Selina Maitreya Interview

Selina Maitreya called me up the other day to tell me about a new mp3 series she developed for photographers called “The View From Here.” I’ve heard good things from photographers who’ve worked with Selina so I checked it out. It all sounded very well done and informative but I thought it might be better for all of you if I just asked her a few questions, so you can gauge for yourself if you like where she’s coming from. You can learn more about the series (here) and Selina gave me this code: FOSAPE that will get you the whole thing for $99 instead of the advertised $199. I get nothing from the transaction just in case you were curious if I did that kind of thing. Just so you know, I don’t.

Here’s what Selina and I talked about:

APE: Where should we start?

I thought that Art Buyer interview you posted recently was interesting because it told me that essentially nothing has changed over the years. The way buyers assign has been tweaked, but the process is basically he same. As far back as I can remember when an Art Director would have a job they’d call in a photographer they knew to sit down and shoot the breeze, maybe they’d get on the phone if they didn’t have the time, but they’d sit down and discuss the whole project. And 9 times out of 10 they were hiring someone they knew first before they would decide to outsource to somebody that was new. I remember 30 years ago being in lots of meetings as an agent and the project was discussed before you got hired and you’d spend an hour or two, maybe have lunch and then you’d most likely get the assignment. Sometimes they might shop it around.

APE: Yeah so I’ve heard this common complaint about the personality test and even brought it up in that Art Buyer post: what does the photographers ability to communicate with the Art Director have to do with taking pictures?

Tons, this is still a creative process. On one hand, photographers want people to hire them and make it personal, on the other hand they say that they don’t want their personality considered. The business has shifted in terms of the way relationships are developed and the time and place where the relationship comes into the sell is now different. But what is the same is that relationships are still important and personalities are important. Think about it, who want’s to hire somebody that they don’t have an understanding with. It’s not just about the visual. The visual is the front end sell now and it used to be the personality and the relationship was the front end sell but those are now what seal’s the deal. Photographers will point to budgets being the front end piece but budgets get discussed after books are called in. It’s the visual that gets the initial attention.

APE: It seems to me this is the difference between photography as a business and a hobby. As a business all the normal rules of doing business apply. Customer service, marketing, competition, it’s not just about the pictures there’s so much more that goes into making a sale and making it successful.

Absolutely, and now without the visuals, which is the front end sell, you will never get to the business end of it. Conversely, if you have the vision and you haven’t spent time working out the business end of the deal then you’ve only got part of the equation. Again, everything is the same as it’s been for the last 30 years. The sequence may be different and things are named differently but it’s all the same stuff: vision, professionalism, savvy marketing skills, personality and service.

APE: I hear from a lot of young photographers that what’s holding them back is that Art Directors and Producers are not branching out and seeking new talent. They’re relying on relationships and things that are familiar to them. Do you believe that?

Relationships are always important, I think that it makes sense if you’re a buyer and you have somebody that’s done a really good job for you then you can trust them. Trust is huge in this business, so much of the business side equates to it. Lots of money is at stake and so are jobs for Art Buyer and Art Directors. But, because each project is so branded and each one has a different message there’s also more chance that a different type of visual will be needed. Because the front end buyers are the Art Buyers not the Art Directors, you have someone that’s hiring for lots of different accounts. Each of those accounts has a different style attached to it based on the message that’s going on in the ad and campaign, so there’s less chance they’re going to hire the same photographer over and over. So, there are many photographers who will tell you quite the opposite, that they’d love to be hired back and the client retention is lower than it ever was. Clients were more loyal in the past.

APE: Tell me about the new mp3 series and how that came about?

It came about because I was really concerned about the state of photography. I was lecturing around the country and I was getting emails and photographers were panicking.

APE: More than usual?

Yes, more so than ever. I have an email list that goes out 8000 photographers who’ve signed up for my articles and last spring I wrote an article entitled “Survive? Think, Thrive!” This was an article that laid out how photographers could build a business today that would thrive in the future. The response was overwhelming, so I responded by giving out my time to try and help people. I gave out 30 hours in April and May. I’m booked solid so I had to make extra time for this. Working with photographers for free inspired me to make something for people who couldn’t afford my $300/hour consultant fee.

I talked to photographers who said they wanted something they could listen to. I wanted to create a learning tool that was informative and inspirational plus I wanted it to be organized so people could easily go to the topics that spoke to their immediate needs. Two of my industry friends helped me source the equipment and within days I discovered my sound engineer who just happened to show up with an LA based client. So, I recorded every day for July and August and got over 100 hours of audio that then became the finished 12 chapter 9 hour program.

You can’t teach everything about developing a vision or marketing, so I wanted to take what I felt were key concepts–knowing photographers as well as I do and being in the business as long as I have–and address where photographers make mistakes. I wanted it to be created for any photographer at any level. There’s a whole chapter on agents because that’s one of the questions I get the most from photographers.

APE: Really, I used to get that as well, but answered it recently so not so much anymore.

I started as an agent and I’ve trained over 200 agents.

APE: Trained?

Yes, people used to come to me because I had a comprehensive training program for agents. I had a 12 week 48 hour rep training program. I’ve also worked with experienced agents over the years. Many have come to me and ask that I not tell anyone about our work because they seem to feel that they should know everything but I say, “listen, working with a consultant is a good thing for your clients, because it shows how much you care,” but some people are not comfortable with that.

APE: I wanted to ask you since you’ve been in this business so long if you feel like there are more photographers and specifically more aspiring photographers than ever? Especially now that there’s so much information available for people. Maybe the barrier to entry is much lower for aspiring photographers now.

In terms of photographers coming out of schools it goes up and down, there are however programs now geared toward prosumers. There are more people trying to become photographers from the prosumer market but as far as how many of those people will make it, I don’t know. Interestingly, I would say if you go on LinkedIn or Twitter or any other social media the majority of photographers who are conversing are prosumers.

APE: Yes, but haven’t there always been a huge group of people who wish some day to make their living as a photographer and it’s just that we can see them all now thanks to the internet?

Yes, and how many of those people are doing something about it verses how many are just talking? Words without action. Photography is a field that’s competitive in numbers only. When you look at the percentage of photographers who truly take the advice that you really need to develop a vision and then will actually do the work it takes and then once they develop that vision put into the mix all the marketing tools needed (traditional and new media), go on sales calls and give it the time needed to come to fruition, that’s maybe 10% of all the photographers selling out there. Those are the people working. So, there may be a lot of prosumers coming into the market but a small percentage will actually be successful.

APE: When you say photography is competitive in numbers only. What does that mean?

It means that there are tons of people hanging out the shingle with the title photographer attached. However when you look, the number of photographers who understand the vision selling equation and have taken the time and effort to build a deep body of work based around a specific style and then have created the sales trails needed to competitively market their work and have given their effort enough time for the market to respond, the competition is slim. So, while there are many, many photographers a very small percentage are actually prepared to compete.

APE: I feel like the changes that have happened recently have made it so there’s less of a business advantage and you need to have the great vision and talent to make it happen.

None of it matters if you don’t have the vision. The reality is that just getting started in this business is just so daunting for people. If you’re a photo editor or art buyer the first tier of photographers you will hire from is always the people you’ve worked with in the past, that you’re familiar with, that you trust. Then on the second tier is the people who’ve been consistently through several sales channels marketing to you for the last 2 years. Maybe you’ve thrown them something, but they’ve been there and been in to see you, sent in their book and done the mailers. The 3rd tier is thousands of people who’ve hit you with a couple mailers or sent the book in once or stopped by the office once. That’s no man’s land and that’s where everyone starts at first. How you handle the first 2 years is going to determine if you stay in no man’s land or move up to the other level.

APE: So, you think on average it takes a couple years to start getting some traction?

Yes, and with all the people in no man’s land it’s that much harder to get seen and stand out, but the photographers who have that vision and have taken it into their direct mail, email, website, who go on sales visits, who are blogging and twittering and linking their photographs from posts and developing sales trails and doing this continuously, those are the photographers who are going to get the traction. That’s where you build that identity in the first year.

There are many more people out there who are talking photography but not any more people who are doing photography. It really does take that special person and you need the mix. My most successful photographers during the downturn have been people who have sales, traditional marketing, social networking and they work their asses off and they never stop no matter how successful they’ve become.

APE: I wanted to ask you about social networking. A common complaint among photographers is that not only do they have to take pictures, have a book, show the book, do mailers is, “now I have to facebook, linkedin and twitter?” How many hoops do we have to jump through to get a job?

My response is to stop looking at it as hoops. Stop looking at it being one big pain in the ass. Embrace it, stop complaining. So, much of this is the attitude a photographer approaches the business with. Here’s a quote from Victor Frankel, who lived through the holocaust, that I love: “The last of the human freedoms is your choice of attitude in any given situation.” So, first of all get rid of the attitude. It’s the integration of these tools. What we’re asked to do today is have an integrated marketing program that encompasses all the marketing tools.

There’s direct mail and email, sales calls, your website, blog and social networks. So, you look at each of those and say, ok I need to integrate all of this. Look at it this way, you go on a sales visit and you can talk to them and see where they are on social networks and you can follow them on twitter and connect on LinkedIn. Then you see who they’re LinkedIn with and if you want an introduction to another art buyer you ask them for that and you start using it. Use the LinkedIn page to leave your latest shot and an address that goes to your blog that goes to your website. You create sales trails for the people that you’ve seen in person and hopefully they will go there. You send out a tweet about it so you’re creating this other level of opportunity for the people that you’ve seen in person and the people who haven’t met yet to start to see your work.

Is it effort? Yes, it is but if you integrate your meetings with your social online efforts and you do it thoughtfully you’re creating this online trail for people to follow and there’s a purpose to it. You don’t have to do all of them but you have to pick from each of the categories and start to integrate them together so that there’s an intelligent plan.

APE: Right, so what is that plan?

Photographers need to have an understanding how each tool works individually and then together. Visual emails and direct mail create initial visibility. Sales meetings to researched key contacts provide the opportunity for your personality to be known. A blog can show work and tell more about you as a creative person. A website is a wonderful outreach marketing too. Social networking provides another layer of visual and personality refresh. Once you choose which tools you will use, create a schedule and stick to it.

I get really concerned when photographers hear a specific buyer talk about their marketing preferences and then assume that the buyer’s opinion represents everyone’s opinion. If that buyer doesn’t like email, suddenly they assume that no one looks at email. The truth is different buyers come through different channels. It’s the mix between selling and marketing. There are more ways than ever to market but there’s only one way to sell and that’s to go get your tush in a chair in front of somebody. Because, there are so many more people out there, the early stage is where photographers get discouraged. When Nike came out with just do it they didn’t just do tv, or print, or tshirts on road races, or web or radio they did it all. Photographers need to look at their time and budget and work with an assistant or marketing expert and decide what channels to use then commit to 2-4 years of doing it. I’m very clear with photographers that it takes a long time before you’re going to feel like your efforts are consistently generating enough funding so you feel like it’s worth it.

I moderated a panel of art buyers in New England that had a range of people from a designer at a small local studio up to an Art Buyer at a huge agency and what was interesting was when we asked what works for you, every single one of them had different ways they wanted to be reached and every one of them agreed that just because they start with websites doesn’t mean they don’t pay attention to direct mail or email. Every one of them said the same thing which was you gotta hit me in several different ways and you have to do it continuously because my memory is really short. From the small agency to the large one the only difference was that when it came to print portfolios only the small agency said they buy off the web. Everyone else wanted print portfolios. 6 different companies all saying the same thing, hit me in different ways. It’s not enough to get an email, it’s not enough to do direct mail. You need to sell, market and participate in social networking.

APE: It just seems like, and you can tell me compared to 30 years ago, that you need to put more effort and more time into marketing than ever?

It’s is true but isn’t life like that. Don’t we have a President who’s saying roll up your sleeves america and get back to work.

APE: It’s just too bad then, is that what it is?

Life is busy and life is fabulous, but if you take the attitude that life is a fucking pain in the ass, well hello welcome to the world you’ve created. Yes, we have to work harder than ever before but you know what? When I became an agent I had 6 months of photography school under my belt and I loved photography but didn’t have the money to continue, so I was selling my Firebird to pay for the rest and my friend wrapped it around a tree the night before it was to be delivered to the buyer. So, I became a waitress instead. Then some photographer came into the restaurant and wanted someone to take his book around, so I did it in purple tights and a black dance skirt, walking into advertising agencies not knowing a thing. It’s all about how we approach and embrace life and that’s a big piece of my message too. There are a few photographers in 30 years that I was unable to help and it was grounded in the fact that they believed it wasn’t going to work because life stinks. How can you help someone like that? You can’t, that negativity is toxic.

APE: What does the future look like?

People ask me all the time if photography is dying. I feel like the role of photographer is shifting and it always has been shifting. The photographer who is invested in developing the visual craft; is willing to show up and do the work; is committed to going through life with a positive attitude; is able to see the shifts, is willing to embrace them and move with them; is the photographer that’s going to continue to thrive.

There Are 60 Comments On This Article.

  1. This is a very timely interview for me. Just today I received Selina’s “How To Succeed in Commercial Photography” in an Amazon delivery today, so this interview makes a good addition. I’ll come back again after I finish the book to read this for a second time. Thanks to both of you.

  2. Thanks for the interview Rob, but just to clarify, I did spend over 100 hours on the program organizing, recording, reviewing, editing with my sound engineer etc. However the finished MP3 THE VIEW FROM HERE is a 12 chapter 9 hour program :)

  3. Crap! I just bought “The View From Here” at full price last week (not that it’s not worth every penny, but a hundred bucks goes a long way). Great interview! I think the one thing that really struck a chord with me from Selina is that relationships are still key. With the digital age everything (not just photography) has gotten very impersonal. Personal, face to face contact is becoming less and less common. My photography business is still in it’s infancy but I feel like personal relationships and personal contact will go along way toward building it up.

  4. I just listened to the free chapter and it sounds like a good investment. I’m sure I’ll be making the purchase.

    Faith is the hardest part. I believe the lack of faith is what leads to the other issues of laziness, negativity, and resistance to change. Because when you REALLY believe in something, it conjures the drive and determination to bring it to fruition.

    YOU GOTTA BELIEVE!

  5. Very strong and informative interview. What impresses me is her optimism mixed with realism. She is saying that there is still hope and success and one’s attitude is the most determining factor of all.

  6. Um…AWESOME!

    Thanks for this one Rob. A lot of great tidbits in her responses. I like the emphasis on attitude, I know I could definitely change the way I face certain aspects of photography.

  7. This is such a timely article for me. I think it reinforces what I have read recently about business as a whole and also in Photography. I learned long ago that you have to have a vision, without you are really lost in what you are doing. I think you can get lost trying to find your vision and it always helps to have someone that knows you and can help you see. I think that it is awesome that Selena gets to know the Photographer as she helps them.

    I think this links a bit to the interview you did with Andy Anderson back on Feb 6, 2009

    I learned as a recruiter for the U.S. Air Force, if you don’t build relationships with people, get to know them and not be the hard sell salesman, you will land a lot of work (for me at the time was recruits). This has suited me well in the past, yet I am finding it a bit more difficult in photography but that is ok. I am doing what I love and will do what it takes to get to where I want to be. JMHO

    Thanks Rob for doing such a great job.

  8. Outstanding. Thanks, Rob, for bringing material like this to us, and thanks to Selina for taking the time to be so thorough. Much appreciated.

  9. I sit here before a first face to face with an editorial AD in 30 minutes. Making the rounds. This is great and valuable information! Thanks Rob and Selina, this blog just went up a notch on my daily reads.

  10. nice interview!
    i thought it was interesting that she quoted Victor Frankl. one of my favorites from his book Man’s Search For Meaning, is …(quoting from memory)… “Man can survive almost any How, if he has a Why.” touching on the notion that “meaning” is created by and assigned by the individual, not so much to be “found” out there somewhere.
    good stuff that there Selina.

  11. Relationships, relationships, relationships. A creative profession is not just what you do, it is the way you live.

    I now have two books written by Selina, Portfolios That Sell, and my recently acquired How To Succeed In Commercial Photography. The first has been a valuable tool in honing my presentation, and I have no doubt the second will provide great insight.

  12. A great interview, you too. Covered so many topics that are in the forefront. I think this interview should be mandatory reading before getting a business license. And the MP3 program and Rob’s blog too…

    There is a lot of panic out there, but it seems that it is panic induced from a point of ignorance (not a pejorative ignorance) of how this crazy business works. They don’t teach it anywhere… so here is a roadmap.

    Thanks you two.

  13. Interesting, and useful as usual.

    Now don’t take this the wrong way, I’ve found all these interviews to be informative and appreciate the time involved (for both the interviewer and interviewee) in doing these pieces. But it sure seems like there are a lot of people trying to make a buck off of the “how to be a successful photographer” theme.

    I suppose it reflects the growing population of people armed with increasingly affordable pro camera gear. Maybe it’s just a soft economy. But there does appear to be cottage industry emerging around this “how to” topic in a marketplace that appears to be well past the saturation point.

    • @Tom,

      I think it reflects how insecure a lot of photogs are and how often they let the tail wag the dog instead of the other way around.

      Everyone is looking to someone else for the answer when really.

    • @Tom,

      I’ve been at this for over 30 years. There has always been an industry in “how to be a successful photographer”. Many of the people come and go. Make a few dollars and are never heard from again.

      There are a few that stay around and have a proven track record of working with photographers. While I’ve never worked with Selina she is one of the people who has been around for a long time and has been successful in helping photographers. Some of my friends have used her.

      The bottom line is, none of them will make you successful. That is up to you. You also have to figure out what you consider success.

      You need to follow your passion. The best consultants, like Selina, and a couple of other consultants, can help you by translating your photographic vision and passion into a way to make money and eat.

      • @Lucas,

        Just to be clear I didn’t mean my comment to reflect badly on Selina specifically. If anyone got that impression I apologize. I appreciate her taking the time to share her thoughts.

        I was just making the more general observation that there seem to be a lot of books, seminars, consulting services, portfolio review services, etc. cropping up all aimed at the “how to be a successful photographer” topic. I’m sure some of these things have been around forever, but it just seems like the volume of services seems to be increasing at a pretty steep rate.

        Only a couple have been mentioned on this site, but I get unsolicited material (spam and snail mails) pushing this sort of stuff all the time. That leads me to wonder two things:

        1. When do the number of experts offering to help you become a successful photographer exceed the number of actual successful photographers? I’m thinking we may be beyond that point already.

        2. Since much of this advice seems somewhat formulaic, when do people who break all the rules start getting more attention than the conformists?

        A lot of this information has been very helpful. Some of it seems redundant. Some just common sense. But clearly you could go broke trying to become a successful photographer.

        • @Tom, It has always been like this in all of the glamorous/romantic careers like Acting, Screenplay Writing, Movie Producing/Directing, etc, etc, etc. Lots of books and seminars for those wanting to work in Hollywood.

          Also there is a big business in get-rich-quick, Entrepreneurial/Sales seminars. There are also many books and DVDs devoted to this subject. There is a mainstay of Infomercials.

          Google “creative writing seminars.”

          Photography is a Johnny-come-lately.

          • @c.d.embrey, Excuse me folks, but as I can only speak for myself, I was here before there was an industry. I have watched the consulting field grow and have gotten to know a few of my fellow consultants. For the most part (as with photography) the consultants I have sat with and talked to are knowledgeable dedicated professionals.. Now as in photography that are those consulting who are less experienced ,less dedicated and less helpful.
            You are right to be most careful as to who you choose to trust. I cover consultants in my books and in my MP3 program.
            Watch out for get rich quick attitudes, ,in photo thats a joke, we all know that. In regards to the number of consultants working in the field, absolutely there are more and more. I welcome the competition as I know that knowledge is power and if there are more people helping to educate photographers we all win and I say Wonderful!

  14. Hi Rob, I really like this post and find it very imformative…. however, I’m a photographer who has just got an agent, yet I still really do not know what to do. I still keep making pictures but, do I need to follow up the marketing my agent is doing for myself or lay back and let them do it for me? Do I need to send out mailers and such in fear of overlaping what my agent has already sent out?
    I am really just starting out in this industry and would love to hear your thoughts as I’m sure im not the only one. :-)

    Matt.

      • @A Photo Editor, that is a very good point, I guess out of fear of sounding like I dont know what I am doing… although they are great and i should ask without worrying!

        • @Matt…, Pretend you don’t have an agent. You have to still do marketing follow-ups, testing, your own client relations and research. There is no way an agent can make all the calls for you, and take care of a stable of many others. And no one will work as hard for you as you do for yourself. So my advice is pretend you don’t have an agent.

  15. Selina, Great message! I especially like the quote about the Last human freedom being your choice of attitude in any situation. Tremendous power in that thought.

  16. Thanks APE. I’m beginning to hate you a bit but your blog is one of the constant kicks in the ass that i need to remind myself about the how of “making it” in this business.

  17. as for so many others, this was a very timely read for me. thanks Rob, Selina and all the commenting readers. … i think in many ways we all know what we need to do … but we also need that reminder, gentle push or kick in the tush, to keep moving forward. thanks, again!

  18. Selina, you are an inspiration. I think your overarching themes on “attitude” and being a professional, as well as an artist, are enduring. Treating photography as a business, unless you’re a hobbyist, is essential to making a living from it. In addition to offering a solid service or product, marketing/promotion and professionalism are basic tenets of good business practice.

    And photography is not a static business, nor should should one’s portfolio be static. The best photographers are continuing to try things out (I think Nadev Kander’s an example of someone who doesn’t rest on his laurels).

    -Neil

  19. Rob & Selina,

    I think your thoughts here all make sense and is overall very good advice. And as someone else pointed out in an earlier tag is also fairly common sense.

    However, the reality of 2009 is a bit more problematic in the real world of working pros than what you are talking about. Honestly, I believe commercial photography is becoming an almost non-viable business for a number of reasons:

    – fees collected from traditional sources such a magazine print, billboard, etc. are drying up at an exponential rate. (Formerly a major portion of commercial shooters income.)
    – fees for on-line usage of images are not making up the difference of this loss of income from traditional avenues.
    – lots of stock imagery is still taking away projects from commercial assignment shooters.
    – Former editorial shooters are flooding the commercial space for work. Along with higher level wedding shooters who are being flooded by a wave of prosumer shooters taking their business.
    – Prosumers are getting bits of commercial work because they aren’t charging viable commercial pricing and can grab a bit of the pie based off their own relationships.
    – Equipment costs – i.e. professional level cameras, lights, computers etc. – relative to inflation cost more now than every before by a large margin.
    – Due to increased competition marketing costs now also costs much more than ever.
    – For the year commercial assignments are down as much as 40% and some formerly high paying focus areas like the Auto industry are almost totally wiped out.
    – And there are in fact many more ‘numbers’ than you might be willing to admit – i.e. there are far more qualified professional level photographers with specific visions, good relationships, hard core marketing efforts, good manners and funny jokes than there are assignments available….

    I could come up with a longer and more through list if need be, but my point is this – you can have the best attitude in the whole world, work harder than anyone else, have a great book, many relationships and experience and still not make it – today.

    I’m based in Minneapolis/St. Paul where there is basically one professional level store in town called West Photo. If you go into West Photo right now there is about 25 used mono-stands for sale. Shooters only sell their mono-stands when they shut down there studios… I know of at least 10 formerly successful shooters based here who have closed there doors this year (and likely many more that I don’t know about…). In the past we have had a very good market place here (as you know since you have consulted many shooter in this area).

    Of the 50 or so higher level commercial shooters base here I don’t know of a single one who has had more than a handful of assignments for the year… And many of them had only one or two projects outside of Target which basically floats our whole photo community.

    And this is not just in our regional market. I just got back from San Fran. today – I had meeting with 6 art buyers, 2 repping firms, some bloggers, and 2 other commercial shooters. The buyers are absolutely overwhelmed with marketing, the shooters and reps echo my thoughts.

    Before I started shooting I was a music video producer. For a while business was good… you could come up with an idea, figure out how much it would cost, get your expenses covered, and make a little money. Then the music industry started losing money due to illegal downloads and they started tightening budgets… and pitting directors and productions companies against each to do projects at cost (Similar to insane requests from agencies asking auto shooters to cover multi-hundred-thousands of dollars of expenses for shoots out of their own pocket…). It worked for a while, but their big businesses begin to fail and so did the directors and producers who use to make a living in that world.

    This is what is happening to commercial photography… it is a dying business – not a dying creative form (actually thriving more than ever in creativity), but a dying viable business. Obviously there will be a need for imagery in advertising in the future, but consider this… how many music video directors in 2009 make a living, i.e. survive completely off income generated from creating music videos? Almost none.

    I hate to say it, but many more people need to face the facts that even if it is possible to keep your current business alive or to build a new one in this market – it doesn’t mean it’s a good business to be in no matter what your vision is.

    • @Clark Patrick,

      You bring up some great points and have obviously put a lot of thought into your post. However, your attitude is a bit disconcerting. It’s an attitude that I’ve seen and heard over and over again. “Business sucks and we’re all doomed”.

      The “reality” here is that business in 2009 is different than it was 10 years ago but i don’t think that means it’s dying as you say. It just means we have to adapt and figure out a new way to do business. I’m no expert and I’m sure you have more experience in this business than myself. Perhaps my ignorance is an asset though. I don’t do something a certain way just because that’s how it’s always been done simply because I don’t know how it’s always been done.

      “Commercial photography is becoming an almost non-viable business”. I couldn’t disagree more. Strong imagery will ALWAYS have a place in commerce. We are visual people and that won’t change. Commercial photography as we know it (or have known it) may be headed downward but that only leaves opportunity to forge a new path.

      I’ve heard every argument you make from countless other sources and as I said before they are very valid points. The real issue is – what are you doing with that information? I want to learn from it and use it to my advantage. The truth is, building a thriving commercial photography business is harder now than it has been in the past (so I’ve heard anyway). It sounds like you’ve decided it’s not worth the hard work. Nothing wrong with that at all. For me, at this point, I’ve decided it IS worth the hard work.

      “you can have the best attitude in the whole world, work harder than anyone else, have a great book, many relationships and experience and still not make it – today”. If you work hard, have a great attitude and build genuine relationships you will always make it no matter what form of business you do. I guess it just depends what your definition of “make it” is.

      This is just my .02. As I said, I’m no expert and I certainly value the opinions of seasoned veterans in this great field. By the way Clark, you have some fantastic portrait work in your portfolio.

      • @Ryan Gibson,

        Great thoughts and comments in response to my post. And thanks for your compliments on my work. I agree with you that great imagery will always have a place in the world and in the advertising industry, but the question is will it have a place of proper financial value – sustainable value for running a business? My answer is that it will eventually not… and soon. The industry is eroding in a somewhat cancerous way – there are many different factors which collectively are eating away at it’s sustainability. Now, you are most certainly correct in that if you think about the business in new ways and work towards new models it can survive, but than it becomes a fundamentally different business… Like my music video example – I know a lot of music video directors… and many music videos are still being made today, but they are mostly being made with very small, non-sustainable amounts of money, and basically all music video directors make a living working in that industry in some other way. So what is their business model? A mixed source of income with some videos in there doing what they love. My point is that their are some system issues with how, why, where, etc. shooters generate income in commercial photography that are beyond their ability to work harder or think their way out of. There many industries that become no longer viable as business. How many typewriter companies do you know? But, there sure are a lot of computer keyboards out there… entirely different things, but still using the same old keys — does that makes sense? And no, I have certainly not given up on my business, but I do however, have another one that is sustainable which allows me to not give up. If I weren’t making money in another way my commercial photography business would have to be closed down. I come from a family of business owners some of them creative businesses some of them very non-traditional businesses and without any shame or disappointment sometimes business need to be closed up for the most simple and important reason – they don’t make money.

        • @Clark Patrick,

          Some people grow old and fail to adapt.

          C’est la vie. The world today is very different than 10 years ago and in 10 years that will again be the case.

          I don’t think that pictures are going away anytime soon. Business models change.

          Adapt or quit.

          • @craig,

            Indeed, but that has nothing to do with sustainability… you can adapt all you want, but that doesn’t automatically mean business survival. Again, I’m not saying it’s impossible to make it in this business I’m saying it is no longer a good business – at least if you think of it strickly in terms of the bottom line.

            • @Clark Patrick, Craig, my 2 cents. While I understand the frustration and agree that sustaining a business is harder today then ever I totally disagree that photography is a dying business. Its is a business that shifts constantly.
              I base this on the fact that I am in touch with many photographers and buyers as I travel, as I consult, as I tweet,and while yes it is tough out there, I have clients who are shooting and doing well. They are editorial, advertising and corporate. The photographers working represent the spectrum. They live in different parts of the US and Canada and most of them are in the business 5 yrs or more.The qualities that they share?They have bucket loads of talent that they work, its clear to buyers, they have 5-7 different sales streams that consistently follow, they have had time behind them (some less than 2 years)and they stay as positive (realistically so) as possible. They attract the work because of talent, and energy, and through their constant marketing they persevere .Dont underestimate energy and attitude.If you feel the industry is dying you bring that energy into your world. Study Quantum physics and you will see what I am talking about. I don’t live in a world viewed thru rose colored glasses.I would be totally ineffective if i did.
              I know the power of positive thinking along side the tools of good business . That combination is what photographers need in order to THRIVE in todays market.
              While in LA last week I ran into (literally) in my hotel, an AD from London who was working on the Toyota print act.He was in LA for a three week shoot.
              We had a discussion about CGI and how it is shifting the print industry. There will always be new technologies, new business models, our world changes so quickly. Photographers need to be aware of the constant shifts in the industry and see what they need to do to respond. Awareness, attention, heart, talent, commitment ,and positivity are huge tools for the photographic warrior.

              • @selina maitreya,

                THIS. Yes. Exactly. Attitude is everything. I don’t read blog comments much anymore (yes..this time I did and felt compelled to respond) because they tend to be very negative and woe-is-us, which is not the kind of vibe I want in my mind. It is unproductive.

                It is important to always be moving and coming up with new, creative things and ways of working. You can never sit still for long. It is an industry that favors the agile, creative and energetic. And that true on both the art and business side of it.

              • @selina maitreya,

                You are totally missing my point. I agree with you 100% – this business constantly shifts, there are shooters even in this intense downturn who are doing very very well, having 5-7 sales avenues, good relationships, energy, positivism, perseverance, talent, etc. are extremely important in having a successful business photographic or otherwise. etc. etc. And I know all about physics, specifically quantum entanglement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_entanglement) – how a synergetic connections, like a cosmically ordained photo assignment can happen.

                However, I completely disagree with you – you do project the world through rose-colored glasses and I think it is honestly a disserves to many, particularly young aspiring, photographers. And here’s why – if I were Rob and I were to interview you for this blog these are the questions I would have asked you:

                -As an industry do you know how much revenue is down for the year for commercial shooters on average, how about since 2001?
                -Over the last 3 years how many editorial shooters have lost their jobs from staff positions from publications? How many of those shooters have tried to enter the commercial marketplace?
                -Do you have any data on how much loss in revenue has occurred from traditional print media sources, like magazine print ad campaigns over the last 3-5 years?
                -Do you have any data in relative terms as to what professional level equipment costs are now compared to the pre-digital era of photography, the 1990’s, 80’s, 70’s, etc. with or without inflation, How about marketing costs?
                -Do you have any information about how many professional shooters who have been in business over 5 years leave the marketplace each year relative to how many enter the marketplace? How about for 2009? How many shooters with over 5 years business experience have left the market or had less than 3 commercial assignments in 2009?
                -Do you think it is true that 10% of commercial shooters make 90% or the available revenue in the industry as a whole, has it always been like that?
                -Do you have any data as to what the average take home income of a commercial shooter is now compared to the each of the last 4 decades?
                -Or how about this one – how many successful commercial shooters are divorced? How many have gotten divorced within the last 10 years?
                If I had to guess, I would say you don’t have any hard data to answer these questions, which I think you should if you are consultant in this field – And if you did I would bet my house on the fact that that data would reveal an INDUSTRY in decline – from a strictly business point of view – as an industry and not as super energized talented individuals.

                I interact with a lot of young people interested in photography and paint a much more realistic portrait than you do, because I know that even if you have the best attitude in the world, work harder than anyone else, and have some talent too – it still doesn’t mean you will be able to create a viable sustainable (over a career) business as a commercial photographer, because the numbers are stacked against you and getting worse.

                It was interesting how someone in response earlier mentioned screenwriters and actors as examples of equally difficult fields of entry. Another example could be trying to get into the NBA – just because you have a good attitude, talent, work hard, have connections, whatever doesn’t mean you’ll make it. And by telling people what you do without giving them a proper window into the industry hurts them when they aren’t truly aware of how difficult it is. Of course positivism makes up for a lot, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that I won’t wake up tomorrow and be 7 feet tall so I can finally get into the NBA.

                So again, here is my point. Just because you might be able to make it as a commercial shooter now whether you have 10 years of experience or it’s your first day in your new studio, doesn’t mean it’s not an industry in decline from a money making standpoint (again, not from a creative standpoint). And it doesn’t mean it is a good business to be in from that point of view. You didn’t respond to this point. Also, again find me one music video director who makes his living making music videos and music videos alone – there are none, that industry died. Those former music video directors didn’t die… but their businesses did.

                If one of my children told me they wanted to be in the NBA I would say, “Great, I’m really glad you have a dream… but did you know statically speaking 1 out of nearly13,000 high school varsity basketball players makes it into the NBA? Do you think you can beat those odds? Think about it for a week… and if you think you can beat that 1 out of 13,000 to get into the NBA we’ll go buy you a new basketball because you’ve got a lot a work ahead of you.” That’s not rosy, it’s realistic. It’s easy to sell sunshine, but it’s hard to speak the truth. This industry is in decline whether or not you want to believe it. And that is what I believe until I see some data that proves otherwise.

                • @Clark Patrick,

                  “If one of my children told me they wanted to be in the NBA I would say, “Great, I’m really glad you have a dream… but did you know statically speaking 1 out of nearly13,000 high school varsity basketball players makes it into the NBA? Do you think you can beat those odds? Think about it for a week… and if you think you can beat that 1 out of 13,000 to get into the NBA we’ll go buy you a new basketball because you’ve got a lot a work ahead of you.””

                  lol. I bet you’re fun at parties.

                • @Clark Patrick, You are absolutely correct I dont have all the answers that you seek. I dont have all the answers period. What I do have is my personal experience of starting out as a consultant in a field that did not exist, in a business that at the time I started was not a business at all. I had a dream I made it work. If anyone had looked at what I was up against they would have told me I was crazy. (my family actually did:) With all due respect (and hold onto your seat) an open heart:) If I shared at that time your point of view and , your focus on why things cant happen I never would have had the last 30 years. But I do believe and I put hard work behind my beliefs and I have had 30 years of learning what works and what does not when it comes to selling
                  and marketing photo.I stand by what I said the industry is shifting , hugely at times, AND we all need to pay attention to changes. however your position that photo is dying is NOT supported by my clients who are working and doing well,period. In regards to the divorce rate amongst photographers ,relationships are so complicated (dont I know after 2 marriages:) how unrealistic to point to the business as the reason photographers get divorced.
                  I love this forum thanks you all for letting me join in.
                  please forgive typos, never learned the craft of typing

                  • @selina maitreya,

                    Having basic statically data on an industry for which you are a leading consultant isn’t having all the answers… it’s understanding the business of the field you work in.

                    Starting a consulting business in photography is not the same thing as working as a photographer, plus starting to consult in a field 30 years that there weren’t any competitors seems like a really good business idea to me…

                    I would imagine your business is doing better than ever now that there are even more professionals looking for answers as things have turned down with the economy.

                    But, the down economy is only part of what I see as systemic issues with how the industry has chance over the last few years. It doesn’t matter how good at marketing yourself you are if the money isn’t there anymore. If you really wanted to help out the industry you should be leading the charge on a micro payment system for web related image usage fees, help with the PLUS coalition, are even start a union!

                    I don’t have any ill will towards your point of view. But, I think you are just plain wrong and I guess only time will tell who is more right.

                    My prediction is that commercial photography is on the same track as the music industry was not so long ago… people began stealing music on-line, without paying proper fees for it… (now people use good images on-line with out paying fairly for it..)

                    This broke the big music companies because they were taking loses faster than they could handle… (commercial shooters are taking loses faster than they can handle…) they fought micro-payments ideas like itunes at first than finally gave in and gained some ground back. (And that is part of what needs to happen for our industry as well… but who is going to organize that when we all fight for the same work right now anyway???)

                    I think it’s funny why you haven’t asked me a really simple question – if I think the industry is going down the tubes (and I’m so negative about it) than why am I still trying to be working in it? Haha, good question.

                    I’m the type of person that thrives on challenges. I like the fact that it’s going down because I believe in myself more than I believe in a lot of other people who will give up or are forced to give up. I have done so many things in my life that didn’t seem like a good idea to many on the outside just to see if I could make them work.

                    I think of it like this… just because something is a bad idea (running a photography business in it’s decline) doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. And just because something is a good idea (like selling sunshine to sad photographers in a decline, haha, just kidding..) doesn’t mean it’s worth doing either. It all comes down to what makes you happy, right?

                    And right now there are a lot of shooters who aren’t happy and maybe need to hear that things aren’t going to get better so they can decided to move on and try other things that will make them happy. Because for everyone there has to be a bottom line… how long can you go without getting paid?

                    We have the same goal of being happy and helping others be happy, we just a very different outlook.

                    Agree to disagree?

                    ;-)

                    Clark!

                    • @Clark Patrick, HiClark,
                      Sorry it took me so long to reply to you.Out (completely)with a bad cold)

                      Yes most definitely agree to Disagree with an open heart:):):)
                      and thanks for helping to create such a wonderful discussion.

            • @Clark Patrick, Do you mean how much you can charge now, compared to how much you could charge 10 years ago, or that your typical clients and markets are using less photography now than 10 years ago?

              • @Gordon Moat, Great question. I’m not talking about my business specifically. I’m talking about the industry as a whole. And what I mean is that shooters are getting less in terms of licensing fees because those fees were/are often tied to media buys of the end client i.e. corporations working with ad agencies advertising in the print outlets, like newspapers, billboards, magazines, etc. – that revenue is shrinking at a very fast rate with the shift to digital outlets like photos being used for web purposes only. Day rates for those that work on that model are still all over the board, but that was never where the real money was made for most commercial shooters – it was/is via there usage fees. Overall, there is likely more actual imagery being bought every year, but for less money, less usage, less ownership by the shooters, and often for more work. Plus there are way more shooters available for doing the work at a professional level so work gets spread between a much larger group… leaving a much smaller amount of projects/money on the table for people as individual shooters.

                Does that make sense? Less money collected from loss of fees + more expensive gear and marketing costs + more shooters = declining overall business for working pros individually.

                Plus in a down economy it’s a buyers market so they can drive pricing down even further because they know people will do more for less or they lose the work. And if you are the guy who does more for less in the downturn it’s an uphill battle trying to get better rates once things turn around because people know you’ll work for less than you use too… So you are forced to work for less or see if you can ride out the storm by saying no to work you might need if the pricing isn’t fair.

                That issue has happened to many shooters a few times since the transition to digital around 2001.

                • @Clark Patrick, Thanks for the in-depth reply; great information. Definitely it is survival of the fittest for some, though perhaps that implies that there are simply too many photographers for the volume of images needed by companies. There is no reason to think that photography works any different than any other company, so if there is an overabundance of supply, that can put pressure on pricing.

                  Where I don’t see that is in premium or specialized imaging. Just as with luxury products, there is a market that wants something beyond price. As an old saying goes: there are many people who know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.

                  One other change I have noted is a move to more illustrated or designed solutions, instead of photography usage. A look though HOW magazine, or CommArts, shows a greater volume of drawn or designed creative solutions than in the past; and many of those are in-house from the agencies. Surely some of that is economic, though I suspect deadlines and workflow practices might account for a bit too. Sometimes it almost makes me want to go back to doing illustration.

  20. Rob,

    I would rate this in the top ten of the posts I have read here. As someone who has relied on personal relationships to get work and retain clients, this post verified one part of my marketing. Selina’s words have inspired me to go further in my efforts. Thanks to Selina and you, Rob, for posting this. My biggest take away from this is that we have to work hard, invest time, and believe in ourselves and our visions as photographers. Yes it is hard, but life is hard. If being a commercially viable photographer was easy, everybody would be doing it. I will be Selina’s series.

  21. Selina,

    What I like about you is that you talk beyond the technicalities of business and get into the mind. Technicals are great but without faith nothing else would exist or matter, everything starts out as a thought in your mind. As a human we have the power to think whatever we want, which is a powerful thing for good or for bad.

    Clark Patrick,

    I admire your honesty and realistic attitude, though a bit negative. If I wrote paragraph upon paragraph of how I believe I will eat a cheese sandwich this week, it will most probably end up happening. Overly simplified but you are what you think.

    • @Lee Ruff. Photography has long been described “as a combination of science and magic.” So goes business, so goes life. Its all way to complex and magical to be contained in a simple discussion of technique, while specifics are important to the art, to the discussion so to is the wonder.