The Not-So-New Landscape In The Photography Business – Revisited

by

William Lulow

An interesting conversation with a former client revealed that they’ve taken their needs for photographs in-house. Hiring an intern (actually a high school photo major) to handle their imaging requirements, they have set up their own studio, bought some lighting and background equipment and no longer need to use any outside professional photographers. Whatever their photographic needs these days, they can accomplish them far easier and cheaper this way without “outsourcing” any work. Since the “photographer” works for the company (not even full-time), they can direct any shoots they may have right there in the office. They don’t need anyone to direct the shoot (no outside or inside art director). Whenever they have a product to shoot, they simply give it to the intern and the owner of the agency can do the direction himself. Nobody from the company has to travel to a photographer’s studio. No one in the company even needs to draw up a layout. They just need to tell the intern what they want and use their own equipment to accomplish the task. Also, the intern, whatever she is being paid, does the work as “work for hire.” No copyrights to worry about, no ownership issues. Sounds like a great solution for the business owner, right?

Digital cameras and Photoshop will do the rest. Because nothing special is needed beyond a white background, anyone with some elementary photographic knowledge and a good digital camera can accomplish the task. It’s become a “DIY” world.

And, just like that, the expertise needed to create outstanding images for advertising or public relations has been rendered somewhat obsolete. When desktop publishing programs like Adobe IN-Design or QuarkxPress came along, many printing and type-setting houses were rendered obsolete as well. Nowadays, anyone can make stationery or brochures in-house. Similarly, anyone can take pictures. Why do we even need professional photographers? The climate of “good enough” is here. This is not to say that excellent images are a thing of the past, but when an image is needed to document a person or product, it doesn’t always have to be the best possible one.

So, photographers who take pictures for a living, need to find ways to separate their work from the more mundane efforts used by these advanced amateurs. How do we do this? Well, one way is to come up with techniques that make our images “special” and a cut above what the “DIY” photographers can come up with. There is no substitute for experience and really high quality. And there never will be! We just need to find other markets and other clients who are willing to pay our prices for the quality of work we provide. When we do this, we naturally narrow down our client base, but we are not necessarily cutting ourselves out of the market completely. If you can come up with images that elicit the response “How did she do that?” or “How did he get that shot?”, then you are approaching the ability to set your self apart from the others out there who can just do a shot that’s “good enough” for whatever purpose is desired. A photographer I once met had some really beautiful landscapes of some of the national parks in the West. He told me that he would go out for sometimes two weeks at a time and just pick a really beautiful place and sit there until the light was just right. Then he would get a shot that the average tourist couldn’t possibly come up with. He was willing and able to put in the time it takes to get a truly breath-taking image. And, he was selling them for pretty good prices! Ansel Adams used to travel the West in his International Harvester truck, outfitted with a platform on the top. He would find an ideal spot to make an image and then he would camp out there, most times overnight, set an alarm, get up in the middle of the night to get just the right shot of a landscape with a moon rising over it. These are the kinds of things photographers can do to get those really spectacular images.

I’m not just complaining here. The conclusion that I draw from all of this is that in order to set ourselves apart from those who merely click the shutter with the camera set to “AUTO” these days, is to take more time and effort to make the images that are more breath-taking. The truly serious photographers should continue to pursue this as a goal.

StatueOfLiberty(c)

Here is my portrait of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. It’s certainly not your average shot of the famous statue. An average photographer with an amateur set of photographic skills (even with today’s modern digital cameras) could not possibly have made this shot. First of all, it was made from a helicopter with a 4×5 view camera mounted on a gyroscope which was, in turn, mounted to a yoke on the helicopter’s window. This image was not made with a telephoto lens. It was made with a normal (150mm) lens on my view camera. I don’t think the NYPD will let anyone get this close to the statue these days, especially after 9/11, but I think you’d agree that it is a striking image.

These are the kinds of shots we need to make today to compete with all the other run-of-the-mill “photographers” out there. We need to spend the time and effort  to come up with truly sensational shots.