Photography Isn’t Dead, The Business Model Is

[by Thomas Werner]

Photography isn’t dead, but the old business model is. While you will find many people mourning this disappearing model and trying to figure out what to do next, you will find many more who are problem solving the issues that face us. People become frustrated in the face of change, but it is time for change in our business. Personally I don’t see it as all doom and gloom.  I see:

  • The ability of younger photographers to move seamlessly between photography, video and new media, which will allow them to change the old definition of photography and photographer.
  • More images being used in more places than any other time in the history of our profession, providing many new opportunities for all of us. These opportunities will only grow as the use of digital devices multiplies and moves into P.O.P and other areas. Consider ways to re-purpose your imagery and to sell it to more outlets. Use this opportunity to build greater brand awareness.
  • The market place accepting a greater diversity of visual styles and image quality than ever before. A single style or two of photography does not dominate the marketplace. This gives photographers room to be more creative and offers more people the opportunity to exhibit and sell their work.
  • That we are able to create salable images using everything from iPhones to Mark II’s, from prosumer video cameras to high end HD video, giving us larger selection of equipment and creative tools, at more price points, than ever before.
  • Video has creating a new revenue stream for many photographers, allowing them to diversify and solidify their businesses as they position themselves for the future. Video is a very large part of the future for those in our field.
  • More outlets, gallery and otherwise, for fine art photography than ever before. Work in all genres is being sold. Put together a well edited portfolio and take advantage of the opportunity.
  • An explosion of online social networks, blogs, web sites, photographic communities and information resources providing us with the ability to learn new skills, exchange information, reach clients. Social Media and other online outlets offer us a multitude of ways to reach new clients, stay in touch with old ones, and to promote our work and our businesses in a cost effective manner. I am not suggesting you spend hours a week working with social media, but it should be part of a coordinated marketing and branding presence.

I see photography changing and old models and definitions dying, but I also see people who will persevere and move our business in directions that older photographers may not imagine. Remember many photographers were angry about the changes that stock photography brought while others moved forward and profited from the changing business model. That is only one small example of the difference between embracing change that is beyond your control for your own benefit and fighting it angrily. I look forward to seeing what the next generation does with imagery, both still and time based, and our business. It is an exciting time to be creating, our future is a positive one.

Thomas Werner; Educator, Lecturer, Curator. Please see Thomas Werner Projects on Facebook and for more information.

By Thomas Werner | Posted: May 27th, 2011 | 16 comments


16 Responses to 'Photography Isn’t Dead, The Business Model Is'

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  1. Well said! It’s nice to hear the positive take on the changes for once! Thanks for the inspiration.

    By Holly Baumann Photography | May 27, 2011


  2. Thomas,

    Spot on!

    Last night I spoke to a packed room of students at Cal Poly about the individual and their global reach in mass communications. Essentially, I was talking about how technology has presented many new ways to communicate and how democratized the playing field has become. I urged them to get away from the notion of the “tools” they are using and to concentrate on how to get the message or the story out.
    During the Q&A a student asked me if I thought that photography would cease to exist in the future. Without even thinking about it I answered – absolutely not.
    Photography is one way to deliver the message – and there are many more. What is changing are the business models.
    I told them to hang out with the “why not” crowd and to stay away from those looking into the rear view mirror – lamenting the past.


    By Gail Mooney | May 27, 2011


  3. I couldn’t agreed more Thomas. Nice to see someone else embrace a changing business model instead of complaining about how things once were. Bravo!

    By Mike Tittel | May 27, 2011


  4. Sorry to be a pessimist but it seems to me we’re just dividing the same size “pie” or even a shrinking “pie” between more and more people and diluting earnings over more and more images while giving away better and better terms of use. The overall revenue in this industry is not going up (just my guess from everything I hear from photographers and what I know from my experience in the stock imagery segment). But the number of people participating in the industry is rising fast. Seems to me, that is not a good recipe for those creating imagery professionally. The best way to make money in this business is to teach others how to be photographers. Those are the people who seem the most optimistic.

    What is the “Why not” crowd?

    By Tim McGuire | May 27, 2011


  5. [...] Photography Isn’t Dead, The Business Model IsA look at the changing business models and market for photography on the ASMP's business blog [...]


  6. Nice to hear some positive voices in the industry! Thank you

    By Nathan Ciurzynski | May 29, 2011


  7. Mike,
    I understand your comments, but you are just looking at the same “pie”,or business model, that has existed for a long time. Yes, many revenue streams are shrinking, but there are new revenue streams coming online if you are willing to embrace them. It will be essential to tap into those new streams of revenue while you still have income from your older sources. That is just the evolution of any business from Apple to GE to GM, and we are businesses. It might not be what many people want to hear, as they would like the business that they have depended on to stay the same, but it is the reality of things. Changing your business takes a lot of effort and I understand that it is frustrating, but it needs to be done if you want to stay relevant.

    My stock revenue has shrunk as well, but I also have a small gallery, teach (not only photography), curate, lecture, make my own work to exhibit, and love video among other things. I am not suggesting that everyone embrace my track, but everyone should begin to branch out and find the right mix for themselves.

    I would also suggest that the definition of what a photographer is will be changing dramatically in the next few years. Shooting still imagery for paper based, or even purely screen based digital media will not be how our business is defined. That is also something that I am teaching students at Parsons, but I will leave that conversation for the next blog post.

    As I said earlier, old models may be disappearing, but for those willing to look at their businesses in a new way, and who are willing to embrace change as something positive, there are a lot of opportunities out there.


    By Thomas Werner | May 29, 2011


  8. Overall I agree. The one problem is people thinking they can get stuff for free in this age of the internet.

    By Rick A. Brown | May 29, 2011


  9. Photography isn’t dead, but it did become really easy to be a photographer. Old (non-competitive) business models are under pressure, new (competitive) business models are un the rise. But remember that there are many more competitors!

    By Ouke Arts | May 31, 2011


  10. The industry is very competitive, yes, and more people may be entering and working in the field than ever before. But I choose to never look at another photographer, image maker, or visual artist as my competitor. If I had that me-vs-them mentality, honestly, I wouldn’t enjoy my career very much. This is one of the beautiful things about ASMP: professionals being collaborative, helpful, and all-in creative with each other.
    If a photographer is creative, open-minded, and very persistent, I won’t say they deserve success, but most likely they will find it, in one form or another. Even with nearly 7 billion people on the planet, there will always be a need for photographers who create original, meaningful, and powerful imagery.
    Thanks for the post, Thomas.

    By Jeremy Ruzich | May 31, 2011


  11. [...] upon ASMP’s recent blog post about: Photography isn’t dead, the business model is, we can’t help but say that this is quite true about the industry. Be sure to read it – [...]


  12. But in claiming the old business models are out, you fail to present a viable changed or new business model or models. That would require getting serious about the true paying market(s) for photography–not the gee-whiz joy an amateur feels when their essentially free photos used by someone somewhere.

    It still takes money to support oneself. As value has been driven out of photography by those who will work at a loss or try to live on love alone, so has the money. Way more photos being used for way less total money; and only the naive pollyannas suggesting money will magically appear in some undefined new models to keep photographers and others in the industry alive seeing a future in any of it.

    But, yeah, its a great marketplace for low-value photos by skilled amateurs.

    By Carl May | Jun 3, 2011


  13. Carl,
    Thank you for your post. To be honest, it isn’t my job to tell you what your new business model should be. I have ideas regarding new business models, I see others evolving and making things work for themselves in this market place, I know colleagues who are developing new markets and bringing new perspectives to our business, so I know that it can be done.

    Yes, the market is changing and you can’t sell imagery the way that you once did. No question, I don’t think anyone would remotely disagree with you.

    In terms of finding new ways of expanding, evolving, and changing your business…..I have no idea; what your skill sets are, where you live, who your clients are, who your competition is, what your marketing is like, the quality of your work, your method of reaching new clients, how you manage your personal interaction with clients, what type of advertising you do, how you manage social media, what new skills you are currently learning, whether you are interested in video or other forms of media or are proficient in those areas, nor any of the other hundreds of details that should go into creating a viable business plan.

    You are right, in terms of our industry the idea of one size fits all is gone for the foreseeable future. That may be frustrating for many, but it presents opportunity for others.

    Value is shifting and being redefined in new ways, but it will never again be defined as it has been for the past few decades. I believe that the choice for most of us is simple, evolve or disappear. In the end that choice only resides with each of us individually.


    By Thomas Werner | Jun 5, 2011


  14. I have not found business any harder -in fact easier: now more people find me through Google. I don’t need to pay for expensive mail outs or do cold calls.
    More and more people need photos for their websites so I work more than ever!
    ASMP has an obsession with video but I believe we are looking at the wrong thing. Videographers don’t make much money and it is a huge amount of editing work. YouTube is popular yes BUT Google has still not found a profitable business model for it.
    I believe photographers need to wake up and realize that no one wants to pay excessive prices for prints when they can go to Costco and print a 16×20 for $8. Most consumers have their own printers. You need to be distinguished by your ability to take better photos now and be prepared to hand-off your final edit.

    By Jason Wallis | Jun 6, 2011


  15. Ok,

    The business model is changing, evolve or die…Now in this new evolutionary paradigm what bone head with a camera calling themselves a photographer can afford to buy a house in in major metropolitan area?

    The answer is about five.

    By Billy | Jun 12, 2013


  16. I really feel sorry for all those who are starting out trying to make a career from photography. Being positive is important but one must step back and realize that the money is just not there anymore. No matter how much you adapt. Sure there are an elite few who survive but even they are earning less and less.

    This is in all aspects of photography, commercial, art, photojournalism, even cinemaphotographers working in tele ads, tv and films.

    Name one area in photography where income is growing. Please because I would like to know.

    By Jeremy Lynch | Feb 24, 2014



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