If everybody can be a photographer… (part 2)


General Photography

When I was writing If everybody can be a photographer… I approached things from my perspective of someone who writes about and teaches photography. You probably figured it out: That’s only part of the story. There’s more. (more)

I could be mistaken, but we’re currently witnessing two trends: The first is that an increasing number of people want to become professional photographers (by “professional photographer” I here mean someone who makes her or his living from photography, so that could be editorial or commercial photography, what we call fine art, or whatever else). The second trend can be summarized as follows: Always the lowest prices. Pretty much anyone using photography wants to pay as little as possible, whether it’s newspapers, magazines, websites, etc.

Depending on what side you’re on the existence of those two trends is either great or a total disaster. If you’re a photographer, it’s a disaster: Not only is there even more competition than ever, people are also paying you less and less for what you do. If you’re a business it’s great: You can reduce your budget for photograph more and more.

Oh, and there’s the fact that everybody is a photographer now. Or at least everybody is treated as if they were a photographer. Which, again, for businesses is great: You might get some photography for basically free, because someone might have shared a photo that you can then publish for free (and the money you make is yours, not the photographer’s - there’s a reason why I linked to this article the other day).

Free photography is great for everybody - except for the actual photographers. If you’re someone who happens to take a cool iPhone photo that gets published everywhere that’s great. But shouldn’t you get compensated for the use of the photograph?

And let’s say your iPhone photo happens to compete with a professional’s photograph, and the difference is that you happened to “share” yours (so it’s free), whereas the professional needs to charge for the use: Do you want to guess which photo is going to get used by all those businesses that might be interested?

So there is a problem. And let’s not pretend that we’re not part of the problem. We might complain about some newspaper, say, paying less and less for photography. But isn’t that what we do ourselves when we always look out for the lowest prices? Who wants to buy something at a local business (assuming you live somewhere where something like that still exists) when you can go to the next megamall and buy the same stuff for cheaper?

I could be mistaken, but this problem seems to be more pronounced in some areas of photography than in others. In the fine-art world it’s less of a problem (I think) than in the commercial area. One thing I’m very sure about: I don’t have a good solution for the problem.

But I can’t escape the feeling that, for example, if you’re an aspiring young (“emerging”) photographer, right out of school, and someone offers you your first job for what looks like not so much money, maybe you want to think twice about doing it. It’s great that you might get your first job, shooting something for the equivalent of a wet handshake and a soggy sandwich. But first of all, you’ll be undercutting all the people who are already established. Second, you’ll be making a very low price acceptable, and asking for more money later might not be as simple as you think. What’s more, at some stage you might be one of the established guys, and then it won’t feel so great seeing that someone else undercuts you.

I have the feeling that Rob might do a much better job trying to look at the different aspects here, or one of the many other bloggers dealing with the business of photography. So I’m not going to delve deeper into the topic here.