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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Photography's Vanishing Middle Class

While you folks are busy shooting your water assignment, I wanted to take a small detour away from away from lighting and veer into the business of photography.

As a staff shooter for a metro daily paper, I am lucky enough to make a comfortable, if not stellar, income doing what I love. But as I look around, I see that my ranks are thinning fast. And the long-term prospects for my profession do not look very promising for those who are entering it today.

About a month ago I got an e-mail from a local photographer who reads this site.

We had several e-mail exchanges and talked both on the phone and at various assignments since that time. The gist of these conversations were pretty much him noting that he liked the Strobist site, but didn't agree with the idea of my giving the information away for free.

I countered that the site does produce income (technically, a penny is income) via the various affiliate relationships and other sources. Granted, it wasn't a lot. But traffic was growing, and maybe it might some day be worth the time I was putting into it.

But I was still missing the photographer's point. He was concerned that I was giving away something of value. And by doing so, I was devaluing the photo profession.

Like many photographers, he sees new shooters moving into the field every day. They have their expensive new Nikons (or Canons) and are more than happy to blaze away with a piece of long glass on auto-everything and practically give the shots away for free.

Sometimes, not even "practically."

The proliferation of high-quality digital cameras is diluting the profession right into the ground. Everyone has always wanted to be a photographer, and now everyone can. Sort of.

And Strobist, the photographer added, is not helping things. Because I am putting out the knowledge gained from 20 years of my mistakes for free.

My first reaction (as is usually the case when confronted by someone with a differing opinion than my own) is to think how wrong they are. But the more I thought about it, the more concerned I got.

On the one hand, knowledge is able to diffuse more efficiently now than at any time in our history. Combined that with evolving technology and the easy transfer of digital photos, and you now have more and more people who are making money taking pictures.

Is this good?

Sure. On one level. The decentralization of knowledge is generally a good thing. But what is the end result of a trend that sees everyone who wants to be a photographer having the ability to be one?

When you are first starting out, the rush of actually being paid for your photos is a form of payment in itself. It's not that you made a paltry sum that matters. It's that you made something.

And that's fine, I guess. We have all paid our dues early in our careers. But just starting out in a world full of (semi)professional shooters, what are the odds that you will ever be able to support yourself -- much less your family -- as a professional photographer?

Who are the winners in this financial dumbing-down of the industry? The people who buy photography.

And the gasoline on the fire of this trend is internet-based "royalty-free photo agencies."

A representative from one of them called me the other day, wanting to know if I would be willing to do a seminar for a group of their shooters. I won't name names because they aren't the only company operating this way. And these guys are by no means the worst offenders.

I was on my way to an assignment and talked with the guy for awhile via cell phone. He wanted to know if I could come and do a lighting seminar for them.

We talked dates, logistics, a little subject matter, etc. Here's what did not come up: any mention of compensation whatsoever.

No "what would you charge," or "here's what we could pay," or anything like that. I purposefully left the subject alone and eventually asked him about the company he was representing. I gave him my e-mail and told him to send me some details so I could look into it when I got back home.

He never wrote me back. But I did look into the company. Here's what they do.

They sign up photographers over the internet to provide digital photos. The photos are screened and dropped into a searchable database. Buyers come to the website and can purchase the photos, royalty-free, for as little as a dollar a piece.

And cheaper in quantity.

Use them however you like. The only price differentiator is the size of the file.

Bigger file? More money. But we are still talking two-digit prices for royalty-free "full-page" photos for any publication you want.

You want a photo for that Citibank website? Sure. That'll be $1.00 for web resolution. Use it however you like. Come back soon!

And here's the kicker. You know how much of Citibank's hypothetical money the creator and copyright holder of that image would get?

Twenty cents.

The quality of the photo has nothing to do with the price. It's all about the DPI. Our work is literally reduced to a commodity of 1's and 0's.

Are shooters signing up?

Yes. In droves.

At first, it boggled my mind. But then I realized that many of these photographers were happy to just be selling the photos for something. They see the "most-purchased" list of photos (the site is big on featuring success stories) and do some quick mental math. (Hey, that could be me!)

Then they go to work shooting and uploading photos.

And the market for photos gets cheaper.

And cheaper.

And cheaper.

Operating on that mentality, I have to wonder what value -- if any -- they would put on my showing up to do a seminar.

Hopefully, it would have been more than twenty cents.

Don't get me wrong. There will always be "rock stars" in the photo world. It's the same as in any profession.

Case in point: If you can reliably hit the offerings of a Major League Baseball pitcher just three times out of every ten, you will make millions of dollars a year.

Are you that valuable to society?

Hardly. It's all about scarcity. Most people -- including, ironically, Michael Jordan, as it turns out -- simply can't hit a curve ball.

And scarcity is something that is becoming increasingly scarce in the professional photo world. Everyone is a photographer.

And thus, as professional photographers we are all relegated to the status of Ladies of the Evening, trying to ply our trade in a drunken beach town on perpetual spring break.

And even the "rock stars" are noticing the trends. One such photographer noted recently that they are seeing fewer and fewer day rates this year, increasingly lost to "flavor-of-the-day" shooters. And this particular person is very, very good.

This is not the behavior of a normal market. This is the behavior of an industry in total upheaval. Things are getting stranger and stranger.

I write this knowing full well that the readership of this site runs the gamut from eager non-pro hobbyists right through to some established, old guard types that are likely being hurt by the likes of the Strobist readers in the middle of the continuum.

So, how do I rationalize this with the fact that I am teaching you spring breakers the professional ladies' tricks of the trade? And for free, at that?

What is my responsibility in this cycle, anyway?

I think it is to ask you to evaluate who and where you are as a photographer. And to behave in a way that will tread lightly on the profession.

If you an amateur - learn all you can. Shoot for the love of shooting ("love" is the root of the word "amateur") and have a lifetime full of enjoyment and great photos.

If you are a semi-pro, decide what side of the fence you want to be on. If that side is "professional," then learn your craft. And charge a commensurate amount for your services. Otherwise, you are really kidding yourself about who you are and what you do.

Try to resist the cheap thrill of being paid (very little) for a photo. The true expense of that action is that you ultimately deprive someone who has devoted their life to shooting professionally much of a chance of financial survival. If you are good enough to work for pay, you are good enough to work harder and raise the standards of the profession, not devalue them.

And if you are a pro, realize that nothing I write here will make any difference. We are all going to have to work harder to differentiate ourselves from the guy that is willing to sell his photos for twenty cents and the thrill of publication. Every day.

In the end, I have to believe that spreading knowledge is a good thing.

But with the newfound knowledge comes the responsibility to use it in a way that allows sustainability for both the craft and the profession.

And the irony of the fact that I am doing to the education field exactly what the semi-pro's are doing to the photo field has not escaped me.

That's something I'll have to think about for a while.

I know that each of you approaches this issue from a different viewpoint. I will be traveling Sunday and Monday, but I'd love to know what you think, via the comments section.



__________

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163 Comments:

Blogger Debbi_in_California said...

After reading your dissertation, I fully expected you to 'pull the plug' at the end & and say Adios. I fit in the category of middle amateur & at age 58 I have no intention of becoming a pro. It is extremely hard to find any useful information on the web concerning the use of small speedlite strobes. Your site is so educational. I hope you know how much I, for one, appreciate your endeavor here. It saddens me that others feel threatened by it. Not everyone is an artist, even though they all learned from the same painter.
Debbi

August 12, 2006 11:09 PM  
Blogger Phil Pereira said...

Wow, great article. It really makes you think. I'm in the camp of trying to do photography on a paid basis (weddings and portraits), and one of the things that frustrates me, but that I have to accept, is how there are photographers willing to give away everything (i.e. digital negatives, prints, etc) for practically nothing, just to make a few bucks and hardly turn a profit. The problem is twofold, the customer expects all for nothing, and with digital there is a whole breed of photographers willing to give them that (I must admit, I wouldn't have even thought of doing paid photography with film, digital made it easier for me to want to transition from film SLR I used at my college paper). How do we change this? I wish I had an answer, but it has to involve a major culture change in the perception of photography from those in the industry and those who utilize photographers' services.

August 12, 2006 11:22 PM  
Anonymous Nick said...

Interesting post, David. I've been shooting professionally for about 30 years, and while the ability of more people to use pro level cameras has cost me some sales, it still doesn't help them with this: An Assignment.

I don't care what it is, if you haven't had to cater to your client/employer, you haven't had to feel the pain.

Gotta do it right now? The weather isn't right? Somebody didn't show up? You know what I'm talking about.

I've been lurking for a while, posting a few times, and I appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

Nick

August 12, 2006 11:34 PM  
Blogger Cyron said...

I'm one of those new "everyone is a photographer" photographers that is happy to sell anything. I sell my photos on the site you won't mention, as well as several other sites, mostly without any liklihood of ever making back the money I've spent.

That being said, know one of the most popular photogs on said site, and this person makes her living from microstock. It is possible, and it certainly doesn't devalue photography as a whole, because the images can be used multiple times by anyone. So sure, citibank can pay $1 and get a new pamphlet or webiste logo. And they run the risk that a bunch of other sites out there will use the same photo. If they want exclusive use of the photo, then they pay rates that are certainly not undervaluing the photo. In many cases though, for the better photogs in this industry, they make /more/ money in the long term by not selling a given image exclusively, because it will get downloaded and used many many times.

This of course is without even considering the fact that affordable stock creates a much bigger market of purchasers, designers etc, because it becomes worth a couple of dollars to buy an image for your custom blog design. A multi hundred dollar Corbis or Getty image isn't even on the radar for this kind of use.

You say you're doing to the eduction field what mini stock is doing to photogs (and designers). Newsvine, Netscape (and even bloggers) etc are doing it to journalists, Linux is doing it to software developers and there are a thousand and one other examples. As technology in general and communication technology specifically improves, any industry that relies on one or both of these facets as a defining element of their business will face this "problem". It's certainly not restricted to photography.

So all of that being said, I'm absolutely not going to "Try to resist the cheap thrill of being paid (very little) for a photo" because I fundmanetally do not share the belief that it is bad for the industry. I do believe it will change the industry, but change isn't bad by definition. Being a poor mans photographer, I value sites like this and learn much from them. Personally, I have no problem reconciling selling microstock and using your site, and I don't feel the slightest guilty in doing so. However, I will respect your decision if you still think I'm doing the wrong thing by you after reading my viewpoint.

August 12, 2006 11:59 PM  
Blogger Cyron said...

Let me just add "I'm one of those new "everyone is a photographer" photographers that is happy to sell anything" should have read

"I'm one of those new "everyone is a photographer" photographers that is happy to sell anything I sell cheaply"

August 13, 2006 12:00 AM  
Blogger NikonErik said...

I have been suspecting this very issue for some time now. Ever since I realized how the histograms and RAW files and software enable everyone to shoot reliaby on a higher level inexpensively . . . Even the Strobist method would be lost to most folks if it weren't for "chimping." Nick has a good point though. Just because a person has all of Adorama in their basement doesn't mean that they can "git 'er done" for a client. That takes something that only a dedicated, passionate photog can bring. -In my opinion.

August 13, 2006 12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is happening, to a greater or lesser extent, to every profession/trade/craft/etc. as the costs of entry get lower. The Internet accelerates it in a way not previously possible. Supply and demand. Only in some of the licensed professions, like law, medicine, architecture, etc., where there is a bouncer at the door, and supply is tightly regulated, is this not the case. Even then, you still see this effect. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry in California is a real estate agent, it seems. Even in my profession, law, the supply of lawyers is overtaking demand. Like you wrote, anyone can buy a DSLR, read information off the Internet or books or whatever, and start taking pictures.

August 13, 2006 12:26 AM  
Anonymous stk_ulm said...

To the previously posted opinion that microstock sites do not harm business: They do.

I know at least two PR agencies who used to pay, well, "more" for their images before. Not 150 EUR for an image from Corbis, but about 40-80 EUR a piece. They don't do this anymore, they use free or "megacheap" picture agencies now. That's 40-79 EUR *less* spent than before, *per picture*.

I do not give away my pictures for free - anymore. And I will never again charge less than 30 EUR per picture.

August 13, 2006 12:26 AM  
Blogger Cyron said...

To the previously posted opinion that microstock sites do not harm business: They do.

I did not say they don't harm business, I said they don't harm the industry. Microstock /is/ changing the industry, and photos that aren't willing to change will be hurt, but photography as a whole will go on just fine as new and/or adaptable photogs learn to work within the new system.

You mention making 40-80 EUR on a single shot. For a good photog on a microstock site, that is peanuts. A good image can sell 1500 times or more, and that's a good $300 US right there, if you only get paid .20c a photo. It completely discounts the fact that the more popular photog or the photogs that sign exclusivity agreements get significantly more than that as well as ignoring the fact that larger sizes sell quite well, and in turn bring in more for the photog.

Of course Joe "Everyone is a photographer" Photog isn't going to achieve that level of success, but it's that very fact that means the industry as a whole will do just fine. To achieve that level of success, you need to have the ability and the dedication, just like now.

August 13, 2006 12:46 AM  
Blogger David said...

Cyron-

I respect very much your opinion on the matter. Mine is certainly not the end-all, and it might be very different, were I twenty years younger.

@All-

I do not know that there is anything that can possibly be done to stem the commoditization of photography and the resulting downward spiral on prices.

Maybe assignment photography survives, but stock photography disappears as an income source. But if I can get an "almost-good-enough" stock photo for a buck, that will certainly affect what I am willing to pay for assignment work.

So the cycle continues.

And those who said this is not limited to photography are absolutely correct.

Two analogies in particular, cross my mind just now.

If I can afford it, it is better for me to drive around in absolutely the biggest SUV I can find. They have much more mass than a feul-efficient minicar, so I am safer. But it is better for society as a whole if I drive the latter.

First, I am less likely to kill someone in another car by hitting them. And second, my using the extra gas in an SUV tightens supply and raises prices for everyone else. Not to mention depleting the planet of a finite resource.

Another similar situation exists in the use of antibiotics. It is generally better for me as an individual to err on the side of taking antibiotics more often.

But my doing so raises the chance that society as a whole will have to deal with more antibiotic-resistant bacteria later on.

I am not trying to preach, although it may sound as though I am. I have just been thinking a lot about the issue, and thought it merited discussion.

And since I am surely doing a part in furthering something I see as a potential problem, I thought it my responsibility to get you all at least thinking about the issue.

I know we will have people on different sides of this debate, and I appreciate very much that you all have always been a group given to civil discourse and able to respect others' opinions.

While I do have the ability to delete comments, I am loathe to use it.

(Besides, sometimes just mentioning that you have a A-bomb will significantly reduce the odds you will ever have to use it...)

:)

That said, (1) where are you all on the issue, and (2) is there a way that doesn't end in our practically having to pay someone to use our photos?


-D

August 13, 2006 12:50 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Well Dave, the subject of the photography prostitution as I call it,is one that I am not going to talk about for I completly agree with you. There is a price to pay for a good picture and when you are confident enough that the quality of your photos are worth the money, you won't have any problem getting your point across to the buyer.

On the other hand good education from pros of the industry like you cannot in any ways, have a negative effect on any photographer. Your blog as taught me a lot so far and is giving me great insight into the world of photography. Passionate people who take the time to explain their thought process like you do have earn my deepest respect and people who think you should keep your knowledge to yourself and/or make money of it are the same kind of people who run the microstock companies.

I use to have a problem with all those DSLRs and the ease that one can have to produce quality images. But I realized that if you fell threatened by those wannabees, you might just be one yourself. A pro, a person with a passion for photography, will prove that he/she is better than any automatic setting on any camera and therefore will also be able to sell his/her photos for what they are worth.

August 13, 2006 12:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, I give all my away FREE because I can and it makes a lot of people happy - me included. Why? Because the incremential cost is so insignificant to my hobby to share them on a website or burning a cd.

Yes, things change and will continue to change.

August 13, 2006 1:01 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

With all due respect, I have to say I'm not sympathetic at all. I write. Used to be, if you had a typewriter and could write vaguely coherent sentences, you could expect to make a living at writing. Since the advent of word processors, everybody thinks they can write. The value of basic stock writing is approximately zero now.

Of course, putting a chimpanzee behind the keyboard of a word processor does not get you Shakespeare. It pushes the Shakespeares of the world to work harder. To reach deeper. To do things the average joe behind a word processor just can't do.

So let it be with photography. Sure. My DSLR helps me take better pictures than I ever could with film. On my best (luckiest) days, I can produce images I'm not embarrassed to put on my website. But I am a chimp. Snap the picture. Hope both flashes go off. Look at the screen, Ooo. (or Ewww, depending). Adjust. Repeat. Then adjust the images on my computer. (And IMHO, you pros had better get over your problems with Photoshop, otherwise you're handing me a huge technological advantage.)

The point is, without investing the time and energy to learn photography that you have, it's unreasonable and, in fact, insulting (to you) to expect I will match your level of skill, consistency, and speed any time soon, no matter what gear I buy, or what information I read on your wonderful site. If I can, that's not my fault, certainly, and it's not the responsibility of my gear or how the pictures get sold, either.

Technology marches on. That march is painful, sometimes, and yeah, it means that some people have to find other ways to make a living, when the creative bar gets raised and they can't rise to it. I say, embrace the technology. Push yourself with it. Use it to do things I can't even imagine. That's what it's for.

And remember: you photographers did this to painters, sketch artists, and lithographers a hundred years ago. What goes around comes around. :)

-HH

August 13, 2006 1:04 AM  
Anonymous monty in Australia said...

As one who is in the process of crossing over from amateur to pro (& giving away a well paid career to pursue a dream), I just wanted to put my weight of support behind Dave's comments.
This issue has been debated at length in the Pro Photo Forum here in Oz for a while - and the bottom line result is that yes individuals can make money from on-line stock sales, but it kills that segment of the industry for the pros needing to make money from it.
I think your SUV/ mini analogy is spot-on. Perhaps our cultures are responsible for creating more selfishness and greed, which fuels the mentality.
Could I ask - does anyone actually know someone who has made a lot of money out of microstock photog or is this a myth perpetrated by the stock photog companies?
That's my two cents - love the site, pls keep up the great articles.
Monty

August 13, 2006 1:37 AM  
Anonymous Carlos Benjamin said...

You may look at this as giving away what the education industry relies on for their bread and butter, but whatever happened to photographers sharing information just to be helpful? In days past this would have taken place in a photo club or professional association. Those places still exist, but for many they aren't a viable option whether due to geography or the logistics of busy schedules. In a lot of cases, those social outlets have been replaced by online forums.

If we think about it for a bit, Walmart, Sears and other outlets have already significantly devalued photography. This is no different. The advent of dollar stock houses will have their appeal, but there will still be folks who need their products showcased and generic photos won't do. There will still be people who demand distinction in their ads and don't buy stock anyway. The thing is, photographers, like everyone else seemingly, have to rethink their business.

I was at a PPA meeting awhile back and the speaker was a very successful portrait studio owner. He had done everything he could to differentiate his business from the rest of the pack. I was enthralled as I listened to what he had to say. In the question and answer session that followed I was amazed at the number of people who didn't "get it". Mostly pros asking how to market to a given segment (those to whom photography is already devalued) when he'd already laid out a path of success that didn't take that turn.

There are also pros who've been in business for years who can take a technically good 'picture' but lack imagination and don't take risks. These folks have already devalued photography from an art form to a commodity. They've mastered the technical, but not the creative aspects of their field.

Think for a moment. The cost of entry into painting is far less than that of even a good point and shoot digital camera, but I don't see artists (those making a living from it) trembling at the masses of people buying paint sets at Michael's.

The ability to make our own meals doesn't keep the restaurant trade up nights. We may make most of our own meals, but sometimes we want something 'special' so we let the pros do it and there's even room for varying levels of 'pro'. I know several people that don't understand why someone would pay more than 5 bucks for a meal when all the fast food places have dollar menus now. There are others who routinely pay ten to fifteen dollars a plate and occaisionally twenty or thirty if they really want to celebrate. Another group would see those restaurants as their version of a fast food place and are more accustomed to dining out for sixty to one hundred a plate.

I think those who are shaken by the proliferation of "photographers" are those who either are listening to the doomsayers and aren't thinking things through, who don't have confidence in their own abilities, or are catering to the palate that thinks K-Mart photos are just as good as the "other pros" and can't understand why anyone would pay more for pictures of their family.

There may be some fallout from the trend, but the folks taking the biggest hits are those who haven't tried to elevate their skills or don't have confidence in them to begin with.

I started by mentioning that online forums have taken the place once held by local gatherings. This isn't new either. Back in the 80's the bulletin boards (electronic, not cork) were full of people trading information about computers. I got involved and the next thing I knew I was going into the IT field. I've been in that field for some time now and all of that information sharing didn't effect those who made their livings in the field - it only opened the doors of opportunity for many more people and in the process opened the market in ways that had never before been considered. Many thought that the PC would kill IT, but it didn't. I don't think we'll see professional photography taken down by the digital revolution either.

That being said, I'm a long time amatuer who recently decided I'd like to go pro. I'm too old (and poor) to chuck it all and go whole hog, so I'll have to struggle along as a semi-pro for a bit until I can replace my current income and benefits. I won't be able to do that by giving it away, and I wouldn't want to jump in at all if I really felt that the current digital trend was the death knell for professional photographers.

August 13, 2006 1:49 AM  
Anonymous Monty in Australia said...

Just reading what Jim has written reminds me of a past experience, which relates in a way to the changing face of pro photography... loosly.
15+ years ago I was in my late teens and racing bikes (of the pedal variety) full-time with the hope to turn pro and moving to Europe (the days of Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault). I used to do a lot of riding alone and with some like-minded bike riders and regularly we'd have guys meet us for long rides and they would be fitted with all the good gear - often beyond what we could afford/ justify. We called them "Crystal Cranks" - meaning they'd buy crystal accesories if it made them look good. Even though these guys had all the stuff they just couldn't compete to the same standard as those of us who put in all the miles (and effort) in the saddle.
The point is that while 'easy' or 'less perfect shots' used to make money, this segment is just not there anymore. Pros have to distinguish themselves from the peloton with their results. I know I have the motivation and skill to differentiate myself - do you?

August 13, 2006 1:52 AM  
Anonymous John in Seattle said...

David,

I love your site! I also agree with your point of view on the direction of this industry. I have loved photography my whole life. It is the one thing I always come back to. I am finally at a point in my life (45 yrs young!) where I want to focus on making this my business and sole source of income. Of course I picked the best time based on the radical changes in the industry to make that change. I can't understand how someone can work doing what they love and sell it for 20 cents. The whole thing make no sense. I also believe that teachers should be paid for the knowledge they share. I would happily pay you for your knowledge if you make the decision to charge for entrance to your site. It is hard to find people who are passionate and willing to share their passion. There are tons of people in this industry that are willing to sell information, but the quality of the information is the true measure. Thanks for doing what you do!

August 13, 2006 2:03 AM  
Blogger Cyron said...

Could I ask - does anyone actually know someone who has made a lot of money out of microstock photog or is this a myth perpetrated by the stock photog companies?

Yes, I have a good friend who makes her living on one of these stock sites. She is dedicated, and has a fantastic eye and aesthetic sense, ie she's a professional. Lets just say she makes more money than I'm ever going to, whatever industry I choose :) exclusivity.

August 13, 2006 2:06 AM  
Blogger Cyron said...

I can't understand how someone can work doing what they love and sell it for 20 cents.

...

It is hard to find people who are passionate and willing to share their passion.

Can I point out that there is a bit of inconsistency in this viewpoint, that I guess summarises why I have trouble with the fact that people have trouble with microstock.

You agree that people who have a passion and are willing to share it are vitally important, and hard to find. You also have no problem with someone only sharing the efforts of their creativity if they're going to get (and I'm putting words in your mouth here) "decent money". How is it that the somewhere in between is a problem. Giving it away for free is good, selling it for lots of money is good, but selling it cheaply is bad?

To get my point across, let me say that I share nearly all of my photos (except those containing people) using an Attribution Creative Commons license. I don't care what people do with the most of the images I've produced. If people have a good use for them, they can have them, as long as I get attributed.

Some of my images however I sell on microstock sites (I'm small time though). Even these photos I share with a Creative Commons license, though one that restricts commcerial use. I thouroughly and truly believe that sharing information and photos is a wonderful thing, and personally I see the "I won't seel my photos for less than $X" mindset as the exact opposite. To me, that's a commercial "doing it for the money mindset", which is the very thing that most people acuse micro stockers of having.

It is possible to make real money off of selling your photos, even with micro stock. But it's also possible to make decent quality photos available to many more people than have previously been able to afford them, and to me, that can't be a bad thing.

August 13, 2006 2:16 AM  
Blogger jdavidallen said...

Giving away knowledge as you do on your blog is wonderful and harms nothing. Libraries have always been full of photography technique books, which anyone could read for free.

I guess we could eliminate physical education from schools so that we don't jepordize the carreers of professional athletes. No more little league either, or coaches. Ban ESPN so that all us hobbiests can't watch all that pro technique whenever we want to. Dads, no more catch with the kids, you are risking the livelihood of the pros.

Technique info is one thing; products are another. Giving away free, or really cheap product, clearly has an effect, and that issue has been covered in depth in other comments here.

Pros will just have to work harder to produce superb, unique, and original work that clears rises above the competition.

August 13, 2006 2:41 AM  
Anonymous Bill Rogers said...

David, an excellent piece, and you are absolutely right. Here are some additional points to consider.

1) Photographers should not feel like "the lone ranger." Office supply stores were always locally owned and operated, until Staples and Office Depot saw an opportunity. Lumberyards were the same, until Lowe's and the other big box stores came along. Pepsi and Coke used independent bottlers until about ten years ago. And so it goes, to quote Billy Pilgrim, or Kurt Vonnegut, or Lloyd Dobyns, or Linda Ellerbee, or someone ...

Local independent photographers, who depend on weddings and school portraits to make a living, also are an endangered species. With low productivity and questionable business practices (often explained in stunning clarity in the PPA journal), they remind me of Gary Larsen cartoon bears with targets drawn on their backs. I wish it were not so, but it is, and nothing I do will change it.

2) What's the public's image of a photographer, especially a photojournalist? The public image of all journalists is quite low, and many people don't bother to distinguish between a PJ an a paparazzo. They continue to buy both Enquirers (National and Philadelphia ...)

3) I'm the enemy. I am retired on disability (Parkinson's disease) and I shoot photos for fun and for free. If it weren't for photography, I don't know what I'd do with myself. If I charged for my work and made a profit, the disability insurance company would reduce my benefit by the same amount, so why should I charge? My photos are competent (sometimes even better than competent) but, trust me, sometimes I can't even give my services away.

BOTTOM LINE: It's a cruel world, change is constant, and neither Bill Rogers nor David Hobby can change macroeconomic trends. Regardless of what happens, you're doing something very worthwhile. You're not giving away "secrets" - you're certainly not the first person to talk about off-camera flash, or umbrellas, or light stands. What you've done is organize these concepts in a way that makes practical sense, and given people a look at the daily life of a working PJ. A D200 and lens, $2500; an SB-800 and pocket wizards, $900; learning how to use them correctly, priceless.

David, be proud. One of your strobists may win a Pulitzer someday. Sharing knowledge is one of the hallmarks of a learned profession. I say, "Bravo!"

Bill Rogers

August 13, 2006 2:58 AM  
Blogger NIMBY said...

In a lot of ways I agree with the notion that microstock companies are damaging certain photography businesses, but I believe the only real damage to the industry is the associated value of other categories of photography. And there seems to be a lot less analysis or information on that than just pleading with people to not sell via microstocks.

In the case of stock images I think it is important to separate the art and the commerce - stock images are a commodity. There are bought almost solely for business reasons, hence they are not fine art - they are a commodity. That being the case it was only natural that alternative business models would appear - and "stack 'em high - sell 'em cheap" is the progressive business model of the last decade or two.

The facts are (as I see them) that the vast majority of microstock contributors make very little from it - and that is because they don’t sell many images. If they are not selling many images then it could be extended to mean that they are not taking business away from existing stock contributors. Then there are those who are successful - who have largish libraries and of images desirable to stock buyers. This generally doesn't happen by accident and they target typical requirements for stock and spend a great deal of time doing it. I don't see anything wrong with that - it is a different type of business model and they have a right to be there.

Stock photography traditionally has been an additional form of income - a bonus avenue of income if you like - to photographers shooting for other purposes. They offered for stock images that were not used for anything else - or didn't quite make the cut. Sure I expect these guys are seeing hits in their stock revenue - but that is business - people with a more robust model came along, targeted it and are winning through.

The reason for saying all that is to try and show that stock photography in itself has just developed and direct revenue related arguments are just sour grapes.

What is important, and what I don’t see, is any good information on how this is affecting sales and value in all the other areas of professional photography.

If someone can point me in the direction of such info I would be interested to read.

August 13, 2006 3:09 AM  
Anonymous wogo said...

Interesting piece... But I think I've heard it before...

I've spent the last 13 years working as a Graphic Designer. I came into the field just as "digital" was hitting stride. The schools were still teaching things the old-fashioned way (paste-up, marker comps, hand-rendered type), but the entry level jobs went to the guys with "desktop-publishing" skills.

The trade magazines had all kinds of articles bemoaning the state of the industry and the lack of "standards" -- that architects still needed a license but anyone with a Mac Plus and PageMaker could call himself a graphic designer (of course, a poorly designed page never killed anybody...).

More than a decade later, the Top-top guys still make a ton of money (although maybe not as much as they used to). There are a whole bunch of people who take a 2 week course in Photoshop & InDesign and proceed to churn out pure cr*p... And the designers with creative vision and good technical skills are making an OK living and still managing to put out quality work.

The industry didn't collapse. The world didn't end. The good clients soon realized that good design matters (and that "good design" was not a available as a $50 Photoshop filter). The lousy clients... well, who wants to work for them anyway ;-)

David, I will totally understand if you feel you need to step back from the Strobist.

I also think that the photo industry needs a little time to adjust to the digital reality. When the dust settles, I'd be willing to bet that you will still be making an OK living and managing to put out quality work.

August 13, 2006 4:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great subject to talk about David! My 2 cents worth says it all boils down to "PERCEPTION"

I tell people, "If you want to know everything about photography, read three books". The Camera, The Negative & The Print. Perhaps if Mr. Adams were around today, he would update those volumes and re-title them to, The Camera, The Chip & The Inkjet Printer.

Truthfully... everything you need to know about how to create a perfectly exposed, processed and printed photograph exists in those books. And the information is practically free and has been for quite a long time. Best of all, you can read and learn it all in a weekend!

debbi in california said it best... "It is extremely hard to find any useful information on the web concerning the use of small speedlite strobes. Your site is so educational."

What's not in those books? For starters, some very basic things, such as "How to run and operate a business." "How to market your business" "Who are your potential clients". All run of the mill simple basic business stuff. And you'll find all sorts of practically free sources of information for those subjects to.

Another thing that's missing from those books and it's what I believe one really needs to know about photography. Zeitgeist, Culture, History, Art History, Human Nature, Human Psychology, etc., etc. As the Austrian Secessionists said over a hundred years ago... "Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit." To paraphrase that to fit your subject - Understand your time, and you will find your freedom.

RF stock agencies, the internet and digital cameras all arrived at the same time and hobby photographers found their freedom.



I'm very curious about something and find it quite fascinating. Why do a number of people believe that a DSLR or any digital camera for that matter, helps to make one a better photographer? What's better about your images now, in digital form as opposed to when they were in analog (film) form?

I ask because is not exposure the same, f-stops the same, contrast ratios the same, inverse square law the same, etc, etc.?

Wouldn't someone who starts with a digital camera and is successful creating beautiful images be just as successful with a film camera?

Is there a difference between one black box with a hole in it and another black box with a hole in it?


Oh... and by the way... there is no such thing as a secret technique in photography. It's all just perception.

August 13, 2006 4:24 AM  
Anonymous Wogo said...

p.s.

Um, you do realize that you did a podcast with a guy who is an employee (and major cheerleader) of the unnamed microstock agency.... right?

August 13, 2006 4:28 AM  
Anonymous Jon said...

Please read this from the point of view of someone who really loves this website, but feels that my honest opinion would be more valued than just agreeing with David to keep him doing what he's doing!

There's a lot been said which I'll try to avoid repeating, but a couple of points:

I think the photography world is changing, especially with the 'digital revoultion' and that those who are worried about the proliferation of cheap services and equipment are probably the ones who need to work hard not to get left behind. There's no surer way to work yourself out of the game than complaining about 'how it all changed' and not innovating alongside it.

The availability of cheap cameras on auto mode does not mean better pictures! Otherwise no-one would be looking at this website! If their D2X's with 3 SB-800's could work out the perfect lighting for them, they would need no ability. But it very rarely does, hence why this website exists.

The camera companies are completely aware that your camera has no effect on your photography, that's why Nikon brings a new one out every year, promising that it will make your photos better, and when it doesn't, there will be another one next year.

Also, for someone who is concerned about the proliferation of cheap gear, you are advertising it in the sidebar of your website, I don't think this is a bad thing - the world changes, and we all have to change what we do.

Jon

August 13, 2006 4:48 AM  
Anonymous Stone said...

David,

You love to teach. You love your job as a photographer, right. Do the things you love! The market is not controlled by your actions here.
And by all means make money on the site if you can. Take http://www.luminous-landscape.com/ for example. They have a DVD video journal as a money making by product of the site. Use your new access to the world market. Stick to the free main blog/site (otherwise I think you might loose the traffic) and come up with your money-idea. Make a book. You are making a name for yourself, use it.

Best
Stone, EU

August 13, 2006 5:37 AM  
Anonymous Mark in Brisbane said...

Great to read so many interesting thoughts here - good job in stimulating some genuine discussion David.

If this subject interests you, then I can recommend Chris Andersons book, "The Long Tail" – or you can read an excellent summary here. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html

Chris is the Editor In Chief at Wired Magazine, and what he’s saying is instead of $5000 a unit, get ready to sell 5000 units at a dollar each because the future is about SELLING LESS OF MORE. Fascinating, and ultimately logical…

And his site for the book at
http://www.thelongtail.com/the_long_tail/

August 13, 2006 6:30 AM  
Anonymous matthew said...

Viewpoint 1: I have, supposedly, much better equipment than all of the photographers I revere: Atget, Lartigue, Adams, and more. Yet I doubt that I will ever make as good a photograph. Photography has been available to the masses since the Box Brownie, but relatively few people used what was available to make great photographs. I think the same is true with digital cameras: available widely but used to great effect by relatively few people.

August 13, 2006 7:23 AM  
Anonymous matthew said...

Viewpont 2: I use photography with my clients: I run a strategic marketing consultancy. Almost invariably, if we want to do a good job in presenting their company well, I commission photography rather than use stock. Stock photography - even the highest quality - is rarely usable if you're trying to get the client's offering to stand out. The influx of masses of amateur or semi-pro stock photography has made my use of it lessen - it's just too hard to find usable images. So I am responsible for an increasing use of professional photographers on commissioned assignments, rather than the reverse. I know other people in similar roles who are doing the same.

August 13, 2006 7:29 AM  
Anonymous Sascha said...

The really sad thing about it are the thousands of amateurs (people who should "love" photography by the meaning of the word), who are dreaming of becoming a pro and (in vain of course) believe they could achieve this by entering the market in a way that destroys it and at rates that humiliate their own work. These Royalty Free Micropayment Agencies are making business out of other peoples dreams without ever being able or willing to fulfil them.

But this no reason to quit strobist - it's a reason to explain to those photographers that and why these agencies are no way to become a professional photographer. They are only a way to get cheap pictures for people who only care about the price and, of course, a way to earn money for their owners who are soemthing like queens in ant-hills full of little dreaming ants with cameras around their necks.

August 13, 2006 7:54 AM  
Anonymous sascha said...

stone said:

"You love to teach. You love your job as a photographer, right. Do the things you love! "


An amateur may say this, but the pro will have to earn his living by at least one of the things he is doing.

So what is teaching others is destrying the job he is earning his living at?

Maybe he will have to work in a different profession with no more time für the education thing.

So maybe not the strobist is destroying professional photography but the amateur is destroying the strobist by selling pictures for 20 cent...

August 13, 2006 8:15 AM  
Anonymous sascha said...

To cyron ray:

If your friend is really making a living out of SMRP, please let us know how many pictures she is selling per month at 20 cent per picture.

Remember it would take 10.000 sales to make 2000...

Or do an experiment:

Ask her, what she would do if her camera gear was destroyed and if she could compensate this with the money earned from SMRP. If she can't do this without being in debt up to the ears, she is not really making a living from it...

August 13, 2006 8:23 AM  
Anonymous Voltaire Perkins said...

Sure '$1.00 a pop' stock photography sucks and makes it difficult for anyone not running a stock agency to make any money from stock but it's a completely different ball game to pro photography and it's just a part of the way business and wider society is going.

Certainly the advent and proliferation of the DSLR has led to increased competition and but it's always been tough to make it as a professional photographer - even in the good old days of film. At the end of the day quality always shines through and a good photographer (amateur or pro), in the right place at the right time, will always earn what their pictures are worth providing you don't sell yourself short - to use a strobist analogy - el cheapo radio slaves from eBay work OK but there's no comparison between them and pocketwizards and when the chips are down and you have to get the shot you're going to go for the pocketwizards everytime because you can rely on them to get the job done

Ultimately, educating people can only be a good thing and if the strobist blog helps to develop a group of photographers equipped with the skills to get the job done and the confidence in the quality of their light/photographs to charge what they're worth then that can only be a good thing.

Selling your shots for a buck and then giving someone else 80% of that is just bad business but, rather than threatening the income of the pros, you're only hurting yourself because it makes it that much harder, if not impossible, to earn a fair price for your work at a later date once you've established yourself as the 'cheap guy'. $10,000 dollar contracts to shoot bottles of water do still exist and when they come around one thing's for certain the marketing guys aren't going to be calling John Q. Cheapstock to get the shot

August 13, 2006 8:35 AM  
Blogger Ethan said...

Thank you for an extremely well articulated, thought provoking post. As an amateur musician and amateur photographer who has contemplated a career in each field, I see a few parallels between the two industries. In both cases, I have to ask myself, "Is it wise to enter the business of intellectual property in an age when everything can be duplicated and distributed ad infinitum?" The music industry, like the photography industry, has been impacted by the digital age at the creation end as well as the distribution end. The distribution end is obvious (nearly everything is available for free), and at the production end, great software like garage band allows anyone to create, edit and mix fairly clean sounding music at minimal expense.

I'll admit that it might be hard to extend the analogy between the two industries further, but it is worth noting that the music industry as a whole is thriving. While the huge labels might suffer by being slow to adapt to digital distribution, the industry as a whole is flourishing--the internet allows niche artists to reach a global audience, so the variety of music increases, and the odds of you finding a group with that unique sound that you love increases as well.

P.S. I am astounded by the thoughtful, intelligent comments section-a rarity on the web!

August 13, 2006 9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the reasons i got into what I call 'semi-professional' photography is because I was very disappointed with the quality of the work of so-called pros!

I had a family portrait done last summer in the mountains of colorado - the exposure was fine on the faces -- but the moutains were 2 stops overexposed! I send them them back -- and was embarrassed by the photographer. We had the same guy do the same thing this year with his spiffy new 5D -- we'll see in a couple weeks if he has been reading strobist so the shots are actually presentable!

I actually like the fact that amatures are pushing pros to work harder and make better pictures!

August 13, 2006 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Samuel said...

I would like to raise the point that it's not only stock photography that's affected. Other aspects of photography are affected as well. Like wedding. Over here, we have what is called volume shooters. People who charge dirt cheap, produce a large volume of photographs, and burn them onto a CD for the client.

Do these hurt the professionals? Yes and no. Like David has said, there're always the 'rock stars'. These guys get business rain or shine. But for the rest of the pros who are not Adam Ansels, they lose some business, and then more. The solution then, is either to quit the business, or offer more value-added services. Just means the work's not as cushy as it used to be.

What does this end up? If you ask me, it widens the gap. The cheap get cheaper, the expensive get more expensive. The ones who suffer are those caught in the middle. Either direction they go, they're just gonna lose out. But we can do nothing about it. So just shoot for the passion and love of doing your job, or change your career. That's the sad part of life.

However, I would also like to raise that while the good clients go for good photography, most clients don't understand or have that need. Many clients are on a moderate budget and want something cheap. They don't need stunning quality photos for a premium price. Where does digital fit in? It offers pictures that are good enough. Not good, not excellent, but good enough. For a client, it's usually a good enough trade off. No amount of professional level stunning photography is gonna change the client's mind, if all he needs is something usable. Does somebody lose out? Hell yeah I'd say yes.

Does digital improve photos? I'd say a yes to that again. It IS different from film. For one, it's cheaper than film (per shot). Back in the old days, you can't shoot forever and keep going at it until you get it. For one, you don't know what you're getting till you process your negs. For another, you'll run out of film. With digital, you can keep trying and trying. And you know what they say, practice makes perfect. At 100 photos per second, hey man, I'm getting tons of practice here. Give a roomful of monkeys a typewriter, and one day they'll randomly produce Shakespeare anyway.

I'm not here to whine about these photographers who offer cheaper services, it's their call. However, I do want to call to attention the myth that the better photographers will continue to do well. Times will get tougher. Just means industry standards gets higher, and we all lose more hair and sleep over it.

August 13, 2006 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Samuel said...

"I had a family portrait done last summer in the mountains of colorado - the exposure was fine on the faces -- but the moutains were 2 stops overexposed! I send them them back -- and was embarrassed by the photographer. We had the same guy do the same thing this year with his spiffy new 5D -- we'll see in a couple weeks if he has been reading strobist so the shots are actually presentable!"

Actually, if you ask me, that just meant he lazied out and didn't pick up Photoshop properly. Definitely not professional. Digital imaging is fast becoming an integral part of photography, given the lower dynamic range of digital photography.

August 13, 2006 10:44 AM  
Blogger Roblog said...

We all had to learn from someone who was willing to part with their experience.

The real point of departure from those who think giving it away for free and hoarding the knowledge or selling it is:
Will the "apprentice" get it, practice it, learn from it.
Most people read the tutorials and move on. some soak it in and actually learn from it by practice and devloping their own skill sets.

The one's who actually become proficient and wean themsleves from the on-line tutorial teat may actually become competant, money making professionals. But those people are few and far between.

Just because you read about how to make a rocket does not make you a rocket scientist.

I wouldn't worry too much about diluting the pro photog gene pool by posting tutorials.

Robert
www.streamlinestudio.com

August 13, 2006 10:51 AM  
Blogger MagikTrik said...

I don't think there's much I can say that hasn't already been said....I'd just like to give Mr. Hobby & the rest my support though. This is obviously important to everybody in the industry but it hurts people like me alot. I'm paying about $75,000 to go to school for photography & get a proper education, how long do you think that would take me to repay if I'm only able to make 20cents per photo? What can be done though?
So I won't try to sell my images through a microstock company.....that can't be all I can do, can it? How do we start to reverse it?

August 13, 2006 11:06 AM  
Blogger Marten said...

For what its worth I would pay for a membership to this site. What I have learnt for free is amazing......
M

August 13, 2006 11:11 AM  
Blogger Rob Meyer said...

This is a complicated subject, with lots of variables. For one thing, demand for cheap photography has increased dramatically. To fill out a large corporate website, you need tons of stock photography, and it has to change often. It's very unlikely that businesses would have paid top-notch prices for a throwaway images 10 clicks deep in their site. What would they have done without Microstock, who knows?

You also have magazines dying. They haven't figured out how to transition to the internet age yet (for the most part), so that lessens the demand for top notch photography.

There are probably a million other factors that all mix together and combine in ways that make it all but impossible to figure out how it will really shake out in the end.

Just like with any profession, the question is "how much value do you add?" If we're going to say that the transition to digital from film has lowered the technical barrier enough to allow lots of new people in and drop the price floor out the bottom, that implies that the only value those shooters affected were adding before was being able to get the right exposure on film, in a smaller number of shots.

Maybe that's the case, but I don't really believe it. Anyone could have been trained to get the right exposure on film. I think what the internet stock agencies have exposed is that the public has trouble telling the difference between a really spectacular image and a pretty good one.

August 13, 2006 11:23 AM  
Anonymous stk_ulm said...

Actually, if you ask me, that just meant he lazied out and didn't pick up Photoshop properly. Definitely not professional. Digital imaging is fast becoming an integral part of photography, given the lower dynamic range of digital photography.

NACK. Since you read strobist 101, you know that exposing for the background and lightening up the faces with either reflector or flash would have saved loads of trouble afterwards, that probably even photoshop would have trouble dealing with. You suggest using "The Print" to deal with all the light trouble, instead of taking "The Camera" and "The Negative" equally into account ;)

As for pricing, have a look at Davids previous post in the bootcamp assignment. Why would anybody offer Phil Phlashen 100 USD for a picture, if they can get an original Phlashen from bloodsuckerpictures.com for a buck?

Sascha: You don't happen to be posting in d.r.f. as well, do you? ;)

August 13, 2006 11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First great site, thank you and I have finally figured out the mystery of my flash, regarding your article all photographers had to start somewhere. What I have found from most photographers I have tried to learn from is hey go out and learn yourself, like there is a deep dark secret pro photographers have. what a shame.

maybe we should go back to only taking pictures with the view camera so only the professionals can earn an income.

Also the opposite of the coin, when your clients cannot afford the professional photographer should they only have uncle Bob take there pictures.

We should also stop students from learning photoshop, where are all the lab people developing film going to go.

August 13, 2006 12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article and I agree with what you said, and I am a gunstockmaker and find a similar situation in that a lot of amateurs sell themselves at a rate I can not compete with. I have visited photo sites you talk about and until recently didn't know they existed. I Love photography and will not engage in selling photos on the internet, but do it for personnel reward. I very much like the Strobist site and hope you keep it alive as I have learned much and if I can, I will put an entry in bootcamp 4 if time permits.
Thanks. Robert Szweda

August 13, 2006 1:51 PM  
Anonymous jacob said...

I'm posting as an outsider to professional photography. I shoot with a budget DSLR, a couple primes and two SBs. I've gotten a couple paid gigs, and am essentially your typical weekend-warrior photographer. I haven't jumped into the microstock thing for a few reasons.

What I do see in the microstock field, though, is an insurmountable force. I'm a designer part-time, and I've been forced into some small image budgets in the past. I've had clients who would only do $50 for stock imagery. For those jobs, micro became the only option for me. What I found on the micro sites was poorly sorted, mediocre photos that only irritated me. I shouldn't have to go to page 14 to find the shot I'm looking for. The point is though, that I did go that far to find a $5 photo.

I find the whole situation akin to the recording industry trying to hold back the market for unrestricted audio formats. They're trying to hold back a commodity that has a huge demand, and they're losing at it. Microstock has obviously reached a level of saturation. By this point it is firmly a part of the "web market."

I guess my point is (while I obviously have a hard time getting there) that there's nothing anyone can do about it. If photography as a career is becoming less and less possible, then thats something that every professional or aspiring professional is going to have to consider. I know its on my mind. There are tons of niche markets that have lost or gained depending on the forces of technology and economics.

August 13, 2006 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a student photographer who shoots for a local paper and my college paper I basically am forced to take what I can for freelance work. I probably take work from other photographers, but as a student a little money goes a long way.

How else can a student build skills and gain experience? New, incoming workers are a threat to the established professionals in any trade. Professionals should start training younger photographers and helping them succeed in a way that is less damaging to the industry - otherwise we need to figure out pricing and basically grope around in the dark.

August 13, 2006 2:34 PM  
Blogger Cyron said...

If your friend is really making a living out of SMRP, please let us know how many pictures she is selling per month at 20 cent per picture.

As I said earlier that larger photo sizes earn more as do exclusive photographers. She has both in her favour on this unnamed stock site, so she earns quite a bit more than 20c a photo on average. Look, I'm not going to go in to the fine details, but you can get a good idea of how many downloads the pros get a month at most sites by viewing their total downloads and working out how long they've been with the site.

Of course, downloads tend to increase the longer you're with a given site, so the actual numbers will be lower than the calcluted average initially, and higher at the more recent end.

Again, this discussion is getting bogged down in fine details, which isn't the point. I've seen first hand that it is possible for someone with skill and dedication to make an income worthy of a pro doing this stuff. You either believe me when I say that, or you don't. If you don't, not much I can say will convince you otherwise...

August 13, 2006 4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bet you didn't pay Hasbro to use images of their copyright assets.

August 13, 2006 5:08 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Someone asked how a digital SLR makes a total amateur a better photographer. Since I am a total amateur, I'll field that one. :)

The Screen:
I can see the results of my shoot right now, instead of waiting at least twenty-four hours to get the pictures back and trying to remember what I did. The screen (and chimping it) also means that instead of a ruined shoot because I botched my exposures, etc, I can see what I've done and fix it for the next shot. That's where going digital has replaced technical skills I don't have with technology. Experts like David can probably picture the light in their heads. Heck, he says so. I can't do that yet. With digital, I don't have to. (I want to, but that's an entirely different matter, and has a lot to do with why I read this site, and turn my friends on to it too.)

Post Production:
Particularly with raw images, I can fix my goofs after the fact, within reason. I can lighten images that are too dark, fix out of focus images to some extent, (focusfixer filter. Good stuff!) blur out backgrounds where I got too much depth of field, and so on. Sure, you could do a lot of these things in a darkroom, but I don't have one, and once again, I don't have those technical skills even if I did. With photoshop, if I do something awful to a picture, I say "oops" and undo it. Maybe even start over. Again and again.

Media Cost: If I can put my finger on one single thing that all pros do that most amateurs with film cameras don't do, it's shoot a lot of pictures. Bracket exposures. Experiment. Tinker with the shot. Why didn't amateurs do this? Hey, film was expensive. Developing film was even more expensive, and as I said, it's hard to learn from your mistakes if there's at least a whole day between shooting and seeing the results, so you tend to make the same mistakes. On expensive film. Digital media, by contrast, is functionally free. Buy the sd card, shoot it full, dump it onto your computer to work on the pictures, and erase the card. Repeat.

Here's where I'm coming from. My very first camera was an Argus C44, with probably a 50mm lens, which my father gave me. Manual everything. By the time I got it wound, got a sense of the light with the light meter, set the exposure up, focused, and pressed the trigger, contenental drift occured, so even the landscape wasn't in the shot anymore, and what 8 year old wants to take black and white pictures of mountains, anyway?

To shoot enough that I started to understand the barest minimum of what made a good picture, that I started to train my eye even to the limited extent that it's trained now, would have cost me a fortune in film and development. I never did it, and I never would have. Digital cameras changed all that. They took away the dependence on technical skills I don't have, and let me learn to see a little. This has all been fairly recent. It did not miraculously occur when I got my first digital camera. (Casio QV10a, btw) But it would not have occured without one.

Does that answer the question?

August 13, 2006 5:14 PM  
Anonymous Alan Ackoff said...

Dave,

Before getting into the photography business I was a musician. The music industry went digital before the image industry. I know composers and arrangers who are getting into other fields because the product has become so seriously devalued.

I see photography following the same path and I fear it's unavoidable. It's frightening, just think what will happen when the truly talented turn away from photography and look for another way to make a living. There will be nothing left but mediocrity.

Dave, publish a book or a DVD, and sell it here. Remember, Eugene Smith died with only $25 dollars to his name.

***To the students and amateurs who say "I take this money because it's what I can get." JUST SAY NO!

It's not a question of what you are worth. It's a question of what the job is worth. If you can't get a fair price for licensing your work, then do something else for a living. If you think you can sell cheap now and raise your prices later, think again. Consider Dave's ladies of the night analogy. Once you get known as a cheap piece of ***, you will never be considered for the high class trade.

August 13, 2006 5:23 PM  
Anonymous sascha said...

anonymus wrote:

"I had a family portrait done last summer in the mountains of colorado - the exposure was fine on the faces -- but the moutains were 2 stops overexposed! I send them them back -- and was embarrassed by the photographer. We had the same guy do the same thing this year with his spiffy new 5D -- we'll see in a couple weeks if he has been reading strobist so the shots are actually presentable!"


Maybe a silly question, but:

Why do you hire someone, who's work you didn't liked, again?

I ask you this question because in discussions about SMRP there is often the argument of "quality" as a reason to hire a "real pro"...

August 13, 2006 5:46 PM  
Anonymous Sascha said...

to magiktrik:

You ask: "So I won't try to sell my images through a microstock company.....that can't be all I can do, can it? How do we start to reverse it?"

The answer is simple:

By educating amateur photographers what their Photography is really worth and what they actually invested to get their pictures*. I guess that would change theis attitude towards earning 20cent rapidly. Nobody wants to feel used!

* Even if you do take your time as a given thing free of charge, you need to by equipment, your car is drinking the same amount of that expensive stuff, no matter if you drive to a location as a pro or as an amateur...

August 13, 2006 5:54 PM  
Anonymous Sascha said...

to jakob:

You mentioned a very intersting point.

Do you really save money as a customer if you (for example as a web designer) find yourself browsing through mediocre, bad sorted pictures for hours just to meet your clients photo budget. I mean, you (and if he is paying your time, your client too) are paying for this by investing more time to find picture of poorer quality.

August 13, 2006 6:04 PM  
Blogger kickstand said...

What you don't mention is that the Internet is changing industries across the board by lowering the costs of distribution. Particularly hard hit are industries whose product can be distributed as bits of data -- photos, music, movies, computer applications -- but also old-school widget makers are being affected. And there is no turning back.

See Thomas L. Friedman, "The World Is Flat".

August 13, 2006 6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've bee an advanced amateur for 35 years - truly for the love of it.

A few weeks ago I sent in $25 by clicking the "Make A Donation" link on the home page. Why? Because like a book or seminar I learned new, cool things (that were worth every cent.)

Discuss or argue all you want but jeebus, send the guy a few $ that says it's all worth it!!

August 13, 2006 6:43 PM  
Blogger s2art said...

Indeed food for thought, Strobist.

As an educator I am constantly annoyed by people attempting 'exploit' my students, equally I'm pleased that often students don't devalue the skills they have acquired, and are more than happy to charge accordingly.

As an artist I have no fear of losing money because I am not making any anyway, however my teachers all gave more than was required so I am too happy to do this it's a kind of karma thing, sure maybe only 1 in 10 people will repsond and say thank you but, to hear that thankyou and see the delight on people's faces when the penny drops makes it all worthwhile. My images are simply meant to be 'looked at', if I know I have an audience then I am happy, I will make my money in other ways.

August 13, 2006 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Seanie said...

Any client who knows the worth of a photographer will pay the extra money for what he/she brings. But it means being on top of the business all the time. Experience counts for everything.
Whenit comes to royalty free pictures, my teeth start to grind. A friend of mine is a designer and used a royalty free picture for on company in a poster, a sister company used the same picture in their brochure. He was a little sickened by that, I let him know that he wasn't the only one who lost out.

Sometimes get tired of the types who are gung-ho and only doing it to support their incomes from other sectors. But it is part of life now.

I mean even in the agricultural community in my country - Rep. of Ireland, farmers are farming the land part time.

What does that mean for pros? I don't know. But imparting good information on how to construct a decent picture, doesn't make for a decent business model, it just makes for a decent picture.

Fair dues to you for putting together this blog, I hope it becomes a success for you. Personally I have no problem imparting good advice to those who need it, after all if they benefit from the advice, it's good maketing for yourself!

Some one said 'we have only to fear, fear it's self.' That's my position. I've been used for my information by people in the past, and yet, I've formed strong relationships with other pros. We all look out for each other and that is as it should be.

So, come on the future! Lets see it happen - we'll probably all be using HD Video Cameras with live links to the picture desk. But right now I'll be dealing with the present it's busy enough...

August 13, 2006 6:57 PM  
Anonymous Sascha said...

"Discuss or argue all you want but jeebus, send the guy a few $ that says it's all worth it!!"


I don't think that it is Daves point to make money with strobist nor that he is afraid of teaching people, so they become competitors. Photographer have trained (you do so by simply publishing your work) their own competitors and learned from each other for decades and were not afraid of someone becoming better than they are.

I think it is more about saying:

If you want to compete, do it in our market by earning your living here.

Don't do it by cannibalising our profession while making your living in another job. Or, if you feel the urge to do so: at least be honest to yourself and stop dreaming of making your living as a photographer in the future!

And if you should be one of those who really believe, that a photographer could survive with 20cent to $10 per picture, then please ask yourself honestly one simple question:

Why aren't photographers, who are charging their clients hundreds to thousands of dollars per pictures/assignment, living the lives of pop stars and millionaires?

Is it all just understatement?

August 13, 2006 8:01 PM  
Blogger Hiding Pup said...

The idea of a single career that lasts a lifetime has been a myth for some time now. Like coal-miners, or traditional butchers, or farmers, photographers will just have to learn a new trade, or adapt the one they've got.

This might sound harsh but I think it'll prove true nonetheless.

On the other hand, if things are so bad, why is every other further ed. college managing to run an incredibly successful photography course?

August 13, 2006 8:21 PM  
Anonymous JadeCat said...

I think this trend prevalent in any industry where
a) there's a lot of skill involved to become good and
b) it takes a lot of time & effort to produce the results. And the material cost is minimal (usually) compared to the time, labor, and effort it takes to just create.

Look at jewelry-making, metalsmithing, custom-clothes, painting, textiles, etc.

Anyone can learn how to 'bead' and make jewelry that sells for less than $5.00, but what does that do to the artisan who spent a number of years investing in their education, tools, and equipment?

There's a lot of parallels, and, unfortunately, as most of our society demands "less expensive and cheaper" versus "high quality and more expensive" (look at Walmart and what they do to other businesses), I think this trend will continue throughout major sectors.

In regards to your blog....I, for one, think it's great. It's been extremely helpful, and its put a lot of things into context.

Is what you're sharing a complete secret? No. The information is out there for people to go find, it's just that you put it into a comprehensive format.

Will your telling of these 'secrets' help the demise of the industry? Hard to say. But now that you've got some things to think about from what your friend has told you, maybe you can incorporate those types of thoughts and help educate your readers on exactly *what* it takes to be a pro photographer and *what* their work is worth.

A good teacher or guide (even in the online sense) teaches his/her students not only how to use their tools, but in the manner to BEST use their tools.

August 13, 2006 9:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, first let me say I LOVE your site but not because it you spoon feed me it is because you cause me to think, to try new ideas. The bottom line is you inspire me to work harder, to learn more and follow my own creativity.

Photography is not immune
As far as the article it sounds reasonable but remember this could be said about ANY industry. You can replace the words photography or photographer with dozens of those who provide services and it would apply.

Take the music industry. Every kid with visions of being a rock star has a home recording studio. You can buy incredible sounding mics for $100's not $1000's. And with a decent computer you can have 32, 64 or 128 multitrack recorder.

But just because you can buy an instrument or build a home recording studio does not give you talent, creativity or the skills necessary to "make it" in the business.

Information is NOT enough
Information has been freely available for centuries. Information alone is not enough to become successful. If it were there would be millions of master photographers.

Your friend has some legitimate points but what he also fails to be aware of is while there are a lot of photographers there are also more outlets that need photography than ever.

When I grew up we had 3 TV stations to watch now you can get 100's of stations. So would it be better to go back to 3 networks or the huge number of outlets for videographers??

The answer is: It doesn't matter because ALL markets change and morph and companies and individuals that can adapt will grow those that do not die.

Stratified Markets
As far as microstock, keep in mind that not everyone is looking for Vanity Fair type of photography. There are millions of websites and a mediocre or even good photograph of two hands shaking to reinforce a partnership should not cost $500.

Free Markets WORK
Regardless of what any of us thing about our own industry the free market capitism model works. It is the market that determines what a photograph is worth not you and not me.

Lets not forget there are 1000's of musicians who are just as good if not better than any nationally known artist. The difference is timing and determination.

Your ballplayer analogy is good but the only reason they make that kind of money is because they are able to make the team owners even more money.

Why Does the Sun Pay You?
The reason your paper pays you is not because you are the best photographer on the planet. The reason is because you are consistent and your images help sell newspapers. So just you and I have the same gear and might work for less does not mean I will get your results.

Conclusion
David keep doing what your heart tells you to do and the money will follow. Doing anything purely for money is an empty life style.

You have no idea what is in store for you as a result of this site. Just like the advertising job offer you didn't get because your price was too low. That offer came from a single photograph there is no telling what this venture will produce.

If you want to go to the next step then I encourage you to consider a DVD series. Reading is great but if you take your knowledge and put it into a DVD I think the free information you provide would help sell the DVD's to just about everyone who enjoys your site now.

So ignore those who do not agree with what you are doing and stay true to the reason you wanted to do this in the first place.

Lee

August 13, 2006 9:27 PM  
Blogger Cyron said...

And if you should be one of those who really believe, that a photographer could survive with 20cent to $10 per picture, then please ask yourself honestly one simple question:

I don't believe, I know, because I've seen it first hand. It's a first hand fact, not a vague ideal or hope.

Why aren't photographers, who are charging their clients hundreds to thousands of dollars per pictures/assignment, living the lives of pop stars and millionaires?

Ignoring the obvious deliberate over exageration, the answer is because they don't sell as many photos. It's really not that hard. Lower price means more sales. When you can sell any given picture 1500 times or more, you can often make more money out of it (in the long run) from stock than you can selling it individually, where any given image gets sold once.

Go on believing that stock is bad for the industry if that's what you believe, but at least do it with an understanding of the realities of how micro stock works. It's one thing to understand it and discount, but when you discount it on a purely emotional basis, you're simply robbing yourself of the ability to adapt, fight or come to terms with the whole thing

August 13, 2006 9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David

I love your blog, and I am a rabid contributor to the assignments and discussion groups, but as far as this article is concerned, I’ve got to say… Dude…

What a load of crap.

I had the privilege to work for IBM in the 1980’s when we enjoyed over an 80% profit margin on mainframe computers. Back then, IBM was a stellar example of how to provide high-quality products at high prices. We were the very definition of excellence in customer service. And, you can bet that every IBM employee was very well compensated and had top notch benefits and stock option packages.

Then we introduced the IBM Personal Computer.

I was at IBM during the time that the PC became a commodity. It got so bad that the company was actually selling units below cost – just to try and maintain market share. A lot of highly paid execs and sales reps would spend hours discussing the insanity of what was happening in the market… and they sounded a lot like you and your photographer buddy.

Look around you right now.

Was your computer made by well-paid employees with healthy working conditions, or by kids in some third-world sweat shop? Would you pay more if you had a choice? Do you even have a choice? Do you care?

Do your groceries come from a supermarket? Or do you buy strictly from local farmers?

Did you make your own flash extension cord from parts you purchased from Home Depot? Or do you hire a certified electrician?

Are you planning to buy your kid’s textbooks from Amazon – as your blog advises – or will you be supporting your local school bookstore?

When it comes to services like internet, phone, and television – do you buy from the established monopolies, or do you seek out the cheapest prices?

So stop whining about the fact that people like me post a few images on a microstock site – OK, let’s at least do them the justice of mentioning their name – iStockPhoto.com. (You did do a podcast with one of their employees after all.)

And, for all you other people that have posted questions about the microstock model… No, I have no plans of making a living off my photo sales. I have only a few dozen photos, and I only make about $1,200 / year from my images.

I do it for fun.

Initially, I did it for the pure challenge of seeing if I could get accepted as one of their contributors. (For those of you that think the images suck – try getting them to accept some of yours.) After that, I did it for the pure thrill of seeing if I could sell even one image. What a blast when I sold my first image! (And, it wasn’t even my mom that bought it!) Now, it’s all rather mundane, and the biggest thrill is seeing if I will hit $100 each month in royalties for my small portfolio.

But what if I had a few thousand photos, rather than a few dozen?

To all you nay sayers out there… It would be possible to make a living.

Check out someone like LiseGagne on iStock site. She has had almost 350,000 downloads from her portfolio of over 3,600 images. And, no, she’s not getting a paltry 0.20 per image.

Is iStock benefiting from all those ignorant photographers like me? You bet. Are large and small consumers of images benefiting? You bet. Do photographers benefit? Well, in my case I sure do – but more on an emotional level that a financial level. But, even then, I’ve got to admit that iStock has done a far better job marketing my images than I ever could. I’ve made hundreds of dollars in the last year on some of my individual images. If it was not for iStock, they would still be sitting on my hard drive… earning zip. It’s just an extension of the traditional publishing industry.

So, I guess I could summarize my points as follows:

1) Unless you are a Mennonite or something, you should probably stop complaining about how commoditization is driving down prices – we’re all guilty of encouraging the phenomena with everything we buy online or at big-box retailers
2) Stop trying to spoil the fun I’m having selling my images. If it’s that easy for a hack like me to compete with your photos… then maybe the problem is not me… but… you.
3) It is possible to make a living off microstock. By way of analogy - JK Rowling does not make much off a single copy of Harry Potter… but she sure makes it up for it on volume. And, no, I don’t hear her whining about all the photographers out there that are devaluing the writing business by starting blogs.

August 13, 2006 10:09 PM  
Blogger righteye said...

David,
I have been a pro photographer for about 17 years now. I had an photography teacher that would hold back information and not teach us too much because he knew that we would be out there competing with him one day. Truth is i learned the stuff he was hiding anyway somewhere else. People have been able to buy the same cameras we have since photographys invention remember. Owning a d2x does not make you a photographer. Your images, your creativity, being reliable, and your personality, i feel, is what gets you work. I have clients that will use a new guy to save money, but you know what, they always come back once that new guy does not perform.
Never be afraid to share what you have learned. If you like to teach then do it well and enjoy it. That is what makes you you. The almighty dollar is not everything it just buys us more junk that we really dont need anyway.

August 13, 2006 10:18 PM  
Blogger www.kirktuck.com said...

Dear All,
It's an interesting discussion but I want to offer a little bit of historical perspective. (the one advantage I've found to being 50.....) When I started in photography Canon was just introducing the AE-1 SLR. Up til then you had to meter and move the aperture ring or the shutter speed dial to get a correct exposure. The AE-1 used shutter speed priority exposure automation. It was the first high quality, automated SLR for the masses and traditional professional photographers at the time were aghast. Tons of people bought the AE-1 and there was a swell of new "wedding" photographers and "art" photographers. But in a year or two the professional market recovered just fine and by the end of the decade they had convinced clients that "medium format" was the "magic bullet." Rates actually went up when we started pushing medium format more.

Then Minolta introduced the world's first autofocus SLR and photographers went into shock. Now rank amateurs could get a sharp, reasonably well focused image and many pro's were certain that it was just a matter of time before we stopped making any money whatsoever.

After a few years everything started to stabilize again and pro's added value and income by really selling the idea of big time studio lighting or location lighting to augment those great images their Hassleblads were churning out. Think of all the Annie Leibowitz "sunset+giant softbox fill" ads for American Express and all the subsequent copiers.

Now we have digital. And what really damaged the professional market was actually the combination of the high tech bubble popping right before the second "whammy" of 9/11.
We are actually recovering from that down cycle which caused much more financial damage than micro-stock.

People will tire of the new digital cameras when the "gee whiz" factor wears off. When their photos don't look a thing like Greg Gorman's or Annie Leibowitz or Kirk Tuck's (shameless plug) the camera will be relegated to birthdays, holidays and milestones and we will go back to day-to-day shooting.

BECAUSE, WHAT WE REALLY BRING TO THE TABLE AS PROFESSIONALS IS:

1. A sophisticated understanding of lighting and lighting design.

2. A practiced eye for composition and nuance.

3. The ability to "do it right" every time.

My business is consciously marketed to corporations which, by the nature of their business, cannot buy stock of their products, their people, their CEO's and executives, etc. and they are not willing to trust their images on short deadlines or mission critical projects to unproven suppliers, no matter what the difference in price.

We've seen the business slack off from 2001 to 2005 but it has made a significant recovery since mid-2005 and it getting back to the pre-bust level.

To succeed professional photographers must constantly innovate, develop new styles and, importantly, new lines of business.

I've had many younger photographers tell me that the market is demanding lower rates. This pushes me to increase our rates and try to present a value proposition to justify the higher fees.

I find that the people most sensitive to price are usually the sellers, not the buyers, and I find that many people in the business leave a lot of money on the table because they "don't think the seller will go for a higher price". But the basis of good business is to charge a premium for services that exceed the performance of the general market. And a good business person is constantly selling his advantages.

Has photography changed? Yes. I never expected to get the kind of jobs that pay five figures on a regular basis. Would I like to go back to the old days? Not especially.

Favorite story about stock usage. Used to do custom photos for a major high tech company's trade show booth (Think 10,000 square feet of space). One year they said, "Don't need you. We're going with all stock photography!" CEO went to the show and four major competitors had all used the same images on their booths. Heads rolled and they never used stock on their trade show stuff again.

Can you see Dell Computer using generic stock to sell their products when HP, Lenovo and Gateway all have access to the same stock?

Be patient and all the people who thrive on the latest and greatest stuff will fall by the wayside.

I think the stuff that David has put on the site is fun and informational. And it's refreshing to get to look into another photographer's thought process. But these nuts and bolts won't threaten established professionals in most fields for long.

There's more to professional photography than knowing how to use radio slaves and hand held flashes.

Thanks, Kirk
www.kirktuck.com

August 13, 2006 10:20 PM  
Blogger Bob Miller said...

Dave,

I think whatever is going to happen to the photography business is going to happen regardless of your site. It's a great site. I love it. I study it, and it has helped me and inspired me. But your chances of affecting the overall economics of the photography profession for good or ill are pretty slim.

If I had to guess, I would guess that Mark in Brisbane's reference to "instead of $5000 a unit, get ready to sell 5000 units at a dollar each because the future is about SELLING LESS OF MORE" seems likely. I still see a place for photojournalists, but even there, I expect some fallout.

But let's talk about you. You are certainly a talented photographer, but you are a GIFTED educator. You communicate information about photography in a uniquely effective way. We are waiting for your first book, Dave. And we will buy it.

August 13, 2006 11:34 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

I was one of the "digi kids" - giving my work away for cheap/free. I thought it would help me break into the industry, you know... get my name known and that sort of thing. It wasn't until I came across a website of like minded professionals that I learned what I was doing to my industry. I'm not talking about stock photography, but magazines ads an the like. I found that by my giving away shots it was making it harder for everyone to make a living as a photographer. I don't do that anymore and will not in the future. So, the issue is across the board, not just with stock. The only way to change it is to get the semi pros and ams to realize that their work is really worth something and that their clients are actually willing to pay for it, and they will do what they can to get it for free.

August 13, 2006 11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What Kirk said.

I have been hearing the same arguments on forums of one of my "hobbys" woodworking. Seems the pros hate us garage hobbiest woodworkers. I read a deal that one company put up that claimed they had more sales of their custom furniture after they started providing cheap workshops to teach woodworking. Why you ask.
Because the want to be's began to appreciate the true quality in their furniture. They had showed them how to do it and some had acheived it but most couldn't quite achieve the quality. And after being educated they would not settle for the cheap look alikes.
Of course they couldn't sell their fine furniture if they couldn't consistantly produce stellar results.
I feel it is the same in photography. Pro=consistancy.

Ryan

August 13, 2006 11:56 PM  
Anonymous Stefen Chow said...

Interesting article there. I am one of those what you mention as 'flavour of the month' photographers, and while I understand there is a deeply rooted perception of what photography is about, all rules change when digital takes over film. It is the same when people switch from leicas to SLRs in the 70s.

You have mentioned that the next Cartier Benson is probably reading the Strobist, and I couldn't agree more.

The industry is changing, and people are not expected to be comfortable with these changes, and it is those who adapt that eventually survive.

Same goes for companies when entire indutries restructure, or when photographers from China start charging ridiculously low rates for assignments around the world.

Stefen
Singapore

August 14, 2006 12:40 AM  
Blogger Todd said...

Wow,
So much has been said and I wonder if you'll be able to read it all....took me nearly an hour to read and digest!

I am a newcomer to this site. I love it. I have found every article, assignment, discussion, comment to help me grow as a person and in turn, a photographer.

I echo the poster that said that the clients will come back to the pros. Consistency is the mark of an excellent photographer; a professional.

Dave, you have been told many times of your gifts for educating; I am first an educator and second a passionate photographer. You have found a niche that will help you survive, should your photography 'job' change. You have the gift of teaching. I, as many have said, would gladly purchase an educational DVD of yours. Think about it. I know that's not the point of this article, but it's part of the solution to the dillution of the photographic market.

I truly thank you for the excellent blog you run here. Check out http://www.radiantvista.com/
Talk about passion! Craig Tanner is amazing! He does have a good deal of income that he derives from teaching workshops and accepting 'support.'

Again, thank you for this incredibly valuable resource. Education is only the wheels of the racecar. Ultimately, a driver has to have the skill, consistency and experience. That, can never be taught; it must be learned through doing.

Great thanks!

Todd

August 14, 2006 1:41 AM  
Anonymous conrad said...

I agree with your analysis. I think that professional photography is becoming harder to do full time on account of the technology. On the other hand - and I don't mean to be cold here - professional typists also went the way of the dinosaurs a while ago too.

Is high-quality photography doomed? No - there will always be a market for that. Are many professional photographers doomed? I fear that they are, particularly anyone who does stock photography. That said, the industry definitely has some people who don't have strong work and SHOULD get pushed out by a newer photographer - this is what every professional did to the professionals before them - provide a as-good-or-better product for a comparable rate.

The flip side of course - is it getting easier and easier to obtain images for cheaper and cheaper? YES, of course.

I photograph weddings, and I'm fortunate to not worry as much about this compared with the stock people. Yes, there are lots of people who will just let a friend shoot their wedding because they 'have a good camera', but people still pay me well enough. Part of it is that my clients realize that shooting a wedding isn't the same as getting one good shot every roll (does anyone here remember what a roll is??) - it is getting 150/300/450 solid images in 3/6/9 hours.

I also think that in 5-10 years, there will be enough people who a) realize that just b/c you have a DSLR doesn't make you a good photographer and b) know enough friends who tried to have their friend or uncle shoot their wedding, with terrible results - and the result is that people will be coming back to professional wedding photographers in droves.

For newspapers? I would be more concerned. I imagine that most editors are forced to care more about a) paying photographers peanuts and b) getting an okay image than supporting great photographers who should be compensated well for their skills.

And, I don't want to say much about whether or not you are doing the industry a disservice here. I do want to suggest, however, that the people who learn from Strobist are probably not the average photographer in the first place. Just a thought.

August 14, 2006 1:53 AM  
Anonymous Jeff Wilson said...

Markets change. Depending on which side of the market you're on determines how you look at it.

If price of production decreases due to technology or flood of cheap labor, somebody is going to take advantage of it to undercut their competitors or to line their pockets.

I'm a typesetter since I got out of college, make a good living working from home, but had to cut my page prices in half on some products in order to compete with typesetters in India. At first I didn't think any good could come of it, but in order to compete I had to automate and since that particular client was bought by a bigger publisher, the automation is paying off with more business.

Now I have to learn and deliver XML to my clients in order to get more work. Always changing. If I want the business I've got to keep up.

I don't know much about stock photography, but you know who's really winning at microstock: whoever came up with the 80%/20% business model. That'll rake in the dough everytime.

So, David, I love your site because it makes me practice photography. It makes me get out my lights and try stuff out. I have hopes to someday compete with some other photographers out there. Perhaps I'll have a 6-shot portfolio to get my business started; A headshot, some portraits in front of local landmarks, a cranky-looking scientist a bottle of water and...

August 14, 2006 2:28 AM  
Anonymous cocoy said...

what you said is a sad reality of professional photography. some people don't know their self worth.

anyway, the reason for my post here is because i like to ask permission to quote some of the things you've said for my school paper, we have the same thinking but you really drive home the point since you're a professional photographer, i'm a hobbyist.

i found your blog through an org where i belong, pinoyphotography.org, a forum of pinoy photographers. a member quoted your article.

hope you don't stop sharing. thanks.

cocoy

August 14, 2006 7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been trolling this site for some time and I love it. This post reminded me of an article about sharing knowledge by Ken Rockwell.

http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/share.htm

August 14, 2006 10:04 AM  
Blogger David said...

I don't have time to read all the comments, the post was really long also and I am trying to take breaks editing photos and reaqding it, so with my ADD and the length of the article I probably missed some stuff.

I am a full-time staff shooter. I don't have any ancome from anything else and since I've never done anything else probably couldn't make money any other way. I love my job. I don't shoot for a paper, I am in PR at an University. It's very much like a news job, although there is a lot more grip and grin and I get state employee benefits. Last time I looked at a news job the offer was around 10k less pay also. I know you do well in Baltimore, but Alabama is a low-income area.

All that said, 2 points I want to make are the fact that the web has changed our world, and we now have free information. If you were not doing this, someone else would. You in no means are "giving away" info, in fact you have gotten a bunch of people together electronically. The people using this blog are teachig each other, and I know you have to be learning by running it yourself.

If you know your photo history you know about the "Salons" created by Steichen and his crew back in the day. I see Strobist as a 21st-century form of that.

Also, I want ot say I love my job. I have great benefits and pay, and I know when my check is coming every month. If I was a freelancer I'd have a hell of a time managing myself as the right half of my brain works a lot better than the left and that's why I got into this in the first place.
I don't see the Strobist as a discredit or danger to our profession. But I see freelancers that way. The more of them we get, the less staff jobs will be around. It cost a lot to keep a guy on staff with taxes and insurance and retirement plans.
Sorry for long rant, but David you are doing everyone a great favor here. If you were to produce DVDs and sell them I would think that was great, but don't ever think you might be discrediting our profession with this blog. Like I said, your the 21st century Edward Steichen.

August 14, 2006 10:13 AM  
Blogger K Keller said...

Nice job of provoking thought and debate. I'm a huge believer in the power of free enterprise to steer money where it belongs. As the Internet matures, many industries have seen similar transitional periods during which some people find new opportunities and others fail to adjust to the new environment.

The low-cost stock houses may indeed be devaluing some images. On the other hand, they are bringing new customers to the stock photo industry -- customers who would never have paid for stock photos before because of the high prices.

On the other hand, major advertisers have a brand to build and maintain. You will not see General Motors, Dell, or Coca-Cola using images from iStockPhoto in their print ads.

Does this limit photographers' opportunity to make a decent living? Perhaps. However, photography has always been a tough business. I suggest that a marketplace in which the low-end photographers can develop their skills and sell their products is good for the collective gene pool. Think of the low-cost stock houses as the "minor leagues" of photography...The most talented and creative shooters will move up through the ranks to join the major leagues and make a decent living.

As for those who are giving away their services for free; they are getting exactly what they deserve, as are their clients.

August 14, 2006 10:40 AM  
Blogger Bodhi47 said...

David,
You yourself are getting into audio. Whether to do your own podcast or for your work at your newspaper's online site or a combination of both. 20 years ago you would have had to hire a studio to go and record your podcast, have a professional record and edit it and then put it in a format (most likely cassette at that time) for you to distribute it. That audio engineer had a significant investment in not only time, money, blood, sweat and tears to come up with a facility that met professional requirements, had professional gear, and who exhibited professional standards. Those niche studios no longer exist. A lot of my work at that time was doing band demos. Tapes that they took around to club owners to get work. I tended to charge what the market would bear. Everyone was happy and I had some additional income apart from doing sound for radio/tv/films (clients who could well afford going rates). The advent of the personal computer, cheap consoles, semi-pro mics put the gear in the bands hands and they no longer need to hire and engineer or studio to do that kind of work.

Now you come along with a free audio recording/editing program, a hundred dollar microphone to make a podcast that you will probably give away for free. How should I as an audio engineer view you? After all, you have taken a lucrative market away from me as well as lowered the bar as far as audio quality is concerned.
Point is this. There will always be people out there who have to save a buck and can only do it for cheap. When the tools come out that enable them to do that they will flock to it in numbers because that is the only way to do it. Whether it is DIY or cheap microstock. If a lot money gets spent that way then the ones who used to provide that service are charging to much for the mass market and rates will be adjusted. Another thing is that microstock may give someone just out the experience that they will need in the business to go higher up the advertising photography ladder. They will know what clients want and what sells. The fact is that the landscape changes as to the lower end of things, but the cream always rises to the top. The competition just got more fierce and it will be Darwinian in nature. The good shooters will have jobs. The mediocre or part time ones will supplement their income to some small degree, and the ones that can't adapt and hustle with the changes are left behind.

August 14, 2006 12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say... as a designer I see a lot of clients wanting to buy cheap photos for their ads but... what sometimes happens is two customers (businesses) will have the same images for their campaigns (I have seen this). Really confuses the public!
Your site is awesome! Please keep up the good work!

August 14, 2006 1:59 PM  
Blogger Klifton K said...

I certainly haven't read every comment here yet... But for the even photographers and "lifetime" photographers (baby, child, family, etc)... These come down to how well you can run a business... There's LOTS of shadetree mechanics out there, there's lots of auto body guys out there; but how many of them can successfully run a business? There's plenty of info out there for these guys too, but there are few that can stay in business for more than a few years.

In short, learning how to light is not going to get you bigger bucks or keep your lifestyle based on your income for photography. Knowing how to run a business (or keep a job) is much more important to me, than the photography itself. Of course, if you can run a business and provide photography that at least matches or excells those around you; you'll be busy regardless of how many of the latest whiz bang cameras show up at the next wedding... even if 80% of them did read Strobist (which is somewhat unlikely).

I don't see information hurting anything. And if you as a professional photographer (when I say you, I mean whoever is reading this) is uncomfortable with that, then it's time for you to either step up or step out... There will ALWAYS be someone to take your place, regardless of what or who is giving info out there...

This applies to most any industry I've been involved in... Photography isn't special in the least here... As has been mentioned before.

August 14, 2006 2:04 PM  
Anonymous Mark Sirota said...

David et al.,

It seems to me that if pros are worried about amateurs sucking away their business, what they need to do is educate the amateurs. If more people understood that the pro is delivering much more than just a photograph, maybe people wouldn't hire amateurs to do the work of a pro.

I am a serious hobbyist who has a deep technical understanding but only a tiny amount of talent for the art. By your categorization, I'm an amateur. I do sometimes give my shots away, usually as gifts.

However, I also have enough understanding of the photography industry to know what a real pro can do that I can't. I know that pros provide much more than just photographs; they provide a service.

When people ask me to shoot their event or their kids or whatever, I say no and strongly encourage them to hire a pro, because I know that what people are really asking for is a service, not a photograph.

August 14, 2006 2:23 PM  
Anonymous carlos benjamin said...

I think Mr. Tuck said what I was trying to say, but more eloquently and from the standpoint of someone who has weathered past storms.

What I've seen here since my initial comment is a lot of people taking David to task for buying at Wal-mart or doing the same thing he laments to other professions, pointing fingers and crying "hypocrite!"

I think the bulk of these come from people trying to defend their own practices (because they feel they're being attacked?) and/or folks who are afraid David might just walk away from what he's started here.

What those folks fail to appreciate is what I hear in David's article - someone struggling within themselves over things he feels strongly about that appear to be diametrically opposed. Any of us who've wrestled internally with our own dilemmas should be able to appreciate the effort to come out the other side with "the right answer". His was not an attempt to wash his hands of the Strobist blog or the community he created, but just as his friend presented him with information in a way he had not considered before, he is hoping that we can present varying points of view in ways he's not considered. The fact that he's trotting this internal struggle in a public arena is a good thing. Many folks fight their way through to a decision without seeking additional input and sorting the wheat from the chaff. A lot of those people end up making bad decisions. Here's yet another example where we can learn from David, but it doesn't deal with off-camera lighting so it might just slip by unnoticed (well, until I went and blabbed about it anyway....).

I understand that many of you were pointing things out in analogous ways, but I think for the most part we're all in this together and appreciate David's labors on our behalf. If he does walk away, I'll still be the richer for having been here. David owes me nothing. In fact the contrary is true. Any of us who have gleaned some new technique or considered gear we wouldn't have before coming here owe David our gratitude if nothing else.

Actually, the only disappointing thing I find at strobist is that the lad jumped back into the fray so quickly after acknowledging he needs to spend more time with his family. Go play before your kids are out of school, not just for summer, but for good.

What if David does walk away? Does the knowledge we've gained here go with him? No. I'll lament the fact that I won't be able to learn anything further from him, but I have been enriched by this tenuous cyber-relationship already.

Thanks, David. I hope our comments have given you the additional perspective you were looking for. I hope you decide to stay on, but if not I for one will respect both you and your decision.

August 14, 2006 3:52 PM  
Blogger ericrudd said...

Goodness....well, I don't have time right now to read through the 80+ posts right now, so forgive me if I repeat other folks comments.

I've worked as a professional in the recording/audio business for over 20 years...and the same thing is happening over here too. Since every joeschmoe can buy a ProTools rig, they are able to get some sound 'on tape' and some of it actually is quite good. Add to that the devaluation of music on the internet...and the parallels between sound and picture is complete.

I have worked with the best producers and record engineers in the business...and to a single individual, every one of them have always been forthcoming with help and guidance for me and my craft. There are no secrets. Besides, I can take the most diligent, thorough notes on how engineer 'A' got a particular drum sound...recreate it perfectly myself...with the SAME drummer in the SAME studio...and it will sound competely different. Same, I suppose with photography.

One other thought. With the tools today, everyone can have a good amount of success taking pictures...some of them quite acceptable. But you don't pay an airplane pilot his worth because he can fly a plane straight and level...you pay him his worth because when the shit hits the fan..you hope his depth of experience and raw talent will save your ass. The same with hiring a great photographer or audio engineer.

So Dave, please continue to share your expertise. We appreciate it. Oh, and if you want another parallel..the same thing happened to draftsmen when AutoCAD became available.

My 2 cents.

Eric

August 14, 2006 4:16 PM  
Anonymous Duncan Babbage said...

First time visitor, drawn in by the crossfire.

I am one of the microstock contributors you talk about. As an amateur photographer, I began in film, initially using commercial processing but also doing my time in the darkroom, processing my own negatives and prints, learning to understand light. I had not formal photographic education but read a fair bit to teach myself. I shot with an SLR until I went travelling and digital, and simply couldn't justify the DSLR prices at the time. I had a reasonable grasp on photography. Contributing to microstock has enormously lifted my game. At the microstock agency I contribute to—iStockphoto.com—each image is subjected to rigourous inspection and the standards are high. Microstock has both forced and enabled me to upgrade to a Canon 30D and related equipment.

Try to resist the cheap thrill of being paid (very little) for a photo. The true expense of that action is that you ultimately deprive someone who has devoted their life to shooting professionally much of a chance of financial survival.
The fact is the market entry restrictions are down. You can judge the quality of my work yourselves, and decide whether you think it is "Professional". In doing that, know that in the less than a year since I started contributing my own standards have risen even further. What should scare full time pros is the fact that, just perhaps, I have the artistic skill and technical knowledge to create an image that is as good as many of theirs, and I've just been hiding my talents in another industry. Previously, the primary barrier was putting me in contact with clients. I have another profession as well; I can't spend my time pursuing photography clients. Now, however, I have an agent who is putting my work in front of people; I don't need full-time momentum and focus, I could potentially do truly professional photography for as many or as few hours of my week as I choose. And I am learning what those clients want. So should someone who has "devoted their life to shooting professionally" worry about me? If they make their living off high-priced, mid-range quality stock imagery then absolutely—though I wasn't aware that they had exclusive rights to the process of selling images or that the world owed them a living off this.

I don't make 20c an image, either. In a short time and with a small portfolio, I am now making 25c to $1.25c per sale. That still won't sound like much to old school pros, but the numbers begin to add up. I don't plan to make a living off this, I'm not putting in that much time. But perfectly sober projections have my part-time professional photography paying my mortgage for me in a couple of years time, if I keep contributing at a steady rate.

Quite a few people here have said they would happily pay for what you write. Some want to buy a book or a DVD. Others would probably pay to view the blog itself. I guess if you did that you'd charage a small amount for each entry, knowing that with zero reproduction costs and low distribution costs the sheer volume of sales would be the way you would make a reasonable living. I guess you'd charge something like 20c, perhaps up to a $1 or $2 for longer entries... No doubt traditional photography book writers would be horrified at what you were doing to "their" industry. Boy, sounds really familiar...

August 14, 2006 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Duncan Babbage

Well said!

And, welcome to strobist (from a fellow iStock contributor).

August 14, 2006 4:48 PM  
Blogger osbornej76 said...

Wow.

I haven't formulated my position on this debate yet, but this thread is by far the most stimulating and well articulated photography related debate I have witnessed on the web.
Jim

August 14, 2006 6:31 PM  
Anonymous George Bailey said...

Also a first time visitor, and like Duncan Babbage, I am also a member of iStockphoto, and a group of other sites as well. I’ve been into photography for around 20 years. I've done it professionally starting my career shooting for catalogs in the 1980s. My biggest problem was getting sales, as marketing is hard for me. With the advent of the Microstocks I got back into making money with my work again.

As learned from a graphic designer, for years it was hard for some designers to buy stock. It’s difficult to pass the $300 charge for a stock photo on to a small business client. So for a while, a lot of designers picked up a camera and learned to use it and shoot their own photos. The advent of Microstocks has been a boon for them.

When wedding photographers start charging a buck a print I'll know somebody's getting slammed. But I don't see that happening very soon, if ever. Maybe traditional stock photographers are being hurt but I take it that you aren’t supposed to base your sole income on stock sales. Nature photographer Art Wolfe, for example, sells stock, but diversifies his income by selling books, art prints, doing magazine assignments, and so on. Not a bad business model to follow.

August 14, 2006 9:07 PM  
Blogger Bodhi47 said...

I feel the need to clarify my post. I'm not trying to defend myself for doing anything. Nor am I trying to villify David. I am greatly appreciative of the tips and learning that he has been willing to share for free. I've just heard this argument one too many times. First time I heard it was when film editors were being forced over to video. Markets change. If you as a photographer cannot convince a client that working with you would be better than microstock, then you need to work on your sales skills. I saw the audio engineering field go the same way. There are still guys out there who manage to make a living off of audio. Maybe not as many as before, but the ones who adapt, add services or ease to the client experience will continue to work. the bar just got raised and a lot of people who have been coasting in the photography industry are being faced with a new level of competition. If I as a client want to get uncle elmo to shoot my wedding for me then I get what I deserve. If the only thing I can afford is uncle elmo, then there is a bunch of people who have outpriced the market. Once again, the business of photography is not about skill as a photographer. it's about skill as a business person. It just gets harder. And some folks want to just do the same old poses with the same old light because they have worked long and hard to get to that position. Evolve or be left behind. That's a tough thing to say to folks, but if this really is your business, then start thinking of ways to capitalize on your skills and experience, not bemoan the fact that the market is changing. Because the only thing in life that is certain is change.

August 14, 2006 10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that the fruits of our current digital wizardry, as well as making such things as exposure, focus, etc. easier for the “everyman,” offer the serious practitioner valuable tools by which the photographic arts can move forward into new areas of expression, just as the advent of silver halide films and papers moved the art forward from the days of the daguerreotype. Such things as talent, sensitivity, and the ability to anticipate the exact moment to click the shutter cannot be replaced by technology, and those who possess such attributes will move to the “next level” of the art much more quickly than the “everyman” will be able to fill the vacuum.

It is certainly possible that, sometime in the future, we'll read an interview by some "genius" photographer who was inspired during his "formative years" by your gift here. No matter how much you stir the milk, the cream still rises to the top.

August 14, 2006 10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think one factor that hasn't come out in the posts above is that the current state of photography as a craft--i.e. the number of pros, the number of amateurs and semi-pros, and the amount spent by clients for various types of photos and in various scenarios--can only occur within that state of events. I think that there are three major factors at play:
* the availability of quick feedback from digital cameras that are capable of producing professional-quality output (in this case, I'll define that as "suitable for magazine advertising use")
* the availability of experienced photographers, both professional and otherwise, who care enough about photography that they're willing to share their knowledge online
* online photo sites where serious photographers are willing to critique others' work


The combination of these three factors--particularly the latter two--make the learning curve a quick climb for anyone with some talent and a willingness to invest a reasonable amount of effort.

My personal theory is that the second factor--experienced photographers who will spend some of their time sharing insight and critiques, and in doing so lift the bar in general--is likely to be most impacted by the changes in the market (I doubt the other two factors I've cited are going away). I don't think this is going to happen because all of the pros are going to get together and agree not to share insight with semi-pro photographers, but I think that the economic trends in photography are likely to reduce the number of professional photographers overall. In turn, that may very well reduce the number of professional photographers who are willing (and able) to share their insight with the world, and it will reduce the number of professional photographers who are going out on a daily (or weekly) basis and pushing into new territory (and developing new knowledge). In that process, the learning curve might change again, or it may just make those clients who benefit from top-quality photography appreciate it more.

Then again, I'm just a serious photographer who falls somewhere between amateur and pro (I'm an amateur by the Strobist definition of making, attempting to make, or planning to make a living from photography, but I do a small amount of event-photo-type sales and try to approach my "side business" in a manner that doesn't decrease the odds that it could become my profession if other factors made that more attractive), and my guesses as to future business trends are probably worth what you paid for them.

August 14, 2006 11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just ran into this recently; getting outbid by a job by some guy's cousin's wife's P&S. :(

Sigh.

But hey, you know what? I fully expect the designer to say, "Guys, the image quality is not going to print well. Where is the lighting? It's too flat; I'll make it work, but you should've hired that photographer…" There are allies everywhere. The pros are but a chain on a long link; find them, and they will help you, as your interests are intertwined with theirs.

August 15, 2006 2:55 AM  
Blogger Geoff said...

"Not everyone is an artist, even though they all learned from the same painter."

This is a great way to put what I have been saying to all who ask how I am affected by the rise in digital camera sales.

"Just because a person has all of Adorama in their basement doesn't mean that they can "git 'er done" for a client."

The big difference between a pro and an enthusiast is not their equipment nor access to clientelle, but how well they can perform their art and market themselves.
A wedding will be overflowing with digital cameras. But you can bet there will still be a professional shooter present. The poor couple who think they can get away with collecting photos from their friends and family regrets it later.

As for the micro-sales, it is a question of volume that will make up the difference in price. This is something that long-timers have a hard time accepting, but it is true and it IS happening. The ad/design industry can now have what they want and photographers can still make money doing it. But you will have to make adjustments. The first adjustment will have to be your attitude.
I have sold 2 images on a "pro" stock site and during that same time frame I have made literally 10 times more selling through a micro-sales site. Different images, but same quality.

I don't get clients who want a portrait of themselves going out and finding it on a stock photo website. They still have to hire me properly.
And weddings will still want professional photos.
Clients, at least the wise ones, know that you still get what you pay for in this kind of hired work. I don't charge based on the equipment I have, nor the hours I work, but on the experience and professionalism I give.
That is what a client expects when they pay my fees.

And those regular buyers I have on the micro-stock site continue to expect my consistant quality. And purchase regularly.
These are still professional agencies that buy my photos and most act like professionals. So I expect them to purchase an image again when it is for a new project, esp. when it is only $1-40 each. I expect them to abide by the license agreement set forth.

August 15, 2006 4:18 AM  
Blogger the blind spot said...

Dave,

The tone of your post made it sound as if you'd gone to the doctor to get a flu shot and when you got home you not only felt bad from the serum but you also found out that the needle had broken off in your arse. After getting about 3/4s of the way through the 90+ posts several things occurred to me. Having been involved professionally in photography for over 20 years I've seen a lot of things but, in the past 5 years, I don't think anyone has seen the changes that have come down the pike like we've seen with the development of digital and Internet technologies.

Today, with the proliferation of these digital technologies, more than ever its all about "the numbers". Bits, bytes, megapixels - you name it, it's about numbers. In the past year I've had the opportunity to review hundreds if not thousands of websites from professional photographers, to photoblogs, to Flickr and the like, and it makes me wonder, what's really devaluing photography? Is it someone charging too little or is it the proliferation of all these so-called photographers?

As for the comment that "a photographer should charge what its worth", isn't it based on perceived value by the potential client and what said photographer is worth? Who's going to hire a 20 year old kid with a digital camera and an attitude to shoot their multi-thousand dollar car campaign? Unless the world has gone off it's axis, nobody with half a brain and the desire to succeed that's for sure. If someone starts pointing their finger at some "thing" out there that's stealing/devaluing their business it would seem that its time to take a long hard look in the mirror at the real problem. As Walt Kelly said,"We have seen the enemy and they are us..."

The bottom line is this: You're doing what you do best which is to deliver photographs needed to tell a story by a newspaper that's willing to compensate you at a rate agreeable to both parties. At the same time you are finding a way to fill a void by conveying information to a growing number of subscribers - don't kill the golden goose. How long are you into this blog? 6 months? Maybe you need to get some affiliates who can see the bigger picture and are willing to invest in you. Afterall, it all comes down to you. Your personality. Your charisma. Your skills. Your experiences. Your ability to impart information and knowledge.

All the rest of it will come out in the wash.

--
h.linton

August 15, 2006 9:05 AM  
Blogger Dave New said...

Duncan Babbage said (in part): "though I wasn't aware that they had exclusive rights to the process of selling images or that the world owed them a living off this."

Thank you, Duncan. I read through all 90+ comments, and this is the only one that really hit the crux of the matter.

To the ones that whine that 'their' market is being ruined: There is NO natural law that guarantees you a market, nor your exclusive right to one that may exist. Aside from restrictive trade and licensing organizations, and various types of government meddling, the world operates as a free market. It's only when various powerful special interest entities get involved that we see things get out of whack. Unfortunately, we have many such examples of this in our society, mostly detrimental to free market forces.

As a professional photographer, it is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS what the next person charges, nor what he tells his clients. It is NOT up to you to 'educate' the ignorant masses, so that you may preserve your favored position in the market.

There are way too many people in the world that don't know the phrase, MYOB (Mind Your Own Business). If you weren't so occupied with everyone else's, perhaps yours would be better.

No matter how hard you try, you won't be able to reverse the changes that are taking place. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Or in other words, "Get over it."

August 15, 2006 12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a professional photographer, it is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS what the next person charges, nor what he tells his clients. It is NOT up to you to 'educate' the ignorant masses, so that you may preserve your favored position in the market.

Although you're right about no one being guaranteed a business model, you're completely wrong here. Both issues you identify--the rates of your competition and how the general public perceives the value of your product--are critical issues to any business, whether it be photography or quick-service restaurants. As a business owner, you need to understand your own cost of doing business as well as your revenue potential; if the second is not greater than the first, you're going to have problems. Revenue potential is affected by a lot of factors, but prevailing market conditions and the perceived value of your product (by potential buyers) are important factors. If potential buyers perceive your product to provide a similar value to the next guy's, you're going to be hard-pressed to charge more than he does; however, if the initial perception of your product is that it provides a significantly greater value, you may actually loose sales by not pricing it higher than the competition (because that price will affect perception of value and make people question their initial feeling that you offered a more valuable product).

With regards to convincing other photographers that they should charge more, that may still be a reasonable thing to do. Some photographers--such as the well-paid microstock photographer discussed earlier in the comments--may have a business model where selling more for less actually works. However, a lot of photographers who are selling for less may not be selling enough more to actually cover their ongoing costs and overhead, and thus they're effectively (albeit unknowingly) dumping their product below market value and deflating the market beyond the ideal free market forces. Educating them is important to the extent that
a) they should understand why their actions will impact the market overall and possibly have detrimental effects on their own future earnings
b) they need to realize that they are loosing money, or their decisions won't make sense in a free market theory
c) hobbyist photographers do benefit from the presence of pro photographers (by way of information availability, professional organizations that deal with issues like photography as a first amendment right, equipment availability, et al), and some of these benefits are going to decrease if market pressures eliminate a significant portion of working pros

Hobbyist photographers threaten the market in certain areas where time-sensitivity and value are not crucial in large part because they don't need to cover their costs (including health insurance, days off, or maybe even equipment capital) to participate in the market.

August 15, 2006 2:39 PM  
Blogger f1mark said...

Kudos, David, for telling it like it is. Short of a sudden outbreak of common sense, though, it seems like there will be people who see absolutely no problem with letting someone use an image in any way they want, forever, in exchange for 20 cents. The iStock forums are full of people patting each other on their backs for doing just this and of course the people who run such agencies are more than happy to rake in their 80%.

August 15, 2006 3:28 PM  
Anonymous Lindsay Beyerstein said...

I think a lot of new photographers underprice their work because they don't know the market.

Perhaps some public-spirited photoblogger is already doing a "Pricing Bootcamp" to help newbies set fair prices for their work. I hope so.

I don't think the dissemination of knowledge can hurt the profession in the long run. It's not like Strobist is handing out magic "pro-pills" that instantly impart the secrets of off-camera lighting. David's giving away a rigorous program, not a quick fix. Only those who value their craft will work hard enough to improve substantially based on his advice.

August 15, 2006 4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spreading knowledge is a good thing. Reading strobist has been a great education but we still have to remember that the internet is still full of crap. There are lots of shooters (or any other line of hobbiests) repeating myths, misconceptions and mistakes in forums, blogs, personal pages etc.

So anyone willing to learn will have a chance, strobist is not "paint by numbers". Effort is required, and in the end, many just won't "get it".

What is happening, is that the pro tools and the knowledge are available to the public now. Wait till DSLR's get down to the P&S price level for a further shakedown. In other words, the shift has happened, just like it did in many other industries.

What will also happen, is that people who jumped on the bandwagon, will get bored/poor/frustrated and giveup once the thrill/fad is over.

As for "photography's middle class", I think that's already gone, mostly replaced by "photography workers", hobbiests, side business etc. And then there are the "hero's" and "superstars". Those who can make a comfortable living by photography alone are already a minority.

August 15, 2006 5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well... they must be doing something right... :)

I just saw this posting on their front page blog:

"iStockphoto’s collection now stands at an incredible 1 Million files.."

August 15, 2006 11:31 PM  
Blogger MagikTrik said...

Sometimes when I get really bored I like to poke things with a stick....oh ya, and I really like those S'mores candy bars too...

August 16, 2006 1:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the proviking thoughts and questions, David. And of course, above all thanks for your passion and teaching skills and valuable time.

I read most of the comments, but there are so many I may have missed some!

What you describe for photography happens in every sector. It's the democratization of a tool/technique which was previously only available to professionals. Think of desktop publishing, woodwork (mentioned previously), radio vs podcasting, cinema and indie movies shot with DV cams, ... It's a natural and logical process which can't be stopped. Those who can't adapt are left behind, but it doesn't mean at all you're destroying your sector of activity.

To me, being young is not about the years, it's about staying curious and open-minded. The dinosaurs who can't adapt die, but passionate pro photographers will still have their place.

Just look around you at a touristic spot: digicams everywhere, and DSLR more and more.

It doesn't mean the pictures are better than before, just that more shots are taken and shared, which makes photography more popular. They can see the difference between a pro and amateur shoot, especially if they decide to learn a bit more about photography.

I'm a total amateur for photo and shoot for pleasure.

I build websites professionally, and in the sector it can be confusing for clients to choose between a freelancer, a small studio, a large studio or even their neighbour's cousin who can build a blinking website full of flash and animated GIFS for, like 20$ and a beer or something. It took a while for clients to understand that despite being virtual, a website costs money.

The way to survive is to adapt and show the difference (in my case: defining a good online strategy, selecting the right technologies, staying informed of new developments, using technology as a means, not an end, ...). All this takes a lot of time and passion, and the difference shows.

Over time, my rates have actually gone up, not down. Because clients went the cheap way before and now realise their website doesn't meet their objectives, they are ready to pay more and expect more.

Also, the whole business side of the work is crucial: meetng deadlines, getting contacts, ethics (i.e. not stealing projects from others), ...

Pro means reliability and performance, so once a client has failed a few time with cheap/amateur/one-shot guys, he will most certainly look for a pro or a larger structure than his neighbour's cousin who's sick today and never picks up the phone ;)

Keep up the good work, and don't worry so much about the dinosaurs saying you're killing them.

August 16, 2006 4:55 AM  
Blogger Dave New said...

Some folks may have miscontrued what I said. Certainly anyone in business needs to understand where they are in the great scheme of things, or their business will die. That is just common business sense (admittedly not always practiced widely). There is also nothing wrong with offering advice to those that ask for it.

On the other hand, I detest the notion that there needs to be some sort of moral crusade to teach those that are running their business into the ground how wrong they are and how they are damaging 'your' market.

Once again, you don't own a market. It is not yours to defend. You may participate in it, but you certainly don't own it (unless you are a monopoly, and then you are required by law to play by different rules).

Markets will change, and the forces that change them are out of your hands to do anything about.

Adapt, and quit spending so much time trying to stem the tide. If you look that up in your business sense, you will see that that should be in your playbook, as well.

August 16, 2006 10:05 AM  
Anonymous chad said...

I know this is going to get lost in the masses of responses here but I still want to share my opinion.

This seems to be an issue that just about every creative service that benifited from the digital revolution is now being faced with. I'm young, but have been working in the television/video production business for close to 10 years now. As an editor I first learned to edit on linear systems that cost who knows how much. I was fortunate to have access to this equipment. Around the same time there were real steps being made in the world of digital non linear edit systems on computers. I got in on learning that technique early. So I took my knowledge of the linear world and put it towards the non linear world. It made life easier for editors. And the systmes still cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Fast forward 5 years and you've got affordable, powerful non linear systems that cost under $10, another two years and you can get a complete editing set up of computer and software based editing programs for around $2k. Now when I look for work people want to pay under $30 an hour. I'm going to a job interview tomorrow for a company that I spoke with once before when they were starting up. They wanted to pay under $25k/yr for an editor. Now that they have become more established I'm hoping they have raised that level. It hurts the industry for me to take a job that pays $10/hr. I'm part of that industry so it hurts me too. Would I turn down this job that pays more over say a retail job that pays less? Absolutly. Why? Because if I'm working retail for say $8.50/hr I feel like I am getting paid for what I am worth. I wouldnt expect to get paid much more than that. I didnt go to school to work in retail. I havent put in 8 years of hard work to get to where I am today in the retail world. But I have done those things for the television industry, and I refuse to give in.

Just take a look at craigslist.org and you'll see what is going on. Its happening in graphic design, video production, and photography. It makes me sick.

August 16, 2006 7:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a amateur who has turned pro this year, I hear what you are saying, stock photography is over, but thank god sharing isn't, I will continue to share what I have learned with my compedition. I've meet a lot of pro's who do share anything, you all ways
get an up tight feeling from them, like I'm stealing there brain which I don't like. These up tight pro remind of the native people who think that if they let you photo graft them they will loose there soul to the camera, and you are stealing there soul.
Things in photography are changing and its scary for some, film folks who can't except the digital age, but winners will those who come up with a new business model. I hope I've added some food for thought.
Thanks for a great site and sharing your info.
Lou Dallara
http://www.louisdallara.com

August 17, 2006 7:51 PM  
Blogger Neil Cowley said...

My kids gave me this same realization, that if I'm giving it away - I'm wasting THEIR time, and jepardizing THEIR future (as I'm responsible to provide for it). Its also tragic seeing so many photographers here in Rochester NY loose thier businesses through this period because the market demands have changed so much.

August 18, 2006 8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Wisdom Of Sharing
Stone Soup

There are many variations on the story of stone soup, but they all involve a traveler coming into a town beset by famine. The inhabitants try to discourage the traveler from staying, fearing he wants them to give him food. They tell him in no uncertain terms that there's no food anywhere to be found. The traveler explains that he doesn't need any food and that, in fact, he was planning to make a soup to share with all of them. The villagers watch suspiciously as he builds a fire and fills a cauldron with water. With great ceremony, he pulls a stone from a bag, dropping the stone into the pot of water. He sniffs the brew extravagantly and exclaims how delicious stone soup is. As the villagers begin to show interest, he mentions how good the soup would be with just a little cabbage in it. A villager brings out a cabbage to share. This episode repeats itself until the soup has cabbage, carrots, onions, and beets-indeed, a substantial soup that feeds everyone in the village.
This story addresses the human tendency to hoard in times of deprivation. When resources are scarce, we pull back and put all of our energy into self-preservation. We isolate ourselves and shut out others. As the story of stone soup reveals, in doing so, we often deprive ourselves and everyone else of a feast. This metaphor plays out beyond the realm of food. We hoard ideas, love, and energy, thinking we will be richer if we keep to them to ourselves, when in truth we make the world, and ourselves, poorer whenever we greedily stockpile our reserves. The traveler was able to see that the villagers were holding back, and he had the genius to draw them out and inspire them to give, thus creating a spread that none of them could have created alone.

Are you like one of the villagers, holding back? If you come forward and share your gifts, you will inspire others to do the same. The reward is a banquet that can nourish many.

August 18, 2006 12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very suprised to hear that stock is as an industry is dead? That's funny beacause at the present iStockphoto is my main source of income, and withing the next two months will be my only source of income with around 400 images in my portfolio, and will (fingers crossed) continue to grow with me as I hone my skills and create more and better images.

Do I feel bad about this? Umm....no. Should anyone making a comfortable living doing what they love, have to feel guilty because some people can't learn to adapt to a changing market? Last time I checked, anyone in any industry on the planet, especially those that are linked to the digital world, need to keep up with market changes and technological advances, or you get left behind. Period.

Microstock is not some annoying fly you can brush away.

When a company as well established and respected as Getty Images plunks down 50 million dollars to snap up the industry leader, you have to know that educating a few newbies to the industry isn't going to change the fact that there are literally tens of thousands of photographers contributing to this developing segment of the industry.

Someone a few posts up said it best. Lead, follow or get out of the way. Unfortunatley anyone who spends too much time standing around and lecturing the people moving forward, will by default be shoved out of the way.

By the way, it isn't at all unusual for me to make several hundered dollars per image on iStock! If you can't get past that 20 cent figure, that's fine with me, less competition! :)

August 21, 2006 1:34 AM  
Anonymous Gary Cosby Jr. said...

David,
I am in the same newspaper boat as you; although, my boat is more of a canoe next to the luxury liner that is the Baltimore Sun. Having said that, I would gladly pay for the information on your site. I have been shooting flash with extraordiary mediocrity for years to the point that I have rather avoid it than use it. Three years ago I determined to get good with flash so I started hauling around a two light monolight style kit to all kinds of assignments. I got much better with light and also got way more tension in the back and shoulders. This year, even before seeing Strobist for the first time, I determined that small strobes were the way to go. Your site has really helped in that quest. I am also a member of sportsshooter.com and they charge $25 per year and it is some of the best money I have spent. You should consider something along those lines. I think it would help your pocket book and your wife's tolerance of your extra work (nice dinners out and new clothes are real tolerance generators). Anyway, it is just a suggestion but I believe one worth thinking over.
Coz

September 25, 2006 8:42 PM  
Blogger Elephant said...

Many pro photographers will struggle because many pro photographers are not very good.

Take weddings. It used to be the case that every small town had at least one wedding photographer, churning out the same old group shots and shooting glasses of champagne. Boring, boring, boring.

Now most people are sensible enough to realise that they should have a pro rather than relying on their friends. But guess what? When the photos come back, the pros turn out to be no better at any given shot than John with the little Casio point-and-shoot. Sure, you get reliability and hard work. But it's become fairly poor value.

Alternatively, you can go and look for a photographer whose work makes you say "Wow". That's what I did. It was shocking - literally shocking - how few of those we researched could even be bothered to put some decent images on their website. So ... we paid a little more for someone who travelled 4 hours each way to be there.

This was the man who got me into photography. I may not have known a 1Dmk2 from a lens cap, but like most clients, I am not stupid. The quality of work spoke for itself. He is fully booked for next summer. Why wouldn't he be?

A day of school portraits against the standard grey background just won't cut it any more. Good.

It will take a while to shake the mediocrities out of the business, and in the meantime, I'm afraid that means that the "middle classes" will suffer for a while. Those who can differentiate themselves on quality will do well - eventually.

IMHO, information of the quality of Dave's wonderful blog will help that process, and be good for the industry in the longer run.

Course, that may just be my own selfishness talking.

September 26, 2006 11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is rather an interesting discussion, and certainly not unique to photography. Everything changes and that is just the way it is.

I am an Avid Amateur who has gained a lot of valuable info from your posts, and will make a comparision.

When it comes time to make prints of your pictures you have an ever-increasing choice. You can go out and purchase a sub $200 printer and print your 6x4's yourself. You could go and get a sub $1k printer and get better prints.

Or you could head down to the local photo lab and get them to do the prints for you even cheaper than you could do it at home yourself. While not quite as convenient as printing them yourself, you would hope for even better quality.

These photo-labs have gone from 100% developing from film 10 years ago to having film make up probably only 5-10% of their work.

Then of course there is the Pro Photo Labs. These are the guys who charge a premium and produce the best print possible.

Personally, I only ever print about 0.2% of my photos - or a couple of prints for every thousand I shoot. I don't bother doing it at home, and don't trust it to the local photo lab. If an image is good enough to print, I take it straight to the Pro lab. Now, years ago, when I was shooting film, I would never have thought of doing such a thing - the cost of even getting a film developed was such that I might not shoot more than a few dozen rolls a year.

So, think about this in terms of an evolving market, and evolving opportunities. The talented will always be in demand, the mediocre with good business skills will always get by, there will always be someone with bigger, better faster toys than you have, there will always be an uncle with a good camera to get some pictures of an event. But, there will be new opportunites and avenues to explore and the true professional will never stop learning and re-learning their craft in order to stay on top of it.

I am an IT professional, and in a measly 10 years, I have had to lear and re-learn new technologies on an almost yearly basis. I see no difference with the professional in any competitive field.

September 26, 2006 9:50 PM  
Blogger Rod MacPherson said...

After having read your comments and that of over half the commenters above , my $0.02 is this:

It's not the true wannabes you want to worry about it's the people who ARE making tonnes of money at microstock who really ought to be gently pushed toward saner stock agencies that take a smaller cut of the pie and price the images more appropriately.

There is a market for $1 images of things that WEb designers and such are too busy/lazy to take a picture of themselves, but there is also and always will be, a market for higher priced, better quality images by more professional photogs.

Also the areas where pros have traditionally dominated (one off jobs for press, ads big business etc.) will always be there because businesses and news papers realize that stock just doesn't work for them, it doesn't fit their needs.

No camera set on auto everything (which is what most people never learn to move past) will compete with someone who takes the time to learn about aperatures and shutter speeds, no built in flash compares to an add-on flash, and as we here all know, no on cammera flash compares to multiple well placed off camer flashes. ...and it's the well placed, not the quantity that matters, and no machine can figure that out for you.

Photography is an art, and no matter how good the tools get or how widespread they are, there will only ever be a certain percentage of the population that has the artistry to use them well.

As for Digital being the key ingredient to the eventual downfall... that's silly. I know far more people who own traditional SLRs than digital SLRs, they owned them for many years and never learned to use them, the SLRs end up in closets and people pick up the pocket automatic instead. Only the dedicated bother with the SLR, and they do it because the Pocket Auto doesn't allw the freedom the SLR does. That hasn't and won't change.

Does a Digital SLR encourage an already dedicated photog to study more and take more pictures? sure it does, but that's ok because that is the person who is going to be the next generation pro.

I encourage people to try the stock photography thing while learning and when you are good enough move to a better paying more sensible agency or start selling on your own. Let the bloggers have $1 stock photos they can afford to buy and help finance your education as a photographer, but leave the thieving bastards when you know your skill can earn you more elsewhere.

September 27, 2006 2:04 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

To answer Monty in Australia's question...
I am one of those hobby-photographers who sell stock online and I wouldn't continue doing it if I didn't make money. I have been building up my microstock portfolio as a hobby now for about 4 months and have gone from making $8 - $20 - $90 - $370 to an estimated $500 this month. And all I have is about 300 photos online. Now I consider myself a fairly average photographer and hopefully are getting better every week. But I'm convinced that really good photographers could easily make at least 10 or 20 times what I'm making, and that's only off micro stock photo sales. I have have not networked much on the web sites, but I have met one friend there that is now doing microstock photography full-time. I believe he's making around $60-70k US a year, and he's only been doing this for 2 years.

On a side note, Getty did recently buy one of the larger micro stock photo agencies and added that the micro stock industry has not hurt their sales at all. There seems to be simply a much larger group of customers that can now afford mediocre stock, in addition to the larger clients who still purchase the really good photos. That's my 2 cents at least. Thanks for the article, it has opened my eyes to more effects from the changes in the industry.

Also, I'm not sure why some are so bent out of shape about whether they make $500 from a photo selling 500 times or selling it once. If they're still able to make the same amount of money (and I think they are), what difference does it make? I suppose it's mainly a pride issue for some unable to come to grips with someone purchasing their work for a dollar. Every industry makes huge shifts at some point, and people just have to adjust. If they don't, well that's there choice.

October 09, 2006 10:58 AM  
Anonymous Gareth Dix said...

I suppose i could fall into that category of a non-pro wanting to be a pro at some point... but then i've already realised the problems associated with all the "new breed" of photographers... just like the "new breed" of so called music artists...

basically for me though it's a completely different situation... i know that i am not a pro and that i have a lot of work before i even consider taking on a pro assignment. I have been approached already by various people to do paid (but not much) for photoshoots... and to get out of it, I charge them a stupidly high rate that they won't pay. it's worked so far but i think at some point there will be that company that will say yes... then what do i do?

for the moment i'm creating my photographs on the basis that it's something i love doing... not because I want to make money from it. I've been there before with my graphic design and various other art forms where the lure of money has actually spoiled it for me.

I really believe everything you've said here is true. I see a lot of people with pro camera's and lenses when i'm walking around with a 350d... but then just watching what they're doing i see that they don't have a clue what they're doing. I learned my skills on a pentax mx, and i strongly believe that people that learn on manual camera's end up with a better skill. I for one have never used any of the automatic modes on my digital slr... i don't even understand why they are there...

October 12, 2006 4:25 AM  
Anonymous John said...

About the part of 'giving away' information on your blog, I don't think it'll increase competition. Technical skills are important, but should be are still secondary to the idea. I read some where that when Walker Evans was asked about what kind of cameras he used, he pointed to his head, saying that's where the pictures are made. If you don't have a vision of what the photograph should be like, then all the equipment in the world won't help.

October 13, 2006 11:02 AM  
Anonymous David said...

I've only just discovered your site. I'm a photographic tutor working for one of the major camera manufacturers you mentioned in your comments. So I do actually stand in front of dozens of amateurs(and want to be pros')on daily basis trying to teach them how to use their cameras successfuly. I get to see first-hand people trying to follow their dream. many many people will try and fail.
Yes, some will make it they have what used to be called 'an eye' they can visualise something and set it into a picture, they may not have the technical skills they rely on technology for that but they have the drive to learn and absorb information that will make them better photographers.
Which is why what you are doing here is so important.
I fully agree with your comments and thought processes. However there is one thing I think you didn't consider. The vast majority of wanna be's simply don't have that drive. Without enough drive and with no technical merits their pictures will not go far. Sure some will sell via cheap library sites but not in realistic numbers to ensure a living.
Eventually their dreams will fade and they will find alternate employment.
Interesting fact: In the UK where I am based there are usually at any time 40 full time photographic students for every single photographic position. Including assisting or admin type jobs. Many will be luckiy to get a job priniting holiday snaps in a high street D&P lab. So even those trying for the long game will struggle.
On the other side of the fence.
Those looking to buy photography especially for business purposes might settle for one or two sub standard images. But if they do thia poor quality will not ultimately help their business.
Take heart in Darwinism. The fittest and best will survive.
Yes it's going to be a rocky road working photographers will always have to improve their game. Anyone wanting to break into the profession will need more than enough money for the latest kit and a little luck.
I don't think the sky is falling, nor should we ignore the changes that are a coming. From what I've just gleamed from my brief visit to your site this is exactly the sort of thing that's needed. For working pro's to share and learn for wanna be's to emulate and in so doing improve their work and for amateurs to see and be inspired.

October 14, 2006 5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Things don't cost what they are worth, but what people are willing to pay for it.

Maybe it's just my perception but I see more analyisis and debate about the 'supply' side - and not much about the demand side.

October 16, 2006 5:05 PM  
Anonymous lane said...

If I undercut a market by selling something for less than it is worth, I can destroy a market.

It is called dumping.

October 16, 2006 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I am a designer, Illustrator and Photographer. At this point in time all of my photography work are for my own design jobs, I just chose to do shoots myself rather than commission another photographer to do it, unless I am stretched for time.

This general problem has popped up in the design industry a long time ago. Dreamweaver worried web designers as anyone could whip up a website without knowing html coding. Other programs meant that a company's secretary could 'design' a brochure using photoshop. However, although still an issue, and something that has cirtainly taken away some of those easier design jobs from the professionals, it is not really that big of an issue. Why you might ask?

Simple - although a secretary can 'make' a brochure, they can't often 'design' one. The careful eye of a good typographer, who carefully places type, watching the kerning and leading, using visual hierarchy to lead the eye in a manner that best puts the desired message accross cannot be matched by an amateur with a good Mac. Although to the everyday person the difference may not be spotted, to another professional they difference is incredible. Therefore the real design jobs are going to properly trained, dedicated professionals and not guys who invested in gear and started working. It has just meant that as a designer I have had to lift my game and provide a service worth paying for, worth seeking out for.

This applies to photography as well. Companies know that RF stock photos are a risk, as competitors may use the same one. This may not have been so in the past, but nowadays the industries that revolve themselves around images are becoming a lot more savvy to the problems of RF cheap stock photos and I feel that this problem will become less of an issue and people will reveret back to getting original unique photos rather than rely on stock photos. As the RF sites produce more and more cheap and nasty photos, the less people will want to use them. Not all photos on RF sites are bad though. I have seen some incredibly good shots and when I ask why that photographer has given them away so cheaply, I discover they are making around $300 a month off that one photo.

When I started photography, I used an old canon (film of course) and to get a good exposure required skill and patience. Now with my DSLR (which I am absolutely in LOVE with) I can shoot 2GB worth of photos in 5 minutes (theoretically haha, I have never actually done that) and then photoshop it to perfection, like everyone else. To me, the new technology available has made getting that good exposure very easy, forcing photography to change to something more artistic and purposeful. The worst thing about stock photos are that they have no brief. They are generic and therefore are used for generic things. Real professional photography is about working to a brief, shooting images that really say something, and most importantly having your message before taking the shot. My photography teacher did a lot of shooting in India. He would have a specific theme for shoot and then use photography to creatively capture that theme with his incredible shots. The same goes for advertising and fashion shoots - there is a message that needs to be conveyed. This is where real photography work lays. Good photographers can make decent money from stock sites, and if they can they should - who am I to say how they earn their money? Really, Stock site have broadened the photography industry, and photographers have more compitition from amateur photographers. In the end though, they are amateurs and their photos will show that, and if they're photos don't show that, then are they amateurs? The issue of selling photos cheaply is an issue, but I find someone who is only prepared to pay a few dollars for a photo would otherwise just not bother, or do it themselves, therefore the RF sites may not be taking away business from pro's, instead just allowing semi-pros to give it a go. Real photography commissions still go to pro's. For the pro's making their living off stock photography, I understand the problem, and I guess where there used to be a good career option, there may no longer be one and a change of practice may be in order. Technology will keep getting better, and intead of already good photog's saying, "wow its much easier for me to get paid now" and being agry at non-pros who can say the same thing, they must progress with technology, push the boundaries of their craft and provide womething more than operating a camera.

Although, who is to say that someone who can make a lovely image in photoshop (from a bad shot) deserves less value attached to his work than someone who uses an old film camera and patiently gets the perfect shot in one go. Its just a different method.

In the end, have stock photo sites realy allowed amateurs to ruin the industry, or has it allowed more people to become pro-photographers - it is quite a desirable profession after all.

Personally I plan to use RF stock sites in the future. I plan to shoot generic objects that someone might just want for a few dollars. I can have a relaxing afternoon of shooting and then make a couple dollars off a photo that I could not sell anywhere else. Anyone could probably go for a walk and get the same shots so I don't see any harm in providing relatively worthless photos. But for a designer meeting a deadline who needs a generic photo of a drain pipe and can spare a dollar, they don't have to bother taking that walk down the street and I can buy another cup of coffee to get me through a days work of real jobs. Like I said though, my real photography work is in-house though, so I have a more relaxed approach. I see it as a hobby and something that fills a niche market within many industries. Times are changing, photography is definately changing,and we must also change and accept what that change brings.

Also, remember what the fine portraiture artists thought when the first camera was commercially available. This general issue is not a new one, and it will continue to be an issue as time rolls on.

As for this site, it will help photography as a whole move forward. Why stump its progress by selfishly allowing learning photograhers to make the same mistakes as we did. We want them to know our mistakes, and then make new ones, so that photography can keep moving forward. Once that happens, everyone will benefit, maybe just in different ways.

October 28, 2006 5:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you love photography and want to share your photos with the world, that's great. There are plenty of free photo sharing sites. Showing photos, like sharing knowledge, is good for humankind and it doesn't deprive you of anything.

One who loves photography certainly hopes that his work is going to be seen by others.

But why let others use your photos for free or almost free if those people are going to make a profit from it? This devaluates photography in a world where - paradoxically - imagery is more important and in demand than ever. People who profit from - or with the help of - others' images now think they deserve to get the images for free, and they don't even budget for them. This is not because of bad ethics, but simply because they don't even think about it.

Photography is a powerful tool and no one would think of promoting anything without imagery. There is no doubt that images are bringing tremendous value to other economic activities, hence the need for paying back for this! (which microstock, with its flat rates, is not allowing)

If you love photography, you do not have to devalue it. Share your photos for free for the pleasure of sharing, but to those who want to use your images for their business, charge a price that is proportional to the value your images will bring to their success.

November 07, 2006 1:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Comparisons with the music industry are interesting, but wrong, IMHO.

Musicians can distribute music freely to promote their work, which let them sell live performances. Live performances cannot be copied or distributed. Musicians will always be able to get paid for these no matter what.

Photographers cannot sell performances. They only have their images. The only income is the image itself.

In photography, the closest thing to a music performance would be an assignment. Of course, a photographer might get some assignments after distibuting thousands of images for free, but I don't think stock photo or free photo sharing really works for promoting assignment photography, which is more a business of contacts and customer relations.

So what makes the music industry thrive - free distribution - certainly won't help photographers make a living.

Also, even in today's free distribution world, no sane musician will let others profit from their music. If you want to use a song in an advertisement, you will have to pay, or will get sued. And you'll pay much more than $1! Why do some photographers let their images go for all kinds of use for $1? That's just insane.

November 07, 2006 1:52 AM  
Anonymous Jan Egil Kristiansen said...

Professionalism is narrowing. There are a lot of good photos on Flickr.

What is left, is assignments. A good photo of a specific subject, with a specific message and conforming to a specific style. Now. That you do not find in stock photos, ,whether expensive ones, or in Creative Commons.

I'll even probably do a free 'assignment' of a steam winch; somebody wants them, and I am interested in doing it. But if he wants them this week, and with any quality guarantee, he'd better call a pro.

November 07, 2006 10:40 AM  
Anonymous Gary Crabbe said...

I have a take on this which I write about the value equation - someone previous in the comments wrote about the $500.00 in one sale vs. making $500.00 total at $0.20 per sale.

How Many for How Much?

November 10, 2006 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Babs said...

You're post is an astute take on the pain that's been felt by plenty of professionals who have lost jobs and whole careers as a result of outsourcing. The Internet provides a connection to providers who are willing to work for less, and often much less, just for the sake of the work. Yet it also provides the free agent resources -- a way to retain work outside a regional commute. It's a two-way street.

I've used the exclusive image providers, hired a shoot and paid a pretty penny. But frankly I'm just as happy with the stock from LuckyOliver or Istock.

So are my clients, and the savings gained isn't going into their pockets. They apply these savings to other marketing ventures, additional photo purchases, SEO campaigns, etc.

That means my budget-friendly recommendation secures more work for me while securing more sales for the budget-friendly photographers. And lots of them are delighted with the end result: a highly desirable portfolio credit. And no, I don't think any of us has sold out. We've adjusted to new business and the new way that business is conducted.

As one of those people suddenly forced into unemployment, I found my enterprising ability was good enough to develop a new enterprise. (After I licked my wounds because I thought I was good.)

Perhaps teaching is your next enterprise. As an amateur photographer, I'd probably be willing to pay for the pleasure of a subscription.

So if they call again, say yes, and suggest a hefty fee.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned in this thread is the parallel example of Ebay's success -- those 20-cent increments, as payouts to photographers from multiple stock providers, can eventually total quite the bundle.

Thanks for your thoughts.
Babs

November 10, 2006 3:27 PM  
Anonymous QT Luong said...

The middle class that is vanishing consists of photographers who cannot adapt theirselves to the new business environment. However this new environment is full of opportunities, as the technologies that make it easy for amateurs to produce and distribute images can be exploited with great efficiency by professionals too.

November 15, 2006 11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with Babs & QT.

Every business has evolved as a result of technology. You either embrace it or you cry about it.

Microstock has opened the doors to many who had no chance to place their work with traditional stock houses. And it wasn't because their work was non-professional. Mainly it was because they lacked the contacts in the industry. The internet has changed that.

Microstock is here...get used to it and quit crying about it. It won't go away just because you don't like it.

I'm over 50 years of age and finally have an outlet for my work. People like it and they buy it. If that hurts you you'll just have to get tougher.

Life is hard.

November 17, 2006 12:49 AM  
Anonymous Eric said...

I think the point the author is trying to make is **not** that he cannot handle the new paradigm. Hell, anyone can submit stuff to istock - certainly this guy could. The point is that the people feeding istock are being taken advantage of because of their lack of knowledge.

20 cents? Come one. The child slaveworkers picking cocoa beans in Africa get paid more than that, fer Chrissakes. Are they part of a new paradigm? Or are they being taken advantage of?

I know where my vote would be.

But what the hey, as long as we can get cheap chocolate and Getty can make their millions on the backs of ignorant photographers, right?

Many photographers work for istock photo because they have no other choice. But that does not make it smart.

Example: If I were destitute, bathing in the river might be the best - or only - choice I have but if everybody does it all you have is one hell of a polluted river and no one ever gets clean again. Much less has clean drinking water.

Istockers are getting ripped off. And they are not the only ones who pay the price, either. We all do.

November 17, 2006 1:12 AM  
Blogger Don Giannatti said...

As a photographer for more years than I like to count, I continually am amazed at how much attention photographers give 'the other guy'. I can remember when I was starting out as an assistant. Most of the guys I worked for (in LA) would sit around and bitch about some other guy "getting my job". There was one guy in particular that several of the photographers really focused in on. Jealous? Not even close... they were obsessed with him. He was taking unfair advantage was the least of their complaints. He was an a-hole and a true bastard to work with, how could anyone hire that schmuck - at least that was the word with these guys.

Later I had the opportunity to work with the feared a-hole. It was an eye opening experience. He didn't demand anything but best effort, and rewarded that effusively. He also didn't spend any time kvetching about the competition. At one point one of the other photographer's name came up and he said, "Yeah, that guy is really good. I'd like to meet him someday." I never heard him complain about any of the other photographers.

He is still in business, shooting fabulous assignments. Most of the others are gone from the scene. Work pays off, compaining wastes valuable energy and time.

Why do I mention this? Well, above this post there are many whines and complaints about iStock and the other cheap stock agencies. And the focus in many cases is on the agency 'ripping' the photographers off. What, are photographers too stupid to know that 20 cents a photo is bad? Are the big bad stock photo houses coming into their homes with weapons drawn demanding images for their catalogs? They are a business. They offer a service. The rules are posted. The facts are clear and participation is voluntary. I like that. I like free markets.

Great companies succeed... but being a great company is really hard. Great photographers succeed, and ditto on the hard work. In fact, couble ditto. But, alas, there are lots of people for which hard work is a burden too great, and mediocrity seems a reasonably attainable goal. So they turn to attacking business models that threaten them. Mediocrity is threatened by even more mediocrity that has bigger delivery methods. If you think that the great ones are being challenged by the likes of my daughter with her point&shoot, you are plain wrong.

I don't participate in those services for a variety of reasons, but I spend no time worrying about those who do. I don't think they are poor, helpless souls being exploited by those gorillas in suits. (And drawing comparisons to child labor in third-world countries is absolutely unconstructive, and just, well, silly.) That is pure sophomoric crap. I think that if someone wants to participate, have at it... no skin off me, I am very busy working on my own stuff. My clients don't go there for the images they need from me, but they may go there for images they need. One of my clients uses one of these sites for images for his pro-bono clients. But when he is working on annual reports, he hires very talented photographers.

Challenging? Yeah, so what? Protectionsim fails at every level. Worrying and whining about the great middle ground is wasted. If you are, as I am, not great - just a good shooter, you have to work even harder to stay with it. I still want to achieve greatness, not have it given to me because I was able to force higher fees but killing off cheap competition.

As a matter of fact, the cheap competition may just be the catalyst you need to work even harder to attain that rare air of greatness. Hey, it's late and I gotta get to work.

November 17, 2006 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To poster Cyron Ray,

quote: "You mention making 40-80 EUR on a single shot. For a good photog on a microstock site, that is peanuts. A good image can sell 1500 times or more, and that's a good $300 US right there, if you only get paid .20c a photo. It completely discounts the fact that the more popular photog or the photogs that sign exclusivity agreements get significantly more than that as well as ignoring the fact that larger sizes sell quite well, and in turn bring in more for the photog."

Firstly you fail to take into account the number of photographers submitting vs. the number of photographers making money on microstock sites. If this ratio is geared too low (and it is) the market is not viable as income for beginning photogs because the ability to sell an image 1500 times is for a small percentage of submitters.

Secondly, the image databanks on microstock sites will become too big, and reducing the number of downloads per image. If 10 photogs submit the "lone tree in a field" photograph to Getty, they will all thrive on the income, if 1000 photogs submit the "lone tree in a field" photograph to a microstock site, there will be more customers to it, because it is cheaper, but not enough to make a living for 990 of those 1000 photographers. Effectively opening up for a small income to the 10 best photogs on the microstock site, and closing business for the professionals at getty. This leads to the photogs on the microstock site to wipe out their own possibility of career advancement within the stock image market, due to the lack of a "next level."

Thirdly, when the microstock sites have large enough databases of images, the competition (getty, corbis, etc.) will fail to make enough profit and rely on sales of historically important photographs that cannot be retaken. This effectively ruins the stock market for everyone exept the 10 out of 1000 photogs with the best images of the "tree in a field" photograph on the microstock sites, while they themselves see their own microstock market income crumble because of the ever larger availability of cheap imagery. Their good images are watered out with similar images in the database, and they end up with less sales.

The microstock market is for stock images what digital was for analogue film. Its going, going, gone....

-Just my two cents :)

November 21, 2006 11:54 AM  
Anonymous Oskar said...

Firstly - absolutely great site. I am incredibly greatful for all of your time.

(If you find the below marginally interesting, you might want to read "The Undercover Economist" by Tim Harford. You'll never read the newspapers the same way again.)

If you go to a coffee shop and order 1 of the 750 million possible combinations, you're making a choice about what you want to pay - your "price-point". You can buy the "bottomless cup" of some-random-blend, or the "grande something with extra something and a shot of vanilla".

Having multiple price points increases the coffee shop's income. If someone is feeling in an extravagent mood (or needs to impress their date), they order an expensive coffee. If they are feeling a little broke, they order the bottomless.

If the coffee shop only sold expensive coffee, only Mr Rich would buy there (and the shop loses out on the small-change starving-student's money - of whom there are many). If the coffee shop only sold instant coffee, only the starving student would buy anything, and the shop would lose out on the potential sale to Mr Rich.

Each possible price-point combination increases sales. If I am Mr Middleman, neither rich nor a student, I don't want to have to decide between the really-expensive and really-cheap coffee - what if I want something in the middle? Instead of paying for something-in-the-middle, I opt for the cheaper option... costing the shop money.

ie: more choices = a sale at exactly the price the person is willing to pay.

How does this relate to photography? Well, I think that a lot of the people buying photographs at a dollar a picture are a completely separate market to the one that photographers have traditionally been servicing. They are the "starving students" and "Mr Middlemen" of the photograph consumers. Small home-run-magazines, small companies, people running websites and the like would NEVER have purchased a full-blown professional picture for hundreds of dollars. Now, they go and buy a few pictures for a few dollars. That's a few more dollars going to a photographer where there would not have been any sale at all before.

Sure, sometimes Mr Rich will be price-sensitive, and order a drip-coffee. Just as in a pinch a big organisation will use stock for something where they previously used a professional.

Perhaps professional photographers should consider splitting their "products" up, so that they have some stock available online AS WELL AS their traditional offerings. And segment their traditional offerings too, so that more customers can buy them.

The tone of a lot of what I've read here from the anti-stock-site side seems to be "don't ever consider submitting to microstock sites as it degrades the profession and costs us money". That attitude is costing you money and clients. Perhaps not enough money for you to care - but it seems to me that you can't really complain about your earnings going down the toilet unless you're actively doing something to try and improve your income in innovative ways.

Further - every time one of your competitors sells something at a price point you aren't covering, your competitor get a financial incentive to do more of what they are doing. Because the 20 US cents is worth something to them, they put up another picture, and sell that for another 20 US cents. 20 US cents you COULD HAVE MADE.

So what happens then? The number of competitors doing paid work for miniscule amounts increases. And then you complain more, and stay away from the stock sites even more. And then another 13 year old with a digicam joins the stock site. And soon you are competing with everyone on the planet. Does this sound familiar?

Alternatively - you could deal with your shock, contribute quality stock to the stock sites, and show those 13 year olds what good stock looks like. And guess what? They will stop selling anything - as the market starts to chose your stock over their stock. Suddenly all those mom-and-pop magazines are buying from you... instead not buying at all as they did a few years ago. Sure it's not a lot per picture, but there are a hang of a lot of that sort of consumer, aren't there?

Especially when you suddenly find people in Australia and South Africa buying your pictures due to this globalized market.

Plus, keep your day job, offer varied levels of service that match other price-points in that market, and you might find yourself doing better than you were before.

ie: professionals have been charging too much historically. Or taking too long - how quick is it to grab some stock off the net? Longer than you take to return your voicemail?

This has put your product out-of-reach of a large segment of consumers. Now consumers have options and are using them.

Instead of complaining about the state of affairs - figure out what markets you are missing out on NOW, and service those markets.

You've missed out on selling lots of pictures at affordable prices to lots of people for the entire span of your career. What else are you missing RIGHT NOW?

And yes - I know the increase in photo consumption is related to current technology. But the demand has always existed - people want pretty pictures in their mom-and-pop magazines, on their walls, and so forth. Perhaps "what you are missing right now" isn't anything to do with photography - perhaps it's investing in the future's equivalent of DTP, or the Internet, or stock sites, or digital cameras.

(I've also read only 2/3 of the comments left here, so apologies if I'm echoing someone else's comments or concepts.)

None of the above is indended to offend. Apologies for the essay.

Oskar

November 21, 2006 6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just went over to istockphoto and looked for photographers with many images, a high number of downloads (in the tens of thousands,) and calculated their income with an exclusivity deal from istockphoto using this formula:

(number of downloads in total) x (0,40 cents) = (total income)

(total income) / (number of years as member)= (yearly income)

I used 0,40 cents per image as a rough figure, but even using a higher figure, NONE OF THE PHOTOGRAPHERS I FOUND COULD HAVE MADE AN INCOME HIGH ENOUGH TO PAY BUT A FEW MONTHS OF INCOME, thats excluding equipment and studio costs (yes, many of them take shots in the studio...)

Statements to the likes of "a lot of people make a living from this" is pure bogus... a select few in a huge mass is making money from this, on the cost of all the professionals out there, and in effect killing a huge potential market for themselves.

If you don't believe me, go make your own calculations on a microstock site, based on downloads and an average "exclusive" income number pr. image. Also try to divide the contributor base and the total number of downloaded images... I could not find the numbers but i bet the incom pr. contributor is loooooow....

However, if you calculate a different way, by taking the wikipedia specified countributor base of 23000 (probably larger now, but the larger number the worse the result for the individual so this is fine...) and calculate that each person should make 3000 dollars pr. month, you need to sell a whopping 172500000 images PR. MONTH. And as the contributor base gets larger, and the competition (more images) gets tougher, the less you make. WOW what a great deal... (I cannot imagine istockphoto selling 172500000 images pr. month... particularly not when you take other microstock agencies and their competing sales into account...)

November 22, 2006 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a quick note from an istock contributor.

The big stock houses (Getty, et al) are not interested in people like me, who have better than average photography skills but aren't good enough to make the cut. Istock gives me (us) the opportunity to compete, on a lower tier, for the dollars of the advertisers and designers who might like to buy from Getty but can't afford $400 or more for a single image. If the Getty photographers are worried about me, that's not my problem. I didn't invent microstock and I'm sure as hell not going to shun it just because someone thinks, "If you can't join the big boy's club you shouldn't join a club at all."

Can I make a living doing this? Maybe. I can tell you that I'll soon be sporting a new D200, two flashes and a couple of new lenses courtesy of my istock income (the only thing missing is the Pocket Wizards, which will have to wait for the next check). And while the tidy sum I'll drop on that equipment wouldn't feed my family for long, the equipment itself will enable me to expand my portfolio and increase my revenue. To what extent remains to be seen. My income may never be the equivalent of a full time job somewhere, but it will surely provide a nice supplementary income in my retirement, which is soon approaching. Don't begrudge an old man his simple pleasures.

November 28, 2006 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this site. Except this article. If taking a decent picture is getting so easy that anyone can do it - then the 'pros' who want to earn $400 for a shot are pricing themselves way way out of the market. If it isn't - then there's no problem since there will always be a market for the $400 stock shot.

I've run a community magazine - and used plenty of shots from istockphoto for ads for local businesses. My income from the entire magazine was $200 per month. Is a local store paying me $50 for an ad going to pay for Getty images? Don't be daft.

This artificial boundary between amateur and 'pro' is just an evil attempt to fiddle the market with protectionist reactions. Not many people make money shoeing horses any more - that's no reason to ban the motor car, is it? Sure it hurts if it's your livelihood that's at stake, but where were you when the charcoal-burners got driven out by the coal industry - or the steel-puddlers got destroyed by the open hearth blast furnace?

Life is hard. Technology is changing *your* industry. I don't mean to be rude - but quite whining, and work out how to ride the wave, instead of drowning under it.

December 04, 2006 1:19 PM  
Anonymous MediaGuy said...

I have read through most of this thread, and agree with most of what people's concerns are about the microstock industry, but there is way too much misinformation being thrown around here. Hopefully I can clarify on some points.

I am in the category of beginning photographer and started on a few of the micro sites a year ago, as well as selling photos with some higher priced RF and RM organizations.

The business climate is changing. I heard a stat that over 75% of new businesses formed in 2006 were Sole Proprietors (mainly home businesses). These businesses have absolutely no way of dropping $200-$1000 for a single image for their marketing and business collateral. The micro industry filled that void. I agree that $1 per image is too cheap, but the model has worked. There is still a huge untapped market of these startups that don't know about it yet, and they are the ones that are still using crappy clip-art on their marketing materials.

I predict the micro industry will continue to grow at an alarming rate throughout 07 because they have not even begun to tap into their target-market. Who is the target market? Aside from startups and small biz, teenagers buying "MySpace" backgrounds and images are responsible for over half of my downloads. Have they ever heard of Getty or Corbis? No. Do they want to? No. Doesn't seem like much a threat to traditional photography to me. The micros will not cannibalize any premiere photography. Granted there is some spill-over from the corporate market, and LargeCorps using the micros for marketing collateral, but that's an extremely risky venture, considering much of the quality on the micro sites does not rival that of the trad. stock, and I promise there aren't too many marketing execs out there willing to risk their jobs buying some second-rate photography.

When I started, it seemed like a good way to get my photos out there, and make a few pennies at the same time. 1 year into it, if I upload 30 photos per month (which I would be taking anyway to build my portfolio) to 9 different sites, by the end of 07, with less than 500 images online, my microstock income will pay my mortgage. And that income keeps growing after that.
Chew on that for a second.

The numbers being thrown around here about what photographers make on microstock are wrong. For one mentioned here, it is not .20 or .40 per image, unless you just started on the site and your buyers only buy web images, (which is in fact the minority). They work on a sliding percentage, based on downloads. Many of them also offer buyers extended use licensing, which pay as much as many trad stock agencies, including the big ones, and has made me a pretty penny here and there. there are other hybrid sites out there that let you set your own pricing, which works very well for me at $5 an image.

When Getty bought iStock, do you think they thought it would destroy their trad. stock empire? No. They now offer Getty contracts to every diamond level photographer on iStock, to transition them into the higher echelon market, even though at diamond level, you trully are already making decent money off the one site alone. I still sell on traditional stock sites, and my income is completely tied with my income from micros.

In summary, I do think it has impacted the photography industry as a whole, but not anything devastating. Times change. Change is difficult. The micros are not in the same league as the high-end stock. Look for yourself.

January 31, 2007 7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MediaGuy, I think you are missing the point... It is not that it is a large number of people making an earning from microstock sites, rather that the percentage of contributors who do is infinitesmall compared to the number that contributes.

And more importantly, when the microstock databases are large enough and have enough professional high res footage, why would and should people purchase from for example getty... this means the "diamond" status contributors on iStock have effectively killed their own path to better payment and are locked to microstock as the only viable option.

Microstock is here to stay, and a lot of people make decent sums from it. But that does not make it a great idea in the model microstock has today. Photography is of course an art/trade/service that has no licencing/educational or otherwise limiting factors for entry. Also the time taken to produce an image of OK quality is not neccesarily long, this makes photography much more accessible for amateurs and semi-proffessionals than for example painting.

February 05, 2007 5:52 AM  
Anonymous Media Guy said...

Anonymous, I don't think I'm missing the point, I just felt it necessary to give a different viewpoint with a bit more accuracy in the facts. Here's some points I agree with:

- It is not ideal for the photography industry, but as you stated, is real and not going away.

- You are correct in that the majority of contributors don't make money off microstocks.

Identical to 95% of free-market industries - the best 10% succeed, the others wither. The other factor in the small amount of people making good money, is that microstocks appeal to beginners who think that they'll get their family snapshots online and make good money. Even in an industry such as photography, where misconceptions that "everyone can be a pro" prevail (which is a farce), the cream rises to the top. The people not making money at it generally upload 20 photos of their little Joey, and the family pet, and when they don't see their wallet getting fat in a month, they quit there.

I just simply don't see the microstocks ever killing traditional stock photo, industry, or even wounding it to a point of economic slump.

I am confused about why people believe the microstocks are going to kill Getty and the other trad. Stock. That would be absurd for them (Getty, Jupiter, Acclaim) to buy and build the largest microstocks in the world if they thought it would destroy the other 95% of their massive revenue.

Regarding your statement about "when the microstock databases are large enough and have enough professional high res footage, why would and should people purchase from for example getty", refer to my previous thread about marketing execs wanting to keep their jobs, and the significant (and not narrowing) quality difference between the two segments of the stock industry. Sure, the micros are getting more and more images that are of the same quality, but digging through the millions of semi-pro images to find the pro work is like trying to find that needle in the haystack.

Please take this thread as healthy discussion, and well-intentioned.

February 07, 2007 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been selling my work on iStockphoto for eight months, lately as an exclusive contributor. By now I have 1,000 pictures online. Every day (excluding weekends) I sell well over 10% of my portfolio, at an average royalty to me of more than $1 a pop.

In other words, I'm making $3,000 a month after only eight months.

Funnily enough, this doesn't feel like exploitation.

Not many people do as well as this, it's true. I think the secret of my success has been dogged determination to produce saleable stock photography. Few of my images are warmed-over shots originally intended for other purposes. Also, I've been in and out of photography for decades, and I know how to take a slick picture.

I like the way microstock lets you stand or fall according to your talent and diligence. And I think that is why it scares some people.

March 19, 2007 5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a linux guy. That means I'm into opensource. So you can read this with that in mind.

Your teaching is opensource. It's available for others to develop on in their own way. Thats great. I love it; both the lessons and the philosophy.

I think that this increases value: to you as the publisher, because money is only part of what we get paid with. Glory, honour, recognition is also recompense. And it can "pay the bills" because, no-one will invite me to present a topic on lighting, because I ain't known. It also increases the value of the profession as a whole because your average "pointer and shooter" often wonders what went wrong with that great shot. And may continue to wonder until they sit down and learn.

And of course many never will; because if you're not passionate about it you're not going to make that effort. But if you are, the knowledge is there - books, examples, sites, you name it. And you'll pay for it with money and time and effort.

Long and short (actually, long and long) I see what you're doing as increasing the value of photography simply because you're showing those who're looking where to spend some effort in the quest for better pictures.

Good luck!

April 05, 2007 3:53 PM  
Anonymous ian b said...

Here's my strategy with the royalty free thing:

1. My five star images stay with me, my portfolio, my website, or later maybe getty or corbis, where i'll be renumerated properly

2. My four star images - again these stay with me

3. My three star images - technically great but so-so in terms of content - get 'dumped' to a RF stock site. The advantages are:

a. Someone somewhere will have a use for them and I'll take peanutesfor them 'cos really thats all they are worth - remember I'm essentially talking technically good out-takes here. RF sites do reach a wide audience and I'll leverage that

b. By doing my part to add more and more 'average' images to these sites, I feel like i'm diluting their overall quality - sending a message which is 'if you want to wade through mediocrity for hours on end to save a few bucks go right ahead, but if you want 'real' photography that you won't find elsewhere you better go somewhere else and be prepared to pay.

This lets me sleep at night knowing I'm using this business model to my advantage

April 24, 2007 9:06 AM  
Anonymous Staginargic said...

Exactly.

this page will be a source
for an editorial i have to
write for one of my high
school classes.. :D


you hit a lot of great points
in this that i can really use.

melanieee

May 07, 2007 10:10 PM  
Blogger Donna said...

(apologies that this ended up much longer than I planned)

The UK computer industry got flooded with loads of wannabes some time ago; they couldn't cut the mustard, wern't happy with the rewards when they diluted, and moved on ... to plumbing I think, where the next gold mine was.

I am involved in a java implementation of the game Lineage 2. Am I hurting NCSoft's profits? No, I'm playing to a different audience, one that can't hack the slow speed of progress on, "official," and can't stomach Giran town's floor chock a block with traders.

I believe it is the same in photography. The cheap shooters will eventually fade in number, leaving those that are good at their craft, standing strong once again ... but like the U.K. computer industry, probably not as strong as it once was.

O.K. I've done some assignments for free, firstly to support some voluntary organisations that couldn't pay a pro, and also when an assignment is a new avenue and benefits me in ways other than hard cash ... experience.

... but that will be coming to a point in time in a few months. A time where someone will ask me to shoot for them and I'll have to hand over my rates sheet.

That is what I'm missing ... guidance as to how to gague what my services are worth.

I took some of what I thought were decent stock shots, rated them at $60 to $90 bucks a piece and slung them up. Only to find one of my mentors was selling his nudes at $70-$80 and his stock was down at $20-$30. I felt obliged to follow after looking at several others who were on the same level. I haven't sold a thing; nor do I expect to.

I expect my money to eventually come through networking. But when that day comes, I'm totally unprepared and I don't know how to prepare. Your encounter of being rejected at $1,000 because you were considered to low to be taken seriously, is something which has been haunting me for a few days.

I have to admit to looking at the local photography rates for weddings, portraits and stuff ... the money is made in the prints, not the hiring of the skill ... and that made me sad.

Ask John ... if he wants to do his bit to help everyone out, how about some guidance as to how to value our work. How do we gague the market?

There will always be the stock industry, that won't go away. It has been around for decades I believe ... it is only the net which has made it more accessible ... which could actually be a boon for pros; what client would want to sift through the massive amount of prints that a stock search returns? Easier for them to throw a wadge of cash, say to their secretary, "Hire a photographer." and forget about the whole thing.

The next step which is of most importance to me, is how to make sure I get paid what I'm worth, by working out what I'm work ... that is the illusive thing for me.

May 13, 2007 5:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh well take it easy.
Yes it will become more difficult to make a living.
Yes some will loose business.
Yes the standards will fall, at least for a while. Later standards will rise, as the general level of understanding and appreciation will rise too.

For those of you old enough in the creative fields -remember the desktop publishing (*dp) revolution (blame Steve Jobs ;-). Suddenly everybody and their neighbor was doing DP and it looked like hell. For the longest while. Here i was one of the young bucks going for the harem.

Later i tried being the 'ol guard' in the recieving end. As it was nearly the same story with online design. In this field i was very early in, turned pro around 1995. Just before the bubble burst everybody was a waiter/webdesigner.

History repeating itself. There is great many stories to learn from; History refrigeration, movie production, Desktop publishing, online.

Some of those new comers, photogs and stock-pimps have no ambition of of letting any of the slow prey escape. This is a great opportunity to trim the fat and learn what you are really good at.

The current democratization of photography has been a trend foreseeable for a long time.

Pucker up. It will hurt. Its not going to end anytime soon -better enjoy it.

Sincerely

/Jon Angelo Gjetting
www.gjetting.com

July 29, 2007 7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All professional shooters should take all their rejects and publish them on as many of these royalty-free sties as they can. Set up accounts under a different name. Flood their catalog's with mediocre pictures.
When buyers get tired of browsing though hundreds of pages of mostly crap, maybe they will accept that to get what they want, they will just have to hire a professional, and pay a decent rate.

August 22, 2007 10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say, very eye opening.

August 24, 2007 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating read b/c so many industries are feeling the pinch of tech, and yet, so many people (like me) are feeling the rush of getting into something they never had any inkling they were good at. There's no way to tell where any single person might fall in the range of those sparked by the possibilities of digital and those who just realized, with no talent or creativity, that it's a way to shoot hot girls.

I'm a musician. I'm also a photographer. But I was a musician long (playing at age 6) before I had any idea that I could take photos people might want, and want to pay for. In fact, I often joke to my friends that, despite the fact that I've played original music for a good number of years, I've made more money from photography in 2 years than I ever have in music. Somehow, no one wants to pay for stock music like they do photos, otherwise I'd be putting out ringtones and concertos and pop hits at the same time. (Someone won't be able to resist a comment there. I beat you to it....)

There are an amazing number of parallels within the digital revolution when it comes to music and photography, but I believe the whole thing took place much earlier in the music industry b/c the CD format took hold and musicians were among the first to use and benefit from the notion of "sampling," both in its reference to lifting riffs and to digital representation of an analog signal.

Let me tell you photographers, you f'ers have it easy when it comes to making a living doing your art. You have no idea. And now to cry about the fact that everyone's a photographer only highlights the fact that 5 or 6 years ago, everyone thought they were a musician.

They are not.

And in your (my, our) industry, in a few years, they will abandon this sudden, financially and emotionally reachable fascination because it's only that. It's not a career. It's not art for most of them. It's not even an attempt at microstock, although plenty of them will try. It will just become an embarrassing kind of hobby that all their friends will tease them about cuz they bragged about how "easy" it was.

Mark my words on this because I've already seen it happen in the music biz. Lots of studios have closed and most, if not all, of the best engineers in my town use ProTools, but every other single piece of gear in their studio is analog (including a reel-to-reel tape deck). The real engineers know how to use it to get stuff you'll never hear from a plug-in or digital box. I'd like to see your average pick-up musician try and use that reel machine and get that kind of warmth. But yes, their commercial business suffered immensely because business people believe they can do it on their own, or hire someone who had a basement studio and do it on the cheap. That's ok. That happens to lots of businesses. But the ones who get the pro stuff will always value the time and effort put into it, and they will benefit from it in a way that those who only look at a price tag will never understand.

This is the wave hitting photogs right now. I see more cameras than I've ever seen in my life on the streets. It's going to really suck for a couple of years or twenty. I'm only 2 years into it and frankly, the only parts of the biz that are interesting and lucrative are fashion and the fine-art world. Style and creativity outshine any technical ability in these fields and that holds true throughout the ages.

What I can say with utter certainty is that to try to beg and cajole and appeal to the general person's moral aesthetic in this country, to ask them to stop selling whatever they can and will sell, is akin to asking a fire to stop burning the rest of your cornfield. That's not what America is about at this stage of its life. It will not happen.

There will be those who will spend the time submitting stuff to microstock and there will be people like me who'd rather sell a 6x9' for $6,000.00 (random figure)or more and have someone actually value it. This is why I'm taking up large format.

I'm sorry for a very long post but I thought there were plenty of experiential and philosophical things to touch upon here.

I wish you all the best.
--B

August 27, 2007 5:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi - Not all of you but most of you sound sad as in wake up - I entered the market as a professional 2 months ago. I started learning 18 years ago dropped it - and picked it up 3 months ago.

I am not cheap either here is why:

People want to work with me because of my creative vision. They want to work with mne because I don't go out there and try to SELL. I just go out and work. I am following my true passion and just doing it - f/8 and be there? Maybe you need a niche market?

Technology is great but you know what I shoot with two cameras - my Nikon D200 and my Nikon FG -

Forget what the industry is doing and take advantage of it for yourselves as follows:

If you are a good and you like the new equipment and it helps your art awesome -

Have you noticed that most people have point and shoots? Why do I say this?

If you show a shallow depth of field with a beautiful Bokeh people think your a genius.

You can't worry about these things or you shouldnt have to - Photography is a social thing - go out there go to community events - do something artful - get involved - meet more people - get out of your studies and stop worrying because if people like you and appreciate your work you won't have problems -

yes istock blows - totally agree but as I said you shouldnt have to sell and these people/companies you are never going to get them to come back to true commissioned stock - so start doing new things - experiment

September 15, 2007 8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i guess what I was saying is have pride in your work - which I am sure all of you do - if someone says that another photographer costs less - tell them "I have a lot of pride in my work and as a professional I will not undercut my rates" I have tried this several times and I always walk away with the job so...

if they dont get it walk away... move on immediately they are not going to change and you are wasting your time - saying no and walking away are very powerful business tools.

While the industry is making better equipment cheaper think - it is also making it faster - you need to price not only based on your time and art - but also on equipment upkeep and DEPRECIATION
factor this in and then mark it up some more - explain this to clients
these photographers who do not have a plan that includes factoring all of these running and gunning it to make a quick buck in volume - they are not going to make it - they are undercutting themselves and are not going to be able to stay in business - think if someone charges so little are they going to be able to make a living in the future? Not on your life - most business' fail anyway, atleast the first time

September 15, 2007 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Greg Richey said...

I remember taking an beginners class into 35mm photography with my wife years ago. The professional photographer that gave the class devoted a lot of time to this subject. He was concerned that we would all begin to sell photos far cheaper than they were worth because as hobbyists we did not have the overhead a professional has. At that time he said digital photos would never be sold as professional photos because of resolution issues. This professional often worked in a team of photgraphers photographing Nascar races. He said they had people on the payroll running from photographer to photographer grabbing rolls of film to get processed as fast as posible to be the first to offer them to the market. This photographer makes his full time living shooting and he now shoots mostly digital. Things change in every profession and sometimes only the strong survive. I think microstock agencies threatening professional photographers is alot like McDonalds restaurants threatening High end Steakhouses. They obviously have different clientele.

October 13, 2007 9:30 AM  
Blogger Gentleman Jim said...

Good read. I'm taking up the hobby of digital photography and was once a well paid professional newspaper photographer from the New England area. Don't know if I'll be getting back into the profession again after 25 years away.

I have found that there are a multitude of shutterbugs claiming to be professionals that aren't worth the paper they print on, but they work cheap.

The old phrase, "You get what you pay for." will hold true in this industry as with any other.

You can give a kid the most advanced equipment, but he'll still take marginal pictures compared to an experienced pro who knows how to set up a scene and capture the moment in a photograph.

December 19, 2007 1:06 PM  
Blogger Mythidiot said...

Really interesting read. I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day. I told him that in 2009, after I've paid my dues learning more about light, I'm going to throw my hat in the ring and be a photographer. His response almost stung for a second, "yeah, 'cause there aren't a million of those around. Good luck!" I thought about that and have come to this conclusion: Quality is King and I'm not interested in being the low cost provider. When my dear mother found out my hourly rates she said, "Cory, you're charging too much. I couldn't afford that. hardly anyone will be able to hire you." To which I said, "Good, then I'll work less and make the same money. I could shoot five days with Wal Mart rates or shoot one day with high rates and make the same money. Which one makes sense." I love my mom, but I'm not interested in having her as a client. I've found in any creative industry that the people who pay top dollar expect great quality, but also are more fair and logical than the ones who will literally nickel and dime you to death.

A good dentist friend of mine said that twice a year he "fires" his worst clients. He does this for two reasons: 1. they are more diffucult to collect from and consume on average more of his time. 2. If he cuts them loose then they have to go somewhere and will bog down his competition.

Long story short (too late): Working hard to learn everything I can and drilling myself to get faster and faster at it (it being any marketable skill) will result in Less Work, More Money. If there are photographers who want to pick up the clients that I lose do to sticker shock, thats fantastic. I don't want 'em. On the other hand, if my results are outright crap and not worth the rates I'm charging, then I won't get any work. I have to continue to learn and improve my quality to justify my rates.

As for the stock industry, I believe in the markets invisible guiding hand of self interest. Consumers trying to get the highest quality for the cheapest prices and vendors trying to produce product at the lowest cost with the highest margins... everything will always balance out for the best possible mix of quality and cost for all involved.

Its an issue of the scarcity of quality vs the abundance of the mundane.

My personal goal is to get into the high quality category and watch everything else sort itself out.

(I suck less and less every day at this photography stuff)
www.corykerr.com
My photo blog

December 27, 2007 4:33 AM  
Anonymous s.c. said...

"1) Photographers should not feel like "the lone ranger." Office supply stores were always locally owned and operated, until Staples and Office Depot saw an opportunity. Lumberyards were the same, until Lowe's and the other big box stores came along. Pepsi and Coke used independent bottlers until about ten years ago. And so it goes, to quote Billy Pilgrim, or Kurt Vonnegut, or Lloyd Dobyns, or Linda Ellerbee, or someone ..."


These "big box" stores are hurting america and we are hurting ourselves by shopping there... we are outsourcing jobs to other countries when using these stores (in some cases supporting slavery, and the mistreatment of women and children), i want other countries to do great and have no problem with trade, but we need to support our people too! your neighbor might be starving because you bought something from wal mart that outsources to other countries and sweatshops. it also hurts us because when they snuff out the mom and pop shops, they will rack up their prices (as they already are) and then we will be forced to pay it, because there won't be many other choices!!! low cost, low quality, and boom, you are spending more with replacements!

as far as photography is concerned, devaluing our profession is what occurs here... the "wal mart" photographers, sears etc, put a low value on our work, granted ours should be better!!! Also when the market is saturated with people giving their work for free, it will eventually bring the quality of photography down so low, that people will think mediocre is exceptional! it will put the quality people out of business, then the "big box" photographers can up the price for crap work. maybe this will cause a renaissance in photography, where true mastery of the craft will shine and come back... maybe it will be that way for mom and pop shops too... people get tired of crap! :)

February 12, 2008 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about $30,000 for a one day shoot? That's what car ad guys can get. I don't think microstock sales worry those guys too much.

June 03, 2008 8:20 PM  
Blogger Mat said...

Hi David,
Thank you for this insightful essay. I have never fully understood the value of the photographs I have. I have not sold any to stock companies and now I see that my actions as a photographer will affect those around me, more than I initially thought possible.

Also, I stumbled upon an article talking about "The Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act". This proposed legislation will seek to change the way copyright is used, especially in visual media. The changes that are being proposed will possibly allow stock companies to completely bypass our option to sell our work. I was wondering what your opinion on this legislation is and what we as photogs can do to protect our images. Thank you for your insightful opinions and experience!

Here is the sites:
http://craftingagreenworld.com/2008/06/23/the-shawn-bentley-orphan-works-act-how-new-copyright-legislation-will-affect-indie-artists-and-crafters/
http://capwiz.com/illustratorspartnership/issues/bills/?billid=11320236
http://www.illustratorspartnership.org/01_topics/article.php?searchterm=00221

-Mat

June 26, 2008 11:29 AM  
Blogger Mythos said...

Wow! An amazing post and a staggering amount of high quality commentary. This post, like the Strobist movement, seems always to be leading to much bigger issues. I’d like to add some thoughts, almost two years after the original post.

Photographers: the booksellers of the digital era.

I was a bookseller in my late twenties. The pay was dirt because everyone wanted to be a bookseller. Once you started you realized the job was not as romantic as you thought but you were willing to do it because … well, you were around books and money isn’t everything.

Selling stock, however cheaply, is a bit like being a bookseller. You get to work at photography (which, I think, we all love) and the fact that you are uploading and potentially selling photos seems to stamp you as a “professional.” That means something.

I do a lot of photography in my work, but somehow I never think of myself as a professional. I do all the media for a small, rather esoteric company. Web site, print design, book design, database programming, video documentary camerawork, digital video editing, and recently, podcasts. It sounds like a lot in this list, but all the tasks are closely related and I’ve been working at digital media for a long time. I get paid by the hour. I do a little dance of thankfulness each morning that I have (after years of freelance) found the golden client. This means that when I need to shoot some stills the clock is ticking.

My point is this: when I am drooling over a new D300 I often think, (even with my ideal work set-up) “If I could sell some of my photographs, I could rationalize that my photography pays for itself. But I’m thinking more than that, because what I am really thinking is: “If I could sell some photographs, I could call myself a photographer.” And “If people paid money for my photographs – they must be good.”

I’m glad that the parallel to writers was raised fairly early in this thread. Does the camera make the photographer? Does the pen make the writer? Ahhh but it is more complicated than that though isn’t it?
I once spent a fair bit of time figuring out the black and white settings, and filter imitations on a new D80. I was able to get similar settings to what Wilfred Thesiger used on his travels. I took some available light portraits and really liked them. A friend I was traveling with asked to use the camera and (not wanting to be a prat and zero all the settings) I handed it to him. He started taking portraits! I felt like, “Hey! That’s mine!”

I think that fairly sums up the feeling of photographers to the ease of use and quality of the new digital cameras. I had to do a bit of work to get over the feeling, but I think it was good work to have to do. It is hard to locate yourself in photography. Where is your creativity? What is it about your photo that is you? It was a bit like opening the leaves of an artichoke. Everyone who has written about photography from Roland Barthes to Susan Sontag has talked about it.

I like the parallel with writing, because even though everyone can write (ignoring illiteracy for a moment), not everyone is a writer. It is so much easier in the trades. You fix pipes? Ahh you must be a plumber! But in the arts there is a problematic dependence on identity. There is a need to capitalize. In the early ninties I knew a lot of poets. Many of them desperately wanted to be published in journals or magazines that they never read. The same friend who borrowed my D80, later got a nice honkin’ kit. Holding the big black camera and lens he said “Look at that, listen to that shutter! Wow, now I’m a Photographer!”

I have never sold anything to a stock company. Every time I look at the web sites (for the big ones mostly – Masterfile, Corbis etc.) I get depressed. It’s not the kind of work I want to do. Not that’s its bad photography. A lot of it is really amazing. Why do I want so badly to sell to them then? Good question. It’s why I’m writing this comment. I’m still trying to understand it.

Open community

I’ve just encountered the stobist fairly recently and man, this group is a force to be reckoned with. I’ll skip my initial FOF (fear of flash) for now. I think that it’s fair to say that if Mr. Hobby had less sense of community SB-24’s would still be going for twenty bucks on ebay. Is he giving away all the secrets? Maybe. But photographer’s are not magicians – there is no code of secrecy. For better or worse the guild system is gone.

Maybe that is too flippant. Part of what make one a good photographer is knowledge. Knowledge of why on-camera flash looks like %@! and how to fix that problem. Mr. Hobby is being a teacher. A very good one. If he were dry and witless this blog would be a tech-geekout and that would be it. But he’s got insight. The blog is good reading – in some cases powerful reading. What makes photographers or photographs and why does it matter?

Consider folk music before audio recording. There was little sense of ownership because in many ways there was nothing to own. Music belonged to a culture, a tribe, a clan, a family. Music companies figured out a way to make a commodity out of music and sell it back to people. The reverse has happened with digital photography. Almost anyone can take a photo with almost anything (phone, laptop, etc.). A relatively small group of people known as professional photographers used to be in charge of our visual history. Now visual history is everywhere and its for sale – cheap.

I think the length of this thread is evidence that it is not a simple or a black and white shift.

The middle ground is moving and we are all part of it. This blog is great. I’d like to thank Dave for his efforts, it has provided inspiration in so many ways. I can’t wait for the book (with photos, please).

June 30, 2008 12:29 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Interesting post. Its a balancing act isn't it. On the one side you have photographers and their education. I believe a rising tide raises all ships. So in that sense what you're doing at strobist is a good thing. On the other hand you have the educators. They're offering something of value and you're giving it away. I hate to say this but the balance may be in providing the info at a price. Others have successfully done this like Scott Kelby and NAPP for instance. Lots of good info there and the fee for it isn't outrageous for anyone serious about learning.

July 15, 2008 2:23 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

My own day job field of church music is navigating the same straits: Once a job that required copious training and professionalism, many churches are perfectly happy to go with a group of kids (or adults who act like kids) and a $250 budget at Zzounds or Sweetwater. Is this "destroying" the field as some of my colleagues say?

No, it's raising the bar for those of us who are professionals. What it is destroying is the market for uncreative folk who are content to chug out the same unmusical boilerplate week after week.

As an amateur photographer, I've taken on two paying gigs and the examples are worth citing in full:

1. A nearby cathedral was dedicating a new pipe organ. The professional photographer they had hired for the brochure screwed them over and turned in a CD-R full of point and shoot snapshots. It was obvious that this was his "discard" folder and not the good shots he had taken. This left the Cathedral a week away from a major festival, out several hundred dollars and with nothing usable for a proper brochure.

I agreed to do the job and drove down for an overnight shot, giving me a sunrise and sunset through the stained glass. I made a full page shot of the organ as well as a choice selection of detail shots. For this, I was compensated $250, one dinner at Burger King and allowed to crash in the rectory guest room. The brochure and festival were a great success and I actually had fun doing it.

2. The college music department where I taught needed head shots of the adjunct faculty. Unlike the full time folks, these people only come in once a week and generally not on the day that the college hires a pro to bang out headshots of everyone. Carving out a spare bit of time whenever schedules coincided, I produced headshots for eleven teachers, all in completely different settings. Our department webpage was the envy of all the other faculty. My compensation was an attaboy from the chair and a scritch behind the ears from my dean.

In both cases, I was taking work away from a professional photographer. In the former, the pro was a sleazeball who probably deserves be put out of business. (Though in this case, he had already taken the Cathedral's money.) In the latter, the pro worked on the high school yearbook model of portraiture: One set-up in front of his favorite wall in the student center (admittedly, it is a nice wall...) and pop ten frames for each person that passes by.

Conclusion, I (as an amateur and avid Strobist fan) am a business threat to sleazeballs and Sears photographers. For the type of genius who could pull off what DH did in that shot of the "Heroes" fan, there's no need to worry.

October 03, 2008 9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once, in my previous job, I needed a stock photo and the only viable alternatives back then were sites such as Korbis or Getty. When I saw the prices they asked for a single photo I was appalled, and swore to do everything I can to avoid them. It was simply outrageous!

Thank god for microstock! :D

March 20, 2009 10:27 AM  
Anonymous Mark Stout said...

Education is not the enemy, it is the answer. The reason people are letting their images go for nothing or next to nothing is because they don't know what they are worth... and the newer photographers don't know what it costs to produce them either until they try to turn it into a professional business.

As for the poster above me re thank god for microstock and complaints about stock photo prices on Getty and Corbis, the reason they are priced at that level is because it costs that much to produce them! There is no reason a photographer should subsidize the cost of someone else's business.

August 06, 2009 4:15 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

David, this is very insightful. I notice this was posted in 2006. I have similar reservations about a lot of professions. It seems that no matter what you do these days, and how much of a master you are at it, the standard response is, "Oh, I have a brother-in-law who does that too. He's great with computers." Maddening. Frustrating beyond words. In the future, there will be two professions. Prisoners, and guards. I've been working as a guard now for five years.

August 27, 2009 2:19 AM  
Blogger melinama said...

The same thing happens in so many fields. I was a full-time professional typesetter in the early 1980s. There's a business that's gone the way of the slide-rule because WYSIWYG data formatting for home computers has made everybody an expert. I may shudder when I see the things people design for themselves, but I can't argue with "free." The job I used to do doesn't really exist any more.

September 12, 2009 7:24 AM  
Blogger ratzlaff said...

Awesome post. I would add that the graphic design profession went through the same issue with the introduction of Photoshop ... suddenly everyone could be a graphic designer, but it pushed graphic designers to be better and differentiate themselves from the rest. Same for the industrial design profession and the introduction of inexpensive CAD software.

To those photogs seeking to protect the status-quo, don't worry about it. Photography will survive this and the professionals will become better for it.

March 09, 2010 10:28 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

This is an excellent point to bring up. I think this is happening in most professions right now. The expect everything and everyone cheaper, cheaper and cheaper.

I do think people need to stop devaluing not only work, but our planet, resources and futures. I know it sounds "hippy dippy" but we need to appreciate each other and quit being so cut throat and selfish.

But I do think education should be free. School should not indebt a person for the rest of their lives. Many schools today dont even teach any more than can be learned from a few trips to the library.

People who are willing to share their knowledge and experience have great character. There is no need to be threatened by a wealth of knowledge.

Overall I think this is a symptom of a greater problem. We need a major overhaul of the way the system works and the way we treat each other.

I have always had a love of photography. I am worried about where it is heading as a profession. It would be a great loss to devalue it any further. But I dont think free knowledge is the enemy.

February 11, 2011 7:29 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

This is an excellent point to bring up. I think this is happening in most professions right now. The expect everything and everyone cheaper, cheaper and cheaper.

I do think people need to stop devaluing not only work, but our planet, resources and futures. I know it sounds "hippy dippy" but we need to appreciate each other and quit being so cut throat and selfish.

But I do think education should be free. School should not indebt a person for the rest of their lives. Many schools today dont even teach any more than can be learned from a few trips to the library.

People who are willing to share their knowledge and experience have great character. There is no need to be threatened by a wealth of knowledge.

Overall I think this is a symptom of a greater problem. We need a major overhaul of the way the system works and the way we treat each other.

I have always had a love of photography. I am worried about where it is heading as a profession. It would be a great loss to devalue it any further. But I dont think free knowledge is the enemy.

February 11, 2011 7:31 PM  
Blogger Hugo Carlone Fotografia said...

Concerning the last two paragraph of your post, my opinion is that information and knowledge should be available to all. Maybe Gutemberg though the same (that he would be killing professors an teachers' profession with his invention), which didn't happen.
I'm a self made photographer (and still learning). Never took a course or class. I learned what I know through books and sites such as yours. I'm on the process of moving from being a part-time photographer to be a full-time photographer. It's a business as any other business and the principles applied to other ventures applies here. While the industry is moving fast and no one knows for sure to which direction (does the music industry from the middle 2000 rings a bell?) many new opportunities will be made.
By the way, thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

Hugo Carlone

August 17, 2011 8:03 PM  

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