SELL­ING THE VI­SION

ProPhoto - - CONTENTS - Paul Bur­rows, Editor

In her ar­ti­cle for this is­sue, our busi­ness writer Rose­mary Ann Ogilvie brings up an is­sue I’ve cov­ered a few times on this page over the years – namely how do we pro­mote pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy to an in­creas­ingly chal­leng­ing mar­ket­place. Rose­mary is sug­gest­ing a few ideas for in­di­vid­u­als, mak­ing the most of the po­ten­tial av­enues in so­cial me­dia, but there is a wider con­cern that’s never re­ally been prop­erly ad­dressed. Ever since Ge­orge East­man came up with his af­ford­able roll­film cam­eras for the masses, pho­tog­ra­phy has be­come pro­gres­sively more ac­ces­si­ble and fa­mil­iar. The dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion has taken it a lot fur­ther, putting very com­plex – and thus highly ca­pa­ble – cam­eras in the hands of any­body who wants them. In tech­ni­cal terms, these cam­eras de­liver ex­cep­tional re­sults at the push of a but­ton… so how hard can this pho­tog­ra­phy thing be? That’s not just the way con­sumers now think, but also the clients in con­trol of the purse-strings that once paid pro­fes­sion­als to take pricey pic­tures. With a half-de­cent start­ing point, the Pho­to­shop whizz in the ad agency can fin­ish the job… as­sum­ing, of course, they’re not al­ready do­ing the whole thing with CGI, by-pass­ing the cam­era com­pletely. And this ero­sion of pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy is hap­pen­ing in a lot of ar­eas… wed­dings be­ing an ob­vi­ous one. And por­trai­ture where per­haps the dif­fer­ence be­tween a pro­fes­sion­ally-ex­e­cuted im­age and any­thing is the most ob­vi­ous, but po­ten­tial clients are only look­ing at the bot­tom line and prob­a­bly won­der­ing why it costs so much to take a cou­ple of snaps. What they haven’t con­sid­ered is all the el­e­ments that make a great por­trait look great (light­ing, pos­ing, coax­ing, etc, etc) and that most neb­u­lous of con­cepts, cre­ativ­ity.

For as long as I’ve been in this in­dus­try we’ve never been able to get our heads around the idea of pro­mot­ing cre­ativ­ity… vi­sions, ideas, in­sights. We’ve tried to pro­mote – or at least de­fine – pro­fes­sion­als via cre­den­tials, mem­ber­ships of as­so­ci­a­tions and awards – all wor­thy in their own right – and, less help­fully, by the cam­era gear they use and even how much they charge. In the bad old days, if you turned up with a big bag of cam­eras and charged like a wounded bull for sheets of films and test Po­laroids, you ob­vi­ously had to know what you were do­ing. It worked while the amateurs couldn’t keep up in tech­ni­cal terms, but has been ex­posed as fa­tally flawed once they were able to achieve the same re­sults with cheaper gear. Snag is, this men­tal­ity still pre­vails, al­beit in the slightly more sub­tle man­i­fes­ta­tion which im­plies that, if all the how-to-make-a-pro­fes­sional-pho­tog­ra­pher boxes are ticked, then clients will beat a path to your door wav­ing credit cards. But the mar­ket isn’t buy­ing any of that any­more… lit­er­ally. As they say about fly­ing… any fool can take-off, but it needs a pi­lot to land. In pho­tog­ra­phy, ev­ery­body has now got the tech­ni­cal­i­ties tied up – even if they mostly don’t un­der­stand how – but what needs to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the pro from the rest is the abil­ity to see, in­ter­pret, in­no­vate and make imag­ing magic. Cre­ativ­ity is the pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher’s most valu­able as­set and, in­creas­ingly, it’s all we have to sell. Pro­fes­sion­al­ism – in terms of busi­ness prac­tices, hon­esty and in­tegrity – is of course, im­por­tant, but in the end, it’s the prod­uct that counts the most. And that’s no longer a tan­gi­ble thing… it’s con­cep­tual which is a lot harder to sell, but we have to do it.

In her ar­ti­cle, Rose­mary quotes agent Maren Levin­son who says, “To stand out, pho­tog­ra­phers need to of­fer some­thing no­body else can and the only way they can do this is to have their own dis­tinct voice and vi­sion – they have to have some­thing to say.”

To­day we’re del­uged with im­agery. We’re us­ing pic­tures to com­mu­ni­cate al­most more than we use words, but these are ephemera of no last­ing con­se­quence and quickly for­got­ten. The truly pow­er­ful pic­ture is still some­thing spe­cial with the abil­ity to start de­bates, change opin­ions and, of course, pro­mote ideas. Great pho­to­graphs still get no­ticed, but it’s likely most view­ers don’t re­ally know why they’re re­spond­ing to what they see which is where pho­tog­ra­phy ven­tures into the realms of emo­tion and psy­chol­ogy. If we’re go­ing to com­pete suc­cess­fully here, we need to bet­ter un­der­stand these el­e­ments too, but this is also all about a quan­tum shift in em­pha­sis… i.e. away from all the pro­cesses and to­wards the unique in­puts which co­a­lesce into cre­ativ­ity.

There have to be the build­ing blocks for a more ef­fec­tive mar­ket­ing cam­paign for pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy here… it just needs a bit of, ahem, vi­sion.

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