I won an honorable mention at the 12X12 show today.
I’ve just responded to yer another person who decried that people who had not done X were not “professionals,” they were just guys with cameras “GWCs.” Strictly speaking to be a professional you need to make your living doing photography, which is harder and harder in times where camera equipment gets cheaper, virtually every cell cell phone has a camera that is better than professional models were a few decades ago, software is able to automate more skills that were once required, there is virtually no cost tot trying to take the same shot multiple times, and people seldom keep albums of physical prints. Since the cost of entry and the skills required are so low there are a lot of people who try to become professionals, some with minimal skills, a camera set on “auto” and a good eye for composition have great business skill and are actually successful.
I know very skilled photographers who choose either to do something more lucrative or who lack the business skills to make a living from photography. I know others that have the skills but don’t want to shoot weddings and senior portraits, which would be what would insure them a steady income. Lack of income from photography does not define you as a GWC.
Let’s leave aside the question of whether you are financially able to make a living with a camera and focus instead on what makes a photographer a “pro” instead of a GWC. I’ve been told by one successful West Michigan photographer that it is consistency. “Every shot I take is a good shot.” I resisted the urge to shoot back that by that measure the best photographers all worked at JC Penny portrait studios, where the camera settings, lighting, subject placement, and camera position were all fixed. I’ve seen others write that the difference is how many good shots you can get in a shoot. I’ve been told that it is whether you are published. Others have agreed with publication as a benchmark but stipulated that print on demand magazines don’t count. I’ve had one person tell me to make it I need to have my work hanging in European museums. Finally, I've seen several people make comments about how the guy shooting with a kit lens or a camera with a retractable lens are just GWCs. I haven't yet pointed out that Mapplethorpe shot with an SX-70 (f8 fixed lens) until 1975 and what he produced is pretty amazing. Surprisingly, all of these people measure professionalism against something that they have achieved.
I am proud of my photographic accomplishments, which I won’t list here because I don’t want to turn this into self promotion, but many of the things enumerated above are things that I hope I’ll never do. I often have a shoot where I am only trying for one great image, not 100 good ones. If I ever get to the point where every shoot is successful it will, in my mind at least, mean that I am not pushing the envelope of what I can do. I’ve published books with co-authors who both self-published and published with commercial publishing houses and I can assure you that sometimes self publishing is the better approach.
Nobody was born with photography skills. We all started as GWCs. Instead of belittling those with less skills or accomplishments than you, measure them by how they treat those around them: other photographers, models, makeup artists, and fans. The true difference between a GWC and a pro is attitude. The rest is time, practice, study, and a bit of luck.
I won two awards that I am very belatedly posting:
Sonja in the machine won second place in the MMAG 2017 12 X 12 show
and Fire Girl (also modeled for by Sonja Marie) won third prize in the Red Show in 2018
I am doing a single cover and an album cover for Horn and Holland. this is the final version for the single. It went to the printer this morning.
I was talking to a friend with a gallery who had to answer the question posed by a potential customer. Afterwards, I decided to write out an explanation of the economics of an art photographer from the perspective of my most recent sale. Here it is:
Larry, you said that you had a customer ask why a photograph was so expensive, so I thought that I’d write out a brief walk behind the economics of being an art photographer.
I’m a pretty established photographer in many ways: I’ve been doing this on and off for over thirty years, routinely exhibit at galleries, and occasionally in an art fair. Nevertheless, I sell about a dozen pieces a year, mostly smaller unframed pieces.
However, the piece I most recently sold was larger, framed, and more expensive, so I’ll use that as an example.
I sold the piece for $250. Of that $99 came off the top for professional matting and framing. I could save some money by framing myself, and I’ve tried that route, but frankly I don’t have the equipment, the space to work, or the aptitude to do as good a job as a professional and I don’t want to spend the time learning the techniques or doing the work. That leaves $151.
I paid a commission of 50% of the remainder to the person who sold it. It is a high commission rate, but it is after framing expense so as a percentage of the total it is in line with what I’d expect to pay at most galleries. Some galleries charge a membership or display fee and a lower commission, some just a percentage, but this is in the ballpark of what I’d pay on most sales. That leaves me with $75.50 from this sale.
I print myself, with a high end printer (10 colors of expensive archival ink cartridges and nice paper). I’d estimate it cost $14 to produce the print and get it to the frame shop for drop off and pick up. That leaves me with $61.50.
Most of the shoots I do are done with makeup artists and models that are working for use of the images I produce, but this one was not. I paid the body painter and the model each $50. I also provided the body paint (probably about $5 worth) That leaves me with negative $43.50. You could argue that the entire cost of the model and painter shouldn’t be allocated to this photo, but unlike other shoots I’ve done with these same people this was rather uninspired and I really doubt I’ll get any other sales from this shoot.
Now, out of my $43 loss on this shoot I need to cover some of the fixed expenses that I have. My camera and lenses are about $4,000. Most of my work is in studio, my studio strobes cost about $2,000. I work with really large files, and do very complex edits. My computer was another $2,500. I pay $10/month for a subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom.
I don’t pay for studio time, instead I trade labor, editing senior portraits, shooting weddings, etc. but if I did the going rate is $30/hour. I’d guess that the average shoot is three hours and I do 30-60 shoots/year. So, while most photographers would have lower computer expenses (and possibly a less expensive camera since I do a lot of low light work) than I do, they’d have higher studio costs if they’re doing studio photography.
I’m not going to begin to calculate my losses from damage to frames during transport to and from shows, the cost of business cards, website hosting, and printing flyers for shows. Nor am I going to detail the costs of a display system that I built to hang work on at the East Lansing Art Festival (where it rained) or the cost of memberships that I have in 4 arts organizations but there seem to be new costs every time I turn around. So, I just sold a photograph for $250. It’ll contribute to my annual loss, that runs a well into the thousands of dollars every year. I’m happy though, because I love knowing that a piece I produced spoke to somebody enough that they want it to hang on their wall. That is why a photograph is so expensive.
Sometimes I am not very good at publicizing my triumphs. I am about to exhibit in the Mid Michigan Art Guild Fall show and realize that I never posted that this photo won second place in the spring show. Better late than never.
I was pleased to have an article on how to do projection photography published in issue 6 of Midwest Model Magazine.
The Mid-Michigan Art Guild is a fantastic group of artists. I will be exhibiting a piece in this show. Look forward to seeing you all at the opening.
I am fortunate to be in a position where I can lose money on my photography year after year (and I do) but I feel guilty about spending the amount of time and effort on it when I could do something that contributes more directly to the well being of my family. I am very good at business. I have an MBA. I've had three successful careers. I've owned businesses. Nothing I've tried has been remotely this hard to make money at.
I think about this a lot.
I have four basic goals. One is to make something beautiful and unique. Two is to have others see and enjoy what I make. Three is to leave those who I encounter while doing this better off from their interaction with me. Fourth is to make a little money for all of the effort that I put in.
There is a set of trade-offs there. If I decided to prioritize making money over making art, I could shoot wedding, senior portraits and boudoir. I know lots of photographers who do those things well and love doing it but that would suck all of the joy out of it for me. I’ve been told that there is a much bigger market for landscapes, conventionally lit nudes, and commercial photography than for the types of photographs I create but I don’t think that I would make art that is as unique and moving (at least to me) if I did that.
If I prioritized making money over doing right by those who I work with, I could try to convince models that they’d make a lot of money if they just paid to have my beautiful images in their portfolio. I’ve seen people seeming to make a reasonable amount of money with that approach but I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.
There is a balance between making art, making money, and having people see and enjoy my work. Doing gallery shows and art fairs, submitting to magazines, posting to Facebook, and marketing all take time that I could use to shoot and edit.
So, I have a Patreon account which I promoted a bit with no success. I sell, but not at the levels that I would like. I bend over backwards to treat my models right and try to give back to them by shooting things that they are interested in in addition to the things that I want to shoot, making prints, submitting to magazines that they want to be published in, etc.
To those who say that I could spend more time on everything; marketing, promotion, and art, doing so would have a trade-off too. I need some balance in life. I have a wife, a family, and other interests. If my only goal was to make a living as a photographer sacrificing those might be a reasonable approach, but even if I did nothing but photography success would not be guaranteed. There are many talented artists, not just photographers, but musicians, painters, sculptors, and more who devote years to their craft without achieving commercial success.
The balancing act that I do would be much easier for me if it were easier to make money as a photographer. Alas, it is not likely to change any time soon.