I spent a few hours this past weekend sorting through equipment that I purchased several years ago for the freelance photography business I launched way back in 2000.
The art and retail photography markets were much more hopeful and inviting back then. Consumers had disposable income and seemed to appreciate good photography. I always enjoyed capturing the romance of weddings, the joy of children and the wisdom of the mature adult’s face on film. I needed a second income so I could give money to faith-based initiatives and put away something for retirement. So I started Feather Multimedia.
The first five years were fantastic, the business grew quickly and I was working most weekends and every night. I worked harder at that than I had at any job. I kept investing profits back into the business, but I never made enough so I could step away from the 9-9 job and do the thing I loved full time. Health insurance was one of the big issues back then … this was before Obamacare.
And then everthing went down the toilet. The recession hit. Digital cameras became commonplace and photographers with their aresenal of special lighting equipment, expensive lenses and large sensors were no longer needed, especially in an economy where discretionary income was drying up. Good enough was good enough.
I started losing some important clients, ones I had come to depend upon for paying the overhead. I started paring back, and spent the next five years divesting myself of equipment to keep pace with the overhead.
The backdrops will go out the door this week. As I packed them, I thought of the many couples, youngsters and families who had been photographed in front of them. Ditto for the light stands that held the heavy monolights and soft boxes, which delivered the smooth, face-enhancing lighting that gave my images an edge over the myriad on-the-camera flash photos.
I’m not bitter about all of this. I will soon turn 60 and, frankly, I just don’t feel like making photos of screaming kids and babies, or uncooperative, half-smashed couples. Those caveats aside, I did enjoy my years behind the wedding and portrait lenses. I loved thoses Sunday and Monday afternoons after a wedding, when the images popped up in Lightroom and I made the final tweaks to the RAW files. And I loved posting them into a gallery that was ready just 48 hours after the event, and creating multimedia shows of the wedding or photo session. Hopefully, at some point down the road, a couple who is having strife in their marriage and considering calling it quits, will look at their DVD and recall what it was that attracted them to each other in the first place. Or that mother and father will be able to pull out the slide show of their three-month-old baby and enjoy those fleeting moments again.
Nothing lasts forever, especially in this crazy, fad-driven economy. That includes the value of the artist’s work. I recently came across this blogger’s post and I could not agree more. Most consumers have no idea how much money goes into the photographer’s equipment, software, training, computers and insurances. It’s been a few years since I purchased any new photo equipment, but my guess is that Nikon is not giving away equipment; I wonder why consumers think that photos ought to be given away or no value be attached to the photographer’s time spent in getting to a location, setting up the lights, figuring out the best angles, shooting the job, loading and archiving it, processing it and burning CDs or uploading images? There are expenses every step of the way. And unfortunately photographers require food, their cars burn gasoline and they get sick and require medical tests and drugs.
I constantly see new photographers come onto the local market, and I feel sorry for them, especially when they price their work incredibly low. They are setting themselves up for failure, especially if they ever plan to grow beyond using a simple DSLR and kit zoom lens.
At least they will have some good memories when it’s time to pack up the gear and sell it to the next starry-eyed photographer.