Art vs Craft: The Nature of the Photography Business

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How much should I be paid as a photographer? How much should I be paying a professional photographer? These are two questions that are frequently asked by photographers and photography clients — both of which don’t really have an answer. This is because neither questions consider a simple, yet complex idea: context. Let’s explore this…

First, we should define what a photographer is. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a photographer: “a person who takes photographs, especially as a job” is far too broad to help us do this.

If we look at it from a basic business point of view, we need to see how much it costs us to deliver the required service and then add an additional amount to represent our desired profit. To determine the cost, we figure out direct costs, indirect costs, and fixed costs, such as our camera and lenses, other equipment, insurance, rent and travel costs.

But will all photographers deliver the same output under similar circumstances? No, they won’t. It’s the same in every single industry. There are people who can do a job better than others, and subsequently, get paid more. It is very difficult to evaluate photographers as a whole because it not only varies from individual to individual but also depends on different circumstances.

This is where we ask the question: is professional photography art? The answer is yes and no. Not all professional photographers produce art, and not all artistic photography is produced by professional photographers. Therefore, it is counter-productive and most likely inaccurate to try to reduce art to a rate card.

Because photography is still, in most cases, considered more of an art form than a skill the whole industry is suffering. The market is shrinking, there is no quality standard, and no ease of use. As photography professionals, we might know what the output from a professional photographer should be, but the rest of the world (i.e. our clients) do not, necessarily. It would be impossible to assume that all of our clients are skilled in our craft, and at the same time try to make our craft exclusive by transforming every expression of it into art which is, by definition, subjective and unquantifiable.

In every creative industry, there are people that reach a point of ‘art’ because of their unbelievable talent, skills and vision. But they cannot reach that point if the community behind them is not big enough. This is how every ‘creative’ community works; be it painting, sculpture or writing. For every Picasso, there will be 10,000 people who will draw the background of the games we play on our phones. For every Shakespeare, there will be 10,000,000 people who will write press releases. The fact of the matter is none would exist without the other.

This mentality can help us transform a photography industry that is suffering, into one that can function well and evolve in a fair way for all. For us, it’s not about how much the photographers at the top of their career charge their clients and it is not about how much any huge corporation paid for their latest ads. It’s about building a strong base of the pyramid. To do this, we need to be fair to both photographers and clients.

We believe that photographers should be paid a fair price for their work and at the same time, we want photography to be accessible to everybody who needs it. We feel that we can find this balance by focusing on what each Splento team member brings to the company. Our main office team focuses on marketing, sales & customer support, our photographers on shooting and our editors on retouching. This way we can streamline the process, add value to our services and guarantee a fair income for our photographers and a consistent level of quality to our clients.

By creating a basic standard of quality and reliability, we can also address the problem of ‘cowboy’ photographers, that have neither the skills nor the professional etiquette and who are damaging the whole industry. By making professional photography more accessible to more people we can not only put those posing as professional photographers out of business but we can increase the market size and therefore improve the environment for the real photographers to develop their careers.

We sell craft, not art and we offer a basic service which is tailored to our clients’ ‘need’, not ‘want’. Our clients don’t need an artist, they need a craftsman, who can offer a standard professional service. They are two different business propositions and two different markets.

Splento is a startup. We have found a problem, and we are trying to solve it through a lot of work, trial and error, learning from our mistakes and adapting constantly. What I love about the startup industry is the same thing that made me fall in love with photojournalism a long time ago: the drive to challenge everything.

The photography industry needs to be challenged, to go through some sort of a ‘revolution’ or an innovation stage. Innovation does not happen by simply taking an old system and giving it a new name. That is marketing. It happens when you try to transform the old system into something that works better and is much more beneficial to everyone who uses it. This is what we aim to achieve. Watch this space.

Interested in starting your own photography business? Open Colleges interviewed Nichole King from Nichole King Photography for their blog: ‘How to Start a Photography Business’. Here she tells us the story behind her career change to photography, how she created a business out of it and how you can too.