Shock horror!

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.

About fotdmike

Occasional photographer; occasional writer/blogger; occasional activist; occasional computer-geek. Bit of a fool really.
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16 Responses to Shock horror!

  1. ellyukrm says:

    Blimey! How do you always manage to hit the nail on the head so accurately?

    I recall making the transition from film to digital back in the late 90s and feeling tremendously guilty about the fact that I wouldn’t be buying my film or getting my processing done by Jessops or buying kit from Dormans. I remember having to go to Northampton to get a specific bit of kit from the only Jessops in the area.

    I often think back to that when I walk past Jessops on Bedford High Street today – I thought the mass adoption of digital would signal the death of places like Jessops, but it didn’t, they adapted and whilst they’ve had some troubles in recent years and closed some shops, they’re now serving the digital market well enough. It is sad that some of the independents have disappeared but as you say times change, things move on.

    A few friends have passed comment that I must be a pro now that I’ve sold some photos – no way! I am, and I suspect always will be, a keen amateur who sometimes manages to get a decent enough shot that people like and want to hang on their walls. I’m unlikely to ever make a living from my photography, but I have fun and it’s a bonus if I can get a few quid here and there to help save up for new lenses.

    I’ll leave the pro stuff to the pros – I don’t have the time, knowledge or expertise to commit to setting up the perfect shot or doing loads of post processing work, I can’t afford the best lenses, but I’m carving out a tiny niche for me – I’m an opportunist. Ultimately it all comes down to Darwinism, survival of the fittest and adaptation to change. There will always be a market for the truly pro stuff – all the others will come and go on the tides of change, fashion, public perception and taste.

    • fotdmike says:

      Personally I’ve never much cared for the distinction between professional and amateur (in any field) as far too many folk perceive amateur as being somehow “less than”, whereas all too often the work of some “amateurs” can be far superior to that of some “professionals”.
      In reality of course the distinction merely serves to distinguish between those who earn a living from something, and those who do the same thing because they enjoy it. Then of course there’s that entirely ambiguous label of “semi-pro”, which possibly represents the best of both worlds.

      I must admit I have no qualms whatsoever about shooting digital. In fact, had it not been for digital I doubt if I would ever have taken any interest in photography again. And this, I suspect, is the real key to the pros’ gripes. Digital has rendered photography accessible to virtually everyone regardless of skill level or anything else.
      And consequently they see their “territory” beginning to be encroached upon, and are resentful. Particularly as it means the income they once derived from their occupation (in many cases a very respectable income) is dwindling correspondingly.

      Its not a new phenomenon and photography’s certainly not the only occupation in which its occurred (as I indicated in the post). And at the end of the day the only realistic way to deal with it is to accept and move on. Or risk losing everything.

      Like yourself, I’m pretty much of an opportunist. Both in what I do for pleasure and in how I earn my living. And far too often, for me at least, the two tend to merge.
      Consequently, whilst I understand where the resentments come from, I really have little time or sympathy for them. My default reaction tends to be “Tough, that’s Life. Deal with it.”

      As you so rightly say, its a form of Darwinism.

  2. David says:

    This post reminds me of a book I have yet to read, its sitting in my ‘to read’ pile but I bought it on the strength of a book review on it, its entitled Who Moved My Cheese and inspite of its rather amusing title it is billed as one of the most important books in the business world, soem companies insist their executives read this as part of their induction to the company.
    Basically the story, no I wont try telling you what the story is about, partly because I dont know it well enough but the moral of the story is just because you are doign well in one area of business you shouldn’t rely on that providing for you for the rest of your life, you need to keep your eyes out for other opportunities and also keep your eye on your current market for signs that there is a change in climate, a reduction in business caused possibly by changing trends and ties moving on, otherwise one day you will wake up and realise that you have no business, no way of getting more business and no skills to adapt to a completely changed world.
    Anyhow, I will do a book review on this once I have read it!

  3. David says:

    I hope that will be some time this year!

  4. David says:

    OH I should have said, you can read a bit more about the book here

    • fotdmike says:

      Yeah, that sounds exactly like the situation some pro photogs are finding themselves in. And it sounds as though the book’s got it right too… keeping an eye on developments, not becoming complacent, being prepared to adapt to change… all sound business practise.
      It was always the formula I stuck to in the few businesses I ran and, well, it worked.

      Forget those basics and one’s likely to end up in the proverbial s**t! Particularly nowadays, when new things/situations seem to come along even before the “old” ones have had a chance to settle in.

      And cheers for the link. I’ll be interested to read your review 🙂

    • The Juicer says:

      It’s an awesome book David, and so tiny! You must read it, like pronto!:)

  5. Pingback: A wee bit harsh « Adventures of an Idiot – occasional ramblings of a photography freak

  6. The Juicer says:

    Mike- this is one of the best posts I have read on your blog. Well, I haven’t read all, but I must say that you put your point forth beautifully, on a topic that very current and relevant.
    I do consider pros who complain to this effect to be completely parochial, short sighted, turkeys with their head in the sand.
    Do not need to add much here, as you have put forth everything surrounding the issue so well.
    I believe that any piece of work should be judged by the work itself, not by who created it. And it’s as simple as that.

    • fotdmike says:

      Cheers Juicer, though its a bit on the serious side for this ‘ere blog. Can’t be having too much of that sort of nonsense else my head’ll start hurting!

      See you’ve changed your Gravatar as well. Hmm…

  7. Pingback: Ah, happy days « Adventures of an Idiot – occasional ramblings of a photography freak

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  9. serafinn says:

    As for ‘said mate,’ I would think if he has major issues with technological advances like digitial photography then he HAS to like your blog as it is so old school. Freedom of speech ring a bell? Yeah, seems people forget that when they do not like what someone says. My lil sister is a cinematographer, acredited and all that jazz. But her first Love is photography and she uses both ‘ways’ still. She has a dark room that is still in use as well. She personally finds that more advancements and gadgets just gives her a wider range of artistic possibilities and her vacation photos look a lot better with the digital camera. A-Ha! She simply did what you were pointing out, adapted. I would be more technical but I am the writer in the family. Dad and my lil sis are the photog hounds. Well Dad, was? He died, so maybe he just has a better view now for taking photographs? Hmm? All in all my Paciific NW Friend, nicely put and you know I LOVE the lil humorous digs!

    • fotdmike says:

      Where would we be without humour eh?

      Yeah, adapt and move on. Its all just additional tools to do what you want really. Some work well, some don’t. Bit like computers really. I moan like hell about them but truth is I can barely remember how to use pen and paper now. Or would I want to go back to stone and chisel for all the writing? Not a chance!

  10. Pingback: Oh what exciting times | Adventures of an Idiot – occasional ramblings of a photography freak

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