Friday, December 26, 2008

National Geographic gets it, kind of

There is no question that the new digital photographic tools (for capture and delivery) have spurned an increase in the number of people who hope to be great photographers. But there is a space that exists between those who “want” to be great and those who actually have the talent and unwavering drive to become so. No matter how much the field of photographers expands, the very best always seem to rise to the top and emerge.

The above quote was penned by photography director David Griffin on National Geographic magazine's Editor's Pick blog. NG recognizes the impact that digital technology, both on the picture making and picture publishing sides of things, is having on photography in general. NG even hosts photo competitions for serious amateurs, revealing the vast wealth of undiscovered talent out here in photography land.

Prior to his summary quoted above, Griffin stated that the thing that sets the serious pro apart from the casual picture taker is consistency of results. Can't argue there. National Geographic has set the curve on great photography for decades.

But in defending the consistency of NG photogs, Griffin gives the misleading impression that NG photographers return from an assignment with nothing but winners. Yes, NG photographers deliver the goods, but those photographers deliver hundreds if not thousands of images to see a handful of pictures land on the pages of the magazine. "Consistently good" means coming through about one percent of the time.

Whether that omission of detail was meant to discourage or challenge up-and-coming picture makers is uncertain (I take it as a personal challenge). NG does have its ever-decreasing share of turf to defend, just like every other paper publisher these days. NG has not escaped falling revenue and the need to lay off employees. Some reports indicate that a NG-sponsored photography seminar was cancelled because of a threatened boycott by freelance photographers unhappy with contract negotiations.

The reality is that while NG seeks the best talent in the market, they can no longer afford to pay what has been the going rate for that talent. Time will tell how "you get what you pay for" will affect the overall market for photography.

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