Thursday, December 25, 2008

Whither this business called photography?

Blame it on technology. Life is rolling along in its comfy cozy course when suddenly, a new technology emerges and upsets the happy balance of things. Then the new world order becomes the comfy course until the next wave of technology crashes ashore.

It happened with graphic design. In the mid 1980s, I was gainfully employed as a graphic designer, producing beautiful creative work, mainly by hand. Then this thing called the Macintosh computer hit the scene. Suddenly, intricate design work could be done in a fraction of the time and with more precision than previously imaginable. My t-square and technical pens are now a distant memory.

Fast forward another decade or so. Self-publishing on the internet takes off and the traditional printed media suddenly wakes up a few years later wondering what hit them.

Today, I read a lot of photography forum discussions that tackle the topic of the effect that digital camera technology and online photo sharing communities are having on the business of professional photography. Web sites like Flickr, SmugMug, Picasa and PhotoBucket have placed Carl Sagan-like numbers of photographs (billions and billions and billions) online and available for anyone to view and download. And a growing fraction of those billions of photographs are pretty darn good – good enough for some major users of photographs to take note and begin casting their nets in the direction of the online picture communities.

I can’t complain. Photo sharing has been very, very good to me. I had been photographing for several years, working very hard to get a few photographs published to begin building an audience for my work. I started a photo blog and a Flickr account in 2005. In the ensuing three-plus years, I’ve published about 2,000 photos online and currently receive from 7,000-8,000 views of my photos each week. I recently passed a half-million views of my photos. From online contacts, I’ve sold photos for publication and prints for private collections.

Some professional photographers are concerned about what the many millions of serious hobyyists will do to the quality and value of professional photography in general.

One only has to look at the graphic design and publishing industries to predict what will happen to photography.

The spectrum of work available will grow exponentially. In graphics and publishing, technology allowed a lot of junk to flood the market. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection could become a player. On the other hand, a lot of talented people saw the barrier to entry lowered and jumped into the game. We’re already seeing that with photography.

Good work is still good work. It is still possible to stand out in the photographic crowd, just like it still is in graphic design and publishing.

And that’s what those in the business of photography, just like the successful designers and publishers have already done to grow and thrive – find a niche in the overall market and become very, very good at servicing that niche.

The good news is that the very technology that brought upheaval can also help make the best of the new world order.

Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

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