Photographers Saturate Utah Market

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Less expensive cameras and photo editing software have made it easier for aspiring photographers to enter the world of paid photography, but more photographers with less experience could mean competition for existing professionals.

Photo illustration by Stephanie Rhodes

Photographers — amateur and professional — have plenty of business in Utah where wedding and portrait photography abounds. Clients seeking photography services are often able to take advantage of amateurs’ lower prices in exchange for less experience — a risk that causes some professionals to cringe.

Paul Adams, associate professor of photography, said amateur photographers usually enter the low-level market of portrait and wedding photography. He said the market has become saturated and untrained photographers may be taking business away from trained photographers. Photographers who have greater experience and a higher skill level tend to charge more, whereas untrained, less experienced photographers charge less. Both use similar equipment. But Adams said having high-end equipment does not qualify one to be a professional.

“Owning an expensive camera doesn’t make you a photographer any more than owning an expensive computer makes you a writer,” Adams said.

Adams said becoming a photographer takes experience, whether it is earned from college classes or from teaching oneself. He said having the equipment certainly makes the technical side of photography easier.

He said lack of training and experience has disappointed many newlyweds who end up not liking their wedding photos because they chose inexperienced photographers. Wedding plans should include hiring a photographer with some experience and training.

“If you step into a wedding shoot, you’ve got to be able to handle the lighting of any situation,” Adams said. “The lighting and the circumstances are so unpredictable that somebody that really knows their craft can feel confident in getting good results every time.”

Alex Robertson, a newlywed studying at UVU, is a casualty of bad amateur photography. He said the photographer he hired for his wedding was not worth the money.

“She would turn the camera at a 45-degree angle for every picture she took,” Robertson said. “It made it impossible to frame them, nobody hangs pictures that crooked.”

Robertson said newlyweds should call and ask photographers about their training and experience, so their pictures do not turn out like his did. He said of the 500 pictures taken, only five were usable.

Adams said amateurs should get training wherever they can find it, pointing out that a degree in photography is not the only way to get training. He said he has met photographers who have been successful without formal training. Training can come from any community college, BYU or even online tutorials.

Adams said most BYU photography students don’t try to make a career in wedding photography. He tells his students to not pursue the wedding and portrait photography market because it is so saturated. He said he wants his students to use their expertise and artistry in a higher level market.

“There is so much other money being made in photography other than weddings and portraiture,” Adams said. “Product photography, newspaper photography, fashion photography, anything you see published in a magazine.”

Claire White, a BYU senior studying studio arts, is a local amateur photographer who has not received any formal training. She said she decided to become a photographer after having a bad experience with her high school senior pictures. She now focuses her efforts on photographing graduating high school seniors. She had the option of going to school for photography but decided against it.

“BYU has a great program but not what I was looking for,” White said. “Nobody cares if you have a degree or not, they just care if your work is good.”

Without school training, White said photographers must be self-motivated and must continue to practice. She said one thing she wishes she had is feedback from professionals, something photography majors get every day.

Spencer Harris, a local photographer, said he thinks the lower cost of photography equipment and photo editing software is in part accountable for the increase of photographers. Harris said he thinks photographers should have enough experience before they start charging clients.

“Until the photographer has at least 10,000 images under their belt, they should not be charging people money,” Harris said.

Harris also said some amateur photographers have asked him how to use the manual mode on their camera, something he believes they should know well before they take on any clients.

Bethany Jackman, a photographer based in Colorado, was once an untrained amateur photographer but now owns a photography business. Jackman said the only training she had was a photography class at a community college. She said after the class she continued to learn and practice. Now Jackman gets all of her customers from word-of-mouth referrals.

“I feel like I’ve made a name for myself, and that everyone knows that I do photography,” she said.

Jackman said she worked hard to get where she is now but is ready to learn more.

“I do feel that I’m successful in it but that I have a lot of room for growth,” she said.

Jackman said she feels there are good photographers all around to admire. She recognizes that photographers come from different backgrounds and all have the opportunity to perfect their craft in their own unique way.

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