Paul Melcher @Melchp just wrote a piece entitled That Much is True about the value of the professional photographer. I started to write a response on Facebook, but decided it would be a better blog post.
Paul and I had recently discussed this very issue in response to a blog post I wrote called UGC and PGC, debating the value of Professionally Generated Content in a world flooded by User Generated Content.
So here’s a response to Paul, pointing out the places where I think he gets it right, and where I think he’s missing the mark.
Every profession would love to have an impossibly hard moat to cross . Unfortunately for pro-photographers, theirs is small and almost dry.
Paul, while much of what you write is true about the traditional stock business, it does not address important aspects of assignment photography, which often carry some requirements that are best addressed by pros. You seem to say that professional releases are about the only real difference.
What still protects the pros are rights management ( copyright, model release, property release) but that is also fading away quickly as more and more platforms are helping out . So what’s left ? Who will put some water in the moat ?
I think it’s important to deconstruct client needs when talking about the value of a professional. This might include high-pressure situations, special equipment, certificates of insurance, high-cost shoots, location needs, showing up during business hours, etc. Any of these can force the assignment into the province of a professional. This moat is not created by photographers, it’s created by the requirements of the job.
Ignoring these needs instead of highlighting them does a disservice to all. Obviously it does damage to the market for professional photographer, but it also may lead people on the client side to make poor decisions. People who remove photography from their marketing budgets may regret that as complex needs arise.
There is nothing glamorous in taking corporate portraits or real estate pictures. If given a chance, all pro photographers would rather be making a living shooting what they love, like amateurs do, rather than shooting to pay the bills.
I’d also take issue with this. In a 30 year career, I have gotten great satisfaction from making portraits and from the challenge of shooting architecture. So while most people would rather be on vacation than at work, don’t assume that no one likes doing a particular kind of photography just because you don’t want to do it.
I love everything about assignments like this one I did for PBS in April. The client, the people I work with, the process, the people I photograph, and, yes, getting paid. And while it may look like this could be shot by any enthusiast photographer, I can tell you that the requirements of the shoot definitely called for a professional.
Brands and advertisers are turning to Instagram for their next campaigns.
Lumping all of Instagram into one bunch is also a bit of a disservice. Instagram is many things, including a channel for the distribution of professionally-created brand communications. We’re starting to see companies hire photographers at professional rates to produce needed images. There are plenty of news stories that illustrate the need for professionally created and managed social media communication.
Additionally, I think there is a lot of opportunity for professional visual communicators to carve out new methods to make a living in a changing technical landscape. (Own the stack!) It’s true that the old stock photography business is in big trouble as the water disappears from the moat. But many of us only got part of our incomes from that business, and all disruption creates opportunity. So let’s dive a little deeper as we analyze the place of the professional visual communicator in our current marketplace.
Both Paul and I will be at the LDV Vision Summit in New York June 4th, where I hope we can carry on the conversation. If you’re interested, you can get a 20% discount using the code KROGH.