Friday, November 14, 2008

Find Your Place in the Photography Market

And Don't Get Squeezed Out

Many years ago, at an open-air Bruce Springsteen concert in the UK, an extremely large and overweight man, who had been standing very close to me and my companion, decided to make his way to the front of the stage - and then out to the bar. The crowd around me took up the free space he left in his wake, and we all settled in to being gently crushed again. Then he came back. I still have a vague memory of the intense pressure on my ribs as he forced himself into a space that no longer existed and I found myself with nowhere to go. Except - out to the side, just where he had come from.

It's not that easy working as a self-employed photographer (and writer) when some think that all it takes to be successful is a half-decent camera and a computer. It's difficult enough that there are a heck of a lot of very talented people out there - many of them vying for the same cramped space in the job market. But, it's worse when that space gets even more congested by people who really shouldn't be there at all. Despite plenty of opinion to the contrary - and some evidence to back it up - I'm not quite as full of my own "self importance" as I could be - nor am as as confident of my abilities as I should be (err...probably). And, I am often inclined to be the one who moves away to make room for others.

Yesterday, a prospective client - a tour operator - asked me to look at some photographs he had been sent by a freelance photographer, and offer a second opinion on whether they were good enough to be used on his website. I was flattered to be asked - and he was honest enough to say that although he liked them, his photographic expertise was minimal.

But, I was also getting mentally prepared to be squeezed out of the potential market. After all, this was a freelance photographer, so she had to be good, hadn't she? Immediately, in my head, I was sizing up the opposition, finding her to be 'bigger' than I am (certainly in terms o f talent and potential to succeed) and getting ready to move out of the arena.

The thing was; I didn't like most of the photographs. Not only did I not like them, I knew, in a very objective and totally non-partisan way, that they were not of a very good standard and would probably not benefit the client's standing as a well-respected tour operator should he use them.

So I told him, by email, that yes there were some that I quite liked, compositionally speaking, and one of them was, in my view, excellent. But most of the images were over-processed, and one had been so heavily manipulated that although it might work well as an art print, I didn't think that it would look right on a tour operator's website. There were others that had obvious technical problems - like wildly converging verticals on a shot of a church, and poor colour balance on some interior shots.

I told him all this, in what I hoped was a professional and objective manner - and I explained that I teach those subjects to photography students. And, I also emailed examples of my own landscapes, interior shots and architectural images that I hoped would show the differences I was writing about.

I don't have his response yet - but I felt good about what I did. I was being fair and as objective as possible, but I was also saying "some of us can do this better than others".

Move over, I told my unseen interloper - I'm claiming my place in the arena!

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