The Race To The Bottom and/or Video

I’m waking up to a beautiful day in San Diego and thinking about my old California days when I lived in Santa Barbara and attended Brooks Institute.  That was a long time ago but whenever I’m in southern California, my head goes back to my beginnings – my beginnings with my husband and partner and my beginnings of my career as a photographer.

Sounds funny now when I mention career and photographer in the same sentence.  But that’s the way it was back then (mid ‘70’s) when you had to be technically savvy to make a good photograph – a technically good photograph that is.  These days just about anybody can create a technically good photograph because of how technology has changed the tools of our trade.  And that’s why it’s gotten harder and harder to make a career out of photography.

It seems like there’s a race to the bottom in photography these days. By that I mean that a lot of photographers will do just about anything to get the job – from giving away rights to almost doing the job for nothing.  I almost can’t blame them when they are facing mounting bills and the phone rings less and less and they consistently get undercut by their peers.  On the other hand I have to wonder, is technology totally to blame for the race to the bottom or did we do it to ourselves?

I talk to lots of photographers these days because I give short seminars about video. A lot of photographers have clients who are asking for video and they want to respond to that.  A lot of photographers see their business dwindling as print needs dry up and as we move to electronic publishing. With that of course comes even more of a demand for video content. And a lot of photographers are there because still cameras are now capable of shooting video.

I cringe when I hear that someone’s motivation for getting into video is because of a tool.  I cringe because I know that it’s not about the tool and that one should really focus on what makes them unique – and how they “see” things.  Right now, you have to still be technically savvy to be able to produce decent videos – with good sound and edited well. Is it only a matter of time before technology makes these tools so good that just about anybody can shoot good video? Perhaps.

I strongly suggest that photographers get out of their solo independent ways of thinking and embrace collaboration when they move into video.  Get away from the tool centric way of thinking.  Surround yourself with people who you can work with – sound people, editors, and musicians.  Place more importance on thinking in motion and storytelling in motion.  And most importantly, produce your own videos, even if that means taking a chance.  Work directly with clients instead of being just one rung on the ladder.  Otherwise you’ll be on the content rung, which is way down at the bottom of ladders these days.

So, while I’m sitting here on a beautiful morning in San Diego and California dreaming – I’m remembering a lot of my peers from my old Brooks Institute days.  I think about what they are doing now – are they still working in photography?  I think the ones who are the ones who shot images that had some soul and went way beyond being technically perfect.

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5 Replies to “The Race To The Bottom and/or Video”

  1. ah…another wise post from the oracle. this post is especially relevant to me, because we (yes, the solo still shooter had to depend on someone else for a change to deliver the project) just produced our first industrial video. the client is happy, we got paid and we were in control of the process from the beginning. a lot is changing for many of us these days.

  2. Hi Gail! I just stumbled across your blog and wanted to chime in on this as it is a really important topic at the moment. It’s also nice to see a fellow Brookie engaging on this topic. I think the race to the bottom has a lot to do with the fact that most publications now heavily rely on cheap, stock related images. A really good example of this can be seen by watching Getty’s recent actions. Getty is now buying amateur work from flickr at unbelievably low prices. This is an unfortunate trend that will only increase over time. I think that in any constantly evolving industry, ours especially, members have to be highly flexible. Trained, professional visual journalists have to be willing to branch out into other areas traditionally reserved for specialists if they want to separate themselves and become more valuable. At Brooks I came to the understanding that our industry is rapidly changing and we have to continually enhance our skill set and value as VJ’s by expanding into areas such as video and audio production. This has helped me immensely. Not only am I getting more jobs, I am also able to utilize theses tools to tell a more comprehensive story. I believe that audio, video and stills do need to be looked at as tools as they are the machinery that allows us to craft an effective story. I strongly believe that a photojournalist can no longer be just a photographer anymore if they want to be able to support themselves.

  3. As a student of both photography and video I have been torn between the creative outlet of a single moment in time and time in motion for years. Recently I’ve switched gears, marketing-wise, to focus entirely on video production. I’d love to collaborate more with photographers regarding video production, however I have run into reluctance because I’m viewed as a competitor vs a collaborator.

    What advice would you offer to both video producer, like myself, and photographers seeking to take their art to the next level through rich media without feeling like there will be competitive repercussions?

    Thanks Gail!
    Alicia Eschwege

    1. Great question. I would suggest that if you want to pursue more video production then start networking with people in that genre – sound mixers, editors, writers, motion graphics artists.

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