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.

Filed Under: amateur, microstock, photography, profressional
Companies: getty, istockphoto, wdcpix

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), 31 Mar 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?

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.