This is a long thing, I need to get it all down, I physically can't sleep without saying this to somebody, even if it's just typing it for my own catharsis.
This mainly has to do with the business of photography, rather than the art of photography. If you are a happy shutterbug who is damned good at shooting or wants to be and that's your goal, you don't need to listen to me at all! This isn't about that.
This is about doing it for a living. I think some things need to be said out loud, for once, as least things that I've noticed:
1. It's more about equipment than we'd like to admit.
Years ago, I started with a shit film camera. The PJ playing field was divided between those who could afford fast lenses and bodies that allowed quick film loading and those who could not. Talent meant not just knowing how to compose and expose a frame correctly, but also knowing how to trick your goddamn shitty equipment into doing what you want it to do.
Nowadays, especially those of you in college, the playing field is divided between those who can buy adequate equipment to get the job done, and those who can afford fucking MAGIC. Let's face it: the asshole kid whose dad bought him a D3 and a 400mm f/2.8 is going to have a better sports portfolio than you when you apply to a job. You're both talented but we're too cheap to provide equipment and so was your school. As a consequence, he got all the primary shots he needed for the assignment in the first five plays and spent the next half-hour experimenting with cool angle choices and different techniques while you were still trying to get your 60D to lock focus quickly enough.
True, you can't pick up a pro camera, set it to P mode and instantly turn into Ansel Adams, but if you're learning on the same pace as everyone else and you are trying to keep up because your equipment can't hack it, the difference will be stark, and frustrating.
2. People are doing some unethical shit with RAW and nobody really understands or cares.
Photoshopping the hell out of photos is a nono in photojournalism, we all know this. And yet I see portfolios and award compilations come to our desk with heavy artificial vignetting, damn-near HDR exposure masking and contrasts with blacks so deep you could hide a body inside them.
When I question anybody about this they say "oh yeah, well I didn't do anything in CS5, just the raw editor in Lightroom real quick so it's okay, it's not destructive editing, the original is still there."
It's not okay.
But it doesn't seem like anybody cares. Some of the shit on the wire services looks exactly the same so they got jobs somewhere.
That dude that got canned from The Blade for photoshopping basketballs where there were none? He's found redemption- I remember reading an article where some editor says "oh he sends us the raw files so we know its kosher now."
Fucking storm chasers are the worst offenders at this shit. Guess what he does now.
3. Many times, sadly, it doesn't even matter if your photos are all that good or not.
We are in the age of the Facebook Wedding Album. I've shot weddings pretty much every Saturday for a decade and if there is one thing I've learned it is the bride paradox: people hate photos of themselves even if they are good, people love photos of themselves with people they love even if they are bad.
And that's totally fine!
Now that everyone has a phone with a decent camera or a little money for a DSLR with a pop-up flash, there exist an entirely new and growing population of couples who are perfectly happy employing their wedding guests as proxy paparazzi for everything from prep to ceremony to formals to cake to dance. They will like their photos better than ours. They won't last, they won't be able to put together a quality album, and they really don't mind.
Consequently, there also exists a class of photographers that saw how happy their friend was with the photos they snapped at their wedding in this manner and read an article on Forbes that said they could make $1500 a week doing it again and again if they wanted. They make no attempt to get better, they spam the bridal shows with booths that are alarmingly tacky and worse yet they learn they don't actually have to shoot the thing themselves with they can pay somebody else to shoot the wedding at a third of the cost and pass it along.
And nobody cares.
My buddy, an excellent photographer that chooses to shoot mediocre but proven poses for senior portraits, yearbooks, weddings, school sports, etc.,.. makes something like $70k/year in Midwest money. He's a really great photographer, but you'll never see the good stuff he shoots because it doesn't sell. You shoot what the clients want.
More and more, you won't like what the clients want.
And that goes for news outlets, too. "User submitted photo" is becoming the number one photo credit, it seems.
Nobody cares about recording history. Nobody cares about documenting the events of our time for the future. Just send us a low resolution .jpeg still frame from a movie you shot with your phone and that'll work if we get it by deadline because all the photographers are laid off. Nobody seems to care.
I wish I could tell you I haven't seen it happen myself.
4. Photography is easier than we'd like to admit.
Here's something for you: I've been doing this for a long time. I am an excellent photographer. Give me an assignment and tell me what you want and I assure you, I'll come pretty fucking close to the picture you had inside your head. I am very, very good at what I do.
You know what? You could learn everything I know in a few months.
Maybe less if you really focus on it.
My knowledge, my experiences, all of it- from professional sports to weddings to news to feature to product to portraits.. A few goddamn months.
In college, I studied alongside classical artists like we were equals.
We were not.
5. We need to stop being goddamn snobs and accept the coming of The Golden Age
Remember that asshole kid with the $5k Nikon D3 whose portfolio was better than yours? Guess how much that camera is going to sell for in say.. five years.
Would you believe $300? $500, maybe? That's all that body will be worth, if it's in good condition. And that's if Nikon decides to keep repairing the shutters that will inevitably die by then.
Have you played with a D3? That is a sweet goddamn camera. That can do everything you need to do, right now. Even ISO 6400 is beautiful. A lot of cameras are like that.
Imagine what will be $300 in ten years!
Everything is getting better. Sony, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, everything is fantastic. All of the future's crappy old stuff will be today's awesome new stuff. And that means more people are going to be able to afford really great cameras that can do amazing things and we are going to see some amazing photography come from surprising places.
It's going to be awesome.
It may also be the death of our profession.
Of my profession.
If you want to be a photographer- wonderful, good, yes, do that, I can't recommend it enough.
But I do not think we will last.
Thank you for all the comments, this is a wonderful discussion we should have had long ago. Agree or disagree, it always feels good to talk to other photographers.
What are your thoughts?