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February 23rd, 2009

Transitioning from advertising to fine art photography 2

Posted by Brian Kosoff

In Brian Kosoff last post he talks about the value of advertising photographers’ time and images dropping during the last decade. For a while he stuck it out with cost saving measures like those outlined below. But when an opportunity arose to move to a new model — fine art photography — Brian was smart enough to see its potential and happy to make the switch. Check out his next post too, about how he has adapted to his new work.

"Refinery" © Brian Kosoff

Over the course of my advertising career I followed a pattern of continually trading up to larger studios and adding more subtenant photographers to lower the overall cost per foot of the studio. My first NYC studio, in 1980, was about 2,000 square feet. All mine. My next studio, which I built in 1985, was 5,000 square feet. With this one I decided I would rent space to other photographers. My thought was that this would keep my costs more reasonable, and if I were busy there’d be more than enough space to produce the work.  Ultimately I had two other photographers in that space with me. This worked well for 15 years, until the dot-com bubble (the internet!) caused rents in the Photo District, where my studio was located, to go skyward. I had to move.

For my last studio, built in 2000, I partnered with another photographer and we shared responsibility for the space. This space was 7,500 square feet and we built facilities to accommodate us and three other photographers. Around this time the dot-com bubble burst (the internet!). The economy and the ad industry slowed down. I still had a large client list, but they were producing fewer ads, also in part because print media was less effective in a media environment diluted by the Internet. And what they were paying for each assignment was lower. The assignments themselves became less photographically challenging and less satisfying, due to a switch from still life photography (my specialty) which required the creation of sets that illustrated mini environments, to more silhouette-type photographs that could be photo composed into digital environments or stock photos. All the signs said it was time to move on.

Fortunately for me, a few years earlier I had started to shoot landscape photos again. I got married in 1999 and moved to a cute Hudson River town just north of Manhattan that had several galleries, including a few co-op ones. My wife encouraged me to join one, and I thought it would be a good excuse for me to actually print up a few of my landscapes, so I signed on. In April of 2001 I had the first solo show of my work since 1976. It did extremely well and was very profitable –- enough to make me think that I might have found an alternative to advertising photography and the high overhead of a Manhattan studio. Within a week of the show I had representation offers from several galleries in Manhattan. I ended up at Edward Carter Gallery and my new career shooting landscape really began.

"Snowy Ridge" © Brian Kosoff

A few months later were the September 11 attacks, and the aftermath devastated the NYC economy. A large chunk of lower Manhattan was closed off. For the galleries in Soho, it could not have been worse. Many businesses came to a screeching halt. Ad agencies had massive layoffs. The amount of work now available to advertising photographers was dramatically reduced. It didn’t seem like there was a real future in that field anymore. For the first time I thought that I might close my studio and leave Manhattan.

It’s not easy to walk away from something that you built over the course of two decades. My business was still viable, I still had a large client base and they would start to produce advertisements again, but there was a larger change. Even if it was still profitable, the kind of work that client’s wanted was more about cost than content or quality. That’s just not where I wanted to be. So at the end of 2002 I made it official and closed my studio.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: We are currently in an economic downturn similar to the dot-com bust, and advertising budgets are certainly being cut. How are photographers out there dealing with the situation?


  1. February 23rd, 2009 at 5:22 am

    Transitioning from advertising to fine art photography 2 | The Click

    […] Check it out here. […]

  2. September 6th, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Transitioning from advertising to fine art photography 2 | The Click

    […] Check it out here. This entry was posted in Photography. Bookmark the permalink. ← james chance – the dead at burn magazine Politkovskaya Suspects Walk Free → […]

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