By Wayne Cosshall
When your photography business is a service, your income level is time limited. You can only earn money when expending your time. So, unless you add staff photographers, the amount of time you are prepared to work determines the maximum income you can earn. A related problem is that you can’t take time off from your business and still generate income.
So what can be done?
Well, the key is to move from only selling your services to also selling products. In this part of the series we will cover options and processes.
If you think about it, there are a whole range of possible products to be sold, such as:
- Fine art prints
- Greeting and gift cards
- Decorator items, such as photo-based lamp shades
- Tourist items, such as keyrings, mugs, placemats, refrigerator magnets, etc
- Books (e.g., travel, art photography, how to manuals, etc.)
- Photographic accessories
Let's explore some of these in more detail.
Art and Décor
Moving into what we could loosely call the fine art and decorator markets of limited-edition prints, posters, cards and such, makes a lot of sense for many photographers. Many of us shoot suitable images for our own pleasure and sanity, sometimes on the back of paid jobs, shooting some extras for ourselves. It is therefore not such a huge leap from what we already know. Sadly, that means that many other photographers have done the same and so it is a densely populated area.
Just because there is a lot of competition is not a reason to avoid this area. The key is to find (or create) a unique angle or niche and dominate it as quickly as possible. That tends to mean that those who can really throw themselves into a heavy commitment to the new area may have a real advantage over those who are trying to juggle too many areas at one time. This is something to consider. You also need to make sure your work is of the absolute highest quality. There is a lot of average work out there, but noticeably less at the high end.
Aiming at the tourist market can be an effective line to take if you are well located or at least can easily travel to suitable locations. This is another heavily populated area and the same advice as above holds here.
While the general public can buy photo-based gift items themselves from many places, including the online companies like Snapfish and **bleep**terfly, they are limited by the quality of their own photography. If you can arrange wholesale pricing from a supplier so that you can put a healthy markup on the price for your time and profit, you may be able to tap into the existing consumer awareness of photo gifts. Offering such products with your stunning photography can turn an average gift into a memorable one. The manufacturing process for these photo gifts often allows personalisation, so the client gets the best of both worlds: a personal gift and photography beyond what they could produce themselves.
You can also tack this onto your existing services, such as for wedding/portrait photographers and event photographers.
Books are a tricky area in photography. There is clearly money to be made, but there are so many photographers in this segment that it is hard to stand out from the crowd. Again, if you have a strong niche, you can make a real presence for yourself and effectively create a whole market of your own.
DVDs are an interesting area for photographers. These can range from tourist-oriented productions to training videos for aspiring photographers. If you have specialist expertise and can plan a video that will be informative and entertaining, go for it. If you are shooting travel images, capturing some video footage at the same time can open up DVD options with little extra effort. With many cameras now offering excellent movie capture, you may not need to carry a lot of extra gear.
The area of photographic accessories is perhaps the hardest field to enter, but it can potentially be hugely rewarding. Working photographers often have a far better idea of what accessories are needed than some nameless engineers who may not do the types of photography we do, if they do any photography at all.
There are a number of small firms that were started by photographers to solve problems that are not addressed by the big players. Some of these have become fairly large businesses in themselves. Many of the products produced by small, highly specialised companies are so much better than the big-name items that I now tend to check out the smaller companies first in certain areas of photographic need, such as gear for macro photography.
The story behind many successful startups is that a photographer identified an unsatisfied need or discovered that existing equipment was just not good enough for discerning photographers.
Just as with photographic accessories, many not-so-small software companies started out when photographers couldn’t find what they needed on the market and decided to do it themselves. Software has the huge advantage of virtual manufacturing, meaning that there is really little cost of entry and operating costs can be minimal. Again it is a case of seeing something not done well or at all by the big players and providing specialised software that does it better.
Obvious areas in photography are the software for astrophotography image stacking and video processing, and the software for what I call computational photography, areas like High Dynamic Range Imaging and focus stacking. While Photoshop does all of these, it does none of these as well as specialised software does, and much of that software comes from small companies or individuals.
In Part 8 of this series we will continue this discussion with details on how to approach some of these fields and an examination of key marketing issues for photographic products.
Other posts in this series: