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Author Topic: True professionals don't fear amateurs  (Read 2794 times)
wolfnowl
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« on: December 29, 2012, 12:07:20 AM »
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from Seth Godin:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/12/true-professionals-dont-fear-amateurs.html

Mike.
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Rob C
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« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2012, 04:29:14 AM »
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An lightly ampliified soudbite, is my interpretation of the quoted statement.

At the very least, you have to ascertain several things here if you want to hold an informed view on it:

1.  you have to define categories of photographic endeavour;

2.  you need to define the markets by genre;

3.  you certainly have to know how much money the would-be client has at his disposal.

I donít intend to do that work for you because anyone with any imagination can figure it out for themselves. What I think is worth stating is that merely being in a business that lets you collect payment for services rendered doesnít make you professional. Professionalism entails codes of conduct, accepted levels of competence recognized withing the profession and, generally, qualifications of some valid form or another usually coupled with an apprenticeship or applied training.

Itís easy to scoff at plumbers, sparks, car-mechanics and brickies etc. as being non-professionals and just glorified workmen ; thatís far from correct. It takes (or at least it used to take in my time) a long period of apprenticeship before a young person could identify himself with any of those trade descriptions, and it wasnít any easier for photographers. In fact, when I started at the very first strokes of the 60s, it was generally an almost unheard of job into which it was extremely difficult to find a path outwith hatches, matches and despatches, should you have wanted to go there.

Focussing on photography, we realise that it faces different challenges to many other trades or professions. Everyone knows that dentists and doctors and celebrities, to mention but a few of the usual suspects, can own far more expensive equipment than many professional photographers can afford; some of these non-pros are actually capable of producing excellent work, as do many other people from different walks of life if only with normal equipment. So it doesnít come down to money. If anything, it comes down to technical expertise and aesthetic sense or discrimination. The latter can be found in any number of different places, if the former canít. Beyond those two factors, and where it starts to become complicated, is in the realm of responsibility. By that, I mean responsibility not only to a Ďclientí but also to the places and the people where the photography is being carried out. Just getting the shot, and the hell with the damage one might do in the process is not, in my mind, professional conduct. Exit the pap from the list.

Photographers engaged in commercial work such as fashion, catalogue, medical, engineering and similar skilled and specific genres demanding concentrated and specialised skills arenít, in my mind at least, at much risk from the amateur snapperís attentions. Where the risks are high is in genres such as stock, where there is now no barrier to participation and the market is driven ever downwards by the forces of competition not between photographers, but between the peddlers of photography. Itís in no photographerís interest, neither pro nor am, that prices are driven south. Itís in every photographerís interest that they head northwards. Unfortuntately, though, there is ever the element whose only motivation is Ďappearing in printí, an understandable trait with unimagined serious consequences for an entire workforce of professional photographers, usually particularly skilled and specialized ones because entry into successful libraries was once very selective. So, what happens? The pond is poisoned and many of its inhabitants die. Evolution or natural selection, anyone? Yes, seriously so, but backwards to the swamp. Can anyone now claim that the penny agencies have superior content to those boasted by the original Image Bank and Tony Stone outfits? Do the pap pic agencies have the same amazing content as Magnum, SIPA, Vu etc. etc.? Just ask which makes the money, which have folded or are on the brink.

Itís fashionable within some circles to argue that quality of work is king, that it is the only factor that makes or breaks a photographer. Not so; economics are far stronger factors than individual snappers. Deprive a talented professional snapper of clients and he may as well take his gear to the closest pawn shop, though in the digital age, he might have a hard time getting one to accept it. So do pros fear amateurs? In many ways, yes. Not for their skills or lack of, but for their damaging influence on the markets.

Many say thatís fine, simply the way of the world; extend that thinking a little to medicine or law: would anyone feel so comfortable with the concept if they required the services of a possibly unregulated doctor or solicitorÖ? What separates these schools from photography? Lack of respect. And whose fault is that, I have to ask?

Rob C
« Last Edit: December 29, 2012, 04:36:56 AM by Rob C » Logged

Tony Jay
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« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2012, 05:33:29 AM »
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...Many say that’s fine, simply the way of the world; extend that thinking a little to medicine or law: would anyone feel so comfortable with the concept if they required the services of a possibly unregulated doctor or solicitor…? What separates these schools from photography? Lack of respect. And whose fault is that, I have to ask?

Interesting thoughts Rob but I doubt that many people are literally laying their lives on the line by hiring a poor photographer (I won't get into an argument over whether it may have actually happened).
In medicine, law, engineering, and other professions a minimum standard is crucial but I can tell from plenty of first hand experience that that minimum standard is no guarantee of a good outcome, assuming it was possible from the get go.
So, in medicine (in which I am a practising professional), law, engineering etc having that regulation has the potential to minimise harm and also provides mechanisms for prosecuting those not practising to accepted standards it does not necessarily stop bad things happening.

Can poor photographers cause harm - surely can - a lot of time and money can be wasted, business opportunities can be lost, and so on.
But, surely this is a prime case of buyer beware ie know who you are hiring.
If reputation and word of mouth can lead individuals to the correct physician or surgeon (and that is not easy to decide I can tell you) then it can work in photography.

Trying to regulate photography in the way the medicine is regulated would kill it off in no time. No experimentation and no artistic license allowed - one has to conform to accepted standards.
Also remuneration might also become subject to some of the very strange vagaries one finds in regulated professions.

I don't profess to having any kind of solutions to the issues that Rob has raised but I do feel that only the most superficial comparisons of how doctors, lawyers, and engineers work and practise appear possible as against photographers. I feel that other professions and job descriptions may make for a better match when compared to photography when searching for possible solutions to the issues besetting professional photography.

My humble $0.02.

Tony Jay
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2012, 09:25:18 AM »
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The originally-linked article is so choke-full of fallacies, that it isn't worth debating.
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Slobodan

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Rob C
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« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2012, 10:19:29 AM »
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Whilst I don't quite accept all Tony's points, feeling there are misleading and selective specifics to create differences or diminish the comparison of photography with other trades or professions, I do agree with Slobodan, and following his implicit advice, I shall write no further in this thread. Of course, that may all change wirh the mood if I forget to drink the coffee I just made, or the thumpingly boring piano on this section of jazzradio.com doesn't end pretty damned soon.

;-)

Rob C
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Tony Jay
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« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2012, 04:27:25 PM »
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Whilst I don't quite accept all Tony's points, feeling there are misleading and selective specifics to create differences or diminish the comparison of photography with other trades or professions, I do agree with Slobodan, and following his implicit advice, I shall write no further in this thread. Of course, that may all change wirh the mood if I forget to drink the coffee I just made, or the thumpingly boring piano on this section of jazzradio.com doesn't end pretty damned soon.

Just to clarify my position the points I raised were in no way mean't, explicitly or implicitly, to denigrate the profession of photography.
It is an immense field, absolutely chock full of technical and artistic challenges and thus requirements for that expertise and ability.
As someone who aspires to that sort of technical and artistic ability I can certainly appreciate the effort and expertise required. On this level I believe that professional photographers should be accorded respect in the way that other professional are respected for their knowldge and contributions.

The challenges facing professional photography are multifactorial, and include advances in camera technology, much more widespread community exposure to this technology, community attitudes towards photography, massive changes in global economics as well as local business economics. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list.

Medicine is affected by many of the same broad issues and is going through its own storm as a result. However, the devil is in the detail and directly comparing medicine and photography, or law and photography, similarities break down in the detail.

With regard to regulation and registration with boards and associations many professions and trades do this. A prime, but not exclusive, goal is to reassure the public that membership of said board or association implies certain standards of quality and adherence to certain standards of ethics and professionalism. If membership is voluntary then that membership is usually employed as a marketing tool. However, if membership is a compulsory prerequisite to practise (as it is in medicine and law) it is a whole different ballgame.
Australia has the AIPP (Australian Institute for Professional Photographers) and membership is voluntary. Members agree to maintain certain codes of professional and business practise and the Institute is heavily involved in continued professional development (one of the key pillars that distinguish a profession from other job descriptions). However, going the next step to making registration and compliance with its codes compulsary for practising professional photographers would require legislation. I for one would not trust the Australian government for one second given its ham-fisted and heavy-handed approach in regard to photography in recent years.
AIPP membership is highly regarded and many professional photographers are members and display its logo prominently in their advertising but it is also true that there are also successful and highly regarded photographers in Australia who are not members.

I would like to see the profession of photography not only survive but thrive.
I submit that my contribution to the debate has been from outside the fold as it were but nonetheless not lacking in insight.
Slobadan's comments about the link posted in the initial post have merit.
However there is nothing to stop a reasonable debate developing to address solutions for the challenges to photography in general and professional photography in particular is there?

Tony Jay
« Last Edit: December 29, 2012, 04:29:37 PM by Tony Jay » Logged
Rob C
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« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2012, 06:02:34 AM »
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A very good, and welcome post, Tony.

In Britiain, when I was starting out in the pro world, there used to be a professional body called the IBP: Institute of British Photographers. This body ran examinations in the subject and membership was highly regarded, if perhaps only within the profession and, even then, perhaps more than anywhere else, within industrial photography. It had theory as well as practical examinations.

As with anything, within time there appeared splinter groups dedicated to areas such as wedding and high street photography, and the general image was degraded and the whole became less relevant.

In the end, the reality of the photographic world dictated that those making the money were either non-members with few 'textbook' qualifications but shitloads of artistic ability, chutzpah and worthwhile connections. The real world, in essence.

The difference, however, and why I believe it is really necessary for photographers with a high street shingle to have qualifications is this: in the world of professional buyers of photography, there always existed routes by which these people could contact and know about the pro snappers working in their worlds. There was no need for formal qualifications as such, because everyone already was aware of what everyone else was doing, how well they did it, and whether they wished to be associated with those individuals and trust their campaigns to them or not. But, the high street shopper looking for a snapper doesn't have this knowledge. The best he/she can do is look at the snaps in the window and never know, for sure, whether they are of professional models, real people or what. The assumption that the photographer will deliver similar results for their wedding, communion, portrait or whatever is based on wishful thinking and trust. I had first-hand experience of this: my in-laws booked our wedding shooter, admittedly the 'best known' guy in that town, but in the event, I think my wife and I bought two pics; they were dreadful, much on a par with my wedding speech.

In the end, I suppose it comes down, as someone wrote, to caveat emptor.

Rob C
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WalterEG
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« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2012, 03:20:03 PM »
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The originally-linked article is so choke-full of fallacies, that it isn't worth debating.

I fully concur.

PLUS: there is possibly quite an element of discussing the closure of the stable door long after the egress of the equines.

Cheers,

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Rob C
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« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2012, 05:02:45 PM »
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I fully concur.

PLUS: there is possibly quite an element of discussing the closure of the stable door long after the egress of the equines.

Cheers,




Yes, but that door was not ever in the hands of photographers (pro) to close. Take the stock business: Tony Stone was an ex-photographer with a great business head. He made his money by getting very good sales prices for the guys within his agency, of which I was delighted, at that time, to be included. Then when he'd had enough and the deal came with Getty, he sold. I'm sure that the BJP or another similar publication carried fhe tale that Stone was sold to Getty for around 30 million quid. Image Bank was originally a photographer-created enterprise too... From then on, it became not about photography but about buying and selling agencies. With that, and the fact that the market was overheating to the extent that Corbis was created and yet more smaller agencies were absorbed, it turned into what looks to me, now on the outside, as a battle of attrition to the point where but one agency will survive.

Part of that battle seems to be conducted on the principle of the prices race to the bottom: run it down to the position where the other guy can no longer afford to keep going. Then, oh then, the beauty of monopoly will come into glorious flower. And we'll all go back to stock and be rich. Except that we won't. Percentages to shooters have gone down from what I thought was already a pretty hefty loss of 50% in the late 70s to much less today. Does anyone believe that when there's but a single agency left, with no alternative homes left for snappers to go to, that percentages paid to shooters will actually rise?

So yeah, in that specific part of photography, the answer would have been to do what many suggested: go on strike. Easy enough for those with other photography, but not for the specialists who did nothing else but stock. Of course, the way it impacted non-stock shooters was courtesy the pricing of stock: so much material, so cheap, something could pretty much always be found in an agency that would be 'near enough' to what the ad or whatever required. Unless you did products, but then much of the work/added value with that was stripped away with fake locations and digital manipulation.

Glad I did what I did when I did it. Which doesn't mean I wouldn't like still to be doing it.

Rob C
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SunnyUK
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« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2013, 10:13:54 AM »
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Let's remember that "the original article" is not an article. It is a 10 line blog post. I forget who said it, but I think it was here on this forum I saw the saying "blogging is to journalism what grafitti is to art, but without the grammar".

Tony's excellent description of what regulation / rules / governance means in the medicine made me think of my own profession/trade, which is IT. It used to be that programming a computer took skills and training, but then came that darned internet thing, and before long anybody who could string three lines of HTML and a quick javascript together called themselves "developers" or "IT Professionals".

The profession have responded with a never-ending stream of languages / techniques / methodologies / TLAs (that's three-letter-acronyms) which makes it harder, but not impossible, for the self-taught person to keep up. That worked well for a while, but now many of the new TLAs are invented on open-source forums full of clever nerds without formal IT education.

Like many photographers experience and have experienced, the natural conclusion has been a race to the bottom price-wise. Where does that leave the "professional developer" (as in "educated with formal qualifications")? It leaves him/her in India or China or Morocco or Russia or occasionally in Ireland where salaries are way lower than in the west. Instead of having vast numbers of developers in England, France, USA, Canada, etc, we've got consultants, managers, etc.

I think true professionals (photographers and others) are wise to fear the amateurs. If good enough is good enough, then price becomes important. And it's hard to compete on price when you're competing against people willing to work for free or next-to-nothing. It means that the professionals need to "reinvent themselves", "move up the value chain", "focus on solutions", and similar business speak. And while that suits some, it doesn't normally require the same skill set as creating beautiful photographs. At the same time, many professionals don't have any alternative. The geenie is out of the bottle, and no amount of yelling at it or moaning at it is going to put it back into the bottle.

I leave you with one encouraging thought... despite the market being full of amateurs who offer their services for free, prostitution still seems to rake in money. This old profession has survived thousands of years of competition without regulations and rules. So maybe there is hope for us as well.

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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2013, 10:45:23 AM »
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... despite the market being full of amateurs who offer their services for free, prostitution still seems to rake in money. This old profession has survived thousands of years of competition without regulations and rules. So maybe there is hope for us as well.

Ahmmm... Competition? It is the denial of service (for free) that is helping the professionals to survive. Grin
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Slobodan

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Rob C
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« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2013, 01:56:17 PM »
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I leave you with one encouraging thought... despite the market being full of amateurs who offer their services for free, prostitution still seems to rake in money. This old profession has survived thousands of years of competition without regulations and rules. So maybe there is hope for us as well.




Well I don't know, they usually don't publish their figures, so difficult to tell. Trouble is, many who publish their figures get accused of being in the profession, which is sad, and offensive to them too, I suppose.

Perhaps there's a parallel between those who offer their photographs for almost free and those at the bottom of the whore chain? I don't know about that either - never tried to work it out; just watched the stock photography pension evaporate, is all. But who cares, other than I?

;-(

Rob C

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SunnyUK
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« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2013, 03:27:33 PM »
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Trouble is, many who publish their figures get accused of being in the profession, which is sad, and offensive to them too, I suppose.

Perhaps there's a parallel between those who offer their photographs for almost free and those at the bottom of the whore chain?

I think the only people who take offense is their customers. And I think the bottom of the photographic whore chain are buyers of cheap stock, rather than photographers selling their wares for free or credit only
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2013, 05:55:46 PM »
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An acquaintance recently asked me to do some repairs to her daughter's wedding pictures.  They were execrable.  Beach trash in the shot, exposure and contrast problems, failed pixels, poor posing, tilted horizons, you name it these pictures had it.

I was amazed to find out that they were shot by a "professional".  I blushingly told her that I thought a family member had done the photography.  She eventually disclosed that she could have flown me from Canada to Costa Rica, AND paid me a fat fee for what it cost her to hire a local "pro". 

Just as the advent of word processors didn't turn everyone into writers, the appearance of multi-megapixel cameras hasn't turned everyone into photographers.

Amateur: someone who loves what they're doing
Professional: someone who professes the beliefs of those who employ them.
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Rob C
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« Reply #14 on: January 09, 2013, 07:43:53 AM »
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Amateur: someone who loves what they're doing
Professional: someone who professes the beliefs of those who employ them.


What a cynical and misplaced definition, the epitome of tarring all with the brush intended for the charlatan.

Rob C
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #15 on: January 09, 2013, 05:29:15 PM »
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Not cynical at all.  Practical and realistic. You shoot for someone other than yourself, you learn to profess whatever they ask and keep your mouth shut.

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Rob C
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« Reply #16 on: January 10, 2013, 09:23:08 AM »
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Not cynical at all.  Practical and realistic. You shoot for someone other than yourself, you learn to profess whatever they ask and keep your mouth shut.




In that case, I must be unique. I used to be asked for opinions, concepts, the lot.

Rob C
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Isaac
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« Reply #17 on: January 10, 2013, 12:11:44 PM »
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I used to be asked for opinions, concepts, the lot.

Not something I know about, but apparently that kind of collaboration continues --

"During an advertising shoot, it's important to pull off exactly what the client wants first; then you can spend some time playing around with the setup to produce some variations that might offer an interesting take on the initial creative brief. ... The art director made it clear that he didn't need the exact composition from the sketch and gave me free rein to do whatever I wanted." p139 p140

Photographing Shadow and Light: Inside the Dramatic Lighting Techniques and Creative Vision of Portrait Photographer Joey L.
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