Here’s why most photographers & videographers don’t make much money.
I started a photography business when I was 13. After 40+ years behind a camera, both as a commercial advertising/public-relations photographer and a freelance cameraman with several thousands of jobs completed for the major networks, I have met some shooters who are very successful financially. Most people who make their career behind the camera though, are financial failures, struggling to make enough to earn a barely middle-income lifestyle.
Before I continue, you need to know that I’ve always worked for business clients. I never worked for individuals, shooting portraits, weddings, etc My clients were mainly tourism related, such as motels and resorts, tourist related businesses like charter boats, sightseeing tours, restaurants and so on. Plus public-relations firms in those same industries. In addition I was a freelance cameraman for all the major networks.
The difference in my clients, versus dealing with retail clients like wedding and portrait photographers, is that when my clients hired me it was as a business expense, to help them build their business and make money. People who hire wedding and portrait photographers are doing it for their own satisfaction, and not as a business expense. So what I am going to explain might not apply exactly the same way when you are dealing with those retail purchasers of photography/videography. But the concepts are still very close.
What I found over decades of making a good living behind the camera ,will be totally counter-intuitive to what almost every photographer, or videographer, thinks. Without a single exception over several decades, every financially successful shooter I have ever met was not the “best cameraman”. All were technically competent, but most were not the most “creative” shooters. And NONE of them had the most expensive camera gear. They were ALL however, the shooters that were always busy, and ALWAYS getting the highest day-rates. And their clients would not even think about hiring any other shooter, no matter how awesome their portfolios or demo reels were.
So right now I’m going to be treading on the sacred ground of all the people who are trying to tell you how to make money with a camera. There is no limit to how many so-called “experts” there are, who claim to teach you how to be successful in the photography/video business. I suspect, that most of the people trying to tell you how to be a successful shooter, or any other profession for that matter, would not have the time to teach you how to do anything, if they were actually successful themselves. If they were really successful themselves they would be so busy they wouldn’t have time to spare. And they would be making enough money they wouldn’t be looking for a side-hustle.
Most people at this point are probably thinking that I am going to tell you that you need to become a salesperson. That the way to get more photography/video clients is to learn how to sell. Well, not one single really successful shooter I’ve ever met was a good sales-person, including me. I do not consider myself to be a salesperson. I do like talking to people, but I don’t fancy myself as someone who is trying to convince anybody of anything.
Most people’s idea of a salesperson is somebody who is trying to convince everybody to buy whatever they are selling, and will do anything, and say anything, to coerce, and manipulate you to spend your money with them. That’s not what I have ever done, and that’s not what any of the really financially successful shooters I have known ever did.
Do you know how many clients I’ve had over the years that hired me because they thought that my images were better than those of other shooters? ZERO! Nada! None! Not one single client has ever hired me because they liked my images better than those from other photographers, or videographers.
I have never claimed to be the “best” shooter. Or the most creative. Or anything else. I do claim to be extremely technically competent when it comes to using a camera, either still or video, but that’s not why I was ever hired by anybody.
None of the clients that I’ve had over the years wanted to hire me. They didn’t want to buy my services, or those any other photographers/videographers either. Let me explain.
How many 1/4” drill bits are bought every year? I don’t know either, but it’s a lot of them. Hundred’s of thousands of 1/4” drill bits, maybe even millions, are bought every single year. How many people do you suppose were wanting to buy a 1/4”drill bit? Would you believe ZERO? Nobody who bought a 1/4” drill bit last year wanted a 1/4” drill bit. What they wanted was a 1/4” hole, and a 1/4” drill bit was the solution to their needs.
Nobody who ever hired me wanted to pay me money, to make images for them. They would rather keep that money for themselves, rather than pay me. But they hired me to solve a need, and that need was to generate more business so they could make more profit. I was nothing more than just another business expense that they needed, in order to create profit in their business. Sorry to let you down, but commercial clients don’t like your work, or dislike it for that matter. They don’t care at all. Your images are just another commodity that they need for their business. You are nothing more than just another vendor that they need to deal with.
If you’ve never been a business owner before let me explain what every business owner, who are your potential clients, deals with every day. Every businesses biggest issue is usually dealing with employees. Then they have to deal with unlimited numbers of local, state and federal regulations. They have to have accounts and attorneys to help them navigate laws and taxes. They have unhappy customers, customers who have not paid their bills on time. Rising insurance costs, medical benefits for employees. And the list goes on forever, as long as the business is operating.
The images that a business needs for their website, brochures, advertisements, etc is just one more item that the business has to buy. You are just one more vendor for them to deal with, and one more decision for them to make. They don’t buy your services based on how much you charge, they buy your services based on the perceived value of what your images will do for them. Just like hiring an attorney, they don’t hire the attorney with the cheapest hourly rate, they hire the attorney who they think will best get the job done… PERIOD!
A business doesn’t care how much your rates are, they care how much your images will help them generate more business, and more profit. It does not matter how much you charge, if they think that hiring you will increase the profit of their business.
That’s why some photographers, and videographers, make huge day-rates compared to other shooters who might be able to create better images, and have more expensive equipment. Most photographers/videographers have a very well deserved reputation for being wishy-washy and not very business like. An average shooter who comes across like a can-do make it happen business person will ALWAYS get the job.
If you are the most dependable, make it happen no matter what, never make excuses person. If you always get the job done, on time, with no hassles, your will get clients who will stay with you for many, many years. And they will pay you very well for your services. And your clients will recommend you to other potential clients, even if they are competitors.
I’ve never had a client ask me for a deal, or try to negotiate my rates. They must have thought that my rates, were a better value than anybody else’s, even though my rates were higher, and often much higher, than other shooters that they were considering.
So you are not going to get hired to create images, you are getting hired to solve a need that a business has. Quit thinking about yourself as a photographer, or videographer. Think of yourself as a problem solver, a solution to a businesses needs.
Do you understand now why the photographer, or videographer, who doesn’t have as fancy of gear as you have, and who probably isn’t as good of a shooter as you, not only seems to get all the good jobs, but also makes a lot bigger day-rate than you?