Street talk with Heath Carney

We recently caught up with Heath Carney of Heath Carney Photography at our Superbowl 50 function.With Heath being based in Brisbane it was a great opportunity for everyone to put a face to the name.

What is the main reason you got into the photography industry?

I’ve always loved to make photographs, ever since I was a kid. I picked up a camera again as an adult, and Heath Carney Photography has existed for over 10 years, as a sideline business from my day job in environmental management in the resources industry. I love to tell stories, and telling stories through photographs is a great way to challenge myself, both creatively and technically. So in 2015, when the opportunity came to turn my sideline job into my day job, I jumped at the chance.

What current challenges are photographers facing?

Photography is a very broad industry, so it’s hard to generalise, but over recent years photography has become greatly devalued. We’ve seen many stories of news outlets laying off their entire photography staff and handing the responsibility to their journalists. Other publications try and convince photographers to work for free, promising “exposure”. In reality though, “exposure” rarely leads to sustainable long-term work, and certainly doesn’t pay any bills.

Second, we’re in an environment where businesses are very conscious of how they spend money, professional photography may not be high on their list of priorities. For example, my environmental photography is ideal for providing companies with site or project specific imagery for use in Environmental Impact Statements or Corporate Sustainability Reports. But when project managers are reviewing proposals & quotes from environmental consultants, the “photography” line item is probably the first thing to go when they’re looking to reduce costs.

And finally, the accessibility and quality of modern digital cameras has lowered the bar to entry. Everyone can find a colleague or family member who has a good camera. Why pay for a professional photographer when Dave in the engineering team has a new SLR? For me it comes down to finding the right clients and making potential clients understand the value and service that I can provide. As a result of my 10+ years of photography experience across Australia and the world often in challenging conditions, I’ve developed the technical skills and vision to create quality imagery. Dave in Engineering, with his nice new camera? Probably not.

Where do you see the industry heading?

There is still absolutely a market for photography, but the challenges are only getting greater. As photographers we need to be more creative about how we identify and thrive within that market. For example, by expanding skills to include other photographic disciplines; video, offering workshops or tours and training.

And although photography has become devalued, there are definitely still clients out there who will pay for quality imagery. Using quality photography can increase the perception of the value of a business and its services. Low quality images can have the opposite affect, altering potential customers’ perception of your business in a negative way. The challenge for photographers is in convincing potential clients of this, whether that’s convincing them of the value of investing in good photography in the first place, or convincing them of the specific value in what I provide.

How has technology disrupted how you run your business?

Most obviously, the accessibility to and improvement in camera technology has leveled the playing field. As a result, I need to differentiate myself from the low-value photographers that potential clients may be tempted by. For me, shooting corporate, industrial and environmental work, one way I can do that is by highlighting my background in environmental management in the corporate world. This background allows me to speak the right language, and gives me an understanding of what clients want, and the skills to know how to find and create those images.

Another disruption due to technology is in the way we deliver images. It’s very rare that clients want prints anymore, with most preferring digital files. And even within this change, technology has caused further disruption just in the last few years – we moved pretty quickly from CDs/DVDs to USB sticks, and equally quickly to cloud-based solutions such as Dropbox. This lets me offer a range of options – online proofing, so clients can select which images they like; high and/or low resolution files; faster turnaround; and the files can stay on Dropbox for as long as necessary.

Who are the most important people to have in your business network?

It’s important to have a mentor, either through a formal arrangement, or just as someone you can bounce ideas off and get advice from. I’m lucky to have some existing relationships with other photographers, who have not only passed on work when they couldn’t do it, or loaned gear when I needed it, but have provided really valuable advice on marketing, networking, etc.

With my focus on corporate clients, it’s also important to have a network of corporate PR/media/communications people. These are the people who control marketing budgets, design companies’ PR campaigns and ultimately, decide on whether I get a job or not.

What input or assistance do you expect from your accountant/bookkeeper?

I’m a strong believer in using the services of people trained to provide that service – if my car needs servicing, I go to a mechanic; if I need legal advice, I go to a lawyer. Accounting and bookkeeping is no different. Sure, I could manage a lot of my financial affairs myself, but accountants and bookkeepers have a deeper knowledge of the rules, the available tools, and any changes in the law.

So, the input I look for from my accountant/bookkeeper is essentially those three areas:

  • What are the rules I need to abide by, and how can I make them work for me?
  • What tools can I use to keep track of my finances, invoices, etc?
  • What are the implications of proposed changes in taxation or other law for my business?

How have PTAM helped you?

When transitioning from a sideline to a full-time business, PTAM provided great advice on setting up systems to effectively manage and track my finances. And as I run my business out of a home office, PTAM provided advice on tracking, accounting for, and claiming home-office expenses for the business.

What is the most valuable service or piece of advice PTAM have given you?

The advice to “start how you intend to continue” is something I’ve used in all aspects of my business. Not only in the accounting and bookkeeping tools I use, but in the approach I take to finding and attracting clients.

Many photographers fall into the trap of shooting anything, as long as they’ve got jobs coming in. But bad jobs only lead to more bad jobs, so in “starting how I intend to continue”, I’ve been more selective in the jobs I quote for or accept. In the short term, this may mean I’ve missed out on some income, but it’s also allowed me to concentrate on building the business in the areas that I want to work.

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