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Free Photography Will Save the World — and Nine Other Myths

Posted By Paul Melcher On December 10, 2008 @ 8:27 am In Photojournalism | 3 Comments

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In our changing world of photography, the myths and misconceptions abound. Here are 10 that come to mind:

1. Photojournalism is being killed by celebrity photographers. In fact, photographers who cover the celebrity scene, whether red carpet or street photographer, have the same ratio of good to bad photographers as in news. It takes some of the same skills to cover news and celebrity. Regardless, Time or Newsweek have not increased their celebrity photography coverage. They just have just lessened their news coverage.

2. Editorial photography is dying. What is dying are the daily and weekly print publications. Newspapers, magazines, and old brands. They cannot compete with the speed of news anymore. What is dying is the image that is formatted for a print support with a rectangular format. What is dying is the photography taught in school and colleges today. There is a new medium for editorial photography that has never existed before, that knows no boundaries in size, amount, artifact and pricing (the Internet). What really is dying here is an old mentality.

3. Video will replace stills. Take a look at the volume of video images that came out of the Olympics. Hours and hours of footage. Now, tell me who will sit down and edit film pumped out at 25 frames per seconds to find the right image?

4. Anybody can shoot great images these days. Why would anyone say that when pro photographers have always used the same equipment as amateurs? This is not like dentistry or chemistry where the tools are hard to find, let alone the knowledge. Photography has always been easy to learn and the equipment always available to anyone. The only part that has changed is how much easier it is these days to share. But really good images created by amateurs have always been around. Not as accessible, that is all. It’s not the equipment that matters in great photography, it is the person holding it.

5. If you produce a lot of images, you can make a living with your photography. A rule of thumb more in the stock photography world than in the editorial one. It was true for a while, when it was expensive to distribute images to clients. Today, it is a dangerous thought. Quantity will slowly be replaced by quality as the market will no longer be able to support myriads of photographers hoping to make a living. Image buyers will no longer be capable of keeping up with offers and will start closing doors.

6. A photo editor knows a lot about photography. A photo editor only knows a lot about the photography used in their publication. He or she works, breathes and sleeps in a very confined universe. Their ability to make one publication look great almost never translates into making any and all publications look great. That is why very successful photo editors never leave the publication they work for. They grow into them.

7. Blogs about photography are useful. Besides posting press releases they never read or repeating something they read elsewhere, they actually do not help much. Only a very few escape the narcissistic trip of the popularity contest and give out valuable insight. They are extremely rare. The rest are operated by hit counters.

8. Every successful photographer is a great photo editor. Why do thousands of photographers flock to have their portfolio edited by another photographer? It would vaguely make sense if one would want to be that photographer or replace him/her. Even so, photographers are the worst editors of their own work. But what makes a successful photographer a better editor than a non-photographer? If anything, when they see a great portfolio, wouldn’t they try to dissuade that person from stealing their job?

9. There is still room for a news agency. With AP, AFP, Reuters, Getty, EPA, DPA and other wire services employing some of the best photographers in the world while controlling most of the sales channel, there is no more oxygen. The best one can hope to do is represent a small pool of extremely talented photographers and help them get assignments, but even that is not a given. If they are extremely talented, they really don’t need much help. So what makes all these agencies try to cover events with 1/10 of the resources the others have with medium to mediocre photographers (crumb photographers)? Hope ?

10. Free photography will save the world. There is only one thing that will save photography, if it actually needs saving. It’s photography — great photography.

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3 Comments (Open | Close)

3 Comments To "Free Photography Will Save the World — and Nine Other Myths"

#1 Comment By Bob On December 10, 2008 @ 11:48 am

Most photographers have biases. Most of those involved in documentary photography, for example, think that their portion of the medium is so important that photographs from other POVs isn't truly PHOTOGRAPHY.

#2 Comment By Mike Fox On December 10, 2008 @ 5:11 pm

Paul makes many excellent points (not a huge surprise), and I hope that my blog is one of the non-narcisstic variety!

As with any business, there are cycles to be observed. One day everybody is making a fortune from iStockPhoto. The next, it is so saturated with subpar images that the entire business model falls in to question. Digital Railroad and Photoshelter are the next big things - and then they scale back or die off.

The important thing is to stop yourself being in denial. With the rapid evolution of technology, particularly in the digital age, we have a more urgent need (and the opportunities) to regularly reinvent ourselves. Documentary photography IS still extremely important but with a declining print readership, how are we going to deliver the important messages that come from documentary photography, to an audience that might be empowered to make a difference?

Video and stills? I really believe that some stories are best told using video, whereas others are best told using still photographs. Then again, some stories are best told in words. It is important to remember, when taking photographs, "what am I trying to achieve with this shot?" Do you want to sell something? Tell a story? Create something to hang on a wall? Capture a memorable event? Would a portrait photograph be best shot as a still photograph or a video?

Final point, in this ramble. Just because somebody has a camera does not make them a photographer. That's like saying someone who owns a piano is a pianist. Yes, almost anyone can hold a camera to their eye, point it at a subject, and press a button. But how powerful will the resulting image be? Will it be effective in doing anything other than being a not very well thought-out photograph of a random subject? I do not agree that "photography has always been easy to learn." It's easy to learn how to use a camera but not necessarily so easy to learn how to take a great photograph. And that is why, despite all the nay-sayers, a for-free photographers (frown), and wannabe pro's, there will always be room for a professional photographer, but only those that react to the need to reinvent how they do business, and those who readily accept their customers' needs change over time, will survive.

#3 Comment By Ryan Holloway On December 11, 2008 @ 10:21 am

I have to agree with the above comment, I've taken a few classes, and talked and shared pictures and exchanged websites with a lot of people, photography can be easy to lean for a few people, but for the majority of people it just does not come naturally and they really have to work at it.

Ryan

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