Saturday, March 24, 2012

Travel vs Staying Close to Home


I love to travel.  My family traveled along the West Coast through the nineties in an RV and stayed at all the major cities and parks along the way. There was so much to shoot that you could never run out of great subjects.

Fast forward to the present and the major changes that are taking place in the Photo Industry and more to come and you would have a hard time convincing me that travel photography can give you a good decent, consistent living in today's market place for Stock Imagery.  It used to be that you would travel, take photos and then submit those images to your agency and then as those images began to sell, you would use that income to fund the next trip and so on and so on.  But nowadays because of the digital revolution destroying the dollar return on the license for an image and agencies fighting to gain market share by giving imagery away for almost nothing, you cannot survive and prosper on Stock Photography income alone. That is why you have so many professional photographers doing weddings, portraits, seminars, workshops, consulting and working at other jobs outside of the photo industry.  They are all scrambling to stay afloat in this topsy-turvy world we live in.

With photos dirt cheap, why would a client pay more for a travel image from you when all he has to do is use the web and find some photographer from that area of the world that he is interested in and deal directly with him.  Who cares if he is an amateur, ultimately we are all amateurs learning new things all the time and becoming better at our hobbies.  The lesson now is to be smart and not waste your time thinking that you can travel thousands of miles to exotic locations and create great images in these beautiful locations and expect those images to sell automatically.

So even before you start your journey and get on a plane you are already traveling with an albatross around your neck,  no matter where you go everybody is a photographer and everybody can take an image and sell that image on the web.  They also have the leisure time to wait for the best light and not rush their shooting because they are not on a deadline.

There will be alot more crowd sourcing sites popping up like istock photo, Flickr and Tumblr and once they reach a critical mass of subjects the people running the site will contact the big photo agencies and allow them to troll through the site and cherry pick the best images as long as the photographer gives them exclusivity.

Plus,  you have the cost of getting to your "exotic"location and then paying for a room, food, rental car, family, entertainment and more.  I put in family above because if you are a travel photographer and leave your family behind to shoot in far away places then your also losing out on quality time with the most important relationships in your life.  That is why I took my family with me.  I regretted not doing this with my older daughter.

So as a travel shooter you have no guarantees that your images will sell anymore.  Actually you can do the math, as more and more people get the photo bug and buy digital camera or cell phones your imagery becomes less and less critical for buyers who have an overabundance of photos to choose from any one of which will fit their editorial and commercial brands.

Right now I am spending more time creating conceptual images and when I do travel, I travel in Washington State.   Washington has all the seasons, mountains, rivers, lakes and cities I will ever need.  By staying close to home I can still create images but not go broke traveling and spending money with no guarantees that I can recoup my investment and time.  Also, I got out of the rat race, you know what I am taking about, that feeling that you have to keep producing more and more just to maintain your level of income and even as you produce an assembly line of imagery you know that nothing can compete with the millions of imagery being uploaded on a daily basis on the web and being sold for pennies on the dollar.  The race is already lost and you might as well create images you enjoy making because you might not see any income from them anyway.

That doesn't mean I will not travel again but for now I am satisfied by shooting subjects locally.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

New Technology

March 10, 2012

New camera technologies are coming at us all the time.  These new technologies are taking over the image making process.  Technology, that gives anyone the ability to take a bad photograph and using the new technology, make that image a decent image.
The latest one that caught my eye was this box camera that can focus an image even though the photographer didn't focus the subject properly.  It got me thinking about learning the craft of photography, reading and looking at the masters of the craft and being inspired to create your own personal images.

I learned photography from the bottom up.  Taking darkroom classes in black and white,  rolling our own film and developing the film and printing the negatives.  We learned about exposure and contrast and how you could underexpose and overexpose your film by varying your times in the developer. This worked well if you had a very contrasty scene and needed to back off from the deep shadows and bright highlights.  You simple wouldn't develop the film as long.

We learned the Zone System created by Ansel Adams.  The meter averaged everything to an 18% gray,  therefore if you were shooting a subject that was bright you would have to adjust your exposure so those bright areas of your image didn't get dark and muddy looking.  To bring up those highlights that you saw through your lens you would have to overexpose the negative/slide but not so far as to lose the highlight detail.

We learned the camera controls before everything went Auto mode.  It was Eye/Hand coordination as you photographed fast paced action subjects.  You practiced which way you should turn the lens depending on whether the subject was moving away from you or toward you.  You used a tripod and set up your composition carefully and deliberately.  We learned composition and lighting.  We learned the business side of making pictures and then selling them to make a good living.

Now cameras are getting to the point where they can virtually take a picture for you without you being present in the scene and aware of your composition and exposure.   The mantra now is take the photo and enhance it after the fact. You can correct exposure by new HD merge technology.  You can photoshop out any detail you shouldn't have included in the frame.  If you didn't like the color you can filter it to be anything you like.

Everyone is a photographer nowadays and they proliferate the internet with subjects of  internal revelations, as if they are showing the world an important event, a plate of eaten vegetables.  When everything is important then nothing is and we see the minutia of daily life, the mundane details of our existence raised to the level of significance that lowers our expectations of what quality subjects should be.

But there still is a way of seeing that is unique to you, and finding that vision only expands your ability and willingness to learn and grow as a photographer and as a person. It has nothing to do with technology, but your inner landscape being manifested.

Once you learn the craft of photography, then you can break the rules and use these emerging technologies to your advantage, not letting the technology use you.  Adding new techniques that enhance your style and helps you express your vision is a good thing, and the new software out there can do that, but you have to be careful and not let this new technology interfere with the meaning behind your images.  Special effects for its own sake usually leads to a shallow perception of the photographs you are making.

Look at new technologies in the film industry and the special effects they can do now.  The book series by J.R.R. Tolkein "Lord of the Rings" was great, but to bring it to the big screen, as Peter Jackson did, took time for technology to catch up with the human imagination.  Same with photography.  Learn your craft and then use these emerging technologies to enhance your imagination and make authentic images and not bland, sterile, automated, assembly line copycat images.