If Amateur Photographers Are As Good As Professionals, Then We Can All Be Professional Photographers

from the 1000-words dept

Only a few decades ago, photography was dominated by film cameras, where each and every photograph you took cost money and time to develop. To accumulate 10,000 hours of shooting experience under one's belt was prohibitively expensive, so only those truly dedicated to the craft were able to excel. The divide between the quality of amateur and professional was fairly distinct. Fast forward to today, and we now have a world where photographers can take thousands of pictures without ever incurring any additional cost, making quality photography more accessible than ever before. Also, with digital photography, feedback about a photo is instantaneous, which only serves to accelerate the learning curve. And with the proliferation of photo-sharing sites like Flickr, photographers can share, critique and comment on their photographs and technique, which makes everyone involved a better photographer.

These advances have greatly disrupted a previously solid industry. Last year, after producing it for 74 years, Kodak retired Kodachrome film. Likewise, microstock photography sites like iStockPhoto have undermined the stock photography business model so much so as to incur comparisons of its business to pollution and drug dealing. The microstock business has been buoyed by a the increase in supply of new photographers -- and as with any market where the supply is increased, price is driven downwards. Stock photography that used to cost thousands of dollars a year for a single photo now can cost as little as $1 for a royalty-free license. Furthermore, with the decline of newspapers and magazines, fewer photographers are being sent out on assignment. As a result, professional photographers are starting to feel the squeeze on all sides, and many are now struggling to make a living. Some professional photographers criticize amateurs for agreeing to the low prices. Photographer Matt Eich claims:
"People that don't have to make a living from photography and do it as a hobby don't feel the need to charge a reasonable rate,"
Unfortunately, "making a living" is not a reason to charge a certain price for any good or service. The price is set at what the market will bear, so in this case, the flood of supply and shrinking demand exerts downward pressure on the market. Hobbyists have nothing to do with it.

Advances in technology create new opportunities. The printing press probably made many scribes unhappy with their job security, but it also made the printed word more accessible to everyone and also created a new class of craftsmen who were needed to operate the printing presses. Likewise, with billions of photographs uploaded to the internet each day, looking at and sharing photographs has now become a daily endeavor for many people, as compared to a once-in-awhile event when people dragged out their photo albums. Microstock has made stock photography accessible to many more people who were previously priced out of the market. According to Getty CEO Jonathan Klein:
In 2005, Getty Images licensed 1.4 million preshot commercial photos. Last year, it licensed 22 million -- and "all of the growth was through our user-generated business"
As for the photographers, there's still a viable business for those that can adapt their businesses to reflect the changing landscape. Sure, the magazine industry may be flagging, but magazine production costs are also falling with services like MagCloud, and enterprising photographers are taking matters into their own hands and producing their own. Furthermore, new publications like Burn and JPG have emerged to take advantage of this new crop of seasoned photographers. Some photographers have even embraced the entrepreneurial spirit with their own ventures. Photojournalist Lauren Victoria Burke started WDCPIX, a photographic wire service for sites that can't afford a traditional wire service. For only $260 a month clients have access to a wide range of photojournalistic sources, much cheaper than AP or Getty. But, what's interesting is that subscribers of WDCPIX are actually paying for Burke's work that has not yet created, one of the "10 Good Reasons To Buy" that we've discussed here many times before. So, apparently, even for photographers, the mantra of CwF+RtB applies as well.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 3:27pm

    I cannot wait for the day that robots and intelligently-evolved algorithms start producing content. Then the amateurs can join the professionals at the pity party.

     

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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 3:40pm

    Re: LOL

    And soon, we'll have reliable AI that can troll forums so Cowards won't have to bother.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 3:44pm

    Re: Re: LOL

    Sooner than you think.

    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/ai-unification.html

    Then I can go back to making with the arts instead of shilling for it.

     

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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 3:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: LOL

    Cool! Thanx for that link.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 3:48pm

    "The price is set at what the market will bear, so in this case, the flood of supply and shrinking demand exerts downward pressure on the market. Hobbyists have nothing to do with it. " so wait, the flood of hobbyists have nothing to do with the flood of supply? this is like saying 'south of the border surgery isn't taking away business from qualified doctors, it's just the price the market will bear'

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 4:13pm

    Can be summed up in one phrase:

    The world doesn't owe you a living.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 4:16pm

    Re: Can be summed up in one phrase:

    But I made some stuff.

    PAY ME!!!

     

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    ppr, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 4:19pm

    Amateur Golfers Ruin the Sport!

    All those amateur golfers are flooding the market with golf talent, thus making it impossible for the professionals to make a living.

    These days the best professional golfers have to get by on a single private jet and yachts that rarely exceed 200 feet.

     

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    half-life (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 4:19pm

    I am a photographer and a videographer. I have been in business since 1987. It used to be relatively difficult to take a proper pictures especially with multiple flashes and or mixed light. I went through about 50 still cameras and many thousands of rolls of film in those 23 years. I used a light meter and I would tell the processor to push, pull or develop the slides or negatives to get the results that I wanted. It was great to get better and better equipment over the years. I never liked working in a darkroom so I fell in love with Photoshop in the mid 90's. I purchased my first digital camera around 2000 and have been happy with getting rid of handling negatives. However the down side of all this is that as it became easier and cheaper to produce photographs (video too) it opened the door to anyone to do the same. With instant feedback, it's true, anybody can make good pictures all the time if they just look at the back of their cameras and make corrections as they go.

    My business is less than 20% of what it used to be. Photography just got too easy. My former customers are doing there own photography now. Time to move on.

     

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    Fentex, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 4:22pm


    The printing press probably made many scribes unhappy with their job security, but it also made the printed word more accessible to everyone


    There's a lot of interesting comparisons to be made about modern tech and the introduction of moveable type.

    Especially in how it upset established orders.

    Moveable type made printing cheaper, enabled satisfying demand for books, created new demands for new books.

    Created demand for common language Bibles instead of Latin ones, which raised questions about translations and biblical authority.

    Which supported questioning church authority, which lead to the Reformation, encouraged the Renaissance, birthed the Enlightenment.

    There has, as yet, been no end to the consequences of freeing information. We haven't yet resolved what the printing press with omveable type has done for us let alone what the new digital frontier (a consequence of book learning) will do.

     

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    pr, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 4:29pm

    I think a better discussion of the 10,000 hours concept is at http://norvig.com/21-days.html

     

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    coco Was Screwed, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 4:30pm

    As with any pursuit, the good ones will always make a living. It's doubtful NatGeo will be sending out their admins and mail clerks or hiring that kid from accounting to do their work. It's the same for anyone who needs guaranteed results. Professionals (with extensive portfolios) are always the first choice.

    That being said, that moving company in Boise that needs photography for their fliers or new website, well they will hire that kid from accounting, well because he has a Nikon D40 with a really big lens.

     

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    Whom, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 4:52pm

    Definitely

    As far as I can tell, "professional," means that you get paid. Did you get paid a thousand dollars for your stock photograph, oneUSD , or no compensation (I include bartering, excluding self satisfatction[which could be considered compensation{I just LOVE my hobby)? Does that mean they are actually any good at their, ahem, job?

    Anywho, Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen were amateurs at one time. It was just in time for the quadrenary games after they had a couple o' rings from their... Where does this begin to make sense? Oh yeah... pay to play.

     

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    Whom, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 4:53pm

    Definitely

    As far as I can tell, "professional," means that you get paid. Did you get paid a thousand dollars for your stock photograph, oneUSD , or no compensation (I include bartering, excluding self satisfatction[which could be considered compensation{I just LOVE my hobby)? Does that mean they are actually any good at their, ahem, job?

    Anywho, Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen were amateurs at one time. It was just in time for the quadrenary games after they had a couple o' rings from their... Where does this begin to make sense? Oh yeah... pay to play.

     

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    Whom, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 4:59pm

    oops on the double post

    At any rate, time to buck up and remind people why _you_ are _the_ name in stock photography/footage.

    stock photographer: "My photos are of pimpin might!"

    editor: "So you are telling me that you are the only one able to take pictures of people in a city, walking down the street, waving?"

    stock photographer: "Yep, no one can take generic pictures like I can!"

    ps. I have an uncle that takes amateur photos and developes them himself. He also does things to make the money to have such a great hobby.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 5:10pm

    An Example

    My oldest brother is a photographer and graphic designer. He makes a good living and loves what he does, but is not rich by any measure. He does work for hire. Things like catalogs need photographers and designers and are very unlikely to be made by amateurs. The best gig he had that I know of was some company that sold safaris, they figured it would be easiest to give him and his wife a safari trip (plus a paycheck) where he took TONS of photos and designed a brochure using his own photos.

    There is still a place for professionals, but it isn't taking pictures of things people see every day, it is taking high quality pictures of things people either don't see or don't normally photograph.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 5:21pm

    There have always been "professionals" who have been hacks. Getting paid but not producing quality.
    There have always been "Amatuers" or hobbyists who have had incredible skill and talent.
    That will never change. Anyone can pick up a paintbrush (or use photoshop) but the high quality producers will always stand out, and always be able to command a fair price.

    It has always been, and so it will always be.

     

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    Demon Sun, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 5:38pm

    Pro's

    The traditional definition of a professional photographer has usually been one who makes most if not all of their living from photography. As a freelance photographer I rely on various jobs from photojournalism to weddings to earn a living. My biggest problem in the last few years is having a signed contract to do a wedding or other event, and then being called a week before the event to cancel because their brother/friend/etc... is doing it instead.

    I think a lot of this is because people see the one or two phenomenal pictures that that person took, and fail to realize why you hire a professional. It is because they make a living off of it they are far more consistent, and are better able to take those pictures that you will remember. This is the extra service you get with a Pro, but people have lost that understanding of what professional means. You may have a "professional" camera, but that doesn't mean you will get the same results as a pro would with the same equipment.

    Another place where I feel that having a professional photographer is of extreme importance, is photojournalism. As of late professional photojournalism has been replaced by a tendency to use photographs taken by the participants of the event. These photos have a place in news, however they can present a highly skewed image of what is happening. It is very easy to make 10 people look like 10,000 or 10,000 look like 10, this is why you need to have photographer that understand the how to report fairly on the scene with their photos. And yes I realize that there is bias, there will always be bias, but if the photographer on the scene is a neutral party you are much more likely to get a balanced view of the scene.

    Having done photojournalism for years I always try to be as neutral to whatever is occurring, and I know that many of my colleagues try to be as well. You can never replace a well trained, experienced photographer in many of these situations.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 5:44pm

    Re: Pro's

    Robotic photojournalists to the rescue!

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 6:06pm

    Abundant creation and the law of averages ....

    "People that don't have to make a living from photography and do it as a hobby don't feel the need to charge a reasonable rate,"

    The same thing is going to happen to all the content creation industries. Creation will become easier, Quality will go up on the short end of the bell curve (cats nose as opposed to long cats tail ... GRIN) due to the law of averages, Supply will go through the roof, and prices will tank. Now all we need is automated music quality raking software so we know whats at the cats nose ....

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 6:10pm

    Re: photobots ftw

    Why would amateur photographers be upset? Possibly you are confused about the terminology.

    An amateur .. is generally considered a person attached to a particular pursuit, study, or science, without pay and often without formal training. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amateur)

     

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    Dennis Yang (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 6:18pm

    Re: Pro's

    Great points.. I think that in terms of wedding photography, people are willing pay a premium for an experienced professional to do the job because it is more likely that they will capture some great shots of their day. That said, as the quality of "Uncle Bob's" photos comes up, then the size of that premium will go down. But, I think the biggest boon to the amateur photographer is that the marginal cost of a photograph is now zero -- so, back in the film days, most amateurs maybe shot a roll of 36 at a wedding.. but now, it's not unusual to have 1,000s of amateur photographs to dig through. That said -- if people are cancelling a contract week before an event, that's completely unacceptable...

    As for your thoughts on PJ, it's much like how traditional journalists claim that bloggers don't approach things with "objectivity" -- I think that objectivity is a myth, and if anything, I'd rather have 10,000 images of an event with which to form my own opinion rather than just 1 professionally produced "objective" image. That said, right now, we have both the experienced AND amateur photographers producing images.. so perhaps it's the best of both worlds. The challenge now is to figure out good models to allow the experienced photographers to keep honing their craft.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 6:23pm

    Re: Abundant creation and the law of averages ....

    http://www.whymusicmatters.org/

    only music that is copyrighted and has a monetary value truly matters. if music becomes cheap then it will be worthless.

     

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    zellamayzao, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 6:26pm

    I know an amateur.....

    My father is an "amateur" photographer. He has been doing it for years and has worked his way up through his equipment upgrading when he had the extra dollars. He does it for the enjoyment but has sold some prints and got published in a magazine or two but its just a past time mostly.

    He started shooting weddings in our area as a way to make a few extra bucks and seeing as how he isnt a "pro" he charges less for his services (bout 200$ less in our area) He does maybe one or two a month and makes a little extra cash on the side. Is he taking work away from a pro by undercutting their prices? Yes. Is he as good or better than some of those pros? Possibly.

    Point is as stated before, those who have the skill will make the money and you make the money people are willing to pay whether you think you are a pro or not.

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 6:49pm

    Re: Re: Abundant creation and the law of averages ....

    "if music becomes cheap then it will be worthless."

    That was my point. With an almost unlimited supply of unique music the value drops to zero. With an unlimited supply of music you have a bell curve where the short end (cats nose) is good, the bell itself is average, and long tail is really bad (think Yoko Ono). The cats nose (short end) ends up being huge amount of good music.

    A simple explaination. If everyone on earth were to record one song and upload it there would be 6.5 billion songs. Most (6.25 billion) would not be worth the cost of the storage media (bell curve and long tail). The cats nose (short end) would contain enough music for a life time of one time listening. That is what has happened to the photo industry, is happening to the news industry, and what will happen to the music and video industry also.

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 6:56pm

    Re: I know an amateur.....

    "Point is as stated before, those who have the skill will make the money and you make the money people are willing to pay whether you think you are a pro or not."

    Thanks! I just realized that the internet and digital technology are going to remove the entitlement culture from copyright. The middle men who feel entitlted are going to have to actually do something other than survive on legal contracts and selling other peoples works over and over. They are going to have to actually find something else to do.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 7:15pm

    The great line of value is called good enough when many people achieve that good enough line professionals are redundant. Markets shrink and grow, a few years from now some kid will figure something that it is difficult to do and will get paid a lot.

    I think this is the society version of downsizing, instead of industries firing people, people are firing industries :)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 7:16pm

    Re: Re: photobots ftw

    I'd like to think I was being sarcastic but I just don't know anymore, although, you're right!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 7:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: Abundant creation and the law of averages ....

    Until ACTA turns the internet into Television 2.0 . . . .

     

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    Demon Sun, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 7:19pm

    Re: Re: Pro's

    I fully realize that objectivity is a myth, we all bring our own perspective to the table. But, when you have 2 parties protecting, performing, etc... a party from outside of the two will certainly tend to be far more balanced than a party that is actively involved. and yes journalists take sides in articles, but many do try to write about the facts, and attempt to present both sides of a story. Sadly the trend today is that professional journalists feel that in order to compete with the bloggers, and other media sources they have to "sensationalize" and editorialize in subtle ways. This is unacceptable, although it is becoming more acceptable in our world today.

    There is definitely a tendency in the newsrooms of today for editors to think, "free image from flickr, or pay a photographer to cover the event?". it is sadly a choice that in a world of diminishing subscribers and revenue for magazines and newspapers, is fairly easy to make. And it's one that is definitely hurting the quality of the images that accompany our news.

    There is also a problem with the idea of quantity over quality for picture today, 10,000 low quality images do not equal 1 well though out and composed picture(yes I know, "composed," I mean the position of the photographer, the angle, the lens, exposure etc.). And Images such as Eddie Adams famous Pulitzer prize winning photo of the execution of a North Vietnamese prisoner in 1968, have more meaning than the thousands of other pictures that were taken in that time period. He was only able to take that photo because he had the experience to get the people to trust him, and to know the right moment to take the picture. When many people think of the Vietnam war they think of that image and only a handful of others, not the other thousands of photo's taken in that war.

    I do agree that there is a place for amateur photographers in photojournalism, and other places, but there are many places where you need the skill and experience that a professional photographer brings to the table. Most sporting events are covered by pro's for one major reason, they know how to get the picture. be it a slam dunk, a hand stretching out to reach a ball, those moments that happen so rarely you have to be ready at the split second before it happens. this is a skill that is instinctive, but also honed by thousands of missed moments, and mistakes, to be able to get that image.

    The single biggest issue is that because it's become so easy to take decent pictures, the value of the majority of good photographs has become diminished. This devaluing hurts those people like me who make their living from photography, because the skills that we spent years learning are no longer valued as highly as they used to be. This is one of the main reasons why photographers get so vitriolic about amateurs undercutting them, they see it as a devaluing of themselves, by saying their experience means nothing. I haven't been able to make enough money in the last year to pay for the upkeep on my equipment, much less to live on. And it's not for lack of trying, I sell photos on stock photography sites, I became freelance when I couldn't maintain my business with weddings, I charge well below the market rates, and It still isn't enough. There definitely needs to be a new model that allows pro's to make a living and improve their craft.

    There are a few places where you can still find very high quality photography consistently. One of which is National Geographic, which also has had quite a bit of influence in improving and exposing amateur photography, but while also paying some of the greatest photographers who ever lived to go out and take some of the greatest pictures ever printed. Another place that you can see some of the best photojournalism is in the various photo's in the NY Times, some of which are taken by amateurs, but still mostly by pro's.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 7:20pm

    Re:

    how? by people stealing artist's precious intellectual mind properties?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 7:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: Pro's

    http://www.gregdutoit.com/index.php?page=ftf_blood

    A few weeks later, feeling decidedly ill, I arrived back home and went for blood tests, the results of which revealed an assortment of parasites, including bilharzia and a few other worms. Our family GP phoned late that Saturday evening to comment on the alarming blood test results, asking me if I had been in any foreign bodies of water?

    With my body still covered in rashes, I finally sat down to view my film on a light box. Studying each image and remembering each intimate moment, I concluded that wildlife photography is more about the experience than about getting the shot. This is a philosophy that I hope to hold onto…

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 7:38pm

    A comment on Lauren Victoria Burke's story

    She's the one offering clients who can't afford Getty or AP a $260 a month subscription service.

    This was one of the comments on that blog post.

    __________________

    Jonathan Warren at 7:13 am, March 25, 2010
    What happens when AP or Getty offer a $250/mo deal though?

     

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    Trav, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 7:50pm

    Shame But True

    It is a shame, it has become to easy, I take great photos , so does everyone I know.
    As camera's get smarter its getting harder to even take a bad photo.

    As for been a graphic designer, I fear in 5 yrs why would anyone pay to get a site built or a poster even, it will be so easy they will just do it themselves.
    Especially when you see some of the new tools in CS5.

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 8:13pm

    If photos are used for free

    Right now the photo services are still selling photos to the media and corporations because there is a tradition of paying for photos (even though the prices are dropping).

    But let's assume the concept of licensing disappears and everyone just grabs what they want online for free. Then you either charge for helping the client find the right photo (which is the concept behind photo services like Getty) or you do work-for-hire at weddings and such where people will pay for the personalized service.

    The moneymakers these days seem to be the paparazzi because there's a competitive market for embarrassing celeb photos. It's not so much that amateurs can't take those photos. It's more about what you have to do to get them, which may keep the amateurs out of that line of work.

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 8:33pm

    Re: Shame But True

    When you think of the evolution of photography, it certainly has become more accessible, hasn't it?

    Another advancement, in addition to the "smartness" of new cameras, is that now virtually everyone has one on them at all times via phones. So rather than having to wait to catch the right shot, if it is in front of them, they can grab it.

    And since those phones can send those photos immediately, you've got "amateur" photographers sometimes being the first people to publish photos to the world.

    Also, it used to be that a photographer might have to take 1000s of shots to get a few good ones. Now you may have thousands of people taking a few shots each. Out of that you may get that perfect photo. Crowdsourcing of photos.

    One area where professional photographers might have the edge is if access to the subject matter is limited. If no cameras are allowed except for just a couple of people with passes, that makes it harder for the amateurs to compete. But that kind of thinking seems to be going against the DIY ethic. I can see limiting cameras because of safety reasons, but do you want to tell your fans they can't take photos at your show or event?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 9:38pm

    it is easy to mistake simple to use tools with actual skill. like music or movie making the tools are cheaper now but skill is lacking.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 10:12pm

    Re:

    Art is subjective. One shouldn't think like a lawyer when commenting upon art, one should think like an artist.

    Have you never been to flickr? Can you possibly say that the majority of amateur photographers lack skill?

    Where's your art at?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:05pm

    I think a good analogy is secretaries.

    In the 70s every man who had an office would have a secretary. Now software automation has given people the power to do what secretaries did effectively and without specialist knowledge. There is still a role for secretaries, but a smaller niche role, and good ones get paid more than they ever did in the past. Nowdays the women who would have been low paid secretaries in the past, are enjoying similar jobs to the men who would have employed them, and are earning much more.

    Photographers are much the same. It is a good thing that the job is changing. Good photographers can occupy the specialist niche, and earn more than they ever did. Other creative types who would have become photographers, can move into higher paying and more fulfilling roles that include photography as part of a wider spectrum of creative activity.

    It is a great thing.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:14pm

    Re:

    Art? Evolve? Thanks to technology? But the technology renders everyone incapable of any creative skill because they certainly couldn't use other forms of technology to communciate with one another, blah, blah, blah, CHANGE IS SCARY!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 5:22am

    Re:

    I would call it a dynamic environment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 5:35am

    Re: Re: Shame But True

    "virtually everyone has one on them at all times via phones." ... "Out of that you may get that perfect photo."


    The person behind the camera can make or break a good shot
    Many people have talent, all they need is proper equipment.
    Phones do not produce high quality output, no matter how hard you might try.

     

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  43.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 5:38am

    Re: Shame But True

    It is not a shame, I fail to understand your point.
    btw, it is easy to take a bad photo with excellent equipment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
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    I dont think so, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 5:48am

    Re: If photos are used for free

    Are weddings, stock photos and celeb snapshots the only types of photography?

     

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  45.  
    identicon
    MR Jim, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 6:16am

    my 2 pfennig

    Speaking as a professional photographer, I can sustain the verity of Mr. Yang's story regarding the rapidly changing landscape for pro shooters. Magazines are no longer willing to pay much of anything for good work along with advert agencies -who now mostly use stock images. Pro photogs have long relied on a professionally-driven market, namely editors and the like, who know what makes good photography.

    The fact is that the general public is largely made up of philistines that do not have the education nor the tools to evaluate the merits of an image. Despite the discomfort and challenges involved, I had to start marketing my skills to that sector and even started shooting weddings (something I thought I would never do - the horror!) in order to continue to shoot and pay the bills.

    I believe that if a pro is worth his salt that he will be able to stay flexible and channel accumulated experience and skills in a way to always stay one step ahead. Change is frequently painful and surely we all dream of having a monopoly in whatever field we work in, in order to maximize profit and minimize effort, but I also recognize that path leads to stagnation both for the craft and for me personally.

    No, I don't at all like the new landscape but I don't want to waste time lamenting about "how things used to be."

    The creed "evolve or die" also applies to me. I choose to evolve.

     

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  46.  
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    Jimr (profile), Apr 1st, 2010 @ 6:38am

    Semi-pro

    The is a definitely a difference. The novice photographer can get lucky and take a good shot. But it does take a keen eye and experience to consistently get good photographs. The best way I can say it is that a good photographer is like an artist with a vision.

     

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  47.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 1st, 2010 @ 8:33am

    Re: Re: If photos are used for free

    There are many types of photos. The question is who will buy them. If they become available online for free, there's less need to buy them.

    In the past we had Look and Life magazines, which led to a great era of photographs. Those publications are gone.

    We've had the famous fashion photographers. If those magazines fold, the demand for high priced photographers disappears.

    Rock photos. You know Rolling Stone will disappear. That doesn't mean people won't be taking photos of rock stars, and there's still a market for publicity photos, album covers, etc.,

    Nature photos. Depends on the existence of the magazines, the TV shows, whether collectors will buy, etc.

    People will continue to take photos. What is happening is that the market is changing. The magazines are disappearing. The news outlets are getting more photos from citizen journalists. The lines between professional and hobby photographers is blurring. Are some photographers better than others, sure. But if free becomes the norm because everyone can grab photos online and manipulate them at will, then you don't need to be a great photographer yourself. You just need to know where to find the photo and use someone else's work.

     

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  48.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 1st, 2010 @ 8:42am

    Re: Re: Re: Shame But True

    Phones do not produce high quality output, no matter how hard you might try.

    Not now, but they will. The technology will continue to advance.

    True, a small lens can't produce the same quality as the big lens cameras of the past, but not that many professional photographers use those either. The old, heavy equipment produced great photos, but many professionals abandoned them to use smaller, more portable cameras.

    Film is great, but many photographers have gone to digital only.

    And so on. There are always technological advancements, and in the process photography is opened up to more people.

     

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  49.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 1st, 2010 @ 8:57am

    Re: Semi-pro

    Keep in the mind the trend toward crowdsourcing. Ad agencies, content sites, etc., are now opening up the market to anyone who wants to submit. That means there's now a market (although one that doesn't pay much) for those lucky shots.

    If some random person sends you the perfect photo, if you're crowdsourcing everything anyway, and if you don't really care who sends you what you need, then that lucky shot is as worthwhile to you as one from the high priced photographer.

    That's what is changing. People are open to looking for the perfect photo out of millions of photos. Technology is making it easier to organize those photos and find them as needed.

    It would be nice to think that talented photographers are going to continue to get commissions, but as corporate and media gigs dry up, then, as many photographers are saying, they look to other work, like weddings, because people will pay for that.

    I'm a huge photography fan. I always have been. I've got multiple books by famous photographers. Avedon is my favorite. So I appreciate talent. But the glory days of Life, Look, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Rolling Stone, etc., seem to be over. National Geographic is still hanging in there.

    Now I find some amazing photos online. I have no idea who took them, but they get collected on various sites and I browse.

    If we get to a point where there are no copyrights on photos, I would expect the economics to change further.

     

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  50.  
    identicon
    Michael McAreavy, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 9:42am

    The Digital Revolution

    Interesting debate. I would like to think that the talent pool was there all along. The digital camera simply gave the masses an economic means for releasing this creativity. Note: I'm a landscape photographer who still works with (and appreciates) a slow, manual medium format film camera. And I have no problem with digital photographers surrounding me. Bottom line----- you have to work harder at showing the world an image they haven't seen a million times over.

     

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  51.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 1st, 2010 @ 10:06am

    Re: The Digital Revolution

    I would like to think that the talent pool was there all along. The digital camera simply gave the masses an economic means for releasing this creativity.

    Yes, what has changed is that now everyone can keep shooting until they get that perfect shot.

    When you were using film, and unless you had your own darkroom, shooting 1000s of shots wasn't affordable for most people. But when you can shoot as many as you want and discard all the duds, the perfect shot becomes more accessible.

    And, because there is no cost in shooting extra shots on digital, the "amateur" photographer has more opportunities to learn how to make good shots. That means the pool of people who have taken 1000s of photos has grown much larger. The overall skill level of the "amateur" pool should increase as well.

     

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  52.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 11:36am

    Check out this "amateurish" mash-up of the trailer for Law Abiding Citizen and Team Fortress 2.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjGrHBpfqCo

    So amateurish.

     

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  53.  
    identicon
    Andrea McLaughlin, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 12:48pm

    High unemployment makes the pool of professional photographers larger

    Perhaps we are forgetting the impact of the current recession on the number of photographers competing in the photo industry. It's not just the availability of fairly low cost DSLRs that make pro photography appear lucrative, it's also the lack of better employment opportunities. In every economic downturn since the 1980s I've noticed unemployed amateur photographers decide to become professional photographers. The great recession of 2008 is no different, with more photographers than ever competing against each other, disrupting the market for photography services as everyone here has been describing.

    Sensing the competition, buyers of photography bargain hard, causing prices to drop. My observations from past spates of high unemployment are that once the recession is over and other easier and better paying jobs become plentiful, most wannabe photographers go back into other fields. This leaves fewer photographers; prices climb higher for work that requires a professional.

    One example is in wedding photography where brides in 2010 may accept the Uncle Bob level of wedding photos (delivered on a cd) because that's what they can afford. But a few years from now as the economy bounces back, a bride & groom will be able to afford the personal attention of an experienced pro photographer with a fabulous portfolio, extensive references and a second shooter or two to capture their wedding beautifully from every conceivable angle, and all edited down into elegant handmade custom designed wedding albums that will last for generations.

    Highly specialized human skill, I believe, will always be more highly valued than automated quantities of random quality. When the economy is good, we will see those who can afford to, prefer professional photographer’s work over searching tens of thousands of amateur images to find the perfect “free” photograph.

     

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  54.  
    identicon
    I am not a pro - it's just a hobby, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 6:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Shame But True

    The capabilities of an 8x10 view camera with tilt shift lense still surpasses that of just about any commercially available digital camera. This is still the choice of many professional photographers for certain subject matter.

    Not sure what you mean by "big lense", but I'll assume that includes professional and prosumer film and digital SLR cameras. These cameras can produce excellent quality product unobtainable from the point and shoot variety for several reasons. With digital, most point and shoot cameras lack RAW mode and their lense is a compromise, this leads to inferior product. There is no getting around this via technological advancement. The point & shoot and cell phone cameras will never be capable of what the SLR can produce. To imply such is just being silly.

     

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  55.  
    identicon
    Derek, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 6:42pm

    The challenge to "professional" photographers is to educate people on the quality we can bring to an assignment. Some of my colleagues would punch me for saying this, but there are times where Uncle Joe with the cheap DSLR is plenty good enough.

    What the rise of the amateur has done to pro photography is to expand the market stratification that was there all along -- exponentially, which hurts sometimes, but that's really the only difference. By and large, for both society in general and for photographers specifically, this is a good thing. The more the janky crap proliferates, the more people appreciate the difference between utility photographers and skilled craftspeople.

    Sometimes amateurs are GOOD for business. One of the less gear-dazzled locals recommends me when he encounters a project that's out of his league. Occasionally a client will mention the awful results they got from using Uncle Joe, Jim from Shipping, etc. But the most common complaint I hear about amateurs isn't about their photography, it's about the experience of working with them -- they're slow, they're late, they're too serious, they're too casual, it goes on.

    I've had a few instances of people asking me to explain my rates, especially when their hobbyist relative (sometimes with equipment every bit as good as mine) has offered to do the job. Hey, depending on the project, Uncle Joe might be a better choice; stuff like liability insurance, off-site backups, etc doesn't matter to everyone. My rates are average in my market, adjusted to overprice what I'd rather not work on, and I defend them by just showing my work and explaining that customers aren't buying my camera, they're buying my time and attention. I try not to be arrogant, but whether this is worth their money is entirely up to them.

    Laypeople and (some) amateur photographers often define success by the equipment and not the results -- as if an expensive hammer built a better house or a "pro" oven baked a better cake. But the gear is the easy part...

    There's more to being a pro photographer than being a good photographer, it's also about being a good professional. They still don't sell that at BestBuy.

     

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  56.  
    identicon
    I am not a pro - it's just a hobby, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 6:54pm

    Re: Re: Re: If photos are used for free

    Again, you assume too much.

    "In the past we had Look and Life magazines, which led to a great era of photographs. Those publications are gone."

    They were gone well before the age of the digital camera.

    "We've had the famous fashion photographers. If those magazines fold, the demand for high priced photographers disappears."

    There are many other areas that support profesional photography

    "Rock photos. You know Rolling Stone will disappear. That doesn't mean people won't be taking photos of rock stars, and there's still a market for publicity photos, album covers, etc."

    If the Rolling Stone disappears, it will not be because of digital cameras.

    "Nature photos. Depends on the existence of the magazines, the TV shows, whether collectors will buy, etc."

    Why does there need to be a paper magazine to support the production of professional photography? There are many alternatives.

    "What is happening is that the market is changing."

    Agreed. Those in that market need to adapt.

    "The magazines are disappearing."

    Magazines are disappearing for reasons other than the proliferation of digital camreras. The rest of your comment implies that the abundance of freely available photos of lesser quality will somehow desensitize the eye of the beholder when viewing photographic works and therefore they will accept the lower quality product as being good enough. This may be true for some, but not all potential markets. There is a lot of new and creative stuff being done, and if you want a large format on your wall, you are not going to get it by copying somethiong off the web.

     

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  57.  
    identicon
    I am not a pro - it's just a hobby, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 7:01pm

    Re: Re: The Digital Revolution

    "Yes, what has changed is that now everyone can keep shooting until they get that perfect shot."

    This would be true for still subject matter. However, many situations require meticulous setup in anticipation of a shot that may never present itself.

     

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  58.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 1st, 2010 @ 7:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: If photos are used for free

    I didn't say magazines were disappearing because of digital cameras. I said magazines were disappearing, which was eliminating one traditional source of income for professional photographers.

    As for the art market, yes there is one. I was curious how prices were holding up. I found this.

    Experts at odds about Price Drop on the Market for Photo Art | Photography Collection: "Due to the financial crisis, prices for photo art have been drastically reduced. To which extent exactly? Experts are still at odds about this. According to artprice.com, the price index for photos during the first quarter of 2009 was at 159 points, almost at the same position as during the second quarter of 2004. In order to assess auction results for photo art, July 1990 is used as reference with 100 points. As the market for photo art boomed, the price index was at more than 200 points at the beginning of 2008. artnet.com has noted a distinct dramatic price reduction. The prices for photos from the 19th century are now at the same level as at the beginning of the 90s, and even that was a low-price phase. Similarly, photos of modern art have also lost value. The prices for contemporary photos are also decreasing, however, according to artnet.com, they are far from being at such a low level like the auction results of photos from other eras. All together considered, artnet.com is portraying the picture of a dramatic recession. If one were to take a closer look at the progression of the graphic, the market is threatening to collapse completely to the level of the 80s of the past century, which would cause the boom for photo art to disintegrate into nothing."

     

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  59.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 1st, 2010 @ 7:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Shame But True

    Not sure what you mean by "big lense", but I'll assume that includes professional and prosumer film and digital SLR cameras.

    Sorry for the confusion. I should have said medium and large format cameras.

     

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  60.  
    icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 1st, 2010 @ 8:17pm

    Re: Re: Re: Abundant creation and the law of averages ....

    A simple explaination. If everyone on earth were to record one song and upload it there would be 6.5 billion songs. Most (6.25 billion) would not be worth the cost of the storage media (bell curve and long tail). The cats nose (short end) would contain enough music for a life time of one time listening. That is what has happened to the photo industry, is happening to the news industry, and what will happen to the music and video industry also.

    That's pretty much what I have been arguing as well. And we may all be better for it, because each of us will have created "our" song.

    We're giving people tools to make music, to make art, to make videos, to have blogs, etc. And people are using them. It's fun. People are going to be creative whether or not there's any money in it.

    The disruption of the Internet isn't just about ending the power of big companies, it's also about changing the concept of who is a creator and who is a consumer. Crowdsourcing is certainly changing the idea of what projects people can contribute to. You don't necessarily have to be a "professional" to submit the winning design. So the idea that you'll pay your dues and build up relationships can go out the window if all the reviewers care about is what has been submitted, item by item, and if they don't even bother to learn anything about you.

    When you have a big world and potentially everyone is on equal footing for a submission, it's quite a change from the past.

     

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  61.  
    identicon
    I am not a pro - it's just a hobby, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 9:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: If photos are used for free

    "All together considered, artnet.com is portraying the picture of a dramatic recession. If one were to take a closer look at the progression of the graphic, the market is threatening to collapse completely to the level of the 80s of the past century, which would cause the boom for photo art to disintegrate into nothing.""

    That is not encouraging for someone making a living in the field, but it could be worse. Hopefully things will improve.

     

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  62.  
    icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 3rd, 2010 @ 12:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Abundant creation and the law of averages ....

    Here's just three of many articles talking about how crowdsourcing is changing the economics of creative fields.

    Crowdsourcing -- Why Not | Logo Design Marketplace: "One thing to remember about crowdsourcing is that while it may involve a large number of individuals working for the client, they are not company employees. In fact these are ordinary people who are either experts or amateurs in their relative fields."

    Why not try crowdsourcing? | Marketing Masala: "Howe further suggests, 'the person you think is the best qualified to perform a job, isn't always the best person to do it.' Crowdsourcing, therefore, allows you to tap into an international pool of talent filled with individuals who are willing to answer your call for programmers, graphic designers, photographers etc."

    Crowdsourcing and your photoblog Blog on Photoblogs: "Recently, I picked up Crowdsourcingby Jeff Howe with the intention of reviewing it on my other blog, The Procrastinating Entrepreneur. Fifty pages in and I was quickly realizing that I could easily apply the concepts Jeff was discussing to my passion of photography, namely photoblogs. Jeff talks about how crowdsourcing functions like 'an immense talent-finding mechanism' (sound familiar?) The more photoblogs I come across the more amazed I become on the immense talent pool that exists in the world of photography."

     

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  63.  
    identicon
    i like tuesday, Apr 20th, 2010 @ 12:36pm

    No Rent

    Seems to me that the differences are on the margins. Truly talented professional photographers will still be able to command a good price for their work. Those professional photographers of undistinguished talent will no longer be able to make a living based solely on extracting rents from the cost of entry into their trade.

    Welcome to a photographic meritocracy.

     

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  64.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 20th, 2010 @ 1:05pm

    Re: No Rent

    Seems to me that the differences are on the margins. Truly talented professional photographers will still be able to command a good price for their work.

    I think this is true, but we've lost some of the publications that helped to make some of truly great famous and to provide them an income as they were working and becoming famous.

    So the question now may be how the unknown, but talented photographers, reach the point where they are earning significant amounts for their photos. I'm not sure if "famous on the Internet" will be the equivalent of "famous in Vogue" or "famous in Look" or "famous in Rolling Stone."

     

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  65.  
    identicon
    Eric, Jul 26th, 2010 @ 6:36pm

    Re: Can be summed up in one phrase:

    The world doesn't owe you a living either troll.

     

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  66.  
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    yo momma, Nov 8th, 2010 @ 1:14pm

    Re:

    teur treu

     

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  67.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2010 @ 9:40pm

    Why having to go to school for many years, spend lots on money to get a degree, if you can do it from home.
    I am a mom of two, working on call to finance my life, but my heart is all about photography, so why shouldn't I be able to become a pro without having to go to the university?

    Why can't I charge for my time and my equipment as well, as others?
    Am I less worth because I can't effort to study it in the university?
    If my photos are nice and clients like them, why can't I call myself photographer?
    Not a hobby photographer, I mean more then that !!

     

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  68.  
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    -1#1 (profile), Jan 12th, 2011 @ 1:00pm

    Amateurs are not as good as professional. Not to say there isn:t very strong work produced by hobbyists. There certainly is.
    But how would any of us living life online know the difference?
    By viewing a postage stamp size postage size preview or jpg posted online.
    Try printing that. Or for that matter selling it.
    The truth, for anyone who wants to admit it, is that all of this is a dream.
    And none of you are real.
    Good article DY.

     

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  69.  
    identicon
    Photo pro, Sep 7th, 2011 @ 11:56am

    Don't forget

    Don't forget professional photographers were all amateur photographers in the beginning. Hobby or not, photographers all share similar roots. If someone realizes they can sell their photos, they will sell their photos. People have been making profit any way they can since the invention of currency. Over saturated market or not, they (the "non-pros") will never go away. Only the best will continue to go far. Those who are best at business and best at photography. It is a pro's job to raise the bar since over saturation is an issue to be concerned about. What will people pay more for? How can you show them you are worth more than uncle bob? Stop worrying about all these "fauxtographers" and up your game. A Kia will NEVER be a Bently.

     

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  70.  
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    jenny, Oct 26th, 2011 @ 2:58pm

    Re: Can be summed up in one phrase:

    ya ..in one wedding

     

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  71.  
    identicon
    Union Boss, Jan 6th, 2013 @ 12:09pm

    Life doesn't owe you a thing and price will be determined by what the market will bear?? Wow where are all the union thugs on this one. The cry for years has been "I deserve to make a living" so says the union employee. Silence --- I don't hear anything. Amateur or hobbyist is the same word as SCAB!!! Yes you scabs are crossing the line and performing the job for less. WE pro's used to get 25 dollars an hour and now only get maybe 10. Okay fine --- that's the market only willing to pay for what someone else is willing to do the job for ------- THEN SHUT DOWN THE UNION'S NOW ---- if their is one union thug on here defending a hobbyist then let me show up at your work place tomorrow. How about all you nurse's or teachers making a little on the side through photography --- Then introduce me to your boss, I will gladly accept the position that your doing now for a LOT less ------ what doesn't seem quite fair all the sudden. If you are a hobbyist ---- then don't TRY and sell your ware, do it for your own fun.

    If you are a hobbyist photog and your husband is a union worker ----- what kind of piece of crap double talker are you? I have a bother, uncle, cousin etc; out of work -----oh please let me know where to show up tomorrow and take your husbands job for less ---- Once again I hear silence ????

    If hobbyist are around to stay then answer this ---- why are they giving away their work for free under the guise of building their portfolio's? The hobbyist answer is to build a portfoilo of "good" work so THEN I will be able to command a price for my work ------ HAHAHA the joke is on you, finally you can start charging but now you half wit j^%#asses just entered our world and realized NO ONE is calling you now. WHY --- because NOW their will ALWAYS be someone, just like you used to be, new that is giving it away trying to build their portfolio. Do you clowns NOT GET THIS?

    The normal bride has completely lost sight of what is a reasonable price to pay anymore thanks to SCABS crossing the line. When the line is so blurred from $4000 to $400 for a wedding photog the rational thing is to take the lower amount and cross your fingers. Fine, the get off my ass if I want to buy a cheap foreign import car --- don't tell me to buy USA to help support YOUR job. This is the same principal and I dare you to try and argue it.

    Photographers don't have a union and god NO do we want one but I DO NOT EVER WANT TO SEE ANOTHER PICKET LINE!!

    Fortunately for me I am one of the best and will remain so but the hobbist/AMS will remain as SCABS. Prove me wrong, next time you hobbyist get sick go to a doctor who is giving his services away for FREE to gain experience. Try a free attorney when your in trouble or a dentist who works out of his garage ----- DARE YA, NO---- then your a freakin Hippocratic oaf.

    The difference is we toiled under an apprentice pro for years until we were good enough to go it alone. Now all that happens is you practice along the way until you feel competent to start charging which is exactly WHY their is NO MONEY LEFT in this industry.

    Thanks SCABS, I hope you choke on it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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