Sunday, January 13, 2013

Wedding and Portrait Photography in Chico

I decided it was time to go back and look through a set of photos that Sheryl and I shot at the Naked Lounge ( it's just a cafe with great coffee ). Talia Lupita Azul was our model and she did a great job. This was shot with available light only, and Sher helped me modify it a bit to get what I consider to be beautiful light. I really enjoy doing work like this, and I look forward to doing more in the near future.

I had thought that putting up a few ads on Craigslist would get me some bookings, but around here that doesn't seem to work very well. My general impression is that approximately nobody is using Craigslist in the Chico area to find a photographer. I get a few website hits which can be traced back to Craigslist ads, and I've gotten a few contacts, but I also notice that no other photographer posts consistently to craigslist-- they all drop off sooner or later and that wouldn't be so if the ads were actually working. I'll have to explore other channels for selling my work.

I'm actually biting my tongue right now to avoid commenting too much on what other local photographers are doing. I decided a while back to keep a very loose, casual eye on what they're up to. Well, it seems to break down into a few different categories. There are the hobbiests, and there are tons of those. Digital photography just keeps growing in popularity. There are serious hobbiests/ semi- pro photographers. Some of those are pretty good ranging to very good, but in that group mostly what I see is that they get reduced to playing "dress-up" with friends who want to be models or at least play at it. This is likely true all over, not just in Chico. You can be a great photographer but if you aren't good at marketing and selling, you probably won't get hired except by family and friends, and some of our locals are pretty damn good. 

The phenomenon of getting hired by family and friends, church members, coworkers, fellow club members, etc, is that as a marketing strategy, if it were one, it works better than, say, advertising. Your friends may actually follow through with hiring you. There's some trust there already built. They'll probably expect a discount and they'll probably get it, especially when you just think of yourself as "turning pro". You'll probably bump into them over and over again until they remember to actually pony up and do a shoot and so on. None of this is true when you really are a pro. As a pro you have to build trust through other means, you can't afford to offer bottom barrel pricing, and your potential clients aren't predisposed either to hiring you or actually following through, even if you've spent significant time with them already. They won't see you again so it's easy to blow you off.

What's actually bothering me that I've been avoiding talking about is that some of the local photographers who are actually getting some work ( cut-rate work, yes, but still work ). And what bothers me most is that they are absolutely awful at photography. They haven't a clue what they're doing, and it shows. I'm not even being picky: we're talking baby picks where the baby is completely out of focus, bad light, bad composition, bad color, underexposed or wildly over-exposed. . .  pretty much everything a photographer can do wrong is done wrong.  Only fifty bucks for the shoot? So what. And yet, and yet-- they're working and continuing to be hired by family and friends, building confidence, planning to do more and more and more: but they aren't learning from their mistakes. They aren't getting any better. Somehow their clients aren't complaining. What I have to assume is that the proliferation of amateur photography is keeping expectations very low. Is it because the low rate photographers are so cheap? Well there's cheap and then there's worthless. Maybe if the end result marginally beats a cell phone pic it's considered acceptable? I don't know. This "dumbing down" of the art of photography is pretty troubling to me, where the expectations of quality are so low, and the price point as well. The low end photographer and the low end client threatens to kill off the mid level photographers market where there's actually some talent.

It's a bit like Walmart. Your local hardware store gets driven out of business because everybody is buying the cheap crap at Walmart. One day you go back to the old hardware store because you need something good and it just ain't there. Gone.

The thing about the mid level photography market is:
#1 That's where all the new talent gets developed. Eventually this feeds the higher end markets and that's where the top end talent gets nurtured.
#2 It's accessible but not "dirt cheap" to consumers. Maybe there's just enough profit to keep a dedicated photographer going, to continue to build his skills and move onward and upward. 
#3 It helps to "set the bar" for a certain level of quality in the field, and expectations for better things to come in the future.
    So I don't think we can afford to lose that. It's kind of like the middle class in America, it drives everything.