Going back inside, I reminded Mrs. Fetched to tell the client that I did product photography for my day job… gotta make these Shiny Things earn their keep, after all. I’d started a blog post about a month ago called “Musings on Photography and Copyrights,” but never got much farther than the title. Technology has dealt a serious blow to photography as a profession these days…
- $1500 will buy you a pro-level (or at least prosumer) DSLR and the essentials — the barriers to entry have never been lower. But the only photo I ever sold, I took with my late lamented PowerShot (which cost about $300).
- Digital photography itself has all but wiped out the darkroom. As an old friend of mine (who now shoots weddings) told me, “I used to spend a lot of time in the darkroom, now I spend it all in Photoshop.”
- Scanners and computers have wrecked the traditional photographer’s business model. People are going to scan their portraits and print copies — it doesn’t matter (to them) if the copy isn’t quite as good, they’ve been trained to not care about quality. And their attitude toward copyright is something like, “I paid some hundreds of bucks for this, it’s mine!”
The guy with the medium-format camera and the account with a commercial film processing facility are still around, but their niche is truly a niche these days. Of course, there are always the people who work for Sports Illustrated or Time; major media will always need skilled photographers, even if they end up becoming web-only publications sooner or later.
The business model of the independent photographer has taken a mortal blow. But perhaps a new business model might work.
One facet could be summed up as “Photography and” or even "and Photography” — in other words, photography becomes a part of the business… and not necessarily the primary part. As I mentioned, I already take product photos as part of my technical writing job. It was something that needed to be done, and I learned how to do them well with basic equipment. But even if photography is secondary, it can provide a competitive edge to the business — if the client needs a good photo, there’s no need to contract with another person who might also take your primary work too.
The whole copyright issue needs to be addressed. With no negatives, digital photography might be best approached as a “work for hire,” the same way technical writing contractors work. Ideally, both you and your customer would hold joint ownership — the customer can fling a copy into Photoshop and mash it up or whatever, while you can license it as a stock shot or use it as part of your portfolio. To get people interested in your work to begin with, consider placing a few good shots under a Creative Commons Attribution license: this allows other people to use them (and spread them around) while you get credit for your work. You might as well make this whole file sharing culture work for you, right?
Of course, I might be completely off base. But this is part of my backup plan in case my day job goes away.