Can you really get good commercial photography for $19?
The race to the bottom never seems to end. The latest is a new service claiming to produce marketing photography for as little as $19. Yes, that’s right, photography that normally costs thousands for only nineteen bucks. The service is called Catalog and they’ve raised $1.5 million to kick the business off.
They’re not the only company starting up with a similar model, either. Photographer Daniel Norton discusses these types of services in this video, and how they’re really not a great thing for either the customer nor the photographers who might shoot for them.
It’s an interesting discussion on the way that various elements of the photography industry are heading. And how cheap prices may be devaluing photography as a whole. And while the race to the bottom can be frustrating, I think it will ultimately balance itself out.
Daniel provides a number of anecdotes of real-world situations where typically high-end clients are able to engineer situations to get photography for next to nothing – photography that they would’ve previously paid thousands for. And in some cases, those shooting the images didn’t even own the equipment. It was provided for them and they were just paid an hourly wage.
I saw the same thing happen in the web development industry 15 years ago. Suddenly everybody with a PC was a “web designer” charging $100-200 for a complete website. Clients that would’ve previously paid thousands now thought they could get everything for nothing – because they know even less about it than the people they were paying (that’s kind of the point of paying a professional).
They soon learned that when you pay peanuts, you usually get monkeys. Assuming they actually got their website on time, they often wouldn’t work, they’d be lacking major functionality, they’d be constantly going down and in the worst cases, hacked. And then when problems arose, where was this “web designer” to fix them? They were nowhere to be found. Then they’d eventually go to a real web developer to get it done properly, and still pay what they would’ve done if they’d gone to them in the first place (if not more).
Daniel talks about parallels in the photography world, where clients are paying these low prices for people claiming to be photographers who don’t have the experience, aren’t really able to deliver what the client wants, and the client has a bunch of images they can’t really use, and they’re out money anyway.
Another example that I’ve mentioned on here before is with stock photography, and specifically microstock. That was a race to the bottom, and many companies jumped right on it… Until Dell and Gateway both sent the same girl “Back to school” in their respective marketing campaigns one year, which were both running at the same time. They didn’t really look to using stock photography much for their marketing after that, and many other companies learned from that lesson, too.
I think once enough clients get burned with super cheap photography, they’ll start to appreciate why decent photographers who understand their clients’ businesses (and their clients’ customers) and can produce compelling imagery to raise the profile of the brand and generate sales (which is ultimately what commercial photography is all about), then they’ll start paying decent money for decent photographers again.
But what do you think? Do we just need to ride the cheap photography storm until it blows over? Or will business models like this destroy photography prices for everybody?
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.