The business of becoming professional …
Put another way, structuring my own photographic DNA.
Scott (2015) identifies three different types of professional photographer:
“The first is the high-end professional who works with a cross section of professional clients within one or across a wide spectrum of photographic genres. They are defined by a high quality client base, which in turn results in a strong financial reward for their work.
“The second is the general professional who also works with a cross section of professional clients within one or across a wide spectrum of photographic genres. They have a slightly less prestigious client base and therefore receive a lesser financial reward for their work. The general professional aspires to be a high-end professional. They usually come from a creative academic background and are informed by the work of their peers. Both of these areas are focused on creating, keeping, and enlarging their commercial client base.
“The third is the domestic professional. They do not work for professional clients whose job is to commission photography, but rather they work in the wedding, events, and domestic portrait market. This sector is most often self-taught, regionally focused, and dependent on constantly finding new clients, as the clients they have rarely recommission due to the nature of the reasons for their commissions. The domestic professional is an area that also appeals to the semi-professional, as they do not have to always be available for commission and much of the work is weekend based.
The most successful businesses are those which find different ways to sell the same thing. A degree of diversity is good business practice. A diverse range of products together with a diverse client base equals a business which will have both a steady inflow of income whilst also being buffered against fluctuations in demand.
The offering will be marketed to a wide range of clients, the USP being an innovative and unique style of food photography resulting in images capable of entertaining, existing in their own right as objects of beauty, whilst also undertaking to inform or educate.
On the theme of diversity, to date I have had a career filled with variety. I am a trained accountant and have also studied economics and business studies. I have studied evolutionary biology at degree level. And I worked in manufacturing for many years.
It was always interesting to watch the life cycle of products and to observe the influences that affected demand.
Edward H. Simpson published his Diversity Index in 1949. It is used to measure both diversity and concentration within ecosystems. It states that systems which have a high population but low diversity (e.g. only one or two species with a high population for each species) are stressed. Conversely, systems which have greater diversity of species are not subject to the same stress.
Take for example a very simple ecosystem with one form of vegetation (grass), one prey species (rabbits) and one predator (wolves). Suppose something happens to prevent the growth of the one species of vegetation, say for example a shift in temperature, the only source of food for the prey species will cease to exist, the prey animals will therefore cease to exist and consequently there ceases to be food for the predators. The system is in under stress.
Suppose, however, that the system has a variety of vegetation. A shift in temperature is unlikely to kill off all species of grass. The prey species have a continued source of nutrition and are able to thrive, and consequently the predator species also has access to a sustained source of nutrition. This system is under less stress.
The same holds true for businesses. A business offering only one type of product, or having a single niche market is unlikely to withstand market fluctuations. Compare this scenario with a business that supplies to two different types of client. If demand for one product drops there is still another product generating revenue whilst work is carried out to research and produce a new offering. The former model is of a business which is stressed, the latter less so.
During module three I wrote as follows:
‘There are, I think, significant advantages to breaking out of a mould and trying other types of photography, advantages which will enhance my skills as a food photographer. Looking beyond a still life table (or kitchen work surface), looking for different subjects, in different areas will, I believe, improve my skills as a photographer – not least of all by improving my skill in looking, and in seeing the potential within a subject for good photograph. After all, I think I am skilled in recognising items of food which will make images with aesthetic appeal, am I adept at recognising the potential, or the opportunity, for equally interesting and appealing images in other genres?
By turning away from my subject, only briefly and periodically, by including other genres in my repertoire, I am becoming more rounded as a photographer, I am becoming more skilled over a wider subject area and acquiring skills I can bring back to my specialism. In turn, this will allow me practice my specialism in an innovative way.
Progressing the discussion: food photographer – is that a label that I wish to be identified by?
Wouldn’t it be better to be considered as a photographer who specialises in food photography? In essence, letting the images I create do the talking [as opposed to adopting the title ‘food photographer’].
The former [title] is quite constrictive. In artistic terms, it shows that my area of interest, if not my talent, lies in food photography. But in practical, commercial terms, it closes off lots of avenues for potential work.
The latter, however, leaves lots of doors open: both artistically and commercially.’
I don’t think it is commercially viable to class oneself accordingly: ‘I photograph food, therefore I am a food photographer.
Designing my ‘DNA’ as a photographer, I think there is a commercial advantage in developing a unique style that when applied to a variety of genres identifies me as the artist. This is in direct opposition to identifying oneself by a genre specific title.
I think Scott has identified, either directly or indirectly, the need for professional photographers to cover a range of genres. He also identifies a key characteristic which separates ‘high-end’ professionals from ‘general’ and ‘domestic’ professionals.
That key characteristic being quality.
Pfab (2017) elucidates on the point of quality, writing:
‘All professionals need to have the ability to create consistently strong images through clever lighting and composition as well as the ability to create a narrative within a series. And this is what sets them apart from a general member of the public with a camera’.
In summary then, a consistent output of new material which incorporates both creative and technical skill on the part of the photographer.
This is not to suggest that ‘general’ or ‘domestic’ professionals are without the skills outlined by Pfab. Moreover, it suggests that the level of quality determines the end use for photographic output.
Relevance to my photographic practice?
Clearly, well developed creative and technical ability is needed together with narrative skill in order to produce strong and meaningful photographic images, to be an effective photographer.
This discourse has highlighted the qualities which, from a commercial rather than an artistic or creative point of view, enable a photographer to produce something saleable again and again. It has also suggested that strength lies in diversification.
The focus of attention now is to discover and effectively utilise channels of distribution – in other words how to market oneself as a photographer.
See also: ‘Breaking Free’
Pfab, Anna-Maria (2017), ‘Sustainable Prospects’: DNA of the 21st Century Photographer. Falmouth: Falmouth University [Online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/84/discussion_topics/2791?module_item_id=6495 (accessed: 30 September 2017).
Scott, G. (2015), Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained. Oxon: Focal Press