Should quality win over profitability in Pro Photography?
Businesses are always looking to increase profits by cutting costs but for me my photography business has been different
Recently I found myself reflecting on the need for ongoing investment in my business as I finish some very simple product photography.
This simple job is the first to use one of my recently purchased Schneider lenses for the Cambo Ultima II Technical View Camera. A single lens that might have cost more than others may have spent on their entire kit to photograph these phone cases.
I already own very similar lenses by Schneider and they are of the highest quality, the new lenses have been specifically designed for use with a digital sensor not film and while I’m delighted with the improvement I can see when I study the results, it is very “marginal”. Yet, when I delivered this job the client tells me how difficult it has been until now to get good sharp from front to back images of these little products! Not the first time I’ve been told this. I believe this is simply because of the investments I have made over time each of which deliver small improvements in the quality of work I can deliver.
Are some photographers finding a need to sacrifice quality to save money?
From what I see of the world around me it would appear that any business has a duty to maintain “high profits” and at almost at any cost. However, as a professional photographer I have always found it is “high quality” work that my business needs to deliver often at the cost of higher profits.
I believe that all Professional Photographers should be working to deliver the best possible quality in their work no matter what the cost. A philosophy that can make margins tight but it delivers the best of services and generates a lot of growth and repeat business.
A professional photographer should always aim for the highest quality possible
Over the last 25 years my business has obviously had the equipment and skill set to deliver a body of work that my clients have been delighted to pay for and I’m sure I could just stop all development and investment to keep my profits high all I’d need to do is simply “eat, sleep, work, repeat” for the rest of my days. Yet I continue to invest thousands of pounds into equipment and personal development. I always have done and I will continue to do so even at a time when more of my fellow professional photographers feel the only way they can be competitive in todays market is to cut back and make savings, in time and money, charge less and deliver less. In an effort to compete against an increasing number of amateurs looking to break into the market with fees that are almost nothing they buy cheap equipment, put their experience to one side and cut all the corners they can to deliver anything that is just about “good enough” for the client to pay the bill.
Over last couple of years I have often felt like I have stood alone in my efforts to deliver quality. So, I was delighted to read an article by Steve Davey in Professional Photo magazine called “Think Small” about how professional photographers should always be looking for the “marginal gains” in quality.
Just like Steve I see many of my respected colleagues using all kinds of time saving, or money saving shortcuts to keep the profits up.
I always look to shoot every job with the best equipment for any given technique as well as the best quality available. But while I’m investing another £5k on a new lens for my view camera others appear to have given up on owning or hiring a technical view camera for any work that requires one. Instead they try to emulate the same results I have “in camera” by stacking and manipulating a whole bunch of images on the computer. Often the result is distorted pixels that can not compare to the crisp sharp images that can be achieved with the right technique and equipment.
While short cuts like fixing things with image manipulation can help make more money, or help a photographer match the amateurs low fees that many Pro’s see as competition, the client might even be happy with what they have, especially when they hold it next to the invoice. As a business man this all sounds good and profitable but any professional photographer will know the real cost here has been quality and will know we can all deliver a better photographic service that this. A professional service that will help clients in their business stand above their competition.
In the image below the enlargement is far greater than 1:1 but quality glass and the movement on my view camera give me all I need for front to back sharpness close up over this tiny distance.
Why I use the best equipment available
I can be fanatical about quality, many of us who learned to be photographers shooting transparency film are, as it left absolutely no margin for error so every tiny detail you could get right or improve on was to be celebrated. Just because the adjustments you can make to digital files after the event make it more flexible than film is not in my opinion a reason to stop our pursuit of the best quality we can deliver “in camera”
Steve Davey wrote in his article;
I still maintain that a professional photographer should always aim for the highest quality possible, even if the job, the money and even the industry don’t actually justify it.
I do believe as professionals it is the exact sentiment that we should all have in all of our work every day. Anything less than this needs to be left to the aspiring amateurs as they begin there journey in the business and their customers who struggle to understand, or afford the benefits of a professional photography service.
Why as a Pro Photographer I need to make Marginal Gains
The concept of “marginal gains” as used by British athletes (and referred to by Steve Davey in his article) simply states that:
If you make small or marginal improvements in all aspects of your performance, then they will all add up, and while not so noticeable individually together they create a significant overall improvement.
Any small gains you make as a photographer might individually be almost imperceptible, (particularly to your client) and so in any effort to cut corners or make savings in cost or time can make it easy to dismiss these improvements as not worthwhile. I doubt you have to look far to find a photographer who will tell you that such marginal gains are a wast of effort and/or money and not worth the cost to his business. Lets face if a business is struggling to pay bills it could be a very quick fix.
As with many old school photographers who have found advances in quality the hard way, I was always taught to seek out the best quality I can possibly provide in my work at all costs. As such I think many of us have always believed in “Marginal Gains” our whole careers.
So, regardless of trends, or new cost cutting competition we will always try to incorporate quality it into every aspect of our workflow.
I do not believe that pursuing quality this way makes me any less competitive. Firstly getting things right in camera not only produces a better quality image with better lighting and less distortion etc. but it will speed up your workflow with less time processing images in post production. Secondly the professional techniques, experience and equipment delivering these improved results often sets me apart from much of the competition.
Of course the highest image quality is not the only thing I deliver to my clients, experience, skills. knowledge and of course creativity are all high on the list of what my clients need from Allinson’s Photography. However when I combine creativity and experience with the quality improvements from marginal gains I fully expect the overall quality of my work to continuously improve and with that the value of my work increases and becomes more a much easier sell as a service.
So, the next time I’m considering some costly improvements in quality while others focus on low prices and bigger profits and I’m asking myself; will anyone but me notice. dose it make any difference, dose it really matter, I’m delighted to know that I’m no longer alone in my answer – Yes it dose!
Some reasons why I continue to invest in View Cameras and quality optics
The image below is the simplest of pack shots, hardly a portfolio image full of creativity and I’m sure many would question why I would want to showcase it here in my blog post, while those in the know will be looking at how we can see the top of the box without vertical converging parallels as well as looking down the box at an angle again without horizontal covering parallels. As well as this the text on the packaging is sharp from front to back with only the very furthest corner going a little soft.
All of this has been achieved “in camera’ as the moments on the camera allow us to correct and compensate for all these things
The technical View Camera is not always about technical corrections its precision control and selective focus can also be used creatively. As shown bellow the camera movements can allow us to choose exactly what area of an image we want sharp or soft.