As a professional travel photographer for almost 6 years, working for hotels and tour operators worldwide, I have encountered a growing and very disturbing phenomenon. It has without a doubt killed many growing photographer’s businesses before they even got off the ground. This post is a stern warning to all travel photographers that are trying to start a photography business without any experience.
Many inexperienced photographers working with clients to provide a set job are GIVING THE CLIENT ALL THE REMAINING UNEDITED IMAGES, if the client request it. This is by far one of the biggest business killers you will ever encounter. You have to stop it IMMEDIATELY. Here are the reasons why.
- Imagine the following scene: A customer walks into a supermarket and picks up two apples and two oranges. Then, at the checkout counter, he turns to the cashier and says “I noticed that you have a lot of apples and oranges that have a few bruises on them that I don’t think you will sell. Can I have them?”
There is no way the manager would agree with that, you would be laughed out of the store. Why? Because EVERY fruit in the supwermarket has value, even if it doesn’t look one hundred percent perfect. The same applies to your pictures.
- If a client does not see any value in the unedited images and not going to use them, why would he need them? Use your common sense. Your images have value, get paid for your hard work.
I have had two commercial clients ask for the unedited version of my work last month. I was shocked. Why would they need them if not to put them on social media for free?
When I quoted them a price for the extra images they were upset and accused me of highjacking the images and holding them for ransom. I had to remind them of our specifically agreed quote with the number of images provided. Nowhere in the quote was access to all unedited photos included in there. I was then told that their last photographer gave them a memory drive of all the unedited images at the end.
I was frustrated because up until this very moment, I had an amazing almost blissful experience with the clients and then all of a sudden I was the asshole because I did not want to give away my business. WOW.
Please try to understand this simple point. If clients do not care about your survival in this business, IT IS TIME TO GET RID OF THEM. These are no clients, these are THIEVES. They steal from you! It is like living with a partner that is a drug addict. They will never stop taking as long as you are giving, they will keep stealing your money to fuel their habit. Trust me.
Here is what can easily happen. The client orders 5 commercial images from you. Which you quote and all agreed. Then after the shoot, they ask for the complete unedited shots. You then provide the 200 images you took during the shoot. The client get them retouched by his junior intern and use them for free. How do you feel now?
Your work helps the clients to make money. They should respect you for that and nurture your business, it is a partnership. When you give away your work for free, you reduce your value. Never do this, please know your worth.
Some other reasons why most photographers fail
There are some other reasons why most photographers fail: unexpected competition, disposable content and the expectation of free work.
Low-cost amateur photographers
There are many so called “photographers” that put a DSLR and a laptop running Lightroom and Photoshop on their new credit card and start doing photography work for clients for $50 a session, on location no less. They will also shoot a complete wedding for $200 and give away all unedited pictures for free. How can you compete with those willing to work for less than minimum wage?
My answer is simple: Find your own, unique style. That is, in general, the only way to survive. And do not be afraid of that low-cost amateur competitors. Because their business cannot survive when they charge too low prices, their companies live no longer than one or two years. Your competitors vanish away by themselves, there is no reason to fear them!
When they die, act like a vulture. After the competitors have declared bankruptcy, you can buy their equipment extremely cheap and strenghten your own business with it. I have bought complete studio equipment for less than $150 and top-notch full-frame cameras like a Sony Alpha 7 ii for 50 bucks! Just watch out for foreclosures or visit a pawnbroker from time to time.
Smartphones and Social Media
Facebook, Instagram,and Twitter are all image hungry. New images are demanded constantly. There is greater demand for new images than for good images. Gone are the days of starting marketing campaigns around strong singular images. Now it is time for content flooding. Smartphones can create disposable content better than a DSLR.
If you want to survive this trend, ask yourself: Do you want to make Instagram and Facebook rich or do you want to grow your own successful travel photography business? Upload a few pictures and use these services as a kind of electronic business card. Pinterest and Trover are good for directing traffic to your website. But do not overdo it and do not waste all day feeding these services. Your own travel photography business is more important than all social media platforms together!
What about the competition from smartphones? With these things you can feed Facebook and Instagram, they were made for that. But you cannot sell smartphone pictures to high quality magazines like National Geographic or Wanderlust. These clients need outstanding photographs taken with a DSLR, preferably a full-frame camera. Here exactly is the place where your business can earn decent money.
That is why you do not have to be afraid of all the would-be photographers with their smartphones. You will never see their pictures on National Geographic.
Thieves as clients
Third, because of the pressure of photographers that underbill and the expectation of disposable content the market has come to expect free photography. Platforms like Flickr, Instagram and YouTube have conditioned consumers to not pay for content. Now the expectation is for photographers to show up on location, shoot for hours, edit and return amazing imagery for free. I’ve been asked many times to donate my services or “build my portfolio” to “get my name out there” to count – I always refuse.
Do you really need “customers” who don’t pay you a cent for your pictures? I don’t. Avoid these freeloaders and don’t support them. Never. This is the only way to become a successful and well paid travel photographer.
By the way, if you’re looking for more in-depth advice, I recommend you our Travel Photography Masterclass. It gives you a behind the scenes look at how we run our successful travel photography business. You will get the nuts and bolts of how your camera works, many advanced photography techniques like time-lapse, FREE tech support, cheatsheets, useful help and much more. Click here to get started now.