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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Violets and Business Models

While I was working at home today, Mrs. Fetched had a client in for some video work. Ironically enough, this client makes (wait for it) poultry processing equipment. I had to take a gadget out to the studio for a little shooting, and noticed the wild violets were once again springing up all over the yard (clicking the photo will give you something larger than life):

White wild violet

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.


  1. Hey FAR,
    I can't believe you have violets blooming already! Ours haven't even started to come up yet but will be all over next month. That's a great shot you got of the flower ... I love those white ones with the purple markings and the pure white ones even more. Most of ours are just your garden variety purple, but weeds that they are, we still love 'em!

    When I was younger, I always wanted to get into photography, but the costs kept me out, so the arrival of the digital revolution really opened doors for me. That's a good thing for a lot of people, I think, but you're right, it's been hell on the old school model. I'd never presume to be good enough to have mine actually try to make money for me, but I do get great satisfaction from what I'm able to do with my blog and my faithful Fuji!

  2. Good morning Far, and I think your idea stands on its own merits. May I relate something by way of analogy?

    Many eons ago, what I had decided to do for work later in life was computer programming. Fortunately, I flunked out of college and got to doing everything else that hadn't been on my list of stuff to do. I did, however, befriend and keep track of a number of folks in the Boston area who had specialized in that same career. Ironically, most of them were spending most of their time not working, even when the economy out here was better.

    In another irony-whammy, programming has been part of my job for almost 10 years now, but only because it's part of it and not the whole thing. Ostensibly I'm the boss's admin assistant or special projects person or beck-and-call girl, depending on what's needed, but I also wrote a CRM system from scratch (took a couple years!) and now he wants me to work with the official IT team who write all the server-based apps we use to handle production, inventory, accounting, shipping, etc.

    So I am programming as planned, but only because it's part of a job that involves a variety of other things. The variety is very good.

    Sounds like you have found a way to weave it all together too :)

  3. PS: Between my last two powershots (the S50 which died and the SX110IS that replaced it) they made a bunch of changes but unfortunately ditched the RAW mode along the way. Waah :( You now need to spend a lot more just to have that feature .. and I didn't want to spend that much.

  4. Hey all!

    IVG, it was like one day there was nothing and then the violets were all over the place the next. The violet violets (heh) are pretty too, but there's just so MANY of them. The white ones stand out.

    I actually sold a photo a while back, just kind of fell into it. The indie coffee shop wanted something for a house blend, and thought a pic I took of the falls was just the thing.

    Nudge, yeah, I do a lot of stuff… I couldn't ever keep up with my workload without a pile of scripts doing some of it for me. My dad was my age when he started learning about computers, and ended up writing a database app for the company he retired from! It wasn't anything earth-shattering — an equipment maintenance scheduler — but it did what they needed.

    RAW mode… ironically, as it's straight out of the imager, it's always there in the camera. They just have to let it out. I set up my EOS to spit both RAW and JPEG… it lets you control the tweaking it does to make the JPEG, but I haven't bothered with that. I just pull the whole mess into Photoslobber and clean it up there.

  5. Hi FAR!

    Nice violet shot! I have several close-up shots of flowers that I have taken with a Canon EOS Rebel XTi DSLR. To get a really great shot, you still need to have an "Eye" for what you want others to see, so all the best equipment will never replace the photographer's "Eye."

    I had high hopes once of becoming a professional photographer but digi cams are so user friendly now that it has made it very easy for any amateur to take an photo. A lot of stores have also made it easy to bring in the memory card and have prints made while you wait.

    FAR, like you, I incorporate photography and web designing. Some of the people that I have done sites for don't want to be bothered with all the details that go into said design, and that includes photos. So, hey, whatever works, right?

    As for the copyright issue, I do it as a "Work for Hire." Any photo that I have taken that has been done as part of a job, I make sure it has my name somewhere on the photo. If I give the photo to someone, it is with the clear understanding that if it goes on a site to be displayed my name and website (with link) gets published under the photo. Unfortunately, I know the reality on how easy it is to have photos copied. I own a high-end scanner!

    Unfortunately there will always be pros and cons to the digital world. That's the way most of life is.

  6. Lucky you, Far. You have some blooms. There's nothing here but the detritus of winter.

    I've always wanted to learn more about photography. I have yet to fully explore the camera I bought a few months back. So many obligations, so little time.

    Digital cameras, computers and the internet have changed so many things. In some ways it has brought about a leveling of the playing field, in other ways things have become more complicated. I suppose that photography is one of the latter.

  7. Hi all!

    Mrs. M, watermarks can be removed or cut away… but it sounds like you're doing what you have to, to show authorship. Photos on a web site are even easier to copy — right-click, Save, done.

    Boran, hang in there. The daffs are up in southern Indiana (AndiF), it's headed your way. I know what you mean by exploring and not having the time. One reason I stick with Canon is that their camera division writes pretty good documentation — read through it a couple of times, the second time with the camera in your lap so you can poke at it, and that gives you a pretty good feel for the thing.

    I think photography, or the act itself, has gotten easier on the casual shooter. Point & drool used to mean fixed focus, fixed exposure (fortunately, film has a wide latitude for that). The lowest-end cameras are found on cellphones… a boon for the casual snapper; if you have your phone you can get *some* picture anyway. On the EOS, I turn off the auto-everything and it's pretty much like shooting with an older film camera: set the aperture, focus, set shutter speed to get the right exposure, shoot.

  8. Lovely violets and very interesting thoughts about photography. Personally at the moment the more 'and's in a list of what you can offer clients the better.


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