Tuesday, June 5, 2012


It seems like professional photographers are under attack from all directions. Every rent-a-cop in London seems to have a problem with anyone holding a dSLR. The TSA released a poster with a scary looking hooded man with a telephoto lens at an airport encouraging people to report him. Rates are plunging because people can just hire anyone with a dSLR and a flash to run and gun for free food. That guy probably buys more fancy stuff than the pros, but doesn't have the skills. Hell, their insistence on buying the latest and greatest camera as soon as it comes out even causes discontentment (see NPS members griping about amateurs taking all of their D4’s and D800’s because they needed it for their shoots while the amateurs could continue to use their suddenly useless and incapable D3s’ for their party snaps). All these complaints are valid. However, there seems to be a pervasive cynicism among grizzled pros who can’t seem to make ends meet because of all these external factors.

At the same time, people value the still photograph less and less. I see it when a misguided bride wants a $500 wedding shooter on Craigslist and complains that a photographer charges so much for a shoot (and the entire photographic community inundates her inbox with angry comments cutting her down to size). I see it when “Uncle Bob” (yes, there is a derogatory term for pesky family members with cameras in the photog world) insists that he can shoot it better because he’s got the latest gear and you don’t. I see it when people say they don’t want their picture taken during a party or something and fight you tooth and nail about it but then love it when they see it on Facebook or Flickr, only to take the image as their own without a word.

So, the profession isn’t perfect. It’s far from stable, and it can provide months and years of misery. But think of it this way, we have it pretty easy, too. Our cameras are more dependable than ever. They’re weatherproof, tested to over 300 000 exposures, can shoot over 11 frames per second for well over 100 frames non-stop, can shoot HD video, and provide redundancy through multiple card slots. A single CF card can hold thousands, if not tens of thousands, of grain free images that can be reproduced to billboard sizes. When Jay Maisel was working, he had SIXTEEN Nikon F’s. Four cameras would be used (with different film and lens combos, I guess), four would be for backup, four would be in the repair shop, and four would either be going to or coming back from the repair shop. That’s how unreliable that thing was. Even war photographers, the bravest, hardest working, most tenacious shooters out there, have it easier now. When Robert Capa landed with the US forces on D-Day armed with nothing besides his balls and two Contax rangefinders, most of the film he shot was ruined by a lab technician in London. Only eleven frames out of 106 survived that mistake. That would be unthinkable now. Images can be backed up in minutes. Digital traces of images are everywhere, and with a little care, an image can never really be “lost forever”, as Capa’s were.

Not only this, but there are tens of thousands of websites dedicated to photography, dispensing free advice. You can ask a stranger for camera advice and many people will step up and provide opinions (though they should be taken with a grain of salt). Resources are everywhere, and you’d be a fool not to take advantage of them.

The problems that come with being a shooter in the 21st century are preventing a lot of people from getting better, complaining that others are ruining the profession for them. It was hard in the 20th century, too. If there’s a snot-nosed photog who’s consistently putting out bad work and charging for it, eating your market share, fight by shooting better pictures, not necessarily through lowering your prices. After all, the race to the bottom means you’ll work harder for less money. The resulting bad feelings mean you’ll shoot shittier pictures, and no one wants that. If you have to charge nothing to shoot good pictures, then do that. That’s how Olivia Bee does things. Her personal work drives her professional work. She’s hired because of her personal work. Think a little more about the picture instead of the pixels. Work on yourself before blaming others.

I’m not really sure who this is addressed to. I just thought it needed to be said.

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