After practicing photography for 13 years and experiencing a general lack of demand for all forms of photography in my area, Hazleton, PA, the reality became clear. Despite my efforts to promote, advertise, and position myself within the regional market, I struggled to attract clients due to the law of supply and demand. The key to overcoming this challenge as a photographer was to focus on relationship building and maintaining those connections. Although some may view my reasons as mere excuses, they are legitimate.
I attempted to specialize in senior portrait photography, promoting a high-end magazine fashion style with a highly stylized glam experience for high school seniors. However, the common feedback I received, even within the region, was that my work "looked too expensive." Admittedly, it was. While my stylized senior portrait shoots resembled fashion photoshoots with experienced models, I had learned over the past 13 years to teach inexperienced individuals how to appear like professional models in their images. This didn't mean they performed better than professional models, but at the very least, they could present themselves as professionals in the photos seen by themselves and their friends.
The only strategy I was taught, and even received guidance from experienced professionals on, was to network at high school sporting events as a senior portrait photographer. This involved befriending coaches, photographing the games (despite my limited experience in shooting sports due to lacking specialized gear), and consistently attending the games by keeping track of their schedules. Unfortunately, this approach conflicted with my full-time job, which required me to work from afternoon to midnight. Weekday games were not feasible for me, and weekend games were infrequent, often involving away games, which didn't align with my initial strategy.
As someone without children, family, or friends within that circle, networking through sporting events was my only gateway. Eventually, I had to walk away from specializing in senior portrait photography, which was disheartening because of the immense effort I had invested due to my passion for fashion photography. Given that my area lacked clothing designers, targeting regional designers for potential commercial photography was not a viable option. The most realistic opportunity for me, then and possibly even now, is to move to a larger city. However, moving to a bigger city came with higher living costs, which I couldn't afford unless I had enough savings to sustain myself for 12 months or secured a day job within the city.
Contrary to photographers who claim that location doesn't matter, they fail to understand individual goals. As a generalist photographer, location becomes less of an issue. However, my intention was never to be a generalist; at most, I aspired to be a commercial photographer specializing in various photography genres while focusing on working with businesses. Nonetheless, even as a commercial photographer, the demand from small businesses for photographers is limited. Most small businesses rely on stock photography or Google images for their minimal local social media and print advertising needs.
Therefore, even for a commercial photographer, location matters significantly. It is more advantageous to be situated in a major city rather than a small city like Hazleton, PA, with a population of 30,000-40,000 or even within the regional area with 1.4 million people. Small businesses prefer to hire generalists, who are easier and more cost-effective to find through personal connections like friends, friends of friends, or even family. Hiring a photographer is considered a regular expense for larger businesses, but for the majority of small businesses in the Northeastern PA region, it occurs infrequently, usually once a year, unless the business continually introduces new products.
To conclude, if you are starting a photography business, it is crucial to focus on your location and invest efforts in building and maintaining relationships. Personally, I prefer to pursue other business opportunities that offer faster scalability than a photography business could achieve in today's environment. Otherwise, persisting would result in minimal returns, constant annual profit losses, and the frustrating cycle of low demand and oversupply.