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Future Prospects

Building a Successful Photography Career in Our New Economy

The ASMP Bulletin’s Winter 2011 issue featured the article Future Prospects: Building a Successful Photography Career in our New Economy, excerpted from chapter seven of Susan Carr’s The Art and Business of Photography, © 2011. As a companion to the excerpt in print, Carr examines the successful business models of several photographers in this expanded online content.

This article is excerpted from chapter 7 of The Art and Business of Photography by Susan Carr. Copyright © 2011. ISBN: 978-1-58115-759-8. Used with permission of Allworth Press. Available from booksellers or direct from

© Shawn G. Henry

Susan Carr is a Chicago-based photographer and has been in business for more than twenty years. Her photographs are included in corporate and private collections, most notably the Pfizer Corporation and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. A past president of ASMP, Carr has long been dedicated to the advocacy and education of fellow photographers. She currently serves as ASMP’s education director and is organizer of ASMP’s highly successful Strictly Business 2 and 3 conferences. Carr is the editor of the latest ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography (2008), also published by Allworth Press.


© Susan Carr


I don’t believe there ever has been one answer for how to build a successful career as a photographer, but the variations today seem endless. The ease of information creation, consumption, and distribution that new technology provides is the significant game-changer of our industry. Photographers who understand and utilize this transformation are the individuals who will successfully redefine their role as professionals and find a market for their talents.


The pace of change for our businesses is not going to slow anytime soon — it seems only to accelerate, particularly in the area of the shift from print to online publishing. Ken Auletta, in his book Googled, The End of the World as We Know It, chronicles the history of Google as a company and, at the same time, tells the story of the recent disruptive changes in traditional media and advertising. As creators, our livelihoods are linked to and greatly affected by these evolving circumstances. Discussing how new media is defined, Auletta writes, “The belief embraced by too many television (and movie) executives that they are in the content business — and most digital companies are not — is not just smug but stupid. Content is anything that holds a consumer’s attention.” He goes on to point out the continual increases in the audiences on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, then citing a 2009 Nielsen report he writes, “Eighteen to twenty-four-year-olds now spend the same amount of time — five hours a day — watching Internet video as American adults spend watching TV.”


The eyeballs of consumers are moving online, where the work of many independent photographers can be found, and the advertisers are following. The tracking of consumer interest that online advertising provides the advertiser is powerful. Buyers can now learn specific information about who responded to their advertising placements. And, as Auletta points out, “Marketing thus becomes less opaque, robbing ad agencies and sellers of their ability to sell what Mel Karmazin called ‘the sizzle’ … This transparency and the additional supply of media outlets, as well as a suspicion that advertising and media agencies had not sufficiently adjusted their fees downward, shifted leverage to the true buyer, the client.”


Information is now easy to create, distribute, and consume. This truth:

  • Changes how our clients do business.
  • Changes what our clients need from us.
  • Changes our access to potential clients.
  • Democratizes the creation and distribution of photography.
  • Increases the ease by which works can be used without permission.


If we acknowledge and embrace the opportunities presented by these changes, we can individually build futures as photographers. We need to throw out business practices that are at odds with this changed economy while simultaneously ramping up the practices that are critical to sustainably monetizing our work. The real challenge is distinguishing the difference and for each of us, the answers may vary.


For me, I am ready to loosen up on absolute control over the distribution of my work. If I share my images for non-commercial uses, I believe I will increase my visibility as an artist. The key will be making sure all uses carry my attribution and when a use is online that it links back to my Web site. I see real value in making my original commissioning clients true creative partners offering flexible licensing terms and seeking mutual attribution of our efforts. I want to build a business that realizes my belief that the still image has extraordinary value as a communication tool, and, for me, that means both creating work and helping other image makers strengthen their photography and businesses.


Sean Kernan shares his thoughts.

© Sean Kernan


After years in the business and the profession of photography, making a modest success of it, I found, as many of us have, that that business is morphing in some way I can’t discern. So what to do about that? I think the worst thing I could do is to insist that the only ‘good outcome’ would be a return to its previous shape. In a very real sense I began photographing from this impulse to see and explore, and I made my way by surfing whatever energies I found … which included magazines, making images for advertising, doing catalogs, working for corporate clients, even coming up with an idea that CBS made into a Movie of the Week, unlikely as that seemed.


But I always kept in touch with my original impulse — or perhaps it kept insisting on itself — and I used anything at hand to explore it. So I began writing and playing with sound and video. I also kept expanding my teaching, at least partly as a way of learning.


At this point I find myself involved with working on several film ideas, working with a group of dance/performance people, working with a friend to illustrate a poem … all of which lie outside of photography proper. I feel very insecure in all of these endeavors, but I know that that is the sign that something might happen, something unlike what I’ve already done.


Such as what? I think that is probably only a minor point. When I first began teaching I had a wonderful Japanese student who said to me, ‘You teach photography as a Way.’ I didn’t really know what she meant at the time, but she was right. Photography was a Way for me. And is.


I am very involved in the technical and business aspects of photography, and I have done well enough with it all, but I think that part of the reason that I have is that I remember that it is a Way. Not a way to a destination but a way to keep moving, toward everything. I’ve done well by leaving things to evolve, and I hope I’m not fool enough to change that.


Richard Kelly discusses his future.

© Richard Kelly


I see my business and my photography changing in a number of ways. My personal projects are merging into multimedia channels similar to larger media platforms. Tools are now available allowing me, as an individual artist, to produce like the big guys. Rather than hoping and waiting for exhibitions or books, as I was doing in the analog world, I can build the publishing platform for my work, no more waiting. I see these projects having sponsors, advertising, and even members. This is the Googlization of personal art projects.


The need to diversify my income has led me to doing small business consultations. I am using my skills to assist businesses in defining their unique strategic vision. This is proving to be a valuable and marketable asset; my problem-solving abilities and expertise in social media are put to use as my clients struggle with integrating new communication platforms into their businesses.


I believe there are a number of changes taking place that are going to positively impact the ability of photographers to have their images found online and then be able to complete an efficient licensing transaction. This will allow me, as a photographer, to produce work for niche markets that match my interests.


My future prospects will include multiple income streams flowing from diverse and targeted sources. My role will be more publisher and producer than assignment photographer.


Further Examples

The photographers profiled below are building varied futures in this new economy. There is no one right answer for how to succeed as a professional photographer today — the common thread in all these stories is that these individuals are pursuing genuine interests in their quests for a unique and sustainable career.


© Jenna Close


Jenna Close and Jon Held founded P2 Photography in 2007, specializing in photography for the alternative energy market. This personal passion for sustainable environmental solutions led them to focus their marketing and sales efforts on this niche and growing industry. They take on commissioned assignments, as well as market their stock imagery through “Green Stock Media” a small agency licensing images featuring environmental and sustainability subjects.


Jenna and Jon took an unprecedented approach when launching this very targeted marketing effort by purchasing booth space at trade shows for the alternative energy industry. The cost related to participating in a trade show can be significant, especially for a small photo business, and these events consume nearly half of P2’s annual marketing budget. It is no surprise that they were the only photographers at these shows — Jenna and Jon in a huge room full of potential clients! It paid off. They made connections, followed up, built relationships and the work followed. By combining their passion for ecology and photography, they are building a growing loyal client base. Take a look at their work,


© Blake Discher


Blake Discher is a Detroit-based photographer specializing in photographs of people for editorial, corporate and advertising use. Blake is a tech guy, an early adopter of digital photography and one of the first photographers in his area promoting his business online. Uncharacteristically, he is also a master salesman, and the combination of being tech savvy and personable has been the key to his success.


Blake is a master at search engine optimization (SEO), making sure that a Google search for “Detroit photographer” consistently returns his name at the top of the list. Once found, Blake makes it easy to work with him by always focusing on solutions he can provide the client and following each project up with exceptional service.


In addition to being a photographer, Blake educates and consults colleagues on SEO and negotiating skills offering in-person, video, and online training. These supplements to his work as a photographer keep him involved in the industry he loves and fully utilize his areas of expertise.


Take a look at Blake’s photography site at — take special note of his studio mission statement. Go to to learn about his SEO consulting business, and read his blog on negotiating and Web marketing.


© Lucas Doran Cosgrove


Lucas Doran Cosgrove is a photographer and graphic designer based in Kansas City, Missouri. He specializes in conceptual people photography with a hard-edged surreal feel. In addition to serving clients through his photography and design services, Lucas has launched the “Red X Studio and Incubator” project, offering affordable office and studio space to other freelance artists.


He purchased the property adjacent to the building housing his 5,000 square foot studio. He opened up a passage between the two buildings and created one large working environment. Lucas will offer five to seven desks available for rent to Web developers, artist reps, copyrighters, producers, photographers, designers or others working as creative professionals.


The isolation common when working as an independent freelancer inspired Lucas to create what he hopes will become a creative incubator. His self-stated mission is to create a “fun, competitive, inspirational, and functional space” while simultaneously sharing the cost of the support services any small business needs.


Check out Lucas’ portfolio site here and look for news about the “Red X” project on his blog



Ken Hawkins is a photojournalist. He traveled the world for more than 20 years, and his photographs have appeared in many publications including Time, Fortune, Money and Wired magazines. Ken’s graphic sensibility and dramatic use of light make his work a natural fit in the annual report and corporate markets, working for clients such as FedEx and Coca-Cola.


After relocating to Portland, Oregon, from Atlanta, Ken launched his online gallery business,, exclusively featuring photojournalism and documentary photography. Ken functions as the gallery curator utilizing his long-standing relationships with fellow photojournalists to find the artists he now represents. His passion for photojournalism inspired his business model, which offers amazing work at reasonable prices, allowing Ken to promote fellow photographers and meaningful photography. Ken achieves this by offering uneditioned prints that he produces in-house. The prints are then approved and signed by the artist and shipped to the collector. He and his photographers split the sale 50/50.


Ampersand in Portland, Oregon, is Ken’s brick-and-mortar gallery partner. offers prints for exhibition and provides the gallery a commission on any sales. Ken hopes to establish many more gallery partnerships like this, offering small photo galleries another resource for quality imagery to exhibit and providing another place to promote his photographers.


Ken promotes his gallery by selecting an image per week, hence “52 selects,” that is highlighted on the Web site, partner gallery, and social media outlets. Ken offers exclusive discounts to his newsletter subscribers and Facebook fans, building himself a loyal following of current and potential customers.


View Ken’s own work at and take a look at his gallery by going to


© Herrmann + Starke


Judy Herrmann and Mike Starke own Herrmann + Starke in Ellicott City, Maryland. For more than twenty years, they have offered distinctive imagery of people, products, and places for commercial and editorial use. They license their work as stock through Corbis and work client-direct on a variety of commissioned assignments. View their work at


Their business plan has consistently emphasized the sound business principle of diversification. As early adopters of digital photography, Judy and Mike started sharing their delight in this new technology with fellow photographers in 1995 through lecturing and holding workshops. The combination of being practitioners and teachers in the pursuit of exquisite craft and sound business skills has been part of their business model ever since.


In 2007, Judy and Mike established an employee-run retail portrait division called Cookie Portraits, The employee photographer creates the portraits, manages the retail studio, establishes a marketing budget, executes a sales strategy, and tracks expenses. When there is a specific level of profit, the employee enjoys profit sharing above an already guaranteed salary.


Judy’s skills as a strategic thinker have recently led to a new opportunity, offering a different kind of consultation to photographers. At these sessions, she doesn’t begin by viewing photographs, but rather by discussing the kind of business the photographer wants to build and then working out steps to help make the goal a reality. Her consulting success has opened another marketable skill, an opportunity to further expand the offerings of the studio. Learn more about Judy’s consultation services at


© Barbara Karant


Barbara Karant is an established architectural photographer nationally known for her exquisite images of the built environment. She exhibits her work, has won numerous photography awards, and is included in many permanent collections including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Avon Collection.


In 1997, Barbara adopted a retired racing greyhound named Easton and soon became an active volunteer for the nonprofit rescue group “Greyhounds Only.” Barbara started photographing greyhounds as a way to benefit this rescue effort, producing products with her images to brand the group and promote their cause. The work of capturing the beauty, grace and quirky qualities of this breed challenged Barbara’s meticulous nature. This subject didn’t hold the pose like a building, but she persevered and produced a unique and bold series of images that was published in the book Greyhounds in 2008. The success of this book led to a contract with the publisher Simon & Schuster to produce another dog-themed book, Small Dog, Big Dog, released in 2010.


Barbara’s affinity and skill for photographing our four-legged friends has sparked a new business venture, Karant Canines, a retail dog portrait studio. Her architectural photography work remains an important part of her business, but this new direction affords Barbara diversification that she feels is critical to her career as an independent businessperson and artist.


Go to to view Barbara’s architectural photographs; see the greyhound book at, and learn more about her new business at


© Kim Kauffman


Kim Kauffman lives in Lansing, Michigan, where she owns a full service studio and location photography business serving a wide variety of clients from manufacturing to healthcare. Kim transitioned to digital photography and Photoshop like a fish to water, using these new tools to push and expand her vision of complex multiple image illustrations. The style of her personal work is applied beautifully to commercial applications and Kim highlights this in a portfolio that she calls “Duets,” which can be seen at


Kim created a series of botanically themed collages by scanning items grown in her backyard garden — she calls this series “Florilegium.” The success of this work on a local level led her, in 2001, to focus her marketing energy and budget on promoting fine art images. She carefully researched galleries, both specializing in botanical themed art and photography, to determine the market for her work. She then established print prices that ensured a healthy profit after the production costs of producing the images. She actively pursued exhibition opportunities, attended portfolio review conferences like Fotofest in Houston, and marketed directly to her targeted list of galleries.


Kim still serves commercial clients, but the sale of her art prints now represents over 50 percent of her income. Eight galleries around the country represent her work, a boutique hotel in North Carolina purchased a series for display throughout their property and her images are included in many corporate and museum collections. Learn more at


© Gail Mooney,


Gail Mooney, together with her partner Tom Kelly, own Kelly Mooney Productions offering still and video services to a wide variety of editorial and commercial clients. Gail’s roots are in editorial work, traveling extensively for such clients as Travel + Leisure, Smithsonian, Time/Life and National Geographic.


Ten years ago, before it became fashionable, Gail started working with video. Her passion for photography has always been connected to storytelling and video was a natural progression for her work. She and Tom now offer a full range of video production services, as well as licensing stock footage through Corbis and Thought Equity Motion. The Kelly Mooney Productions Web site can be found at


Gail has embraced social media as a way to tell her own story, the adventures of a still photographer moving into motion. On her blog, “Journeys of a Hybrid,” she candidly discusses the technical, business, and aesthetic challenges of working in both worlds. Follow Gail at


Gail and her daughter, Erin, embarked on a world trip in May 2010 with the objective of filming seven stories on seven continents. The stories will highlight the works of seven individuals who are doing extraordinary things to make the lives around them better. Ultimately this work will be available as online video shorts and a full-length documentary film. Gail and Erin’s trip is chronicled at


© Sean Williams


Sean Williams is a Chicago-based photographer creating high-production imagery that is marvelously lush and cinematic. His distinctive style landed him, after only four years as a commercial photographer, a feature profile in Communication Arts magazine.


Sean has a master of fine arts degree in creative writing but moved to photography to fulfill his artistic drive. His extremely complicated productions, set and prop building, models, assistants, lighting, locations and much more, are a challenge he thrives on. Working out of a 3,000-square-foot studio, which Sean considers more of a creative workshop, he employs a collaborative work process to produce, piece by piece, his extraordinary images.


To market his work, Sean shares on his Web site behind-the-scenes videos of actual productions, which show prospective clients the elaborate nature of the set-ups, combined with his meticulous attention to detail. The result is a magnificent promotion. Sean clearly indicates in these videos that he is the producer, and thus positions himself to negotiate the large fees and expensive budgets the work demands. View his work at