Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Anyone Can Do It

It's becoming an "anyone can do it" world. Not just with photography but in other careers as well. In some ways and in some endeavors, that world seems like it's already here.

For me it does.

For most of my career life, I've pursued vocations of a creative nature. Be it shooting a still camera, a video camera, video editing, or writing. The only endeavor that, so far, hasn't been replaced by "anyone can do it" technologies is writing. But writing, as luck's fickleness would have it, is the vocation I've made the least amount of money pursuing.

Here's what happened, leastwise, as it effected yours truly over the last ten years or so. I'm only using my case as an example. I'm not whining. I don't think all is lost. I have confidence in my ability to turn scars into stars. In spite of downward spirals, I'm a survivor. I always have been. No reason to think otherwise now. I'm just recounting history. My career history over the last decade or more.

First, it was video cameras. When cameras like Sony's VX1000 and Canon's XL1 and their successors came out, everyone was suddenly a pro vid-shooter or a movie-maker. How so? Because, suddenly, you could shoot broadcast quality video with a $3500 (or less) camera that could deliver a decent-enough picture in AUTO modes. So what's the first thing all these new vid-shooters did? They took the rates for shooting video into the toilet by whoring themselves out for shit money. You know, to get their feet in doors.

Next, it was editing systems. When people had to spend a $100k for an AVID digital non-linear editing system, the industry standard, only pros and real production companies had them. I had one. Actually, my partner and I had two. We spent well over $200k on those systems. We had to work them around the clock to pay for them plus the small facility we housed them in. Then, Final Cut Pro came along, knocked AVID off its pedestal, and suddenly everyone became an editor for a small fraction of many people's investments. So what's the first thing all these new editors did? They took the rates for editors into the toilet by whoring themselves out for shit money.

Finally, it was dSLRs. Suddenly, it didn't take much know-how to snap decent enough pics. Guys like me, with years invested in learning and gaining experience and know-how were faced with competition from everywhere. So what's the first thing all these new photographers did? They took the rates for photography into the toilet, whoring themselves out for shit money. Worse, many of them started giving it away for free... for bragging rights or whatever. Whoopee!

I'm perplexed.

As more and more vocations fall victim to the "anyone can do it" trend, how are many people going to make a decent living? Is a socialist world in our future? That's not very appealing to me. Too many strings attached to socialism. No such thing as a free lunch and all that.

On the plus side, the one thing many new, "anyone can do it," technologies offer, in terms of creating opportunities, is in education. But when the economy takes a nose dive, like it has, many people might think less and less about improving their skills through educational programs (that cost money) designed to increase their know-how using these new technologies. Instead, many are worried more about getting by. For those still getting by, they might be worrying they're not going to be able to do so in the foreseeable future.


Technologies give and take. Economies give and take. Lately, for me and probably for many others, they've both been leaning heavier on the "take" side. Hopefully, one or both are gonna give!

Oh well. What'd'ya gonna do? The world changes. Opportunities appear and fade and appear. Sometimes, new opportunities appear, only to be shot in the foot by economies.

What's next?

Wish I knew.

Here's a bit of advice from an old school guy for those starting out, trying to take advantage of "anyone can do it" technologies: It's pretty damn hard to raise your prices once you've set your rates low regardless of how much better the products and services you offer become. It wasn't always that way. For the most part, it is now.

The pretty girl at the top is Amber. Perhaps vid-shooting chicks like Amber are also a reason less opportunities are in my court and more in other people's courts... like Amber's court.

I'm not trying to be a downer. I'm just saying.


Ed Verosky said...

You titled the post, "Anyone Can Do It." You know, let's use writing as the analogy here:

Words are free to use. Anyone can put sentences together, spell check and other tools make it possible for anyone to put together a manuscript.

Tools are cheap and readily available. Lots of instruction on the internet. Duplication of content is free. So many hacks claim to be writers. Some give it away for the credit.

But some writers still make really good money. Other writers, with the same tools and free production costs, don't.

That's cause the answer isn't in the tools. For the type of production you're talking about, money used to be the gatekeeper. Now, talent (and often, marketing skill) is.

jimmyd said...


Obviously, good marketable writing relies on things that technology, so far, hasn't usurped. Things like, as you pointed out, talent and creativity. In the future, near or far (probly far), I'm not so sure technology won't be able to compete in those areas as well.

Ed Verosky said...

So, I was going to say, cameras can't come up with ideas, get the model to make just the right expression or hit the right pose, setup your lighting, or compose the shot.

But, I can see a day when the same technology that point and shoots have now (face and smile, and blink detection), will also have "composition suggestion" features. Seriously. It will happen.

So, I feel you, man.

But then, the day will come, people are going to want photos that look like they were shot with instamatics again. Some already do.

Fred Gerhart said...

As usual Jimmy you are spot on with your assessment of the situation.

And I hope folks read and heed the tip at the bottom about setting pricing when starting out.

Thanks much,


Jason Herrick said...

I totally agree about pricing. The same is true in ALL fields.

However, remember that the cream will rise to the top. Experience, communication, marketing, and the ability to work with PEOPLE will make the difference of whether or not a company survives. Technology has always been a key ingredient. Look at "everybody has a camera" as a challenge and rise above all the hacks that own the gear but don't know what to really do with them. True talent, is much different than a true technician.

Javier G said...

That "anyone can do it" scenario doesn't have a logic if someone's good at what they do. Just because you can get the latest technology cheaper than before doesn't mean the output will come out with the same quality.

However in the different areas Jimmy mentioned there are lots of stuff that in my view is "overcharged" because not everybody had the gear to make the project, not because it was particularly challenging. That part is getting equalized because now more people can do it.

Take photoshop for example, lots of people are doing simple retouch by a fraction of what high end retouchers charge (whatever area they specialize in), will these retouchers loose work? Perhaps the simple stuff, but if they're good at what they do they will still find jobs that require the skills and vision that the "anyone can do it" retoucher can't do.
I think these kind of questions are cyclical, what do you think large format photographers thought when the smaller film cameras where introduced, or when the range finder was invented? I bet they thought the same thing "now anyone can do it"...

jimmyd said...


That "anyone can do it" scenario doesn't have a logic if someone's good at what they do.

The problem isn't competing on a quality or "good at what they do" level, the problem has been price. The clients who went with the cheaper, less experienced, not so good newcomers would much rather have continued hiring me. They just wanted me at the price the others were offering, in spite of them being not so good at what they do. And it isn't that clients didn't recognize the differences in quality. They did. They even said so. But it still came down to price. They adopted a "It's not that good but it's good enough" attitude. I even tried agreeing to the lower rate but putting less work and effort into it. They noticed. They were very unhappy. So what they wanted was the same quality, from me, but at a substantially lower price. Fuck that.

P.S. And these were during times when the economy was good and those clients were thriving. They simply got greedier. Wanting more, or the same quality, for less. Again, fuck that.

Jason Herrick said...

It sounds like your clients are the problem. Either suck it up, drop your price and provide the same quality they have come to know and love OR find people willing to pay what you ask. Both options have hard decisions that need to be made. However blaming "the industry" or "the experienced amautures" doesn't get you work. It only promotes a bitter attitude.

jimmyd said...


You're right. No argument.

Ed Verosky said...

This problem might be a big one in the entertainment industry you service the most. But, where I do a lot of music-related shooting, I've had comments like, "I knew a few people who'd do it for less, but I wanted great photos, not just ok ones." Same holds true for lots of my boudoir clients.

It's a shame, 'cause your work is outstanding -- at least your stills are. I haven't seen any of the video stuff.

Anonymous said...

It actually changes the market.

Take furniture making for example. It used to take a craftsman days or weeks to make something. Now a machine spits it out in an hour or less. Ikea doesn't charge anywhere near what I charge to make a simple bookcase, which used to be the bread and butter of my work. Now I have to work at doing things Ikea doesn't do.

Same with photography. Many markets are being serviced by low priced auto shooters, often called "soccer mom's" and I can't financially compete and a large section of my market is gone.

I now have to focus on a smaller market and get more work. A bunch of others guys are doing it too, so that market is even smaller or has more competition.

James said...

Back when napster first came out the record labels *hated* it. People *loved* it. I heard the phrase "when you make money selling water in the desert, no one wants to hear you bitch when it rains." thrown around a lot. And it was true. The labels had a monopoly on music distribution and almost over night that business model got kicked in the nuts.

That analogy applies to photography as well. For a long time photographers were selling water in the desert. We were the ones that put the time and money into learning a ton about framing, exposure, electronic flash, studio lighting. It was all expensive and time consuming, there were hurdles to enter the market, basically producing consistently good images was a non-trivial task.

Now it's monsoon season. Anyone can plunk down $2k, put a year or two in, and kick out reasonable images. That's the bad news. The good news? I live in Michigan where we have more shorline than any other state except Alaska. It's all freshwater too. Despite this fact, people here still buy bottled water. Why? Perception, marketing, ease of transport, status, whatever. The point is this, even during monsoon season, you can still sell water and even make a profit.