Today’s photography market is flooded with functional images that wash over us without impact. They may do the “trick” for cash-crunched art directors and editors — but they have no magic.
They are “good enough” images at a time when being “good enough” seems to be all that matters.
The Economics of “Good Enough”
It’s simple economics, I suppose. When people are asked to perform the same work for less compensation, they try to crank out more product in less time to make up the difference. Volume becomes more important and quality less.
So it is for photographers today.
When amateurs entered the commercial stock market via microstock, they were lucky. There was a big, unmet need for low-cost, “good enough” images, and these amateurs were just good enough to produce them.
But if you wanted to make real money, as opposed to lunch money, microstock was all about volume. The more “good enough” images you could upload in the shortest amount of time, the better your chances of making a buck.
And so now the Web is flooded with these images. And budget-constrained image buyers seem quite satisfied with that.
This mentality isn’t confined to stock photography, however. Photojournalism, celebrity, sports, portraits, weddings — every aspect of the photography world has been affected.
Look at Time and Newsweek, for example. They once took pride in the images they published. Now, they are chock-full of photos from wire services, the supreme masters of the “good enough.”
Web sites, of course, use images by the pound. Quality is an afterthought, if it is thought of at all.
This land of the “good enough” is a comfort zone for everyone. Deadlines are met, budgets aren’t busted — and expectations are diminished.
What We Lose
So, what’s so bad about living in an era of diminished expectations?
Well, quality suffers, obviously. Since it is not rewarding anymore for photographers to spend a lot of time on images, no one really does. If someone is happy with a half-done job, then that is great.
Perfectionist photographers pay the heaviest price, as their market is quickly slipping away.
The audience for images suffers, too. Consumers simply don’t get to see great pictures anymore. They are served up illustrations that fill a need, functionality and nothing more.
For photography lovers, this is a real loss.
But for everyone else? Who knows, maybe today’s audience figures it gets what its pays for — especially online, where all the content is free. Diminished expectations all around.
We can hope that when the economy improves, we will see a resurgence of the exceptional, an opening in the market for great photography.
For now, though, it looks like we will have to settle for “good enough” and dream of a more interesting future.