Can you really get good commercial photography for $19?

Nov 16, 2018

John Aldred

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.

Can you really get good commercial photography for $19?

Nov 16, 2018

John Aldred

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.

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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?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

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.

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4 responses to “Can you really get good commercial photography for $19?”

  1. Henrik Heigl Avatar
    Henrik Heigl

    Well you can get good photographs, but the photographer can’t make a living with this rates!

  2. KC Avatar
    KC

    Ouch. I’m not sure how to best respond. I’ve done a lot of catalog shots that were, at best, one step above photo copying. The specs were simple, the budget and deadline was tight, all very repetitive. So, this is possible. Not every catalog shot is going to be a room sized set that needs building, intricate lighting, styling, reflective surface treatment (think mirrors), Pantone color matching and end up as a two page printed spread.

    There’s a difference between commercial photography and art photography. Commercial photography can be rough. Basically, you’re “the people with the expensive stuff and the setup”.

    The bigger point is don’t turn down simple catalog work. It’s great fill-in work. The trick is to make it profitable.

  3. Jimmy Harris Avatar
    Jimmy Harris

    Welcome to the 2000’s. That’s the direction most businesses are headed. They don’t want to pay for the most qualified candidates, they just want someone who can get the job done at the lowest price in the least amount of time.

    Being a professional creative these days is rarely about quality, but rather about quantity and speed. The same thing is happening to graphic designers, copy writers, or just about any other creative job. The upper management doesn’t know the difference between good work and bad work, but they do know the difference between cheap work and expensive work.

    There will always be a place for high end photographers. There will always be a few companies who want to distinguish themselves amongst their peers and will pay top dollar for top level work. If you’re one of the best at what you do, you shouldn’t have a problem charging higher rates, because all of the people charging peanuts won’t be in competition with you. But the middle tier photographer (or any creative job) is a thing of the past. If you’re worried about people outbidding you and charging less than you can afford, then you either need to switch professions, or improve your skills/portfolio to establish yourself in the upper tier.

    So don’t get mad at the low priced photographers. They’re just trying to make ends meet the best they can. It’s not their fault they can’t get paid more. If they could, I’m sure they’d gladly charge more for their work. They’ve just found a way to adapt to a new paradigm, which is something you should do too if you want to survive. Asking them to charge more so that you can charge more is selfish and naïve. Instead, focus your energy on explaining to your clients why you think you are worth more and how that might benefit them.

  4. Hans Van Avatar
    Hans Van

    Will I do agree with what your saying but also in part disagree, here is why.

    The problems we have in the world today, is every body wish to have cheap, quick job, we live in a throw away world. No body looks for the value for money any more. The first thing I get when client call or ask for a quote is “how much do you charge”, the client not interested in your talk about why they should choice you. I do talk about why I am the best choice for them, what they get as value for money etc, etc. Only then if the client is still interested I will give them the price.

    All you ever hear from experts about marketing and pricing is to target the high end clients but in the real world, you only have about 15 – 20% high end clients and most of them already have a photographer doing there work, so you have no hope of getting in to do work for them. This put you in a very difficult position, you are left with two choices, yes change jobs and fine something new to do E.G. drive buses or you have to come down to meet the market and still cover all your costs and try to make ends meet!

    I have a big love for photography may whole heart is in my business, I will do anything to make ends meet in my photography business. If this means coming down in price to meet the market demand, will I am sorry but that is what I will do, my quality and professional service etc, will not go down or change.