There’s a lot to be said for the Internet as a publishing medium. It has given a lot of people the ability to share their thoughts and vision more easily than previous possible. Interestingly enough every so often a debate as common as “Nikon vs. Canon” surfaces about “Professionals vs Amateurs” in relation to credibility and authority online . The latest by Tony Long on Wired.com “Internet Smackdown: The Amateur vs. the Professional” has some great points particularly in relation to journalism, but ultimately it exudes unavoidable elitism.
Taking his thoughts beyond the written form of journalism and into photography it go me thinking about how easy or difficult it is to pick out an amateur from a professional. I can see where Tony Long is coming from in regard to the written word as it can take some digging to really understand the quality of the source. Photography on the other hand is a bit easier to read. Photographers wear their skills on their sleeves.
Granted what you see online may not be equivalent to what you’d see in a print, but you can infer a lot from viewing a photographers portfolio online. Are the images of quality? Is there consistency in the portfolio? Has the photographer won awards? Has the photographer been published?
Photography by nature is different than writing in that online photographers are in need of differentiating themselves, often putting their best work forward and are quite transparent about themselves… much more than writers. I look at most photographers online and think of their sites and work as visual resumes. Some clearly are amateur, many wearing that on their sleeve with the goal of improvement, others fill the remainder of the spectrum with different goals.
Looking at a photographers web site it’s pretty easy to tell what their goals are. Do they sell or license their work or are they just sharing? Photographers in this day and age HAVE to have a web page. It’s no longer possible to be a photographer and not have one. But just because every photographer under the sun has a web site does that detract from those pursuing it as a profession?
I would say no. A web site alone does not undermine the foundations of professional photography. What does undermine the foundations of professional photography is ignorance about the business of photography. Photographers who think they’re good enough to make income from their work and undermine pricing by giving away work for free or relying on microstock photo agencies absolutely undermine professional photography.
I’ve heard numerous times how photographers need to adapt to the marketplace and I firmly believe in this, but that doesn’t mean blindly accepting the actions of the misguided. Pretend you’re a gas station owner. Just because you see one gas station offering gas for 20 cents a gallon, the current rate is $3 per gallon and your cost is $2 per gallon, it doesn’t mean as a gas station owner than you start selling gas at 20 cents a gallon. If you can’t run a profitable business and sustain it then the “new” ultra-low cost approach isn’t going to last. This holds true for any business including photography.
Journalists and photographers suffer from a lot of noise that can bury the voice of professionals online. Journalists suffer from a fickle audience that drives editors to publish news that often is not news. Unlike journalists, photographers are their own worst enemy. Professional photography is as much about being educated in business as it is about being technically and artistically strong. If you shoot yourself in the foot by undervaluing your work you’re not going to last long and as cruel as it sounds for those who want to last in the business thats OK. The problem lies in how many people are willing to shoot themselves in the foot and how long that trend will last. The longer the trend the greater the impact to the business as a whole.
The common definition of “professional photographer” is one who makes the majority of their income from photo sales. In this day and age if you put your images up for sale you’re attempting to be a professional. In doing so you owe it to yourself and others to learn as much as you can about the business of photography.
Photographers don’t have to use microstock agencies. Sure businesses need cheap photography, but they also need quality photography. When photographers start to educate themselves and leverage their collective power by submitting quality work to agencies that provide realistic sales models, that enable photographers to support themselves, the market will shift. Quality will win out over price in the end. Its just a matter of time, and between now and then there are likely to be a lot of casualties.
[tags]professional, amateur, professional, business, microstock[/tags]