NYT: Pros and Amateurs Debate: Is Photography in Trouble?

Sat, Apr 3, 2010

Bruce DeBoer, Editorials

“Yesterday’s story on the troubles professional photographers are facing drew a lot of reader mail. Some amateur photographers said, basically, good riddance to the pros. Some professionals said that they were struggling; others thought the story overstated the problem. What’s your take? Weigh in in the comments section.”

This was my “comment” to the article in the New York Times with the same title as this post. [snip-it above]

For the record: photography isn’t in trouble, it’s thriving, however, many professionals are enduring a shift in their business models. Some will deal, some won’t make that choice.

I’m a 30 year professional with a broad experience range mostly in advertising. The real question is can professional photographers with at least 10,000 hours of experience compete with 1000 amateurs with 1000 hours each? The answer: Probably not, not with the everyday “good enough” commoditized imagery – the standard business model doesn’t support a decent lifestyle for a professional in that space. Soon video capture will provide editing tools that will make it easy to grab a hi-res frame from pro-sumer gear. What then?

My feeling is that once the “good enough” market is saturated, photographers with the skills to “make” images will find new business models that return a decent lifestyle. We are in transition. The current angst is mostly fear of change but also about the heartbreak of all those career photographers watching their greatest love walk away. I hold grief for my profession but also excitement about possibilities since imagery is gaining importance in the marketplace.

It’s a time of disruption but disruption means high creativity – watch this space – good stuff is bound to happen.

Here’s a link to the NYT article that preceded the one that received my comment.  For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path

7 Responses to “NYT: Pros and Amateurs Debate: Is Photography in Trouble?”

  1. Kevin Halliburton Says:

    I posted my reaction to the New York Times article, and several other snippets in the same tone, here: http://ice-imaging.com/blog/?p=35

    Anyone saying “good riddance” to the pros really is an amateur in every sense of the word. Any “amateur” in that category, with the skills to challenge the “pros,” has certainly soaked up a ton of free knowledge from the very people they are now thumbing their nose at.

    So, you’re self taught? Really? Take a close look at your favorites or bookmarks menu, and maybe your bookshelf or video library, then ask yourself sincerely what “pro” photographers have done for you. Do you really want them all to die off and go away or just the ones who haven’t discounted their lifetime of blood, sweat and tears to your price point?

    I’m sorry but admit it or not, if you can consistently make great pictures then you owe a huge debt to the many professional photographers that paved the road for you. If you can’t afford to at least pay those professionals a measure of respect then you’ve got a character flaw that is stealing more from you than you will ever make in this lifetime. Discount your work if you must, but please, quit trying to discount the hard work of others just because you fail to understand its value.

    • Bruce DeBoer Says:

      Thanks Kevin – I really like your point about being “self taught”. I attended college for photography but I’ve never thought that anything I learned since was entirely trial and error.

      Your comment is making me think. What changes do you suppose we are going to see if the 10,000 hours of professional experience is no longer achievable? One of the main reasons I’m a professional is because I could never devote as much time to my art as I do if I weren’t.

      • Kevin Halliburton Says:

        Heads up, copyright infringement or not, I’m stealing that last sentence. It’s the most succinctly insightful point I’ve read on the creative nature that drives me both personally and professionally.

        I think it still takes 10,000 hours + worth of layered knowledge to master a thing but a lot of that knowledge is being downloaded and absorbed a lot faster than it ever has been before. You are one of the guys we all need to thank for that by the way – so, thank you.

        A huge part of that 10,000 hours used to be spent figuring out what you didn’t know that you didn’t know. Once you figured that out you could go about learning it through study and practice. The practice part of that equation won’t change much but we are getting to that part a lot faster now.

        Accredited degree plans used to be the best short cut for that step, but even those plans forced you to acquire knowledge at a prescribed pace. Ambitious minds, with a rich food source, grow a lot faster than that.

        Another huge advantage of a college education a few years ago was the network it opened for you. The internet picked the locks on a lot of those treasure chests. Knowledge and networks are now flowing waste deep in the virtual streets. You can just stick your Google cup in and drink all that you can stomach any time you want. Just be careful. It’s not the purest source, but man-oh-man, when you hit the right vein… a professional vein, it’s a headaches worth of download in a few minutes.

        I’m now a click or two away from a master, freely offering the information I need 24-7. Not only that, but I can have a conversation with them. I mean, look at me… Here I am having a virtual conversation with Bruce DeBoer for crying out loud! BRUCE DEBOER folks! Incredibly, generously, freely, he is reaching out and talking back, and everyone who reads what Bruce has to say will be richer for it.

        Two things will happen. One crowd will bounce off the highlights, discount the insights and think they arrived at their knowledge by some deserved osmosis conferred on them by the gods. Another crowd will pour over it with devoted interest, recognize your contribution to their life, pay respect and pay it forward.

        These two groups will continue to do business with like minded individuals. Both groups will continue to pay fair value both for what they give and what they receive. Demand for images is higher now than it’s ever been. There has never been a better time to be a professional photographer in either group.

        • Bruce DeBoer Says:

          Kevin – More than happy to share the quote. I’ve stepped out of the photography ring a few times and whenever I did it seemed as though I was losing ground. If you’ve watched the interview with Will McFarlane (if you haven’t you’ll like it if you do – he’s one of a kind) you’ll catch his quote: “It’s not like you get dinged on the head and your touch stays good.” Same with photography.

          The passionate photographer will find his place when the dust settles – I agree with you completely.

  2. Kevin Halliburton Says:

    Carl Jung nailed it when he said, “Art is innate in the artist, like an instinct that seizes and makes a tool out of the human being. The thing in the final analysis that wills something in him is not he, the personal man, but the aim of the art.”

    It seems like my “art instinct” is having to aim higher now than ever and it’s creating a greater will in me to go for it. I’ve been creating for a pay check as long as I can remember but I’ve never jumped off the high dive. When I pulled the license to start Ice Imaging in January of this year the burning question I had to answer wasn’t whether it was the right time to start an imaging business in such a competitive environment, it was how much longer I could deny the artistic drive to rise to the challenge.

    Of course, there is that whole “starving artist” reputation thing to think about. We’ll see…

  3. Stephen Moegling Says:

    I’m in the boat of wanting to work with more talented photographers but have fewer resources (budgets) to offer — my agency’s industry (like others) seems to be in a race to the bottom — for the cheapest, for what doesn’t quite work but it’s close enough (and cheap enough). I’m all for disruptive change and believe that something greater will emerge. But some days I feel like I’m standing in the days before the French Revolution.

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