Taylor Davidson · The deluge of the amateur photographer, redux.

Retracing an old discussion about the impact of the deluge of the amateur, linking together yesterday’s fair take by the NY Times with a post of mine from September 2007
by Taylor Davidson · 30 Mar 2010

Yesterday in the NY Times, For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path by Stephanie Clifford:

Mr. Eich and Ms. Pruitt illustrate the huge shake-up in photography during the last decade. Amateurs, happy to accept small checks for snapshots of children and sunsets, have increasing opportunities to make money on photos but are underpricing professional photographers and leaving them with limited career options. Professionals are also being hurt because magazines and newspapers are cutting pages or shutting altogether.

… That meant a flood of pretty decent photographs, and that changed the stock-photography industry. In the last few years, stock agencies have created or acquired so-called microstock divisions. They charge $1 to $100, in most cases, for publishers or others to rerun a photo, often supplied by an amateur. And Getty made a deal with Flickr in 2008, permitting Getty’s photo editors to comb through customers’ images and strike license agreements with the amateur photographers.

“The quality of licensed imagery is virtually indistinguishable now from the quality of images they might commission,” Mr. Klein said. Yet “the price point that the client, or customer, is charged is a fraction of the price point which they would pay for a professional image.”

For reference, Me, Sept 2007, Everyone is a photographer:

The cheap availability, the sheer ease of use and accessibility of cameras and the acceptance of people in society taking photographs has made photographs ubiquitous in life.

… The great work is still great, and is still rare – but there is more good work, and even more marginal work, out there than before cameras became widespread.

… Where does this leave the economics of the stock business? Shot, dead, gone. Debate what you want about the economics of microstock, or Getty’s change to $49 images, or the value of RF and RM, or whether Flickr or Zoomr can create stock agencies from user generated content, but long-term, the economics for individual photographers will continue to degrade. While the demand for photographs for traditional media is flat or growing slowly at best, the supply is drastically increased. Say what you want about the quality of the work (marginal, uninspired, even dumbing down the art form), but most buyers do not need the best, they just need what is good enough for the decreasing expectations of the public.

Back to the NY Times:

… “Can an amateur take a picture as good as a professional? Sure,” Ms. Eismann said. “Can they do it on demand? Can they do it again? Can they do it over and over? Can they do it when a scene isn’t that interesting?”

But amateurs like Ms. Pruitt do not particularly care.

“I never followed any traditional photography rules only because I didn’t know of any — I never went to photography school, never took any classes,” she said. “People don’t know the rules, so they just shoot what they like — and other people like it, too.”

Back to me:

So while traditional photographers may be stuck in the debate over whether sites like Flickr et. al. contribute anything meaningful to the art of photography, the point is completely missed – most people don’t care. Photos are just a way to share their lives, they do not do it for the art, the idea doesn’t even enter their mind. It’s just a way to communicate.

The abundant supply of images is obvious: the shift in demand is less obvious but just as important. If people don’t value great photography then they won’t pay for it. Go ahead and mock, but anybody can be a professional photographer: not for all buyers, and surely not for big-budget commercial shoots, but for most buyers, great photographers and classic, outstanding images simply aren’t needed.

What’s the best strategy for a photographer in this world? Me, October 2008: “The way to make money in photography is to sell stuff to photographers.”

Tracing back to one last point: me, Sept 2007:

What does mean to professional photographers? Learn the lessons from the music business and musicians – the future is less about owning the end product, more about the process and the experience of creating. More on this later.

Well, later is now: Instead of focusing on the image, focus on everything around the image.

Context, not content, right?