Don’t Worry, Just Focus. Please.

Argh.

It seems that so many in our profession are worried about the future of the industry. I’m shocked really. First, it was paranoia by many that the digital age was somehow “harming” photography. That was true only if 1)you were a stuffy codger unwilling to embrace change and the opportunities that the digital age could bring, and 2)you were overly pretentious and in the dark about the intersection of art and commerce that is professional photography.

Now, tenfold more than ever before I get heaps of email from real professional photographers, and field more questions at speaking engagements like this:

“I’m scared that everybody with a digital camera will steal my job as a photographer! What should I do?? All these cheap digital cameras that take great pictures and sites like iStockPhoto.com make it so I can’t earn a living. HELP!!”

Huh?

Please don’t take this too harshly: Being attuned to market trends in our industry is one thing (something I advocate and something that’s crucial to good business), but to think that the industry is dying at the hands of point and shoot amateurs is straight up wack and completely baseless.

Important distinction: Yes, the marketplace is absorbing images from amateur “photographers” who have no overhead, since they likely have other jobs. (Read iStockPhoto, Flickr, etc) Yes, in many cases, those photos can be licensed, or (gasp!) even purchased outright for a handful of meager dollars. Yes, some agencies have digital cameras and are sometimes taking pictures that they used to contract out for… BUT if you’re worried about (basically) non-professionals stealing your job or your income, then the last thing you need to be worried about is the great quality of new point-and-shoot cameras and how you can suppress this… – you need to focus on YOUR business model, the quality of YOUR images, and even moreso, the quality, level of service, and problem solving ability that YOU’RE claiming by even calling yourself a “professional” in the first place.

Thus, the message is this: if you’re livelihood IS somehow in jeopardy and you find yourself somehow getting hammered as a professional photographer, you shouldn’t worry, you should focus your energy and become a better artist and business person. Remember, whether you think you can succeed, or can’t succeed, you’re right. Examine your business model and your skills and ask yourself: How can I change and grow? What are the new opportunities that this changing environment can offer? What do I have to do to differentiate my work from this new wave of low end photography out there? Dollars will be there for anyone who understands the market and creates great pictures.

I’ve been quoted on this point in industry rags and blogs for a comment I said at the Microsoft Pro Photo Summit, “Remember, this is kind of like being in the wilderness with your friend and getting surprised by a hungry tiger: you don’t need to be faster than the tiger, you simply have to be faster than your friend.” Take it upon yourself to get educated about art and commerce and how they intersect. Don’t fear Flickr, learn from it. Don’t anguish over Getty’s and Corbis‘ microstock. Yes, I’ve been told that Google is developing an online community “game” to create keywords on the fly for an upcoming soon-to-be-announced user-created “stock” library. And yes CBIR technology is coming soon that will search the net for “like” images for buyers. Embrace it friends! Adapt, change, and grow. It would be swell if these market forces didn’t exist and we got to sit back on our heels and relax and sell photos to high bidders for lots of money, but this is not the case.

I suggest those who still find themselves in a fearful position after reading this should buy and read Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, should work harder and smarter, and should turn that frown upside down. For everybody else who’s not afraid, keep learning and growing. Do it. Do something today. Share your knowledge and continue to re-invent the game in your favor.

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