Photo business differentiation: I thought the the ocean was blue. Nope. It’s red.

Whether you’re launching your first independent photo venture or re-visiting an old flame, you’ll end up realizing that most segments are pretty loaded with competition.

How you strategically differentiate yourself as a photographer will greatly enhance your chances for success regardless of specialization.

During your early developmental phases of business growth, merely providing services for lower prices isn’t the answer. In fact, it’s one of the most harmful things you can do to yourself (in the long run) and other independent photo professionals who’ve earned their stripes after years of toiling in sweaty, chemical-laced labs, working for pennies at newspapers and virtually selling their souls to eat ramen noodles 7 days a week.

How to price your photography when you don’t have a lot of experience or a well-developed portfolio can be tough, but following standard pricing guidelines is the best solution if you intend on running a sustainable business for years to come.

Click here for some resources to help you price your photography.

Differentiation can come in many forms. Perhaps you’re the only photog in the area offering a specific photo service…instant differentiation. This usually isn’t the case though. In fact, if you’re the only fish swimming in a ‘blue ocean market’, move over…this fish is packing up shop and moving next door.

More than likely, you’ll be swimming in a ‘red ocean market’ with more wannabe pro photogs snapping pictures of babies, puppies, old ladies, just married teens and anything else they can point their 12 mega-pixel consumer grade point and shoot at.

If you’re curious about the definition of a ‘red ocean market’, you couldn’t have chosen a better industry to find out.

In a marketing sense, a ‘red ocean’ refers to an extremely competitive, well-defined marketplace that witnesses shrinking profits largely due to competitor cannibalism. Photography in general and the micro-stock fiasco is a perfect example.

Ten years ago, online micro-stock sites opened a new market in the photography realm — a market I wish never would have been opened and a market in which I have vehemently resisted participating in  (more on that to come).

Regardless, buyers and photographers were able to swim freely in an uncrowded,  unsaturated pool of imagery selling & buying.

This ‘blue ocean’ created profits for some who went on to tout the greatness of this system. Today, the vast blue ocean of micro-stock has turned into a bloody red-ocean of millions upon millions of competitors…wherein each and every one of them has been ripped off and in turn, has unwittingly ripped off each and every other photographer for years to come.

Believe me, I’ll be back with my perspective on micro-stock and stock in general in the not-so-distant future, but for now, let’s finish the red ocean/blue ocean topic.

You don’t need to look at a red ocean as an entirely negative environment. Wedding photography and portraiture are prime examples.

You’ll probably find more wedding photogs and more portrait photogs than any type of photographer out there.

Why? I suppose I don’t know the exact answer, but I’d suggest that it’s because there are always people getting married and always people looking to professionally capture a family memory. The work isn’t dangerous (although quite challenging), the pay is decent, clients are normally pretty jovial during the shoot and it’s possible to keep your cost of doing business expenses at a reasonable level if you’re not running a brick-and-mortar studio.

None-the-less, no matter where you go, there’s always a portrait studio and there are always numerous wedding shooters, yet these two genres remain some of the most profitable for the largest amount of photogs the world over.

It’s definitely nice to swim in a wide-open blue ocean, but those crystal clear turquoise photo markets are few and far between (if they even exist anymore).

One thing is for certain though when it comes to navigating the choppy waters of the photography marketplace— if you’re not prepared to pheed amongst the phrenzy of rabid photogs in a bloody red ocean, then this isn’t the business for you.

About Alpine Objectives - Snow Media, Marketing & Education

Based in Central Switzerland, Alpine Objectives delivers snow-focused media, marketing & tourism services drawn from 15 years of snowsports, mountain resort ops and alpine education experience developed around the wintry planet.
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2 Responses to Photo business differentiation: I thought the the ocean was blue. Nope. It’s red.

  1. source says:

    Is it fine to place a portion of this on my personal blog if perhaps I post a reference point to this site?

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