April 6, 2011

Terrifying reality…

"It is a great time to be a photographer…it’s just not a great time to be a professional…"

Outgoing ASMP President and Pittsburgh corporate/editorial photographer Richard Kelly uttered this brilliantly poignant quote on the eve of SB3, a three-day ASMP business summit on its final stop here in Chicago over the weekend. 

What makes these 19 words brilliant is they have summed up the current
state of the industry with pinpoint accuracy. The same 19 words are terrifying because they have summed up the current state of the industry with pinpoint accuracy.

My response, and what I urge the students I work with on a daily basis is to take heart in this: YES, the industry is nothing like it was...ever!

And keep in mind, my father is a retired corporate industrial photographer, I have
truly grown up in the darkroom and have seen and been involved in commercial photography my entire life.

But the fact that the industry is nothing like it ever was doesn't mean it's dead, hopefully not yet at least.

It's waiting… waiting to be redefined and reinvented.

Just as the design and printing industry did when PageMaker showed up and typesetters found themselves on the chopping block, they were suddenly faced with competition from anyone and everyone sporting a newfangled Macintosh and an idea to pimp.  And we know how that ended up, don’t we?  Just ask your local typesetter…

I see the enthusiasm of from our students and I'm hopeful. Networking doesn't need to be taught to future photographers and media professionals, it just needs to be refined or redirected, ‘focused’ if you will.  Our youth understands its full potential better then we do, heck they invented it, we are learning from them.

Incoming ASMP president, Jim Cavanaugh: "what they need from us are solid business skills and strategies."

Couple a passion to create visual imagery (moving or still) with a targeted and informed entrepreneurial approach and today's emerging photographers will literally determine how and where the middle 60% of tomorrows photographers will make a living*.

Like numerous industries that have been forced to adapt or face extinction photographers are at a crossroads.  We need to look for new clients in new places with new needs or continue to throw time, money and hope at an old business model that is simply going the way of the dinosaur.

Only through contact with emerging photographers am I hopeful and energized about the future and the sustainability of our industry that I am so passionate about.

So go and shoot and share, network outside of your norm, try things that seem ridiculous, it just might work, stranger things have happened in recent years.

Just keep shooting.
*Because I know you are wondering, the top 5 or maybe 10% of photographers will always work, these individuals are in high demand and probably inspire a majority of individuals considering a career in photography.

The next 10 to 15% are very successful and while perhaps not achieving their own personal goals are still working and billing enough to support themselves in their career without questioning their own sustainability. 

The bottom 25% are the saltwater of the industry, while working and earning money, it is not their primary source of income.  They are advanced amateurs and you know what…some are really quite good.  The rub is this: they are just happy to see an image used then collect it's full worth or even any money whatsoever. Fueled by 5D's and D7000's they are systemically chiseling away at the middle 60% of the business where most of us are working.

With that in mind, please take advantage of ASMP, APA and other professional photography and media trade organizations. ASMP in particular provides a remarkable amount of business, licensing and copyright information to the general public at no charge.  Click here for a peek.

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