The Professional Photographer –
An Endangered Species?
I’m thinking this title might be getting some photographers’ attention …
What made me think about this was a thread I was on with some other unit still photographers on Facebook. One of my colleagues had thrown out this question to the other still photographers that were out there:
“…are you noticing more and more bts (behind-the-scenes) images that are being used by the studios and networks for social media were not taken by the unit photographer assigned to the show?”
A fair number of fellow unit photographers replied that they had and some were and some weren’t troubled by this trend going on. It seems some studios and networks are using cell phone cameras and simple point-and-shoot cameras to capture candid shots of the actors on set and then posting them to social media sites to promote a new episode or film in production. And, they are getting these images not from the unit still photographer whose responsibility – in the past – it is to also capture these types of images for public relations and marketing. Some productions are getting around the normal process to get these type of images and are not having to cover the cost of having a professional photographer assigned to the show or production. So in the end the studio gets more images to use and saves money in the process. A win-win … for them.
Some who are familiar with the film industry might challenge the above and say that there is often a notice that is printed on almost all call sheets (the sheet produced daily that outlines the scenes to be filmed and who needs to be where and when and distributed to cast and crew) that states: “absolutely no cell phone cameras allowed on set”. Of course those that work on most sets know this is often not adhered to by anyone – and most of all by the army of assorted producers on a good number of the shows today.
So here is how I see this turning out for “all professional photographers” in the future – and not necessarily the distant future:
We Might Be the Next Endangered Species on the Planet!
And I see this as something all professionals in all the various fields of photography need to think about. It is not limited to the film and television industries … not at all.
Scary, I know, but this has been trending this way for some time now. In years past it was a slow but steady progression – partly due to the newness and learning curves associated with Photoshop. Agencies were soon realizing that a pretty cool and effective image for advertising could be conjured up in Photoshop by some computer savvy type and that all they really needed was a decent image to start with. Who needs to pay a pro to capture the starting image? After all, the real magic is applied in the post production process – according to them, at least. As more and more graphic artists got pretty handy with this new tool of the trade and started turning out images not possible in the camera, they started to gradually take over the responsibility of even creating the image to start the ball rolling. This allowed the agencies to cut out the costly professional photographer. Ah-ha … the first nail in the shooter’s coffin.
The second nail came about with the advent of the digital camera. Now while some of the professionals loved the introduction of a new camera intended to make their lives a lot easier, others were a bit leery. The trendy hip cats who embraced the new toy (read: digital camera) thought this was going to make their lives easy and breezy; They will know immediately if the exposure is on the money, the composition is solid and the shot is acceptable to the client for their needs. Whew this will save a lot of worry over film processing, printing and the possibility of a re-shoot. To most, this new gadget that didn’t require film and all that went with it, was a gift from above. No more film costs, processing costs, no more need to carry different film stocks and filters to handle strange lighting situations … it was heaven on earth. But was it ……?
We don’t have to look very far back in the past to see that is was happening more and more and in industries we thought it could never happen it. Take for example the recent change in many of the print news rooms across America: entire photo departments have been “released” from service and the responsibility to capture that news photo now falls on the reporter in the field. And, I might add, this is also happening on the video side of news agencies and networks. I see more and more reporters carrying a small, easy to use digital video camera with a set of legs to location, setting up their own shot and being the on-air talent, the segment producer and camera operator all in one. Talk about saving money at the expense of a well-executed news story.
The introduction of some great digital devices to record images and motion has propelled the art of capturing images to new heights. And the learning curve has been simplified for just about anyone who thinks they have the talent to shoot pictures or record video and can get in the game. Need proof: go to just about “photographer’s” Facebook page or Instagram page and look at their list of “skills”. I saw one recently on Instagram that had me shaking my head. Here is what this individual listed on their page:
“… Atlanta photographer, videographer, musical producer, musician, talent agent, magazine publisher …”
All this talent in one individual that (who had reported in one of his earlier posts) had just turned 21. Really, I am curious about the number of years spent perfecting his multiple skill sets and building a legitimate resume. Just sayin. A further inquiry into this person’s “credentials” revealed: there was no website (he listed Facebook as his business page to contact andfor more info), no search results from a Google search, no listing in any source book and his potential clients need to text him on his cell phone to book a session – any session … this must be the new way the professionals are doing business. Don’t get me wrong, I wish him all the success in the world, and I wish his clients even more luck in getting what they paid for.
I’ve been hearing from friends that shoot weddings for a living. They lament that the number of “weekend warriors” who could afford a nice camera from their 9 – 5 day jobs is increasing and taking a toll on their ability to book a wedding. When I ask how can a couple compare your portfolios and years of shooting experience to someone they found on Facebook or Craig’s List, the response is: “they shop by price”. The wedding couple figures if the inexpensive/inexperience photographer shoots enough images, there are bound to be enough of good to decent quality shots to make a wedding album. Glad I’m not in that field of photography.
Now is this to say the photographers who do this for a living need to find a good street corner to start selling pencils on? No, not quite. But it should be a wake-up call to start thinking about a way to stay relevant in this ever changing business environment. You can see that the “competition” is growing, and not necessarily with qualified people. All today’s customer is concerned about is the cost. The dollar is dictating the way individuals and corporations are shopping for talent behind a lens. Granted, the non-pros will get a client now and then, and will most likely not keep them beyond the first assignment. However the credibility of the trade as a whole takes a hit – non qualified people putting themselves out there to do assignments that they are not really ready to be taking on. So a client gets burnt and starts to look for even more alternatives to meet their needs. Maybe someday they will realize the truth in the old saying:
“Quality work is not cheap, and cheap work is not quality”
…And hire a professional to do a professional job.