Friday, October 25, 2013

Amateurs and Professionals

I ran across a guy trotting out the usual "these amateurs are ruining everything" line on his blog/podcast thing recently. He's some sort of C-list pro, shoots a little bit of everything, does workshops, sells photoshop actions, the usual mess of stuff. The "these amateurs are ruining everything" line was aimed at his photographer customers, not his photography customers, of course. I'm not going to give a link, because I begrudge him even a single click.

This is a very very tired routine. Henry Peach Robinson was using it in 1869, when he was selling his book, and people selling things to photographers have been using it ever since -- and probably before, as well. It works. The message is "there are a bunch of lousy amateurs out there making terrible pictures but I am above all that, and so will you be, if only you buy my product." This is remarkable effective on photographers, who rather fancy themselves artists but frequently are not.

Here is an important point to keep in mind. Those lousy amateurs, those incompetents who wouldn't know a good picture if it fell on them? Those horrible people, that you are so much better than? Photography is their game, it's their ball and mitt, it's by them, for them, and about them. If you are a wedding photographer, or a fine art photographer, or any of those things, you need to remember that you are basically a rat living in the walls of someone else's house. Without the monied, passionate amateur, you people would still be flowing homemade collodion across glass plates. It's the passionate amateur, taking his terrible pictures, and yearning to make art or yearning to preserve his memories or his family, that has bought and paid for every technological advance.

The industry has been built, for almost 200 years, on the need to deliver easier, simpler, cheaper ways for those amateurs to follow their ugly, skinny little muses. Not only is the professional market not very big relative to the amateurs, professionals are complacent. At every step of the way, the people who have mastered the current technology: wet plate, dry plate, exploding film, roll film, digital, have wanted progress to please stop right there. As a community, they have bitched and complained about the advances driven by the amateur market.

There's nothing that actually prevents the rats in the wall from bitching about the remodeling project, but they haven't exactly got the moral high ground on this argument. The industry is moving on, it's going to continue to move on. Get used to it.

Here's a little view into the future. Some day, pretty soon, the casual amateur will be able to take pictures with her cell phone that are every bit as good as the professional work you are doing now. Optics, sensors, and so on will produce plenty of resolution. Software will select the best composition out of a burst of 100 frames. More software will fix the lighting so that it is beautiful. The work will be, legitimately, just as good as what you're charging a bunch of money for. How do I know this? I know this because I can slap a straightedge down on a trend line and follow it to the right another inch. I know this because these are all solvable problems, and I am confident that these are problems those horrible amateurs will spend a little money to buy solutions to.

Your challenge is to figure out how to make money in that world, not this one. The professionals figured out how to make money when dry plate rendered wet plate obsolete. They figured out how to make money when roll film made photography accessible to a whole gigantic market numbering in millions. They'll figure it out again. Go figure it out yourself, or find another trade.

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