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The Changing Role of the Professional Photographer


ASMP’s evolution/revolution Webinar Series Offers a Navigational Compass

A little less than a year after the launch of ASMP’s informative Business as unUsual Webinars, the first of its new evolution/revolution Webinar series debuted in October 2013. Both series are designed to offer easy access to ASMP’s collective reach to industry professionals and ideas that may otherwise be unavailable to individuals. However, while Business as unUsual is more about tangible tools and providing “information you can use right now to grow your business,” evolution/revolution focuses on “big picture, future-focused conversations,” says Director of Content Strategy Judy Herrmann. She adds that the goal for this new series is “to help give photographers a sense of which way the winds are blowing and help them respond to change more effectively.”

 

With that in mind, the inaugural episode of evolution/revolution, moderated by ASMP past president Richard Kelly, addresses the timely topic of The Changing Role of the Professional Photographer. Kelly explains that he recognized, “as a photographer and a member, that there was a fundamental change occurring in the industry” and that the “evolution/revolution” Webinar series — and its name — was developed in response to those changes. In fact, “the name evolution/revolution came about because that’s how I sort of see it: as entrepreneurs and artists, sometimes we’ve evolved and, sometimes, we’ve had to take a stand against how we’ve always done things.”

 

The Webinar panel was assembled to represent a variety of industry perspectives, from still and motion photographer Chris Winton-Stahle to Esquire Photo Director Michael Norseng to Photo Center NW Executive Director and founder of Minor Matters Books, Michelle Dunn Marsh.

 

Perhaps the most important message of the Webinar is that diversification is key. Photographers need to evolve, grow their skills, reach across multiple platforms and work on how the term photographer is perceived and defined in its current, expanding role. Whether it’s embracing video, CGI, compositing, other technologies or any combination of media, professional photography is no longer only about images that are captured solely with a camera. As Marsh points out, photographers “were used to being paid for usage of the image. I think we’re looking at more models now where the package is larger than that.”

 

ASMP has been focusing on the issue of changing business models for quite some time. As Herrmann notes “Many of the seminars featured in our 2008 Strictly Business conference (recordings available at asmp.org/videolibrary), our 2010 and 2012 Times Center Synmposia (recordings available at asmp.org/symposium) and our 2012 book, The ASMP Guide to new Markets in Photography, have focused on both the changes we’re experiencing as an industry and how individual photographers can successfully adapt.”

 

The recent ASMP constitutional referendum to change ASMP’s membership categories, which passed by an overwhelming majority (see Referendum Question 1: asmp.org/constitution/question1-changes), acknowledges that, “More and more, professional photographers are diversifying their income streams and creating hybrid business models that combine photography with motion CGI and other related skill sets. This language will update our purpose to reflect these industry changes and the current business practices of our members.”

 

Prior to the Referendum, the requirements for General Membership focused on the print publication of photographers’ images, e.g., “Photographers whose images are created primarily for publication” and “Photographers for whom the majority of their earned income comes from the publication of their images.” As explained in the Referendum, “This requirement was originally set up as an indicator of professionalism back when the Society was The American Society of Magazine Photographers. However, many professionals today do not work primarily for publication in magazines, the end uses of photography have a much broader range than in the past.” The new Professional Member category, which replaces General Membership, embraces this new diversity.

 

Herrmann notes that the overwhelming support of the referendum “shows how clearly our members see the disruptive change that has hit our industry and the impact those changes have had on how photographers earn a living.” Kelly agrees that, “The fact that we had one referendum vote and it passed shows that people were ready.”

 

A number of factors are driving these changes. Key among them is the expansion in media and client needs. While print publications haven’t totally disappeared, Photo and Art Directors such as Norseng are being tasked with providing still and video imagery for multiple media. Norseng points out that Esquire’s editor in chief “fosters an environment of evolution and to look for ways to enhance storytelling. He inspires us to be on the lookout for new technology and ways to use it.” A prime example being a shoot with a Red camera. “With the Red camera,” says Norseng, “we saw the ability to use some stills in the magazine and video for online content,” effectively fulfilling two needs out of one shoot.

 

Commercial photographer Winton-Stahle says his “strong suit has always been Adobe Photoshop and thinking of the image in multiple parts. When I get hired to do a job, it’s always about capturing this image in multiple parts and doing composite work.” However, clients also started requesting video, so Winton-Stahle recently moved into video production. “I get those calls,” he explains. “We see your work, we love your work, do you shoot video? After a couple of years saying, ‘it’s not my realm,’ I started saying yes.”

 

The challenge then becomes accommodating clients’ and publications’ expanding and varied needs. That’s where collaboration and the importance of having a team come into play. “One of the big shifts that has happened,” says Herrmann, “is that the amount of work it takes to get work has dramatically increased.” In addition to core tasks such as marketing and customer service, photographers have to deliver the assets that clients need and want. In order to do so, Herrmann emphasizes, it’s vital to have the appropriate resources — whether it’s someone skilled at CGI, video editing or any other component — at their fingertips to “confidently say yes, I can do that for you.” And while the idea of collaboration isn’t new, says Kelly, “being able to collaborate is critical today. You don’t have to do everything yourself.”

 

As Winton-Stahle points out, “I think the important thing for photographers to realize is that they need to reach out to the people who do it best. If it’s not in my realm, I have a DP and editors I work with,” he says. “When a client approaches me, I think of myself more as a problem solver in creating a production around what they need.”

 

On the educational side, says Marsh, it’s important to consider “what skills we’re providing people, to think things through in those ways and to value the totality of what someone like Chris [Winton-Stahle] is putting in.” Marsh continues, “Photo Center NW is dedicated to photography — it has a wet darkroom, digital labs and we’ve done courses in video, but we’re not saying you have to be able to do all of these things.”

 

Another topic discussed in the Webinar is the need for photographers to stand out from the crowd. As Norseng points out, “the ability for anybody to carry a camera puts the pressure back on the photographer to make his or her work more distinctive.” As a publisher, Marsh says, “I’m looking for things that are interesting, that are different and engaging.”

 

Not surprisingly, technology and generational differences also evoked lively discussion. Somewhat reminiscent of the change from film to digital, Marsh — who has a background in design and started out doing paste-up on a lightbox — brought up the introduction of the Mac and how “a lot of people were scared that it was going to be the end of real designers … but real designers are still working, whether they do it themselves or work in collaboration.” And, says Norseng, with all the new technology and different types of media outlets, “It puts a lot more pressure on everyone to diversify their talent sets. Like Michelle mentioned … the MacIntosh computer came along and people were saying, oh, no, design’s never going to be the same. But it’s adapted and evolved. Like the title of this talk — it’s all about diversifying, evolving, keeping your mind active and diversifying your talents.”

 

In the current market, some photographers, says Kelly, might have to “do something contrary” to what they’ve been doing for the past 10 to 15 years (that’s where the “revolution” part of the equation comes into play. Norseng cited a Kickstarter project that noted photographer Eugene Richards started for a new book, “putting together a promotional video to try to sell it. It’s primarily voiceover narration over still photographs, but it was done in the medium of video,” Norseng says. “Of course, the final product is going to be this beautiful, printed book but in order to get there, he had to use the technology at hand in order to market it.” On the other end of the generational spectrum, Marsh told a story of how a student who has only worked digitally was really excited about shooting film and working in the darkroom for the first time. So it seems that change is afoot across generations. And, according to Kelly, photographers are facing the same challenges regardless of age, as clients are working differently and working on different platforms.

 

But we can’t overlook these differences that exist. Younger generations — including Herrmann’s six-year-old daughter, who recently wrote, directed and videotaped a script — have grown up with technology and tools that are easy to access and equally as easy to use. For some of the younger set, including Kelly’s eight-year-old daughter and high school students he has taught, “They don’t delineate between film, motion and stills — to them, it’s just photography.”

 

In the end, photographers are storytellers regardless of what technology or tools they use. As Herrmann aptly explains, “There’s no need to treat the ability to use these tools as holy skill sets. It’s not about the tool and mastery of the tool. It’s about the story, how you choose to tell it and about who you are able to reach when you tell the story.”

 

To view The Changing Role of the Professional Photographer Webinar, please visit www.asmp.org/evolution-revolution.

 

Next up in the evolution/revolution Webinar series is The New Photojournalism: Revolutionaries Speak Out, scheduled for December 10 from 1 to 2 p.m. eastern. Richard Kelly will host a panel of photojournalism luminaries including Stephen Mayes, Gerd Ludwig and José Azel, to discuss new technologies, business models and distribution platforms that could revolutionize how photographers reach audiences and monetize their work. As Herrmann explains, “Even though the conversation is couched in terms of photojournalism, whatever happens to them is going to happen to all photographers. Photojournalists are the canaries in the coal mine. Whatever happens, happens in their sector first — digital photography, bad contracts and so on. But that’s also true for innovations. Gerd Ludwig, for example, has an app that he’s using to distribute his long-term documentary project on Chernobyl. José Azel and Stephen Mayes have some really interesting ideas about distribution models as well.”

 

Register for all of ASMP’s upcoming Webinars at asmp.org/webinars.

 

—Theano Nikitas