In the past 10 years, I’ve watched 5 big box volume studios in my area permanently close. And the latest, Portrait Innovations, shut down ALL of it’s locations across the entire US forever. I am not the least bit surprised by any of this. The digital era ushered in an influx of shoot-n-burn photographers who very quickly shifted the market resulting in the closure of hundreds of studios that had previously thrived for decades. Am I upset by this? Absolutely not! Because that portion of the market was never mine to begin with! There is a portion of the market that cannot afford me and/or does not value photography in the way that I do. AND THAT’S OK!

It is our responsibility as business owners to grow and adapt to changes in the economy. Instead of complaining about where things are headed or trying to convince everyone to do things the way we do it, we need to adapt, innovate, and change to meet the needs of our ideal clients. Even if we convinced every single shoot-n-burn photographer to switch to an IPS based business model, we would very shortly see the re-introduction of big box studios to fill in that market gap. It’s time to stop complaining and start focusing on what we do best.

Rest assured high-end photographers, your ideal client is still out there and they weren’t getting their photos at portrait innovations in the first place. High-end customers understand quality and value experience. You won’t find them wearing clothes from Walmart or hosting their kids birthday party at chuck-e-cheeses. For the same reason, they won’t be looking for a shoot-n-burn photographer to meet them at the park and hand over the digitals which they’ll then have to figure out how to print and hang themselves. They want a comfortable experience and a photographer that walks them through the entire process with the least amount of inconvenience and they are willing to pay for exactly that.

The way I see it, there are three parts of the market and three categories of photographers to meet their needs.

  • High-end clients/ IPS photographer: These clients generally pull in 100k or more in household income, and are the most likely to spend over $1,000 on portraits . As of 2018, they take up 30% of the market. They value experience, quality, and saving time. If something breaks in their home, they hire a pro because they don’t have the time or desire to try to fix it themselves. They wear brand name clothes and would rather pay more for something that will last than save money in the short term.
  • Middle clients – Hybrid Photographer: These clients make anywhere from 25k-100k as their household income and take up 65% of the market. They are often budget conscious and many of them live paycheck to paycheck. They are very likely to try to fix things themselves in order to save money but will a hire a pro when it gets too difficult. They take on DIY projects, clip coupons, shop at Walmart and target, and enjoy annual family vacations, even if it’s just camping. These clients can be persuaded to spend $200-$700 on photography.
  • Low-end clients- Budget Photographer: These clients take up about 30% of the population and make less than 15k up to about 35k. They live paycheck to paycheck and if something breaks in their home, they have to fix it themselves because they can’t afford to hire a professional. If they get photos taken at all, it needs to be $50 or less and even that is a strain on their budget. If they they print photos at all, it’s always at Walmart where prints are the cheapest and they can afford that “big” 8×10 to put in the frame they got at the dollar store.


Target market graph using household income data from 2018


You’ll notice that I included some overlap in each of these groups. That’s because even with similar finances, people still have different values. You may have a low-income person that greatly values photography in the same way that you’ll have the occasional high-income family that simply don’t care for photos. What we’re looking at here are are the overall trends and not those exceptions.


Let’s embrace the fact that this variety within our industry allows us to serve people in every walk of life and income level. Done correctly, each of the three types of photographers can succeed by targeting their ideal part of the market. Our only concern for how another photographer structures their business is if we want to help them when they are struggling. It should never be about someone “stealing all the business” because, let’s face it, they can’t steal what wasn’t yours to begin with. Nobody is entitled to any amount of business. We all have to work for what we get. Instead of wasting energy getting frustrated by what the photographer down the street is doing, let’s focus on what we can do to improve our own business. Build packages your clients can’t resist, hustle, market, and grow into the photographer you know you can be and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing! We’ll all be better off for it!

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