“Everyone is a Photographer Now…”

Photography:

A recent quote by photographer Mary Ellen Mark has had some angst-driven controversy:

““People are bidding on something that has no value. I thought it was a joke, so I just took a cell phone picture of a real photograph. It is easy to take a good picture and so hard, almost impossible, to take a great picture. It takes years of labor to do this well. Photography is a craft, an art, a point of view. Instagram is not meant to be fine art or a beautiful object; it is social media—a means of communication.”

Yes.

And no.

As photography itself becomes ubiquitous, and slides farther and farther from the ‘craftsman’ column of definition, those practitioners of the craft will bitterly hold on to it – as a drowning person will a life-preserver.

They allowed their self-worth to be determined by the tools, the experience and the learning that they put into the creation of the image.

What used to take days now takes a half second. Or less.

What was a long and somewhat arduous road of practice/failure/practice is now an escalator with rest stops and arcades along the way.

What used to take a year’s salary to purchase can now be done on the phone you use to find out what time it is, or where the local diners are, or check on your favorite sports team’s score. Oh, and make calls too.

Those that fought for every new advance in film ability, or camera technique feel as though their very being was wasted. What good is it climbing up the mountain if at the top there is a parking lot with a mini-mall.

I always cringe when I hear someone say something along the lines of “everyone is a photographer now” with a bit of venom or resignation in their voice.

Yes.

Tis true… but I don’t think that is bad. On the contrary, the amount of imagery, what that imagery is used for and how it is perceived is wonderful, uplifting and socially, personally exciting.

As with anything that has to do with technology, the changes usually end up making the process easier, the outcome more predictable, and the learning curve flatter. This is a sword with two edges – it has always been so.

I think she is right about one thing.

Photography is now communication. Language. A link between people and peoples.

Photography is no more in the residence of those who built it, painstakingly slow and with precision. That was photography as a ‘child’ – to be taught with rules and guidelines and arduous facts.

Photography is now a young person striking out on its own… and it has new rules, new tasks, new sensibilities.

Growth and maturity means a new entity.

What we called photography will endure, but it has a lot wider embrace, and a far deeper pool of practitioners.

That’s cool.

Reposted from Facebook.
What’s Wrong With Photography? Nothing… Its Photo Writers We Should Question

What’s Wrong With Photography? Nothing… Its Photo Writers We Should Question

A review of an article written for F-Stoppers by Lee Morris.

The Nikon DF Represents Everything Wrong With Photography

Or does it?

I have a bad distaste for the bullshit club. The elitists who sit on the sidelines telling others what ‘should be’ without getting in the game. I have never held professional critics to high acclaim either… once it becomes a profession there is a compelling NEED to slam artists as the critics greatest fear is to be thought of as going ‘too lightly’ on someone who was less than stellar.

Add to that the need for the critic themselves to be thought of as far more sophisticated, and far more in tune with the art than the average schlub and you get film critics hailing slop like “Gravity” while passing on films that do well because they  were loved by the ‘masses’ – or to critics – ‘the dirty unwashed…’

Enter this terrible article by F-Stoppers written by a photographer named Lee Morris. It was a bitter, mean spirited article that sought to place Mr. Morris as that ‘on high’ photographer passing the judgement wand over those who didn’t quite ‘measure up’ to his high, high standards.

A NOTE FROME ME (EDITED IN)

Look, let me be clear. If you have a camera, and you like that camera, you can keep that camera. No one will be taking away your camera and forcing you into another camera.
Thank you.

“The Nikon DF Represents Everything Wrong With Photography”

We could wonder at this statement as something to marvel at, but really – what does it mean? What is wrong with photography anyway? I did not know that the wheels were off the rails in photography, did you? But – hell, it’s an online journal and we all know the importance of link bait. Pulled me in – guess it works, eh?

“Are we excited about this camera because of the photography we will be able to capture with it or are we excited because we will look trendy and fashionable holding it?”

Reading a little further in the article, one wonders who ‘we’ is. Clearly not him.

And the question asked begs another question… Why are you so concerned? Does it matter to you what the reason is for another’s interest?

Motive is now a point of contention when wanting to buy a camera?

Really?

“Cameras look the way they do today because they have been made to fit comfortably in your hand. I’ve never heard a professional photographer complain that a camera was too big or too heavy.”

What? Cameras look the way they look today because some designer built them that way based on design points that were measured and specced based on lots of reasons. Ergonomics is only one… And really? If you wanted an ergonomically created camera, it would most definitely NOT look like a DSLR. They are built to look like film cameras. They even have a ‘film chamber’ style – box/back/lens to them.

I take from the statement about weight that he doesn’t remember the very successful campaign that Olympus did with the release of the OM and the OM2… all about weight. The Nikon F3 was smaller than the Nikon F2 – and lighter – and those were features.

That apparently no one wanted – at least in Mr/ Morris’s world.

Personally I have heard many a photographer – me raising hand – that would like to see a less bulky camera, although I do love the feeling of my motor driven old F2′s. Manly men type of machines.

And things change.

“It’s always been really strange to me that this whole micro 4/3 explosion has happened because I feel like I have a pretty decent camera built into my cell phone.”

OK. What do we do with this information, sir? You don’t get it, much of the rest of the photography world does. I guess you… don’t. Feel free to not purchase a micro 4/3 camera. It’s allowed.

“If I want to take a professional picture, then I’m going to grab my professional camera.”

No such thing, Mr. Morris.

Define a “professional” image.

Define a “professional” camera.

Really cannot be done. Professional photographers have been making images on everything from home-made pinhole cameras to the most expensive one-off’s ever created (think the massive Polaroid machine). There simply is no definition of either that makes any sense at all.

But what Mr. Morris is saying is that he feels more “professional” when he has his big DSLR in his hand. Fine – but isn’t that what you are telling the rest of us is ‘wrong’ with photography? That need for ‘show’?

“So please don’t try to tell me you need a DF because it’s so easy to travel with and then strap a 70-200mm to it.”

Ummm… OK… no, wait. I have to tell you that I won’t be finding it easier to travel with and then strap (strap?) a bigass zoom to it. I don’t use bigass zooms. I use really small primes. Don’t tell ME what lenses I have to use… fair?

And really, what if I did? Would that diminish your photographic experience or  life in any way… at all? Have you ever seen a 600MM on the front of a D4? I have… that massive lens makes the camera seem terribly small – and holding it quite a challenge.

So what?

“There is also no way that holding this camera with your fingers will ever be more comfortable than a full-handed grip on today’s cameras.”

So you are an expert in my fingers now? I shot with an F3 for nearly a dozen years. I am perfectly capable of knowing how my hands grip that camera… with love and affection. And no, they never got tired or irritated or – whatever.

So to that statement I simply say – “way”.

“I think it’s safe to say that this camera’s buttons were not chosen with ergonomics or speed in mind, they were chosen to make it look like an old camera.”

Hmmm. maybe. Why do you think speed is important? Not every photographer is into ‘speed’. You want to see speed, use “P”. Lots of photographers – me for one – like the idea of slowing down the process. I never had a winder for my Hasselblad… I LIKED cranking it. It made me pause between shots for a breath. I had motors on my F3′s and would fly through film – a roll in a few seconds in a lot of shoots… only to be handed a second camera from an assistant frantically rewinding and loading the first. And I would choose the large view cameras when I wanted to make sure that things slowed way down.

Those choices were important to me. They were important to a lot of photographers. In fact, up until the F4, whether to motorize the advance of the film was a choice we made as well. And lots of shooters like Eugene Smith chose lighter cameras over the weight of those early motors. Yeah – weight and size did matter to them as well.

“Do you know why older cameras had a mechanical shutter release cables? Because they hadn’t invented better technology like self timer, infrared, or radio triggers.”

Better? Never had the battery go out of my cable release, never had any interference issues with my cable release, and I never had to make sure I had the right frequency on my cable release.

Better sir, is a term not suited for this discussion.

(And the self timer is quite old in camera construction… makes me wonder how much the author really knows about this stuff.)

“When I saw a picture of this camera being used with a physical shutter release cable it was proof that my theory was correct: so many people don’t care about pictures anymore, they just want to be “photographers.” “

Another whiner. Soooo concerned about how many people are photographers… You know what, Mr. Morris, it is exactly that point that makes me excited. I LOVE that there are lots of photographers. I LOVE that others have found the absolute joy of image making, and are finding ways to express themselves. I don’t find it an abomination, nor do I think there is something ‘wrong’ with photography because of that newfound expression.

I genuinely feel a bit sorry for those photographers who seem to be so put out by the fact that their art is enjoyed by many others. And, Mr. Morris, we are ALL photographers now. Get used to it.

When I saw that cable release, I thought about the tactile thrill of holding that shutter button and pressing it at the exact moment when all came together in my viewfinder. I had a physical connection to the camera that was real. I do not feel that when connected by wireless – and there are most definitely a time and place for that wireless connection.

We get to make that choice. Choice is good in my world.

“Using an outdated/obsolete device to take a picture makes you more of an artist today.”

No, sir. It simply is a choice my hands and heart makes. You may feel free to not ever use these old, antiquated tools. I would like to make the choice TO use them if I wish. That OK with you? If I ask nicely?

“This product exists to appeal to the same people who have gone out and bought film cameras recently because they are “too artistic” to use digital like everyone else.”

(I promised myself to not go to my usually outraged voice, but this statement pushed me to the edge of that promise. Deep breaths…)

That statement is so arrogant, so self-centered and so desperately out of touch with the subjects he is talking about that it brings into question his bona-fides. “Like everyone else…”

Does he know about artists like Richard Rinaldi, or shooters like Jennifer Boomer?

Wait… no, he doesn’t. Never mind. Let’s move on.

“You may not shoot video, you may not care about video, you may hate that still photography and video are merging. It doesn’t matter what your opinion on video is, the fact is that removing features from a product does not make a product “revolutionary.” “

I have not seen that term used with this camera. Have you? We call that a “straw man” argument. And maybe the ‘revolutionaly’ approach is the size and the way the features ARE laid out – even though not to the liking of Mr. Morris.

I am glad I do not have to worry about my opinion on video while reading HIS opinion on this camera. So many opinions… I would get lost.

“If Nikon had a logical reason why this camera couldn’t shoot video then I would be fine with it but we all know with a simple software update the camera could shoot amazing video like every other DSLR.”

More arrogance (unfounded I am afraid) on display.

It doesn’t have video. I don’t want the camera to have video. I want the camera to be the camera. I have video on nearly every other camera, and I simply do not want it.

I still have the right to NOT want something, don’t I Mr. Morris? Is there a form that I need to submit to be allowed to want what I want?

“When I first saw this camera I have to admit that I was excited, and for many reasons I still am. But I had to ask myself why?”

No. Really. You didn’t.

“Is this camera going to help me take better pictures?”

An interesting question, Mr. Morris. Does any camera in your opinion help make a ‘better’ photograph? I am not in that group. I think that the photographer makes the image, and the image is all I care about. A crappy photographer with a Rebel can get a 5DMKIII and guess what – still shitty photographs, just sharper a bit.

And online it makes no difference anyway. And so many photographers are simply shooting for online delivery that the idea that a Rebel cannot compete with a 1D in a 900 pixel wide image is laughable.

But I am not laughing.

“Is my photography business going to improve if I buy it?”

Nope. Would your photography business improve if you bought a Hassy? If the answer is yes, move heaven and earth to get it. I simply cannot imagine what piece of gear could improve one’s business. Dollars for marketing, or a studio in a better neighborhood – maybe. But a camera?

“Am I only excited because this camera looks different than other current cameras, or does this product only appeal to me because it reminds me of the first camera I ever owned?”

I don’t know. If it was, is that wrong?

Are the people who lovingly restore their vintage cars everything that is wrong with transportation today?

Are those who ride the older style motorcycles, the retro Triumphs and BSA’s and Indians everything that is wrong with motorcycling today?

Are those who listen to music on vinyl, preferring it to the CD everything that is wrong with recorded music today?

Or are they folks that make a choice. They choose something that may remind them of a time when the camera was an extension of their eye, and did only what we wanted it to. When part of the process was to choose the film type, the ISO, the processing baths… when the camera was simply a tool for the eye to look through and the brain to calculate… the heart to feel.

Perhaps it is something that brings them closer to a time that they remember and love… like a sentimental Hallmark card, or watching Costner plow the field waiting for someone to come.

That is isn’t what is wrong with photography today.

What is wrong with photography is everybody getting all vexed over what someone else is doing. What is wrong is that we have a whole new crop of people TELLING us what is good, what fits our hand, what will not be worth it to us.

TELLING us instead of allowing us to make choices based on our own needs, wants and desires.

“I’m honestly really excited that Nikon is doing something “different” but at the same time I would hate to see this camera, which I believe in many ways is a massive step backwards, become the best selling “pro” camera simply because it looks cool. We buy things every day because of the way they make us feel and that’s fine. I believe this camera will bring a lot of people a lot of joy. I just don’t want you to forget that we are supposed to enjoy photography, and not just being fashionable photographers.” (And yeah, I left out the link to the author’s workshop in the Bahamas… will let you go there on your own.)

I am staggered by the arrogance and the fake humility on display here. He is trying to ‘save’ us from the pitfalls of buying a camera because we like it, or how it looks, or because we can stand around with it and a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon listening to our AM radios and singing DooWop? It’s OK… we don’t really need saving. We are capable of making a $3000 camera purchase without being totally, you know, clueless.

Seriously.

No, there is nothing wrong with photography today. The problem is with photographers.

And possibly photo media… ya think.

Always has been.

EDIT… I was accused of removing a comment that was not favorable to me. I assure you I did not. Here is the screen shot for those of you who may have been told that I did. You can scroll to the comment on your own, but I thought this was really a cool way of adding a little graphic to the fun. Heh.

chuck

On the Sun Times Firings… One Month Later

On the Sun Times Firings… One Month Later

(NOTE: I do not get any newspapers, nor am I at all interested in newspapers as they are printed… If I want yesterday’s news, I can listen to it on the radio. Newspapers are desperately trying to find a way to keep going without changing what they do. It is not possible, but they will continue to be surprised by every new trend that comes along until they shutter the doors, and sell off the furniture. Not if, but when. That is my personal opinion and of course may shade what I write.)

This may not win me any friends, but I have somethings to say about the Sun firings that I gotta get out. A comment on another thread got me thinking about it like this:

The Sun-Times fired all their staff photographers.

They were indeed the first to do this en-mass, but do remember that the NYT and LAT and SF Chronicle made massive cuts a few years ago. Also add ESPN and a few weekly magazines to the list. I think I read something about Sports Illustrated as well, but not sure if it was the entire staff.

The Sun may be the first newspaper to fire the entire crew, but they won’t be the last. Not by a long shot. Many other papers are down to only a small handful, and whether they fire them or let them retire will be a matter for the owners. (I have no doubt they will NOT do the honorable thing, most of newspaper owners are assholes. While that is not a scientific acknowledgement, I believe it to be true.)

Some say it is all about the bottom line, but I think in this case the bottom line is change.

Spot news has changed. The people on the scene now have technology that can record both video and photographs, and – they are there NOW. A PJ must be dispatched, sent across town, awakened… whatever, but they are usually NOT on the ground when the spot news is breaking.

Most people do not have any discerning taste regarding spot or hard news shots. Just watch the incredibly lame and terrible video that passes for local news any evening. Kids in garages could (and do) make better. How many people call the newspaper to complain about the tonal range or excessive sharpening of that shot of the car accident on Main? Sure, G+ photographers do, but who else?

As to the ‘beat’ photographer… the guy or gal who checks in at the local cop station and hangs around waiting for a grab shot or two… no one cares anymore. That was of interest to the public at an earlier time, it is not anymore.

A quick snap of an iPhone of the mayor giving a press conference is fine for most dailies. Think of the shots where the PJ’s are all lined up with cameras in the air shooting a talking head giving a press briefer… do we really need Pro’s for that anymore? The shots are generally tepid to boring.

Photo from this article which you should read as well.

iPhones in the hands of reporters can make tepid, boring photographs just fine. Add one of them cool camera phone filters and – wow. But I digress…

In this PP article, they show cover/cover comparisons of the Trib and the Sun side by side. And while the Stanley Cup covers can be held up as a “see we told you so” moment, the rest of the comparisons seem to be not so harshly decided. The Sun continues with the same sort of stuff it had before.

Is that surprising? It is disappointing?

Do YOU have a subscription to the Sun-Times?

Just asking…

I do not pretend to like this new trend, but I do recognize that it is a trend that will not be reversing any time soon. Every major story in the past 3 years has been covered by folks on the scene with camera phones and P&S’s, the PJ’s coming last to the scene.

The plane in the Hudson didn’t wait to sink till the PJ’s got there from Midtown, nor were any PJ’s on the scene in Boston when Muslim terrorists blew up innocent people. Riots in the streets of Cairo, to shootings in the streets of Washington DC, the people there have it… stills, video, the whole shebang. By the time the PJ gets there, they body is covered and the cops are taking statements.

That was enough then, it isn’t now. It won’t be going back to the old ways.

The world has changed… and PJ’s better change along with it.

Or risk being the subject of nostalgic documentaries made by those who did.

Pricing to the Value of the Work

Pricing to the Value of the Work

I heard a very talented photographer say she charges less than others because she is new to the business and doesn’t think she should charge as much as the older, more established photographers.

I think she is completely and totally wrong. The value of the image to the client is neither less nor more depending on her time in business.

If the image is good enough for the client to use to sell more of his custom colored, whizbang widgets, it is good enough to charge rate for. If it is not, the photographer is wrong to be charging anything at all and the client is an idiot for running an image that will not help him sell his widgets.

The viewer of the ad has no idea the age of the photographer, nor should that even enter into the discussion of the value of the image… that value is intrinsic in whether or not it works to convince, convert, entertain, mystify or indulge.

My thinking is this;

If the work is good enough to charge anything for, then it should be regarded as an item that has the value of being priced in the current rate climate.

If I show you a photograph, and you love it, do you love it less when i tell you the photographer was only 16, or that the photographer had been shooting less than 2 years?

If I show you a photograph and you hate it, do you like it better if when I tell you that the photographer is an experienced, well respected photographer, or that the same piece is hanging in a local museum.

To me it makes no difference… If I like it I like it and if I don’t… well…

In other words the work created has no relationship to the creator’s status unless it is attached by the creator themselves. There is no intrinsic ‘beginner’ value to the image, nor is there something automatically inherent in an image shot by an old timer.

When we create images for people they can only fall into two camps in my opinion. Good or bad, and should considered that way for our clients and ourselves.

To provide a less than excellent product is in my mind a bad way to build presence, create a fan base or even grow into an artist. The reason is that since the artwork doesn’t carry any intrinsic information as to why it is less than stellar, the viewer sees it as representative of the work of the artist. The print doesn’t have a disclaimer “Well, I was just starting out.”

This is not to ignore the fact that artists grow and work that was acceptable before becomes less interesting as the artist matures. That is a different situation though. The artist still held that work in high esteem when it was created.

I know that it seems like I am rather pedantic on this, but I think it is important and can be quite a challenge when one is trying to establish a price that doesn’t make one look like a dork.

(Yes, I used pedantic and dork in the same sentence.)

And remember that when one begins pricing, all other prices are based on that model… so if you start low, it can be seen by your clients and fans as a challenge or “issue” to raise your rates. If you start high, it is seen as a value when you ‘discount’ or ‘gift’ lower rates. The value of your work stays high, but you can always bequeath a lower rate for any reason you want.

A $25 shoot fee is a bargain when your normal rate is $100.
A $25 shoot fee is a steep rise when your normal rate was $10.

Same shoot, different paradigm based on where you started your pricing.

The photograph is loved, used, published, viewed, and scaled to the users wishes… no matter how much you charged or how long you have been in business. The image now lives as its own entity, with no ties to anything but its own value.

So stop tying things that have no relationship to the finished image into your pricing. If it is a good image, it is worth as much as you say it is… and hopefully you will say it is worth much more than the amount of time it took to make it and print it.

Say it is priceless… but you will make them a deal – yeah – do that.

Well, This Cliff Jumping Thing Worked Out Well

Well, This Cliff Jumping Thing Worked Out Well

On Jumping Over A Cliff…

So this guy tells me… “You should jump off that cliff, Don.”

I stare incredulously at the guy cause I am not good on cliffs. Not as bad as my bud Charles… but that is a different story. I am not crazy about heights.

“Are you crazy”, I say… “jumping off a cliff can hurt, or even kill me.”

“Nawwww”, this guy says… “I have jumped off a lot of cliffs and never got hurt. Ever.”

“Really…” I am now intrigued… still skeptical, but intrugued. “How did you manage to do that?”

“It’s really SIMPLE”, he said, “all you have to do is know the secret of cliff jumping, which is a really easy method that I can teach you.”

OK, so now I am all in.

“Teach me”, I said. And then forked over $467.93 (still don’t get that price, but another topic) and we began.

He showed me all the techniques he used and we studied his methods of leaping and preparing and ‘thinking’ about his process.

On jump day, I thought the right thoughts, prepped the correct way, ran for the cliff exactly how he showed me, and did a perfect rendition of his ‘cliff-leap’…

On the way to the hospital, he sat next to me with a concerned look on his face. I was bandaged and bent, and had a tube in my nose.

“What happened?” I was going into various stages of consciousness.

He shook his head an looked at me with a look of pure patronization.

“You chose the wrong cliff.”

You can learn all the cliff jumping techniques you want from famous cliff jumpers… or whatever. But you better know what cliff you are leaping from.

They are all different, you know.

After 10 days in ICU, and two months of therapy I realized that he was right. The tactics worked fine, but not on that cliff.

“Ahh, yes, I remember you. Your the one that chose the wrong cliff”, he said as I called him on his private line.

“Yes… I want to learn how to choose the right cliff.”

We set it up for the following week. He had a group put together for an advanced workshop ($964.86 – ???) and I found myself in the company of various folks who have been in and out of physical therapy and chiropractors. They too had chosen the wrong cliff.

We spent the next 3 days learning to judge distance, find height and figure out velocity of falling imbeciles versus the depth of sand. This was grueling work, and we finally could judge the right cliff for the incredible cliff jumping to come.

As we were hoisting brews to a job well done and saying our goodbyes, he casually tossed out this little nugget; “I hope you all don’t kill yourself from doing the wrong thing in the air between the cliff and the sand… and goodnight.”

We looked at each other incredulously… “What do you mean… in the air…?”

He stopped and looked at us with a quizzical stare and said… “Look, knowing what to do and which cliff to choose is one thing, but the true power of cliff jumping is knowing how to fly and what to do to keep yourself safe.”

$3672.94 later I had mastered the skills of cliff jumping, the art of choosing the right cliff, and the science of what to do during the jump.

I haven’t done a jump yet, though.

I am quite busy working on my next workshop on “Cliff Jumping for the Young at Heart” which is based of course on all that I learned from those wonderful workshops.

It’s gonna rock… stay tuned.

First Be A Photographer

First Be A Photographer

I follow a very nice group of people on a forum on Facebook. They are all trying to start their businesses with varying degrees of luck and success.

One of the things that is emerging is that many of them are simply not ready to be professionals and in business. And that is a shame.

It is not a shame they cannot be in business, it is a shame that they thought it was as easy as buy a camera, get some business cards on the way home from the camera store and then shoot like one of their heroes shoots.

Not having any understanding that their hero spent years, decades even, learning and honing their craft, they think that if they copy the light and methods, success will be right around the corner.

It usually isn’t.

And while the perky workshop husband and wife teams go merrily out the door selling young photographers on how ‘easy’ it is to become rich shooting families and babies and weddings, the reality is that it is anything but easy.

Yes, they may have opened their doors five years ago, but they were shooting a lot longer than that.

Marketing plays a huge role as well, but that is a discussion for another time.

My take on all of it is that first, before the business cards and the promos and the vouchers and the awesome website and the perky videos… one must first BE a photographer.

Being a photographer means shooting technically and artistically without encumbrance. It means knowing the gear, how it works, how light works and how to use it to make the images you see in your head… or on someone else’s Pinterest.

Being a photographer means not struggling with simple light, and being able to concentrate on the shot at hand. Being a photographer means knowing what the shot is going ‘to turn out like’ before committing it to the film or sensor.

It takes time. And a lot of shooting and failing and screwing up. It takes understanding the win, and working through the challenges.

Football players generally play more than 8 years before they are considered by the pros. Tennis players play for years and years before getting to the pro circuit. Cello players and rock drummers play and woodshed and practice for decades to get to the point of becoming a paid musician.

Why would anyone expect photography to be any different.

I think it is important to shoot a lot of photographs, and love making photographs so much that it is all you want to do. Live photography and breathe photography and dance photography.

When you are shooting photographs that matter, photographs that everyone thinks is awesome, photographs that YOU think are awesome, you may turn around and realize that you are already a professional photographer.

That’s when the fun begins… really.

Thanks and see you next time.