A pet moan of one of my pro photog mates is how the digital revolution in photography has adversely impacted (seriously impacted in fact) the commercial viability of actually being a “professional photographer”.
He doesn’t quite phrase it that way, but that’s essentially what it comes down to.
For, with the increasingly easy (and relatively cheap) availability of digital cameras capable of producing a halfway decent photograph (technically at least, forgetting for the moment the incompetencies of the idiot behind the viewfinder) the whole field has opened up significantly and… oh shock horror… a bunch of amateurs appear to have taken over the marketplace!
Amateurs, moreover, who are quite prepared to work for little or (shock horror again) nothing, just for the exposure (excuse the pun) or perhaps the sheer fun of doing it. Whatever next? Surely people aren’t allowed to have fun with this photography caper are they?
And of course they care little for the time/expense a real professional (ahem) has expended on mastering the skills, getting the equipment etc.
You can just hear them now, can’t you? The “pros” that is… “Oh dear, I’m being undercut and all that money I spent on really expensive gear is now wasted.”
(I’m sorry? Who was it who ordered you to go and spend all that money? I must have missed that part.)
And few of them (the “amateurs”) have any real understanding of copyright issues or effective rights management. Or, translating that into plainspeak…. few of these amateurs have any real understanding of, or interest in, the backdoor methods for inflating the commercial value of the product.
All they’re doing is devaluing the livelihood of the professionals. Surely there must be a law against that?
And so on and so on, blah blah blah.
Yeah, its a real bummer isn’t it? Perhaps someone should tell these pros that all business is a gamble. They gambled; they rode a winning streak for a while; and now the gamble’s no longer paying off. Well, that’s life. Commercial life at least. What do they want… some form of protectionism? A refund because they made an unwise investment? Or call a halt to all progress?
Of course, I’ve encountered all these sorts of things before.
When my own trade (that of graphic artist) was impacted by the introduction of DTP (desk top publishing) and the increasing potential for anyone, no matter how unskilled or ignorant (shock horror yet again), to perform a lot of graphics tasks on computers (one effect of which was to lead to the proliferation of “instant print” shops… effectively clobbering much of the printing trade and being another development that impacted my earning ability significantly) I was confronted by a similar sort of “culture shock” to which said mate is presently being subjected.
(Mentioning the printing trade (which is where I originally started out career-wise) its worth observing how frequently that has been the victim of new technology.
I served my apprenticeship in offset litho printing… which had already been condemned by more traditional letterpress printers whose gripes were all too similar to those I’m hearing now about mass production digital photography. The more savvy printers though had a history of happily welcoming each new technological advance, recognising new and hitherto unconsidered markets opening up to them.)
There are of course issues of the degradation of quality, the lowering of consumer expectations, the loss of traditional skills etc. But hey, that’s life. Or life in the commercial world at least. We may not like it but its something we have to come to terms with. Or get on and carve out our own special little niche market.
So, pragmatic to the end, my own response was “Ok, none of this is magically disappearing any time soon, so get over it!”
And I did. Fairly rapidly. By (a) adapting to the changes and embracing the new developments (which is how I originally came to be involved with computers) and (b) ultimately moving on to something else.
Er… photography as it happens. Or so it would seem nowadays. How’s that for perverse? (Via a few detours along the way… mostly computer-related… or connected with my other principal interest about which I’ll say nowt here. But it definitely wasn’t, and isn’t, technology-dependent.)
Consequently, whilst I have sympathy for and respect mate’s viewpoint (after all, we’re all entitled to our opinions aren’t we?) I haven’t really the patience to be bothering with it all. Or to be in the least concerned by any of it. Indeed, even only interested in it in an academic sort of way.
Been there, done that, got the tee shirt type thing.
Interesting thought here though… when mate, wielding his expensive pro digital SLR, gripes about his future prospects for earning a living, does he spare a thought for the lab technicians he’s helped put out of work, the manufacturers of film-based products he’s helped to bankrupt, by his transition to digital?
Seems to me (and this is the point I’ve referred back to repeatedly with him) that the most effective way of dealing with these developments is not to constantly bitch about something that simply isn’t going away, but gracefully accept the changes and “repackage one’s product”… developing some sort of business model that is commercially viable in the world of mass production digital photography.
Or make one’s own style of photography so unique that there’s a demand for it (albeit limited maybe) in its own right. And there’ll always be a market (again, somewhat limited perhaps) for quality. Its just a matter of identifying and targeting that market. Which may not be easy… but its certainly not impossible.
Either that or look around for something else to do. In other words… get over it and move on.
Now, one aspect of this changing world about which mate has griped is the rise of microstock.
And that’s what’s prompted this post. Cos I’ve just read a superb little article on this very topic at The Online Photographer that sums up the whole situation very neatly. Well worth checking out by any photographer who’s earning, or seeking to earn, a bit of dosh from this photography lark. (The comments to the article are worth reading too. Heh heh!)
Um… conscience compels me to add a P.S. to the foregoing. None of this is me having a personal dig at the referred-to mate (yes, you know who you are). Rather its just some observations on the entrenched attitudes of numerous pro photogs. And I’ve happened to use mate, perhaps unfairly, as an example.