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Thread: Amateur vs Professional pricing issues

  1. #1

    Amateur vs Professional pricing issues

    I've been thinking about this topic for a while, and a few posts in the last couple of months have discussed related issues, so I thought it a good time to raise the topic.

    First, a clarification - I see no qualitative difference between amateur and professional, merely how they make their money. In the LF world, I have sometimes even hazarded a guess that amateurs are frequently producing better quality work (though lower in volume) than professionals, because they want to get things right and are less bound by practical considerations.

    'Less bound by practical considerations' is an important point in this ramble.

    I also don't have a great contact with the fine art world, or indeed with that many photographers, so keep that pinch of salt handy.

    Stock photography is dying as an income to many individual photographers. Some photographers I know who make money from workshops, print sales, book sales, and stock, have seen a drastic decline in stock sales, and have started focussing more on workshops and print sales to make up for it. They wonder how friends in the travel photography business actually survive. The main cause seems to be saturation of the market, but a related cause is the increase in amateurs registering with online stock agencies. They don't care how much they get, just the thrill of being published. They might not put a lot of work online, but there's a lot of them. Doing a web search recently on a major online stock site, I was amazed at how many people I knew who were selling a couple of dozen shots.

    In the fine art market, I've seen more people with 'normal', reasonably well-paying jobs, who buy nice equipment and enjoy spending their free time doing photography, decide it's time to get some print sales. Money isn't a factor - they don't need to feed themselves or cover equipment costs based on the sales (they would have bought the equipment anyway).They price in one of two ways: price low, to aim for maximum print sales; price high, because they consider their work as good as Gursky, Shore, Muench, Sexton et al. but maybe need to temper the price to reflect some degree of market reality. They don't care if they only get a few sales, if that. High price gives credibility.

    I've seen people in the former group who price barely above material costs - paper and ink etc, not taking into account printers, enlargers, cameras, film etc. And those in the latter group who refuse reasonably generous offers for work, because it's clearly 'worth more than that', even if sales don't support their pricing.

    I'm curious how others view the amateur vs professional divide, and whether they've come across odd situations, and how the future looks for the full-time professional. People 'undermining fellow photographers/the profession, by charging too low'. They show society the 'real worth' of work by charging highly.

    This isn't really the same issue as grain dumping eg, because dumping is sometimes used as a tool to damage competition -the high and low pricers genuinely don't care about cost.
    On the whole, I don't care if eg a professional wedding photographer with a family to feed (for added emotive value!) loses work to an amateur who does a few jobs just to cover film/printing and enjoy the publicity. Provided the amateur is doing good work and can demonstrate appropriate experience/backup, your other financial commitment simply price you out of the job.

    I think this is more of an LF issue, because it seems the proportion of amateurs making a bit of money esp in fine art, increases as you go up the formats. I suspect some of the full-time pros will be priced out of the market, but I don't see that as a bad thing, just a change.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Richmond Virginia

    Amateur vs Professional pricing issues

    Hello. I'm an amateur, so I can speak from that side of it. I do not agree that most amateur "fine art" photography is produced by photographers using LF, at least not where I live (Richmond Virginia). But I think that most, if not all amateur LF users think of themselves as fine art photographers, since more and more (if not all) professionals are turning to digital. I have sold a few prints from time to time, but do not really try to sell what I do. Mostly I give them away, or trade. I do try to follow art work developed in my area, and there are some exceptional artists in Richmond. However, most of the art work that I see, be it painting, photography, or whatever is produced by generally self taught amateur practitioners, and like what I do, is generally unexceptional. We do it because we love doing it; certainly not for the money. Professional photographers provide a service to those who need specific images. They invest in and have the photographic skill, the equipment, and most importantly, the business accumen to get the clients and make a profit. It is a competitive field, but I do not believe amateurs cut in to their business in any significant way. I believe there will be, if not always, for a long time to come, a need for professional image makers, and that there will be capable persons there to meet the need. I believe consistently getting high prices for "art" photography is tied to a degree of celebrity typically achieved through self-promotion, and crticial praise for exceptional work.

  3. #3
    Geert's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2005

    Amateur vs Professional pricing issues

    In Belgium, one of the 41 protected professions is photography.
    That will forbid anyone from practising commercial photography without to proper education and license. So, don't worry about portrait, wedding and journalistic photography.

    Fine art photography... anyone can call himself an artist, isn't it?



  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    Amateur vs Professional pricing issues

    I notice that a lot of people's photos appear to be interchangable, especially the large format color nature photos that so many people on the forum do. And the more generic the works gets, the lower the price gets.

    If you want to sell boring, generic photos for a lot of money, then you have to do some schtick. Maybe use an 9 x 16 aerial camera and hire a publicist to proclaim it to be the world's highest resolution camera? (like Clifford Ross). Or just make really large, technically perfect prints mounted on interesting materials (Burtinsky, Germans, etc.). Or stick a couple babies in the shot (Ann Gedes) or nude teenage girls (Mann, Sturges) or something to get attention.

    I suspect that most commercial shooters who shoot large format landscapes and such do it for the love of it, and as a respite from the overly produced jobs they do for money. Some of the very best landscape photographers, IMHO, are the guys who do those exotic double page spreads for cars and liquor (like Duncan Sim). Some of those jobs are $100K plus for esssential a good location scout, some retouching, and using a big camera in bad weather...

  5. #5

    Amateur vs Professional pricing issues

    "Fine art photography... anyone can call himself an artist, isn't it?"

    That's absolutely right Geert.

    I'm not adverse to professional identity, however when the photography sucks, hiding behind an institution for credibility is hardly the answer. It gives the impression that Belgium is still the E.U. boys club trying desperately to forge an identity for itself. No matter how neurotic.

    "I think this is more of an LF issue, because it seems the proportion of amateurs making a bit of money esp in fine art, increases as you go up the formats. I suspect some of the full-time pros will be priced out of the market, but I don't see that as a bad thing, just a change. "

    Your conclusion is bound to be flawed because your premise is flawed. If the only difference between amateur and professional photography boils down to money, then you will have a hard time trying to see the wood for the trees.

    Just because your best friend can get your teeth out by giving you a punch, would you call him a dentist? Your points aren't unreasonable for someone with no contact in the fine art market. What we do see a proliferation of is countless speculative posts by amateur photographers trying to blur the boundary in some quasi-fantasy that their work really might be up to professional standards.


  6. #6

    Join Date
    Mar 2001

    Amateur vs Professional pricing issues

    Hi guys, interesting thread. I do have a couple of comments to offer, the first of which is that I'm not sure if there's a a bright line between amateur and professional; in fact with a few exceptions (the really famous people) it's just about impossible to tell who is what. I know successful photographic artists who do commercial work on the side; others who have day jobs; lesser-known ones who are doing photography full time but living off a nest egg; and others who sell prints but support themselves with workshops, printing for others, and other means. There are just a few photographers out there who make a full-time living selling their prints, and not many these days make a full-time living selling stock images.

    The model I have followed for awhile now is that to make a living as a photographic artist, you have to have many sources of income all coming in at once. A few bucks from prints sales, a few more from a book project, teach a workshop here and there, and so on. Income trickles in from all these sources, and just when one dries up, another one (hopefully) produces a check that keeps everything going for awhile longer. And many photographers who think of themselves as professional artists also supplement all of that with something else-- a part-time job that has nothing to do with photography, or they shoot weddings just for the money, or whatever.

    For me the crucial factor was being willing to make a sacrifice in my material life in favor of doing what I love. If one is willing to let go of the cool car and drive a junker, and make a few other similar sacrifices, and of course devote one's self passionately to the work, then I think there's lots of reason to be optimistic about the future of photographic art as a profession. The number of successful photo galleries in cities all over the country has skyrocketed in the last few years. Photography is the artform of our time; it is being featured as the main event in all the biggest and most important art shows in the world now. Art magazines like ArtForum and Art In America have more photography than anything else nowadays. It's amazing.

    One other thing that I frequently see, which is a career killer for a huge number of otherwise talented photographers, is the self-sabotaging failure to put the work out there. I know because I did it for years myself. I would come up with every excuse not to have shows, not send the work to galleries and magazines, and just stay home doing more photography. The whole game of putting the work out there is awfully scary-- it's like climbing out on a tree limb and handing someone the chainsaw. It's like taping your ego to your backside and handing someone a ruler and saying "spank." The work is sacred fo us, and yet we have to put it out there to be trashed or treated with indifference by people who we respect and admire. It's incredibly difficult.

    If I had to say for myself what I see as the distinction between amateur and professional, it would have something to do with the kind of photography being practiced. If a person takes the risk of engaging with the current world and addressing a contemporary subject, then I think they have a far higher chance of succeeding in today's photographic art world than someone who is doing safer more traditional photography. I think the reason that many photographers are finding dead-ends in sales, or low market prices for their work, is because they are offering something that is already ubiquitious. It's kind of like being in a rock and roll band that only plays Beatles songs-- it's been done so many times that of course a band like that won't sell a million records and have sold-out concerts and get played on the radio. Do get those things requires taking a risk that many people aren't willing to take-- the risk of being original, saying something unique that might be controversial. I personally think of the professional photographic artist as someone who is taking that risk. Whether they make a full-time living or not is not so important; even if they have to supplement their income, they are fully committed, and that to me is what it means to be a professional artist.

    Okay, now what was the question again?

  7. #7
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    brooklyn, nyc

    Amateur vs Professional pricing issues

    I'm not really sure where you're going with this, Richard.

    There is one key difference between the art market and the commercial market, and that is what's being sold.

    A commercial photographer is typically selling rights to use an image. An artist is typically selling a print, with no rights attached. There's probably no meaningful way to compare prices between these two worlds.

    This is a bigger difference than professional/amateur ... it just so happens that most commercial photographers are professional (because why else would they be doing it?) and most artists are amateurs (if they new how to make a living at it, they would).

    As far as artists selling work for barley more than the cost of materials, that's a new one to me. Maybe in the arts and crafts world where the practitioner is doing it just for fun. Most artists i know charge a bundle for the work, and even the ones that sell a lot need a day job and all the grant support they can beg for.

  8. #8

    Amateur vs Professional pricing issues

    Paul, it was a bit of an incoherent ramble, I think.

    I wasn't really trying to look at the commercial/non-commercial distinction, but rather, the different marketing and pricing routes being taken by those who have to make money from their photography, and those who don't have to. I think the latter are increasing in number, and rarely even have to cover their costs. It seems to me they're making decisions and adopting practices that a person who eats from their work (be it commercial or non-commercial) isn't in a position to make, and I'm curious about the effect of this. We've probably seen 'professional' wedding photographers lose work to amateurs (and these amateurs aren't always bad at it!); we've seen amateurs charging low costs for prints because they don't have to make up the cost of their equipment; I've seen amateurs (again, those who might be eg anaesthetists during the week) trying to sell their work for long periods, at very high prices and not selling, yet still insisting their work is worth it 'because it's as good as Gursky's' (they migh be correct - marketing and contacts mean a lot!) and not compromising.

  9. #9
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Rio Rancho, NM

    Amateur vs Professional pricing issues

    Topics like this would be far more interesting with web cams and matter-transfer devices, so we could better simulate a friendly pub environment, and ask someone to pass the beer. ;-)

    In my view, there are far too many variations in the "amateur vs. professional" spectrum, and far too many variations in approach to markets and marketing to arrive at useful general conclusions. Markets change over time, forcing changes in marketing in some cases, and forcing people out of the market in other cases. Those who adapt to these market changes succeed, those who don't find other means of supporting themselves. Add the fact that markets vary by geographic region, and even vary widely within any given region, and the issues become even more complex. Then, consider the fact that markets are affected by a variety of external factors, and it becomes even more difficult to arrive at useful general conclusions.

    For example, it would be easy to say that the stock photography market has changed dramtically because of changes in the publishing and advertising markets. Both segments, the primary consumers of stock, have been looking for new ways to optimize their own profits due to shifts in their own realities, and what they are willing to pay for photography has changed as a result.

    Thus, I'm not sure whether how the individual photographer classifies him/herself (i.e. amateur or professional) really matters. In some cases, the quality of the work might not even matter, but whether the pricing and marketing fits the demands or expectations of the market, the consumer of the work.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    May 2004
    Brussels, Belgium

    Amateur vs Professional pricing issues

    Hey Geert,

    Just a quick word to clarify something:

    Photographer is not a protected profession anymore in Belgium... It was "liberated" on january 1st along with a bunch of others, in light of EU politics of free movement of workers within the EU...

    So photographer, artist, whatever, in Belgium it now doesn't have a legal sense...



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