Guest post by Iain Thomson: Getting into the adult photography business – do you really want to do it?

This is the follow up to Iain‘s original post on how he (accidentally) ended up in the adult industry.
How do I get the break to get started?
Please dont take any of this personally, nothing that I’m about to write is designed to give the impression I’m better than you or sound like ‘you cant do what I did, because I’m special and you are not’. If I was in your position now, its highly unlikely that I would be able to break into the industry either.
Ok, so how can you get into the glamour industry and make money? It’s probably the most asked question in photography Well, the truth is, you probably can’t, in the same sense that I cannot and will not achieve the sort of success my predecessors did simply because the market and opportunities are no longer there.
Had I been at the same level in this business 25 years ago, my income would be quadruple what it is now in relative terms and the budgets afforded to me for shooting would be on a scale I could only dream about. Since I entered this business, rates paid to photographers have remained static, decreased or in some cases halved, while overheads have increased. Also, even in my short time in the business, shooting less explicit content (i.e. lads mad type glamour) is almost impossible to make a living from. It’s at the stage now where its almost pointless for most photographers to shoot any glamour sets which don’t contain at least UK level open-leg images. This contrasts to even a few years ago when the most lucrative contracts I had were the least explicit.
Why you probably can’t get a break
So, you are still determined? Ok, do you have at least 20k spare in the bank? No, well that makes it even more impossible. Let me tell you why; magazines, in general, have always paid on publication and on most occasions publication is at least 6 months from the date of the shoot. This was ok when the fees were into four figures per set, but very few mags have this sort of budget now. So, even assuming you can get a foot in the door, can you finance model fees, overheads etc. while waiting for invoices to be paid?
What about websites? Most won’t even reply to your emails as they have a list of photographers as long as your arm queuing up to shoot for them…what can you give them that their existing photographers cannot? You could undercut existing content prices? Maybe so, but how do you finance that? Bearing in mind that website fees are much lower than mag fees. You will get paid more quickly, perhaps in around two months, or even less, in some cases. But you still have to find models, pay them and find and pay for suitable locations….and then wait until you get paid…
Ok…so I’ll start my own website?…and how do you finance that? From membership sign ups? No chance – sign ups, even for the ‘majors’ are dropping faster than the average glamour models knickers at a Premiership footballers birthday party. I won’t go into why most websites are a waste of time and the reasons for their existence now – maybe another article on the subject soon.
The other possible route is via the enigma that is Bluebird. This is the UK’s major porn/glamour and chat TV company headed by a guy who has no apparent need to operate the business profitably and who’s only motivation seems to be to indulge his own sexual fantasies as fully and expensively as possible, apparently with a limitless budget. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, only one company like this exists and the vacancies there seem to have been filled. Who knows, maybe there will be vacancies there in the future and I am serious when I say working for a company like this, operating without the normal financial boundaries, is the surest and easiest route into the business in the UK. 
So why is the business so hard to break into? Why is there no money?. and the question which is very often asked…why do I shoot mainly open-leg/adult style? Why cant I just book a top model and sell her pictures? You can certainly try, but the figures don’t add up, so I don’t bother. Unless you are commissioned to shoot it’s a huge risk financially.
And also, lets not confuse internet models with ‘top’ models. The only models you find on the internet who are genuinely anywhere near the top of their genre are a few art nude models and adult models. You simply do not get top mainstream glamour models on modelling sites. You can certainly book them via an agency, most probably Girl Management, Sam Bond or maybe IMM or Neon. Mid-range internet models dont really sell at glamour levels, (topless/implied nude etc). Even glamour models considered at the top of internet modelling won’t sell to any extent at levels below adult. The genuine top models will certainly sell; they have fan bases and are popular, but I wouldn’t shoot them as a rule, unless I was commissioned. Why? Simple economics – if I wanted to book someone like Vicky Blows, Rhian Sugden etc. we are probably talking a daily rate of £600+. Factor in travel etc. and you are looking at having to raise £700-800 just to cover her fee. So, to make a sensible profit, you would need to raise at least £2000 from picture sales – very labour intensive and not that easy to achieve. You could syndicate the images through a picture agency, but not only would you need to pay commission, you would be competing with photographers who are far better known and probably better than you.
So what about adult? Yes, there is still a living to be made by a few people, and while its still a huge and expanding market, its also a rapidly decreasing market in terms of opportunities for photographers. Magazine sales have plummeted since the advent of the internet and its inevitable that, in due course, they will eventually disappear. It’s also an interesting fact that the magazines that have been hit hardest are the ‘glossies’; the ‘up market’ magazines with the highest budgets. Magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler in the USA and Mayfair, Club, Men Only and Knave in the UK. The lower end “truckers favourites” such as Escort, Fiesta, Razzle are still selling in reasonable numbers, presumably as their customer base tends to be the group who is least likely to use the internet.  The ‘golden days’ of the internet in relation to glamour/adult are long gone. People are now so internet savvy and there is so much ‘free’* content available, that it needs a special product before people will part with their porn bucks. In general, glamour/adult multi model sites are not that ‘special product’ unless they are long- established with a huge content base and a sterling reputation. If they do have that sort of financial clout and have the bucks to invest in content, then they can choose from he best photographers in the world already.
*Free content is often actually stolen content. One of the ‘boom’ areas of the web are the fileshare sites who, ironically, can make far more money from selling a stolen download than the owner. While the download is essentially free it is deliberately offered on a slow-speed download which doesn’t start until after a prescribed period of time, thus making the surfer a captive audience for the advertisers. Invariably, the surfer gets fed up of waiting and elects to pay for premium service with fast downloads.
So, I’m completely wasting my time trying?
So, that’s it then, I might as well give up, its a closed shop? No – not entirely – few industries are ever closed shops if you have something to sell that the buyer cannot get anywhere else. And that’s probably the surest way to get a foothold in this industry and, in hindsight, probably how I got started. Although, in my case it was more luck than a conscious choice.

If you read the first article, you may recall that my big break was shooting a model that both Met-Art and Femjoy wanted. What stood then still stands today, if you can find a model whom any of the big glamour sites or any of the magazines want, but cannot get from anywhere else. and you can photographer her reasonably competantly in a manner appealling to your potential customer, then you are in with a shout. It’s a big ask, particularly these days when finding suitable models is increasingly difficult, even for the established guys. Its unlikely you will find that ‘star’ on model sites or facebook – that’s where everybody else is looking and, to be honest, there are very few girls of that sort of standard joining model sites. I can’t tell you where to look, because I don’t know…but maybe you do? That could be your break.

Its not all glamour
Glamour isn’t always particularly glamorous and if you are prepared to cater for niche markets then the chances of you not just getting a foot in the door, but making a sustainable living increase dramatically. There are various glamour oriented fetishes to be catered for, the ones I am familiar with and have made significant amounts of income from are the “mature” and “hairy” markets. I’m not going to pretend this is my preferred choice, but if I wanted to I could shoot these niches and nothing else and quite possibly make more money than I currently make. There are a few photographers out there who do just this, and there is certainly room for more. Personally, I use this niche only as bread and butter, a quick and regular income which allows me to concentrate on more appealling, but slower paying work, but it is very welcome on a lot of occassions and not something I take lightly.
Both the mature and hairy markets tend to be at the higher end of solo explicitness, so bare this in mind, but it is probably the easiest market to break into and the one sector where demand probably exceeds supply. If you are a half-decent photographer and can produce consistent sets relatively quickly, there is a real opportunity if you work smartly. However, again, the secret is finding suitable models, which in theory should not be so difficult as the standards in these sectors are not so high as glamour. Average girls or ladies are fine – in fact averageness is a good selling point. This particular market does not like fake boobs, tattoos, piercing etc. but pretty/average looks/average figure are all fine. Again, model sites are probably not the place to look but there are loads of women who fit this niche out there, if you can find them. 
So, basically that is your task…find suitable models. If you can, you might be in. Even in the current market, its not impossible. If you want to give it a go, I wish you the best of luck and I am always happy to help genuine people whenever I can, within reason…obviously I’m not going to give you my client list (as some people actually expect to do!)  But if you have particular questions about sets/submissions, how best to approach people, I will certainly answer polite queries of this nature. 

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