March 30, 2020

Roth and Ramberg-About Photography VI


I’ve spent the last few days thinking about my next topics for the blog. There doesn’t appear to be any particular order, but lately, my thoughts seem to lead me to one particular topic: What is killing advertising photography. The current state of the world creates a lot of time to think and to wonder what it is that you do and why you do it. The immediate stoppage of income is quite scary, and as our company is also based in Alberta, the last few years have been financially hard not only for us, but the entire community as well. As a creative director friend of ours said, we are “working harder to make less money.” 

I love my job more than most people should. I’m lucky for the career that I have, but it has become harder and harder due to other branches of photography overshadowing the advertisement photography business. Perhaps I haven’t changed with the times, but I think deep down all of us photographers have had these thoughts.

Let’s start with stock photography. We once tried to dabble in stock photography, but never really made any money from it. Stock photography usually requires shooting different angles and lenses of the same subject. I always try to get the best shot, even though it sometimes kills me to back up and leave room for cropping. I’m trained to get the money shot, so shooting the same thing over and over doesn’t fufill that need for me. As well Ii seems that if you shot stock photography, then you were taking work away from other photographers. Sure, some photographers make money at stock (and good for them), but it’s an easy way for a client to have images for their projects at a much less cost. The models are generally not professional, so the modelling industry has suffered as well and the modelling agencies are trying to work with the ever lowering budgets. “How come there are no good models in this city?” is something I’ve heard many times over the years. The answer is simply that we never supported them. I’m not sure how most stock agencies pay their “models.” I always thought some sort of sliding scale would be nice. If the image sells more, then they should make more. It’s probably tough to track, but knowing that their image can be used for just about any reason, the compensation should reflect it. The good news is that the stock photography model of $1 photos has evolved and now the cost is dependant upon usage.

Next up, the iPhone. That device has changed photography forever. The phone can actually take decent photos. The size of the image is small, but who cares? It’s probably only going to live online where the pixel count doesn’t have to be that great anyways. Each new edition of the phone brings about better quality under low light conditions, and a higher resolution. Throw that image into Snapseed and you can turn a boring photo into something dramatic and eye catching. The software out there now is incredible, again if you throw a “filter” onto an image it generally degrades it quality wise, but it’s good enough. This idea that anything is “good enough” has not only made its way into the photography world, but also into the advertising and video worlds. The “good enough” concept as well as the fast pace needed to keep on top of things has led to the cutting of corners. We live in a “good enough” society now, but perhaps the pendulum will swing back. A lot of people will still pay for quality. They have no problem buying craft beer or a hand made wooden bowl. Part of us longs for the old days when things were built to last. Lets hope it returns.

Next, influencers. This is a touchy one because I’m not as educated as I should be on the topic. Influencers have wiped out an enormous amount of photography work. Generally speaking, if you are young and attractive you can grab a phone, take photos of yourself wearing a brand name or visiting a hotel or scenic location and either get paid for it or get trips and hotels for free. I assume the big influencers are getting paid to “advertise” to their followers, which means there must be some metric out there to measure the success. I do believe that on their way up to the top of the influencer ladder there are a lot of trades for hotels, vacations or products rather than money that are taking away work from photographers, as they basically shoot or free. 

As photographers, we have all traded our services for some type of product. Furniture and gift cards come to mind as something we have traded for, but in the end, for the majority of our work we need to get paid. Perhaps it’s time to change with the times, I’m not sure, but I do know I’m tired of photos of people faced away from the camera with some scenic landscape in the background. The trend now is almost fashion like, as it is characterized by no smiles and little emotion. As I scroll through my Instagram these days, I find those photos are becoming white noise. Again, hopefully the pendulum will swing back.

As for other photographers, we have no problem sharing our costs or pricing methods with others, especially with students. A lot of photographers might disagree, but we tell students out of school that it makes sense they don’t charge as much as someone who has been in the business a long time. Our philosophy has always been to not be the cheapest photographer our there. If you constantly undercut or underbid you become labelled as the cheap photographer. When the big job or the job that requires some thought and planning and proper execution, the job with a decent budget comes along, the cheap photographer is left behind. 

Lately, tough times lately have forced all of us sharpen our pencils more. Our day rate or photography rates haven’t gone up in probably 15 years, in fact the last few years they seem to have gone down. With good cameras and software, a lot of substandard work has slipped through as it is deemed “good enough.”

I’ve had a revelation. I’m going to become a #midfluencer, a middle aged guy who travels around the world with his iPhone and takes pictures of himself drinking a beer on the top of a mountain. Travelling the world drinking free craft beer and posting photos of myself doesn’t sound so bad. If you search “midfluencer,” you see no one else has thought of it yet. Lets hope those other photographers don’t steal my idea.