Friday, February 6, 2009

Are pro photographers doomed?

One of my favourite blogs is the Strobist. Published by David Hobby, a veteran newspaper photographer, it is a most comprehensive and definitive source of information about lighting techniques and how to use off-camera flashes. David is undeniably one of the most knowlegeable guys around and I have learned much from his blog. Check it out, it is listed in the blogroll in the right-hand column.

Recently David wrote about the need for photographers to sometimes do work for free. The article evoked a great deal of discussion. While many agreed with his point of view, some took a completely different position, particularly John Harrington. Those who had opposing views felt that doing work for free adversely affects the way a professional photographer's value is perceived. You can read the debate on the Strobist site, so I won't rehash the arguments here.
But it got me to thinking that much, as I hate to say it, I believe the days of the professional photographer are largely numbered. I say this for a couple of reasons. Technology has brought convenience and simplicity making it easy for camera-owners to shoot properly-focussed, well-exposed, pictures -- the fact that little thought or creativity is involved, means nothing. Consumers of images have, since the advent of web publishing, been dumbed down and most wouldn't know quality if it walked up and slapped them in the face.

Anyone with a camera

Nowadays, anyone with a digital camera, figures he or she is, or can be, a professional photographer. By way of example, I live in a small town in South Africa that has fallen on hard times as a result of local gold mines shutting down. There are 57 "wedding photographers" here, pretty well all of whom are equipped with a digital camera, painfully slow kit zoom lens (most don't know what that means) and built-in, pop up flash. Their standard operating procedure is to speculatively shoot around 1400 images, download them, burn a CD and present it to the client at the end of the wedding. They justify this mediocrity as "photojournalistic wedding photography," although the nearest any of these "photographers" has ever come to photojournalism is buying a newspaper from a street-corner vendor.
They are happy to work at a rate that, in many cases, just covers traveling expenses. But the client is happy because he's never seen better or "just good enough" is indeed good enough.
Recently, a young-buck newspaper sports photographer asked how I could shoot a motorcycle race with a manual Nikkormat that doesn't autofocus, has no motor-drive and does not allow me to immediately see the shot taken. He spoke from behind some or other 10 frames per second DSLR. As soon as I started to explain zone focussing and the decisive moment, his eyes glazed over. He had no clue what I was talking about an mumbled that those things didn't bother him, he simply put the camera on "auto" and of the hundreds of images he shot he was sure some would be good enough for publication.
I do not think it is the guy shooting for free that is going to put the pro out of business. I think the wave of technology - in much the same way easily-used office software signalled the doom of typists - and the general acceptance of mediocrity, where purchasers of photography can't recognise the quality offered by the true professional, will do that.
It's sad but I think we are a bunch of dinosaurs in a rapidly-developing ice-age.

1 comment:

bobskoot said...

I happen to agree with you. Photography has been my hobby for as long as he sun has been shining and everyone is now a photographer. They have camera phones, iPhones, cheap P&S's,dSLR's, there are cameras (or videocams) everywhere. I did street photography here in Vancouver, BC for many years, with manual cameras & Lenses, without light meters and understand the zone system as I did my own developing and printing, except for the past few years when I switched over to Digital. Right now I'm rediscovering "film".
I remember a few years ago I stopped to take a landscape photo which caught my eye. Someone else noticed the "scene" and when I left, he went over and snapped the same photo, but I know it won't be the same as mine

bobskoot: wet coast scootin