Recently there has been a spate of very sad, and ultimately defeatist articles decrying the “death of photography.” We have no shortage of examples. Seriously.
In all their pain and detailed examples of how the art and business of photography have been “ruined” (their words), I can find little to no examples of the basic, most important reason that photographers are falling behind. And that is: photographers are wildly devotedly, happily, and ecstatically in LOVE with the processes of photography. Like any devoted partner, they see the relationship as sacrosanct and the most important in their lives.
And they are totally 100% wrong to be so. At least wrong in the exclusion of understanding what it means to love the process without acknowledging its personal nature.
Photography is a process, plain and simple. Romanticizing it makes it more difficult to change, to adapt to new rules, and to find solutions that are not instantly visible. While photographers are deeply committed to and in love with the process of photography, their clients are simply… not. We call that a disconnect. And a shame.
Let me give some examples…
1. The often repeated mantra of “everyone is a photographer now” followed by a dramatic and heavy sigh meant to make us feel the pain of these words.
What they are saying is that at one time, photography was a devoted mistress only available for the chosen few who took the time to court her with roses and champagne and hours and hours of practice. Now they feel betrayed because making a photograph does not require that long, tedious process. And it breaks their heart.
But, you see, clients are not interested in that relationship. They require images that speak to their customers. Whether or not they were created by someone who has 25 years of experience, or a teenage girl in the suburbs… if it sells their stuff, they are totally happy. And they should be.
2. The obsessive nature of gear acquisition.
Photographers are simply in love with this facet of the business. They love their gear. We see “unboxing” videos, and tribes of shooters devoted to one manufacturer or another. T-shirts proclaim an undying love for a specific brand while sponsors build more and more loyalty by infusing the gear acquisition with an almost mystical attachment.
In fact, gear-based websites, blog posts, Tweets, and Facebook postings seem to far, far exceed posts on the images created. A blog that discusses mirrorless cameras will draw far more photographers than one that discusses the aesthetics of a brand photography. It’s like photographers are in love with the technology while being flummoxed and confused by the end use of the product.
I must note, that clients do not share this obsession. They are focused on the images produced, and the viability of those images to help them be more successful, not whether the camera has a mirror or sports the fastest autofocus on the market.
3. Fear and loathing of anyone who didn’t “come up through the ranks,” or whatever you would call it.
Recently a young photographer whose father is a professional athlete got hired to do some photography for a major brand. You would have thought he had been tried as a mass murderer. Social media exploded with photographers from every genre decrying this abhorrent behavior on the part of clients! How could they have hired this upstart, this beginner, this homewrecker?
While so many in the photography industry were outraged because of the brazen move, the client was enjoying increased visibility of their product due to the incredible outreach of the photographer.
And they were right to be.
4. The anger at and derision of the beginner.
This is an almost classic case of jealousy. The photographer finds their relationship to photography threatened by anyone coming into the profession that may cause them pain. It is a tacit admission that photography, and indeed any arts-related profession, is a cruel and difficult partner, and they are deeply committed to that one-sided relationship.
Clients have no interest in whether one is a beginner or a grizzled old practitioner. If the images work, the clients are happy. Period.
5. The constant articles, posts, and memes of professional posturing.
Whether it be a Facebook meme reminding people why a professional photographer is expensive, or a plaintive discussion of how changes in the business have affected photographers in sports, photojournalism, and consumer work, the focus is always on the photographer — the process — and rarely on the fact that client needs have changed. Drastically, in some industries.
Clients, whether they are consumers looking for a family photograph or a brand looking to increase their visibility in the 16-to-20-year-old female market, the only thing that matters to them is how successful the image will be.
If you are a consumer shooter and are pissed off that some neighbor with no experience has been cutting into your market, you will have to face the fact that the neighbor’s images are preferred over yours. Agencies are hiring Instagrammers to help develop their brand imagery, and you are no longer being hired. Buying a new camera with a gazillion megapixels will not help you.
The client only cares about the image, and how that image works for them.
Photographers are in love with all things “photography”.
Clients are in love with images that sell their stuff and couldn’t care less about “photography” and the mystique and magic photographers are so desperately enamored of.
This huge disconnect is creating a sense of loss for photographers instead of opportunity.
All around us. Photographers creating images that brands love. Photographers embracing new ways of communication (think Vine, Instagram, Snapchat) are finding clients that are interested because their customers are interested.
And their customers are even less interested in the romance of photography than your clients are.
They. Don’t. Care.
Sadly, for photographers, they never will.
So stop being in love with the process. Stop romanticizing “photography” and be more interested in the needs of the clients, and how they use the images they are commissioning. Stop being fearful of the changes going on all around us in the world of image creation, and embrace the awesome opportunities for image development and client engagement.
This may be the most confusing time ever to be a photographer, but it may also be the time of most opportunity.
To anyone who thinks I may be saying we shouldn’t care about photography, I want you to know that is absolutely not what I am saying. Of course we must care about what it is we do… but we must be careful not to romanticize it beyond its own capabilities.
Photography is technology. Technology changes, adapts, and emerges as something different at almost a maddening pace.
It also destroys as it changes. Not malevolently, but simply as its nature is to constantly be evolving.
About the author: Don Giannatti is a photographer and author based in Phoenix, Arizona. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can see more his work on his website, photography portfolio, and the Lighting Essentials website. This article was originally republished on DIYP.
Image credits: Header illustration based on still frame from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by New Line Cinema