Sunday, January 15, 2012

Photography-what's next?

Earlier this week, I followed a link from a Facebook friend's page to read a blog post by John Mueller, a California photographer, who posted an inspiring sunset with the admonition: this photograph is not free.


I have thousands and thousands of photographs, filling three hard drives, that took me thousands of hours to "capture," edit, refine, post so people can see them, and ultimately print. I have spent thousands of dollars on camera equipment, software like Photoshop and Lightroom, computer equipment, and advertising that includes two websites, three Web marketing sites (where I sell prints and items like mugs and cards), printing, and packaging. I am a business. I pay city and state business taxes, and I have business licenses in two cities, for which I pay annual fees.

Many people comment about how beautiful, wonderful, and inspiring these images are. Some love them so much they actually ask about buying a print. I occasionally contract with individuals and businesses to create memorable portraits or capture special events. Others love my photographs so much, they "borrow" them (giving me credit, of course, but sometimes not). I have been contacted by organizations, usually non-profits, asking if they can use–for free–a photograph of mine they have found on Flickr, Picasa, or my website. Some I want to support but they can't seem to even pick up the phone to make arrangements. Or they use my photograph (with my verbal permission) but can't seem to get my required copyright or link to my website from where they are using my photographs.

Still others pump me for information about how I got that wondrous shot–not because they are curious but because they want to get the shot themselves. It's more than a little disheartening to realize that my many years of photography training (I do, after all, have a bachelor of fine arts in photography), experience as a photojournalist, portrait photographer, and nature photographer means very little in the greater scheme of things.

My epiphany? Photographer is a dying profession. Last year, I remember being amused at a TV camera ad. A wilderness photographer with very expensive gear waited for "the shot" when some yahoo with an instant camera zipped in and got "the shot" with point-and-shoot camera.

About a year ago, I put the 300mm zoom lens I bought six years ago into almost-daily action. There are many bald eagles in and around my community, in part, because I live directly above a wildlife refuge. I finally discovered an eagle's nest that has been quite active for at least the past eight years, according to people who live near the aerie a few blocks from my home.

Anyone who is serious about wildlife photography knows that anything shorter than 400mm will result in images like these.

 What's wrong with these images, you ask? If I blow them up, they are grainy because I have an inexpensive lens that is not long enough to bring the subject close enough to be really sharp. I have joked about the many many people I've seen at the wildlife refuge with Very Large Array lenses hanging around their necks. I would like to invest in a 400mm lens, which will cost me $1,500, something I'm having trouble justifying when I also need to paint my house. The Very Large Array, however, are usually 500 or 600mm lenses, costing upwards of a small automobile. Also disheartening because it means that photography is now a rich man's sport (I usually see zero to one woman carrying one of these lenses and maybe 10-12 men).

So, I'm getting back to basics. What sets me apart from many (not all–photojournalists are essentially visual storytellers) photographers is that I'm a storyteller. I tell stories in words and pictures because I'm also a writer. My words and pictures are more powerful together than they are apart. For the past year, I have posted to this blog a few of the more than 1,000 images I now have of my favorite dedicated eagle pair and their offspring. I'm currently writing a book tentatively titled "Learning the Eagle Way" about just that: my learning from observing these fascinating birds. My hope is that someone else will want to read the book and, hopefully, think it's a good enough story to share–but not for free.

If you are reading this, I would love to know your thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. Gag.... I wrote THE BEST comment to your thoughts about photography being a dying "career"..... but apparently I hit the wrote button and it went to some stupid other page and now my wonderful comment is gone!

    BOTTOM LINE: You're an artist, Kate, and you're darned good at photography and writing. Keep doing them, and consider any money you make from your projects like a bonus for doing what you love. Since the advent of affordable DSLR's, and digital period, the field has become flooded with amateurs. You - and thousands of others, like you, who are truly professional photographers - may never pay the rent selling your images. But that thrill you get when you make that memorable capture - that snow goose with its tongue wagging in its beak screeching at the juvenile eagle, or that darling (!!!) little hummer on your porch - that's the true payment you should be focusing on. We are artists, we photographers, we writers.... and the sad reality is, most artists do not pay the rent with their art. That compulsion we have to create art should be the thing that makes us happy. If you want a skill that pays the bills, maybe it's time to enroll in a trade school and then apply for something like a machinists job at Boeing!