OK. This is my first and as far as I am concerned, only rant. The genesis for this rant began in 1888 with the introduction by George Eastman of a disruptive technologyblack and white roll film. Not only did he provide roll film holders for practically every plate camera in existence at the time; he also introduced the box camera.
The Kodak Box Camera a.k.a. Brownie was promoted with the words: You press the button, we do the rest. The camera cost $25.00. It came preloaded with enough film for one hundred exposures. When the last picture was taken the camera was sent to Rochester along with $10.00 for another roll of one hundred shots.
Thus began the demise of professional photography.
Now. This is where if this were truly a well formed rant, I would make the case that the Brownie destroyed the profession of making a living by making photographs. I could chronicle how the quality of photography was taken away from the few experts that really understood how photography worked and how to compose a photograph and who could deliver a quality photograph. It was taken away and put in the hands of the button pushers.
See. Thats really disparaging of people who want to embrace photography and do it themselvesfor a hobby and for the natural next step for money. The truth is that fans of photography have been disrupting the work produced by professionals since shortly after roll film was invented. Fine. This is really a good thing because throughout photographys history disruption has forced the pros to step up their craft so their work was still something people would buy. True then. Truer now. The first disruption of professional photography started by the original Kodak camera was stable for close to a hundred years.
Barriers to becoming a professional photographer then
During that time, photography had a considerable barriers to entering the field as a professional photographer. Cameras were manual. Different format cameras were pretty much required if one wanted to be a pro. It was normal to have a 35mm camera for documentary & annual report style image making. It was also necessary to have at least a 4 by 5 inch format camera if not an 8 by 10 inch camera for most printed advertising or high quality print work. It was also pretty much standard to have a medium format camera that shot two and a quarter inch square or rectangular photographs in differing lengths up to a panorama version up to almost seven inches in length.
Cost of practicing
Film cost was another factor in becoming a pro. It cost quite a bit of money to practice the craft. Film had to be purchased followed by developing and printing costs. Yes it was less expensive to shoot black and white or color slide film. Still, shooting slides with a 35mm camera cost around a dollar a shot. Medium format upped the ante to a couple of dollars. You get the idea. The more someone practiced photography the better a photographer they became. The more money they spent as well.
During this time photographers still had to understand how photography worked. A photographer had to know what would be on the film before it was sent out for processing. It was normal to leave a set up in the studio for days at a time. A photograph would be made, the film sent to the lab and once it returned it was analyzed and changes were made to the set. These changes were to the set and lighting. That the exposure and color and sharpness were there was a given. That was the craft, the skill part that anyone had to master to be a professional photographer. Later expensive Polaroid instant film gave photographers a quick look at composition, lighting and contrast. Color Polaroids gave rise to “shake it like a Polaroid picture” and explaining to a client that “the final film wouldn’t look like that…”
Canon AE-1 ~ the next disruption
The next big disruption hit in 1976 when Canon introduced the AE-1 35mm camera. Stepping up the slogan war started by George Eastman. Canon promoted the AE-1 as being So advanced, its simple. Automatic exposure controlled by an integral computer had arrived. The barrier of having to understand photography was breached.
Photoshop ~ the beginning of popular digital photography
In February of 1990 Adobe released their first version of Photoshop. The end of learning how photography worked was at hand for a generation. Learning Photoshop did not kill the need to learn photography. Quite the contrary. Those of us who were in business and were prescient enough to understand that Photoshop would change everything immediately began to learn to use the app. Photoshop allowed us to realize the photographs we imagined but could not make with cameras and film alone. We already understood how photography worked. And we understood how to do it on an instinctive level. We wanted to learn how to manipulate our photographs with this new digital tool. So began the era of learning Photoshop.
Learning Photoshop before studying photography
Newcomers to photography have always looked to professionals to learn what they should do to become professionals. What they saw was pretty much a whole generation of photographers learning Photoshop. They did what they have always done. They copied what we were doing. So for close to a generation, the digital cameras with the P for professional setting did the heavy lifting of image capture (poorly) while the new generation of photographers fixed these problems digitally-problems that the photographers they were emulating eliminated in the camera.
The “affordable” digital camera
The next disruption happened in March of 2001. Until that time a high quality (six megapixel) portable digital single lens reflex cost $28,000. Kodak dropped the price of its DCS-760 camera to $8,000 (and set the company on the road to bankruptcy eleven years later.) Mine is shown at the beginning of this rant. The digital takeover had begun in earnest. The barrier of cost started to crumble. Practicing no longer required buying film and paying to process it.
Digital became better than film
Best of all the quality possible with digital began to surpass film, 35mm anyway, when Canon brought out the 11.1 megapixel EOS1Ds. It was believed that a Kodachrome slide held about ten megapixels of data. Digital capture quality nosed ahead of film for the first time in a portable camera. As the next dozen years passed, the quality of digital capture increased as the price for the cameras dropped. 35mm form factor full frame DSLRs delivered better quality images both in color and resolution that even medium format film cameras. Today, some DSLRs surpass 4 by 5 and are at parity with 8 by 10 inch cameras. The price barriers to entry were no longer the cost of gear and the ongoing, unrelenting cost of film and processing. All that was needed or so it seems is a good entry level DSLR and a Windows laptop or a MacBook Pro. In spite of all of the automation in exposure, the flexibility to recover sloppy exposures in Photoshop, a professional photographer must ultimately learn photography in order to have a successful career.
Photography ~ the profession
Photography, as a profession, has always been seen as a very desirable calling. It is thought by many as being practiced by free spirits living life on their own terms. The photographers I know do it for love first and money second.
A sustainable photographic business has an overarching imperative, being a photographer and being professional at the same time. Being a photographer means having that instinctive understanding no, not understanding, having an instinctive mastery of the craft. It means knowing how light works on an intimate level and how to bend it to your vision. Mastery includes creating exposures that record all of that light. It also requires an understanding of business. This includes pricing photography at a dollar level that allows the practitioner to pay their expenses and have money left over. Profit is the air, water and food for any business. It is definitely not a dirty word. Beyond all that the photographer must learn to find and work with clients to fulfill their needs, to make photographs that communicate their ideas, tell their stories and sell their products and services. All of this means having a solid education-liberal arts are always good, staying current with events and trends and keeping up with imaging technology. Creativity too is key.
I am totally lumping all camera phones together. I grant up front that the cameras in our phones are capable of producing high quality photographs. I call this a barrier because the current perception of quality photography is defined by the phone. This perception has lowered the expectation and the understanding of what a really good photograph is. Instagram-like posts that get raving “likes” and “awesome” or “great photo” comments suggest to the person posting them that they are an “awesome” or “great” photographer. The remarks feel wonderful. Unfortunately they have little to do with the truth of what good photography is. Or if, indeed, they are creating it. Everyone can make a great even awesome photo once in a while. What differentiates everyone from the professional photographer is that the pro can do it practically every time. iPhoneography is fun. It is good. Unfortunately most consumers of photography really believe that it is “good enough.”
The fall of excellence
I can’t begin to say how many times I’ve heard that a selfie is good enough for a LinkedIn profile portrait. Or a cell phone shot of a product on a desk is good enough to put on an e-commerce site. Companies that value the power of photography show it in their advertising both in print and online. Does anyone believe that Apple uses iPhone photography of its products in the ads we see? Of course this does not include the amazing images from the “Shot on iPhone 6” campaign. The bottom line? Good enough is never good enough.
The biggest barrier of all
There is still one more barrier to entry. Its huge. This barrier is that of perception. The consuming public believes that the camera makes the photographer; that buying a good one makes the buyer a competent photographer. This perception might be dispelled if the manufacturers of digital cameras were to includes a card that is the first thing the customer sees upon opening the box. It would say, Congratulations on buying this fine digital camera. You are now a professional photographer. Opening the card the buyer would find a scalpel attached. Underneath it the script would read, At no extra charge you are now a surgeon too. Kevin is a commercial photographer from Atlanta. He works for fashion, architectural, manufacturing and corporate clients. When he’s not shooting, he contributes to Photoshop User magazine & writes for Photofocus.com.