It never has been easy to pursue a career in the arts, plain and simple. Whether the economy is booming or faltering, a career as a visual artist, playwright, musician or any other arts-based avenue is fraught with pitfalls and traps. Even if you’ve become successful in a particular area, the taste of your audience may change, or suddenly a particular look or style quickly can become trite or overdone. Technologies can change rapidly, and almost overnight, the many years spent honing a talent suddenly can seem as if it was all for nothing.
Myth: The Sky Is Falling
Artists aren’t the only ones to suffer at the whims of the economy. Speaking of overnight, take Calumet, who recently closed their doors and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation with virtually no advance warning. Employees were told the day the company closed that they weren’t to return and that the chain was closed for good. Many have been pointing to the demise of Calumet as a simile for the state of affairs in photography. They may have a point, but it’s probably not the one they think.
It’s true that the photographic and imaging industry as a whole is in turmoil. It’s an almost perfect storm of factors that are causing a great amount of upheaval in the established paradigms of the business. And, as always, there’s quite a bit of doom and gloom on the part of photographers as they watch their livelihood and the many avenues to becoming a successful photographer seemingly disappear.
But rather than despair, they should be looking at the chaos in the industry as a way to thrive. Any business is complex and we don’t know all of the details about Calumet’s failure, but it’s clear that one major issue they had was in their expensive real estate. Calumet had retail locations that cost them dearly at the same time that they faced increased competition and pricing pressure from a variety of Internet retailers. Of course, 2013 was a challenging year for the photo industry, but for Calumet, is was a perfect storm.
Photographers have had similar challenges with the loss of stock revenue. With Getty Images recently declaring that they would make a large part of their collection available for free and the overall erosion of stock pricing at other agencies, many photographers have decried the loss of an important revenue stream. And, at the same time, many pros were maintaining expensive studio space, which just ceased to be cost-effective.
But amid the challenges in retail and the challenges for the actual photographers, there’s money to be made for those who can adapt. In particular, technology has given us new business opportunities with motion capture. We’ve been writing about this since the introduction of the Canon EOS 5D and the Nikon D90 models with video capability, and yet we still meet photographers who never have experimented with it because they say, "It’s not my thing." The reality is that there are so many facets to motion capture and how photographers can use it to boost their business that saying "It’s not my thing" is just shooting yourself in the foot.
Amid the business challenges, this is still a golden age for photography and photographers. New gear with ground-breaking technology is coming out, and we’re able to do more for clients. With imagination about what may be possible, being a professional photographer is still a viable livelihood.