New Game, New Rules

Photo © Aaron R. Whitney/Bigstock

By Aaron R. Whitney, Bigstock contributor

The world of photography has always been one of evolution. New technology rolled out from the manufacturers at a somewhat predictable, and comfortable (mostly anyway) pace for the pocketbook. The last decade however, has been a major event in the development of photography. The digital age has put a professional grade camera within the reach of any average consumer. At the same time, the age of desktop publishing and the internet has exploded. This created the ideal playing field for any person to call themselves a professional photographer to enter the game, talented or not. They could also become their own publisher or web designer with just a quick read of a manual. With a quick look around at the players however, many will notice that these photographers are not what you would expect to see in the big game. For the most part they are the rookies and weekend warriors relying on new technology to get them by. Some are masters of the new game already. Of course, some of the seasoned veterans of the old game are choosing to still play this new one, but many have not. They have just gotten so frustrated with the new rules and quit, turning their backs on what could be a very beneficial part of their business. Then there are those of us who are caught somewhere in between; those that have a successful photography business based in the old traditions but using new technology.


I purchased my first SLR at about 14 years of age. I mowed lawns all summer to pay for my wonderful Nikon EM. I purchased many more cameras after that, but the EM stayed my favorite. It was literally my “go to war” camera. It saw service with me in the Army while in Panama and the Gulf. There is hardly an external control on it that is not damaged in some way, yet it still takes great pictures to this day. While I still take it out now and then just to hold it and feel it, the new world of photography has turned it into my favorite paperweight. It and the other film SLRs have no real purpose to me anymore. When I first saw 4 and 5 megapixel cameras coming out, I went digital and never looked back. I could produce the same quality for a fraction of the cost. In the words of Clint Eastwood from the movie Heartbreak Ridge, I was able to “improvise, overcome, and adapt”. For others the best move was to buy a quality slide scanner or a digital back for their medium format. This worked for the most part, and both the SLR scanners and the digital groups at least ended up in the game. Those not making the switch and embracing digital in some form simply headed for the locker room. They left not knowing that the new digital age would affect how MOST photos would be bought and sold. It was not as safe as they thought to just go back to doing what they had always done. The veterans who remained and the rookies who signed up became the new players in the electronic photography game. With any new game, however, there are new rules.


In this game like any other, the early days are subject to constantly changing rules. As the game starts, everything is in flux. Standards are being raised daily. This has probably been hardest on the seasoned veterans. In the past it was a little simpler, only because the rules were well known and changed infrequently. The veterans knew what subjects would sell, and how to photograph them in a way that would look great on a gallery wall. What looked good on the wall is what sold. Veterans are hit hardest in the ego when they take that same photo down from the wall and sell it online. A pixel by pixel review of the work shows defects that have nothing at all to do with the photographer’s skill in shooting the work. It is simply an error, a defect, some glitch in the way an electronic eye sees an organic world. Yet, to a well seasoned ego, one only hears that his work is “defective”. They have no concept of pixel noise or compression artifacts. The rookies however, hear words like this with much less ego damage. They happily learned to fix them and drive on, while some of the elder statesmen left the field unwilling to change.


Change is inevitable. History has shown us that the rookies of today, and the veterans who remain, are destined to become the rookies of the NEXT big game. So how do we prepare our knowledge base, and our egos, for the blows to come? We prepare for it by training for it. First, we read. We read everything we can regarding our industry and tools of the trade. Pick some trade magazines that you like and subscribe. If you don’t know of any search around on the internet and try on that sounds interesting. Second, we research. Find the internet sites that keep a watchful eye on new gear and check them often. Carefully watch the, “what’s selling” sections of your sites. Learn to spot the trends and stay ahead of the holidays. Third, we share. Pick a peer review posting website and let others give you feedback. This is good for the work and the ego management. We all need our teeth kicked in once in awhile to help us see that we always have more to learn. Just be patient. Your work may be rejected. While you are learning, it will be rejected a lot! If you decide to try stock photography sites, remember that you may only be selling a photo for fractions of a dollar, but it is earning money while you are doing other things. Remember that it will continue to earn for years to come so it is worth the trouble of fixing what you were told to fix. For the seasoned professionals, remember this is only a portion of your business. It should be developed in proportion to the needs of your business, but you can’t afford not to develop it. More and more off site assignments are being landed by exposure on the stock sites. Learn to keep an eye out for “stock” while you are shooting portraits, landscapes and weddings. Give a discount to those who will sign releases for you. Finally and most of all, we participate. Become part of the communities where you post. Photography is a strange field where we all create magic, but most of us will tell anyone who asks how the trick was done. We have a lot to learn from each other. By learning to, “improvise, overcome, and adapt”, we will all be ready for the next big game.