Still Photographers and the New Media Landscape

I’ve been around long enough to know that nothing lasts forever. I’ve experienced the up and down cycles of business and life in general and can tell you that nothing ever stays the same. Having an understanding and acceptance of that gives me the freedom to look around corners for opportunities red cameraand think outside the confines of my box. What I’m seeing is a growing demand for mixed media storytelling content from communications and marketing people to fill a plethora of needs –social media campaigns, TV spots, online pre-roll ads, and print ads.

Last September while attending the Next Video Conference and Expo in Pasadena, CA a light bulb went off after seeing a presentation given by Max Kaiser, Founder/Director of Hand Crank Films called Make Content That Resonates and Multi-Purpose. It was eye opening. Max explained how he demonstrates to clients the value of creating content that not only resonates with an audience but can also be multi-purposed and fill their other visual needs – including provide still images from his frame grabs. He said because he shoots 6K – he is able to produce high quality still images.  I could see that still photographers aren’t just competing with other still photographers any more, they’re competing with guys like Max and small production companies that are providing solutions to all their visual needs.

There’s no reason still photographers can’t provide mixed media for their clients’ visual needs, but they need to scale the way they think about their business and their role and become more of a visual assets producer. Most photographers are producers anyway, so why not provide more services to a client and keep them in house – in your house.

I think sometimes it seems easier to give ourselves reasons not to do something but change is going to happen regardless if you embrace it or not.

Some things to keep in mind:

Video is not a business model – It’s a medium and one that is well suited for storytelling.

There is a demand for mixed media. Video is not new. But these days it’s easier, faster and cheaper to distribute, stream and watch motion content online – anytime -anywhere. Our phones and other mobile devices are our “go to” platforms for news, shopping and even entertainment. Position your brand and business to fit with today’s communication needs.

Make content that resonates and multi-purpose it. Video + Stills + Sound = Storytelling messaging. Content should be well-planned, scripted with high production values and should feel authentic. Create from your own point of view and identify the niches and needs in the marketplace that fit with your vision and style. Demonstrate value to a client by providing solutions to more of their visual needs.

 

Advertisements

What Changed in Professional Photography and Why I’m Grateful

In a word – digital. The digital revolution has been a game changer, and not just for professional photographers, but just about anyone and everyone who has been in the “workforce” for more than 10 years.

When a “change” is so profound that it creates a cultural shift, as digital has in the way we do business and communicate with one another, we can’t ignore it. It’s pretty tough to be, as Joe Walsh says “I’m an analog man in a digital world”. It may seem like the “digital revolution” happened over night, but in fact it started many decades ago. Technology’s pace has risen exponentially over the last decade and will continue to escalate, thrusting change upon us. I think what we are experiencing now, is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Tom and I have been spending time recently “purging” ourselves of all the things we’ve accumulated over the last 3 + decades that we really don’t need any longer. One of our biggest tasks has been to cull through hundreds of thousands of analog images – from 35mm “chromes” to 4×5 transparences as well as B&W and color negatives. It’s a daunting task and it’s super easy to get sidetracked down memory lane. But, we are steadily making progress sifting through the analog archives – digitizing anything worthy – Old transparenciesand tossing the rest.

When we first began our careers in still photography, we used to toss our assignment rejects (chromes) into big wire trash bins, like the ones you’d see on NYC sidewalks. Back then, photographers had to pretty much “nail” their exposures or the images got thrown away. Those were the days before auto focus cameras and many images also got tossed because they were out of focus. These bins filled up a long time ago, but for whatever reason we held onto them. So, now we are asking ourselves – should we take a 2nd look or just haul the bins of images out to the trash?

No doubt, we’ll just trash the images, but we did take a look at a few of them and I could see in an instant how our profession has changed for good. The technological skills that a professional photographer needed to learn and master just 10-15 years ago, have been replaced by highly advanced gear and software, making just about anyone able to shoot a reasonably good image, and call themselves a photographer. And whether we like it or not – that’s our competition.

In looking back, I realized that the single one thing that has kept me in business all these years, is that I never put technology first. Rather, I always focused on the “idea”. Nowadays, people call it “vision”, but regardless, the idea always came first and then figure out how to use technology to execute it. Funny thing is a lot of my ideas were ahead of the times, in terms of the possibility of making them happen – but that has changed. It seems like anything is possible now. I am grateful for the perspective I’ve gained over the many years that I’ve been in this business. One thing is for certain, change is a constant and I look forward to a future where I can make more of my ideas and dreams come true.

Seeing Opportunities

The interesting thing about getting older is the perspective that one gains in the process.  You realize that all those decisions that you’ve made over the years, ultimately led to pivotal points in your life.  Looking back,

Gail in Window1983
Photograph of me taken in 1983

one either has regrets or is happy with the decisions they’ve made.  It’s usually a mixture of both. Regardless of a decision’s outcome, they all play their part in the life we have.

Some of the decisions I made early on in my “adult life”, charted the course of my future.  Perhaps, one of the biggest was my decision to take a sabbatical from Syracuse University where I was studying architecture.  I was a sophomore and only 19 years old, but I had an insatiable curiosity for the world beyond academia. So, instead of returning to college in September, I took off for Europe.  My plan was to meet up with a friend and travel around Europe and be home by Christmas.  The short story is that when I arrived in Munich and my friend wasn’t there, I made the decision to do what I set out to do – travel around Europe, except now I would be doing it on my own.

The long story is that I eventually met up with my friend a couple months later in Greece and we traveled around together until she went back to the U.S and I stayed.  I ended up traveling (mostly hitch hiking) around the world for a year and when I got home, I knew that I wanted to pursue a lifestyle that centered on travel and exploration.  I decided to become a photographer and use my camera as a means to that end.

I never did return to my studies at Syracuse University.  I headed to California, graduated from Brooks Institute and eventually came back East to make my mark in the editorial world – and I have in a richly rewarding way.  A lot as happened in my life since the day I made that decision to take a “break” from my studies so long ago, and I am grateful for all the opportunities and joy it has brought to my life.

I have just returned from a trip up to Syracuse.  I had been asked to moderate a discussion for an ASMP event, with National Geographic photographer, David Doubilet and Mike Davis, Alexia Chair for Documentary Photography at Newhouse School.  It was a fabulous event and was well attended by students from 9 different colleges in the area – all so eager to learn and make their mark on the world.

After the event was over, I reflected back on my days at SU and the life I’ve had since then. Somehow despite the angst and chaos of the times and the naiveté of youth, I made the “right” decision that changed the course of my life.  Here I was, decades later, at Syracuse University moderating a discussion between a legendary shooter for the “Geographic” and an esteemed editor and educator from the Newhouse School of Journalism. I smiled at how the universe continues to connect the dots in my life  – that is when I tune into it and “see” what it has in store for me.

The Advantages of a Disadvantage

My gang of friends.  I'm on the top step.
One of my early childhood tribes, Rochester, NY  (I’m on top step)

I re-connected with an old friend last week.  We hadn’t seen each other in 43 years!  Other than my family members, I have known this friend longer than anyone else in my life, except for one other.  But we hadn’t been in contact with each other, until a few months ago.  We’ve had  a wonderful exchange of emails and a bit of serendipity that led to an in person reunion. It’s been a cathartic experience for both of us.

We were teenagers, who used to “hang out” together. We went to different schools and we lived in different neighborhoods but for a couple of quick years, he, I and a few other friends, hung out together, on the warm spring and summer evenings of our youth. Until I moved…..again.  It was probably the tenth time that I had moved and changed schools, and I was only 16 years old and mid-way through my junior year of high school.   I suppose you could say that I had lived the life of a rolling stone. But it was what I knew.  In one of our dialogs, I reminded him about that move, and he looked at it, as tragic.

In a way, I suppose growing up in a transient lifestyle was a bit tragic.  Just when I would make friends, and feel like I was part of my “new school”, we would move again, to a new community. My dad was climbing the “corporate ladder” and with each promotion came a series of moves. I was the perpetual “new kid” and I guess I was always in search of a “new tribe”.  I grew up, a product of change.

I recently finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s new book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants”.  He talks about people who have turned the disadvantages  that they’ve had in their lives, into advantages.  Each chapter unfolds into a story about a highly successful person who had to overcome obstacles or disadvantages in their lives – everything from losing a parent to being dyslexic.  One example Gladwell cites is about a high profile Hollywood producer who had worked his way from his impoverished beginnings to fame and fortune.  His children had everything, but he was worried about their future.  He knew that if they didn’t have to “work” for something, they wouldn’t know the feeling of accomplishment and success.  They would not have the “advantage” that he had growing up, the advantage of being poor.

I realized after reading Gladwell’s book that what I might have looked at as a disadvantage, my nomadic life, was probably the biggest advantage I had.  It has made me take chances in my life and not be afraid to initiate an interaction.  If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have made friends.  It made me love school because I knew that was where I would connect to people in my new community. I learned to adapt to change.  If I didn’t I would have been miserable all the time or afraid – or both. Instead, I have lived my life, continually exploring my curiosities, whether it is visiting a foreign country, embarking on a new creative project or expanding my craft.

Would I have wished my nomadic life on my daughter?  Probably not, it wasn’t easy. But it certainly had its rewards.

Don’t Let Resistance Win

“Resistance is fueled by fear.  Resistance has no strength of its own.  Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us.  We feed it with power by our fear of it.  Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.”

Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art

Resistance manifests itself in many ways. Jaipur, India Most of us do everything we can, not to recognize the “resistance” in our own lives.  We plod along through life, just trying to maintain the status quo of our daily existence and habits, that we never “see” the sharp reefs buried beneath the surface of our relationships, our careers or how we are living our life.   We don’t see the reefs, because we don’t want to.  We think it’s easier to live a life of denial and that’s exactly what resistance wants.

Misery loves company.  Somehow, it makes us feel better about ourselves, when we compare ourselves to other under achievers, procrastinators, people down on their luck or just ordinary people who are extremely unhappy.  Essentially, people who don’t take control of their lives, but rather blame circumstances or others.  These people are victims of resistance.

There’s a saying “When a door closes – a window opens”.  I’ve always been one to focus on the “open window”, rather than the “closed door” but it’s not easy.  Any time I’ve had a shift in my life, or a “door closed”, my first instincts are to curl up in a ball, bury my head in the covers, admit failure and give up – or give in to resistance. But I know that if I succumb to those instincts, I won’t even notice the windows that have opened.  The funny thing is, most times, those windows were always open – I just never saw them.

I try to recognize those open windows in my life, but in order to do that, I need to battle resistance. That may mean, closing some doors myself.

Change

  • “The secret of change, is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”  Socrates
  • “Change before you have to.”  Jack Welch
  • “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”            Margaret Mead   block-isle-jetty
  • “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”  Lao Tzu
  • “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”  Charles Darwin
  • “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”  Steve Jobs
  • “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”  George Bernard Shaw
  • “Change brings opportunity.”  Nido Qubein
  • “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”  Winston Churchill
  • “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”  Woodrow Wilson
  • “There is nothing permanent except change.”  Heraclitus
  • “It’s the most unhappy people who most fear change.”  Mignon McLaughlin
  • “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”  Frederick Douglass
  • “Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.”  Robert Kennedy
  • “One of my favorite philosophical tenets is that people will agree with you only if they already agree with you. You do not change people’s minds.”  Frank Zappa

How Motion is Changing the Future of Photography

Mid-19th century "Brady stand" photo...
Mid-19th century “Brady stand” photo model’s armrest table (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years ago I heard visionary Ray Kurzweil speak at NAB (National Association of Broadcasting).  He was talking about the exponential rise of technology and how that would profoundly change people’s lives – and was.  His focus and predictions were mostly related to the advances we’ll see in medicine, but he relayed an analogy that has stuck with me.  He said:  (and I’ll paraphrase) that if you were in the horse and buggy industry at the turn of the century and thought of yourself as someone who sold buggies and whips, you most likely would  have gone out of business.  But if you were in the horse and buggy business and thought of yourself in the transportation business you most likely would have adapted, recognized that the future of transportation was in motor transport – and thrived.

The thing is, the ones who adapted early on – before the majority did – were the ones who made fortunes.  The ones, who waited until everyone embraced the automobile, either struggled to keep pace with the competition or died out.  I think we are at a tipping point as far as the future of the still photography business.  If we continue to think of still photography and motion as being two separate entities in the business of visual communications, it will be our demise.

Change never happens overnight.  Change is slow.  No one gets to be 400 lbs overnight; it’s a slow process.  But once it happens, it’s really hard to get back on track.  The changes that are taking place in the way we communicate are monumental, unlike any changes in the past.  I used to shoot a lot of annual reports, but not so many anymore.  I used to make a large portion of my income from the licensing of my stock images, but that income has dropped significantly because everyone has a camera and the supply of images is more than the demand.

I’m not an alarmist in predicting this change and in fact for someone my age who is on the tail end of his or her career, I wouldn’t be alarmed at all.  However, if I were just starting out in photography or even in my late 40’s or early 50’s and had another 20 + years ahead of me, I would not be complacent.

Some things still photographers should be thinking about:

  • Understand that there will probably not be a divide between the still photography and motion businesses.  This is really hard to envision because we tend to see things, by looking at the future in terms of the knowledge that we have on hand today.  But with motion cameras able to shoot 96 frames a second, and each frame being good enough to pull out and used as a still image, the changes for still photographers will be profound.
  • The concerns are not like those that a still photographer has had to face in the past, like when digital replaced film or when one needed to reinvent themselves as their markets changed. (For example when car shooters were phased out by CGI artists)  Shooting motion is a different mindset all together.  It also has profound differences in the way you run your business. While a still photographer of today, may find opportunities to shoot motion for their existing still clients, that too is rapidly changing.   I don’t think this will be an option much longer for still photographers. I think that motion shooters will be shooting motion and in the process creating stills as opposed to still photographers providing the motion content and the stills.  Just like a professional still photographer distinguishes his or herself from an amateur photographer who has an expensive camera, so do motion shooters distinguish themselves from the still photographer who seems to have little regard for the craft and knowledge of motion and thinks they will “just” start shooting motion when the time comes. It’s not going to be “just” that simple, especially if you’re late to the game.
  • Understand that technology affects everything and will continue to do so.  You may think  in terms of what’s possible today and that it would be incredibly labor intensive to go through tens of thousands of motion frames to pull out still images. But advances in technology will change that as well in the future. Technology affects everything.   Realize that software is changing too and that the edit process for pulling out frames will be easier and more streamlined in the future.  In fact, an editor’s job description will change greatly and that may be a job that is in high demand in the future. Even now, just do a quick search on LinkedIn and you’ll see that while there are very few job listings for still photographers, there’s a lot of demand for video editors.

Bottom line – start recognizing that photography and video are not separate businesses any longer.  Start understanding that will have an affect on the  future of the still photography business especially in terms of licensing, because traditionally motion camera operators work under work for hire agreements.  While still images won’t go away, that doesn’t mean that still photographers will be creating them in the future.