficult clients and the challenges of getting paid.

Psychological Preparation and Having A Plan
Over the years I have learned to deal with these lows in two basic ways: Being psychologically prepared, and having a plan in place to turn to. A third way of dealing with the lows is one I totally believe in, but, until recently,  have never had the discipline to achieve: Investing in alternative income sources (think income property, the stock market, etc.). I do know several photographers who have provided for themselves in that manner…and are they ever glad they did!

Rejections, Income Fluctuations And Maintaining Productivity
You can prepare yourself psychologically by truly accepting that all of the downsides of being a professional photographer are inevitable. There will be rejections, income fluctuations and frustrations. Assignments will go awry, clients will be unreasonable, hard drives will fail. Right now, for me, those lower than expected royalty reports are the most challenging. When I see my royalty reports have come in, I steel myself. If it is indeed a low one I am already prepared and ready to remind myself that I already am moving on plans I have in place to grow my stock photo income. I recognize that a low royalty report has a strong tendency to lower the productivity of most photographers in producing additional stock photos. I try and take that emotional hit and turn it into more energy and determination to be more productive…to take that disappointment, and perhaps even fear, and use it as a motivating force to make more and better images, and to take that little extra step in adding content to my web site.

A Detailed Plan That Is Working
I find such an exercise much easier to accomplish because I already have a detailed plan (a plan that is a work-in-progress with continual fine-tuning) in place (I learned how to create my own business plans and goals via Brian Tracy). It also helps that I can see that the plan is working. Despite royalty reports that fluctuate, my stock photo income is holding and even showing a bit of growth over last year. My web traffic is climbing steadily if not dramatically, and that is resulting in a slow increase in income from everything from imprinted merchandise to my Google Adwords income to print sales. I am licensing more stock directly as well.

Funding Retirement, Income Property and Living To A Hundred
I am actually funding my retirement plans (as if I will ever retire!) too. I have put more into my retirement fund in the last three years than I did in the previous twenty years. I am doing this even though I sense that it is “too late”. At my advanced age it seams unlikely that the type of growth seen by investing in traditional financial investments will ever amount to much while I am still around…but I am doing it anyway. I am also thinking seriously about investing in come income property as well. Who knows, I may surprise myself and live another forty years! I do know that having money is more fun than not…and if I live to a hundred I’d rather do it with!

Smart Investing In Stock Photography
BTW, I still believe that smart investing in photo shoots offers a far better return than investing in traditional investments like stocks and bonds. At least that is my experience even in these difficult times. The key word here is “smart”. I know I can’t just go out and shoot willy nilly anymore and expect great returns. But when I plan my shoots well, determine there is a need for what I am shooting, and shoot in an efficient way, my experience is that I will be well-rewarded for those efforts.

Enjoying The Ride
What is the point of all these ruminations? I’d sum it up this way: Have a plan; understand there will be ups and downs, learn to use the “downs” as emotional energy to further your career and diversify into non-photography streams of income. If you recognize that the photography business is a roller coaster ride, and prepare for it, then it will be a lot easier to enjoy that ride!


Richard said...

This is good advice, John. One thing I disagree with though is the investing advice. I wouldn't ever advise someone to choose photography as an investment strategy over a sound financial investment strategy. Traditional investing is generally thought of a "passive income" meaning that you do not physically have to be involved in the income generation to grow it aside from buying and selling at the right time (assuming you ever sell it). Whereas even if you do the most strategic photo shoot possible, it is still solely dependent on you producing the goods. It's not scaleable. What if you are 55 and have a stroke then can't work anymore? Or 70 yrs old and want to settle down for your remaining years? I certainly wouldn't want to be working at that age.

John Lund said...


One of the reasons I went into Stock photography was so that I could build up that "passive" income. While my images do lose value over time I am still earning money from stock photos I created twenty years ago...literally!

Yes, diversify into non-photographic income, but in my own experience my investments in photography have done better than the ones I put into the stock and bond markets.

Thanks for your comments!


Richard said...

Hi John. I can respect what you are saying. I guess the saying, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket." applies here too.

John Lund said...


I definitely agree with that!


Ginger & Jerry said...

This was fun to read as it told me a lot about myself. When I got turned down three times in a row from a stock agency, I had to I going to hang up my camera? or..DAMMIT THEY WILL NOT WIN....

...They didn't win.

Now I am in and whenever I get a rejection I look closely at why, and then go shoot something. (Only photographers can say that and get away with it.)

But it is a totally trend based content learning environment that makes it all the more fun.