For anyone interested in starting a business, particularly in creative arts, is building up a reputation in the field. I mentioned that my goals for this year include doing two photography shoots each month. Over the past few years, my interest in photography has grown from a hobby to a serious interest to a potential income-generating endeavor, and over the last few years I’ve taken a number of classes to learn from professional artists.
I haven’t had much time to dedicate to photography due to my other responsibilities, but if there comes a time when I have more free time, I will most likely be pursuing professional photography with greater force.
There was a time when there was a delineation between amateur and professional photographers; from a technical standpoint, amateurs used inexpensive 35mm rangefinder cameras and occasionally SLRs, while professionals used high-level SLRs, medium format cameras, and large format cameras (although some did use rangefinders, particularly artists who focused on street photography). Professionals had training from other professionals, while amateurs concentrated on family snapshots.
The advancement of technology introduced more sophisticated cameras and lenses for amateurs, and a new category of photographer emerged: the “prosumer.” The prosumer exists somewhere between professional and general consumer. The quality of image, from a technical standpoint and not necessarily artistic, has given these consumers the confidence that their images are as good as professional work. Also, except to the most discerning clients, it has resulted in the impression that all it takes is a good camera for anyone to become a professional photographer.
With many amateurs acquiring quality equipment and deciding to start business, many are looking to build their portfolios and get practice shooting for clients. A business looking for event photography or a family looking for portraits need only to ask around within their network of connections, and most likely, he or she will find a budding photographer willing to accept the task for free.
As a result, clients expect they can find professional photographers willing to work for free at any time, which devalues the entire photography industry. Some pointed this Craigslist ad to me, a reaction from a photographer who may have been starting out but who’s frustrated that he or she is expected to work for free to build the portfolio.
This doesn’t apply to just photography, but it’s a great example because technology has put high-quality equipment in reach to more people. Should new business owners offering creative services be willing to work for free? Does offering service for free devalue their businesses? If they do offer services for free, how do they transition to earning revenue?
Published or updated October 7, 2011.