Oversaturated Market? Blame Me

'I, Zack Arias, am part of the oversaturated market,' proclaims the Atlanta-based music photographer. Always a sharp shooter, Zack is one of the loudest and most vibrant movers and shakers in the new ...

‘I, Zack Arias, am part of the oversaturated market,’ proclaims the Atlanta-based music photographer. Always a sharp shooter, Zack is one of the loudest and most vibrant movers and shakers in the new generation of our industry. Having met him before at industry trade shows, I’ve gotten to know him better recently when he was our guest on TWiT Photo and a participant in my Google+ Hangout on copyright and photo-sharing. My admiration of Zack and his phenomenal music and street portraiture has only increased after learning more about him – and I’ve constantly looked to exceptional and honest educators such as himself for inspiration in my own career as an educator and photographer. Here, Zack muses on the complaint that our market is oversaturated and pleads guilty to being a part of it. 

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Post By Zack Arias

Everyone wants to be a photographer these days.

Let me warn you now that this blog post is currently in it’s third state of revisions. It’s a real rambler. If you’re up for it, I’m up for it. More after the jump.

If you hang out on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the like enough you can “stumble upon” some trends without even trying to. Lately, I have seen a number of articles flying around about the over-saturation of the photography industry, the unsustainability of the microstock market, and the pros and cons of working for “free”. The “abuse” we photographers receive at the hands of our clients and totally absurd Craig’s List postings of people wanting work for free or photographers giving away the farm for nothing.

Here are a few of the articles that most people are talking about these days.

• Photo business guru John Harrington over at Black Star Rising talking about the 12 excuses for shooting for free. This article is the one that got me thinking about doing this blog post.

• Don Giannatti (Wizwow) has this article on shooting for free, and this article on getting experience. Great reads here.

• David Hobby (Strobist) about working for free. Another must read.

• Rob Haggart (A Photo Editor) about the unsustainability of the micro stock industry. Canary in the coal mine?

Let’s start with the “over saturated” market premise.

I, Zack Arias, am part of the oversaturated market. I am one of the many who are filling the waters of this industry. Every job I take is a job off of the table of another photographer. I am a working photographer in large part due to the prevalence of affordable DSLRs, the expense of film and development being removed from my upfront overhead, and the Internet.

I’ll be so bold to say that if you have entered this industry in the last 10 years, then you too are part of the oversaturation equation. If you are thinking about becoming a pro photographer, whether part time or full time, then you are oversaturating the market as well. I would say the “standard saturation” photographers are the ones who have been in the game, full time, without gaps, for more than 10 years.

Let’s break this thing down.

In the days of Kodachrome and dinosaurs, there were some pretty set rules of engagement and paths of entrance into the photography industry. You usually started by going to photography school or you started working in a lab. You had to get your feet wet somewhere and school and photo labs were a good place to get started. Once you were ready to move forward you started assisting working photographers. Many times you would have done this for free. I have assisted and interned for free many times and I have met countless photographers who started by schlepping bags and fetching coffee for nothing or next to nothing in pay. It’s what you did. It’s how you got to see how a “real” photographer worked. It was called… get this… “paying your dues.”

These days those paths aren’t so clearly defined. You can go to school via blogs, workshops, YouTube, and DVD’s. You can upload pictures to flickr and suddenly get a message from an art director wanting you to shoot a job. You can be a kid from Canada, travel the world, shoot some bands and end up shooting campaigns for a company you aren’t even old enough to buy their product. You can be inspired by your own wedding photographer, buy a camera, a fast lens, and rise to the top of your zip code within a year. You can go to Wal Mart, buy a cheap DSLR, shoot your friends and family, shoot their friends and families, put a blog together, and start a business. There are so many easy entry points into the market now. There is an abundance of inexpensive cameras, free learning portals, and free advertising routes that allows just about anyone with a camera to get out there and make a little or a lot of money with it.

The worst part about all of this is you don’t even have to be all that good of a photographer to get into the game. That really is the worst part about it all but hang out at enough photography water coolers and you’ll hear stories from “back in the day” about the same damn things. Being a crappy photographer with a profitable business is nothing new. There were just more up front costs to deal with back then. Now it’s just easier to be a crappy “sucksessful” photographer. Add insult to injury… You can be a fairly mediocre photographer these days and have a workshop teaching others how to be just as mediocre as you are. Meh. Whatever. It is what it is.

Add to all of this the deteriorating morale in the corporate workplace, the need of many to make an extra $100 here and there, unemployment, the recession, blah blah blah, and the fact that a lot of people find it a whole lot cooler to say “I’m a photographer” at social gatherings instead of saying “I’m a systems analyst at a healthcare company.” Bring this all together into the perfect shit storm of an industry filled to the gills with Joe and Jane Photographers trying to do something cool with their lives AND make some money doing it. I mean, Quicken and Quickbooks didn’t really oversaturate the accounting market did it? Maybe I’m wrong.

I’m right here part of it all. I’m part of the oversaturated market. You’re part of the oversaturated market. Don’t bitch and moan and complain about it because you’re in it with the rest of us.

What do we do with that information? Here we all are. Up to our necks in each other. We watch 10 leave because they can’t take the pressure and 20 more take their place. It all gets just a little tighter around here. The last thing in the world you need to do is complain about the situation… unless of course, you’ve been at this for 20 or more years. In that case, my apologies to you. I know you’re feeling the pressure of all of us new kids in the pool but here we are and it’s the only pool in town for us. Complaining about us isn’t making us leave and don’t think for a second that I didn’t just notice the water around me get a lot warmer.

Blah blah blah. Metaphor upon metaphor.

So it’s competitive. Guess what? Photography has always been competitive. I don’t know of any other time in this industry when it wasn’t competitive. The nice thing about the industry these days is it seems that most of us are now open to share our experiences with others. Gone are the days of everyone playing with their cards close to their chests. If you are still trying to stay in this industry with that sort of attitude, your days are numbered. It’s a real hippy love fest around here these days and we young punk kids ain’t got no time for your old ways of doing things.

Us young punk kids actually really need you to stick around. We need the long established pros to help us out. I know you want us out of your pool, but that isn’t happening any time soon. The better you can adapt the better you can survive. Part of adapting is now requiring you to kind of be a lifeguard even though you would probably just be as happy to watch us all drown.

So. Yeah. Over saturated. Your attitude should shift from “This sucks.” to “So what?” Big Deal. More at the party, dude!

How can I run a business will all these $500 wedding photographers in my town?

That’s the next thing we are going to look at. I’ll let you in on this… I’m all for $500 wedding photographers. For many different and sometimes conflicting reasons. Then we’ll look at the micro stock situation. Is it the canary in the coal mine? Then let’s have a conversation about what it all means at the end of the day and will the industry adjust and what will that look like?

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
The horses are coming
So you better run*

*I actually like to listen to the song above as “The dark days are over” and the horses coming aren’t here for destruction.


very well written, zack. sad, but very well-written. my immature bitterness is due to the amount of money it cost me to learn this stuff 20 years ago. no, you certainly do not need a photography school to learn how to expose slide film or light a shiny object in the studio, but I sure did! as one of the other posters said, the trick is differentiating yourself from other…a lifelong task, indeed.

As a new photographer I guess this article applies to me. From my experience in life i find that while blog’s , dvd’s , and online courses have made it easier to learn the nuts and bolts of photography. The best way to learn is to pick the brain of a seasoned professional that is willing to teach. Another thing is that Unless I feel that I can get good consistent photos I should remain as a hobbyist / amateur. Though that doesn’t mean I will not try and sell photos or take donations.

Beautifully written Zack. I wrote a similar article for Blackstar called ‘The True Cost of Free’

I’m one of the old school (25 years+) that assisted and followed the route as Zack mentioned.

Yes. Markets have changed and technology is one of the drivers behind this. That compounded by the continually hysterical perception of economic doom is naturally going to lead people to seek ways to subsidise their income and why not? Technology and the latitude that raw gives makes serviceable results obtainable to almost anyone.

A real issue, to me, is the acceptance of lowering standards of images. Very often I’ll scan local photographic businesses to see who has started up or left the industry and I get genuinely angry to see some of the work that ‘photographers’ pass off as acceptable.

There will always be new people entering the market and some of the new photographers will have done it for six months and be a thousand times better that me or my peers. No issue. If the output is good, then they deserve to succeed.

The problem to me is that too many are making do with ‘barely adequate’ when it comes to results. That’s on both sides, client and photographers.

[…] nauseum at every angle by anyone with a camera. In a recent guest post on this blog, esteemed rebel Zack Arias waxed lyrical about the common complaint about there being too many photographers today. David […]

I do not believe that the photography market is over saturated. In fact, the only thing different today is the movement from film to digital and from scrapbooks to digital on-line storage. For example, as a pro photographer 30 years ago I had to compete with spectators with Kodak Instamatic cameras at events. Today its digital cameras. Yet I made a nice living then shooting events, including up to 4 weddings a weekend, proms, bands, models, etc. What made me unique? My art training and placing more focus on the money. Its also about the salesmanship and marketing. Any idiot can take a picture and give it away for free, even if it costs them a lot of money, under the excuse that they are gaining experience. As for experience, I sold my first photographs before I knew how to operate a camera. However, only a few of us old timers know the secrets to making money as pro photographers: do what you love, focus on the dollar, and keep developing your business plan (oops, I guess its not a secret anymore!).

Actually quickbooks HAS caused some of the same issues. I’ve already been burned by people that decided that since they have quickbooks they are now a bookkeeper.

Awesome post, Zack! Love it.

Catherine – you have the wrong link for Zack’s twitter feed!

I couldn’t agree more:-)
“The dog days are over
The dog days are done
The horses are coming
So you better run”

Thanks Zack, true words. I’m just wondering how many pros with 20+ years in business (and I don’t mean uncle Joe, who’s shooting only for people 2 blocks away from his house) have you ever heard complaining about the situation. Actually I see that these people are not, because they are busy making their business. First people who could afford the first digital cameras, and were kings with the “new” technology are disgusted because now everybody can buy a camera and do what they did, shoot in auto mode…

Love it, Zack! Another awesome piece of writing. I love that you hit the nail on the head so often. Not afraid to say what so many of us are thinking, kind of standing up for the “new” photographer, because you were one not so long ago. Thanks!

Awesome post Zack. I’ll admit, I’m part of the same problem. I came across digital photography 7 years ago and have learned what I can from blogs, internet, books and however I can. The key is to separate yourself from the others, that is what I’m working on now.

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