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Rampant Herd Instinct Disease Sickens Photo Industry

Ever since digital replaced film as the photographers’ tool of choice there’s been a rapid rise in reported cases of Photographer’s Herd Instinct Disease (PHID).

Like other herd behaviors (buffalo grazing, people drinking Kool-Aid® etc.) the symptoms of PHID include feeling the need to hang out with the rest of the herd, thinking the same thoughts and doing the same things.

PHID is viral and highly contagious, and affects primarily wedding and portrait photographers. Although often transmitted through direct photographer-to-photographer contact, recent studies suggest that software vendors, album makers, print labs, and other industry players also spread the infection.

“Behaviors that have been bred into our species for generations are helping spread PHID,” one anonymous source told us. “Looking for the lowest price, the least effort, the biggest discount. Wanting to hang out with the crowd, when all that does is help spread the disease.”

Virologist Dr. Seymour P Payne told us that the main symptom of PHID is doing what other photographers in their herd do. “I call it what it is–copying.” he says, “Sufferers prefer to call it ‘emulating’.”

Other symptoms include:

  • Failure to realize that copying makes it impossible to charge a premium
  • Lack of the confidence to charge a premium
  • Reluctance to spend time marketing and selling
  • Brain fog caused by long nights editing images
  • Listless appetite for product sales
  • Sleep deprivation due to excessive time on social media Websites

Once photographers contract the disease they tend to align themselves with a herd, rather than acting independently. Dr. Payne stresses that there are various competing herds, just as there are in politics. But instead of red states and blue states, or left wing and right wing—we find antagonistic herds such as: Shoot and Share, MWACs, Clickin’ Moms, Momarazzies, and of course a large group known informally as “Old School Shooters,” who have a deep knowledge of film.

Dr. Payne believes that as artists, and creators of beautiful things, photographers should be independent thinkers. “But many PHID sufferers spend an extraordinary amount of time looking at other photographer’s work online, especially in Facebook groups where there’s a natural inclination to want to be liked. Photographers attending large group events and trade shows are also highly susceptible.”

A recovering photographer who wouldn’t be identified claimed PHID has caused a rapid decline in photographic art, product quality, and differentiation between studios. “My iron levels are down too,” he said, “but I’m taking supplements for that.”

“Just a few years ago “shoot and share” was something we told drug addicts not to do with their needles. Now industry leaders are encouraging people to do exactly that, and spreading PHID in the process.”

“I started feeling really bad just uploading all my files to the cloud and letting my clients pick through them. Yes it was easy, but sometimes pride counts for something, you know?”

“And besides, when the only thing that made me different was my price, it was really hard to make a decent living.”

Pushed for details about life as a herd animal, our source said, “Well it isn’t fantastic. You spend all day looking at the next guy’s ass (okay, not always a bad thing), and grazing on pastures that were green once, but have now been trodden on and grazed over by the whole darned herd.”

Dr. Payne sympathizes. “Herd animals tend to keep their heads down,” he says. “Once a gnu, always a gnu, know what I mean? That’s OK, but if they looked around maybe they’d say, ‘Hey, I could be a giraffe, or an elephant.”’

“In my next life I want to come back a Lion … We can all dream.”

Does Technology Suck or What?

Some things you only understand with the passing of time.

The old adage “A shoebox of memories never fails” has never been clearer to us.

Even those of us immersed in the digital technologies of the day can miss what matters most: the ability to easily enjoy memories for generations.

In my short life, I’ve listened to music played on 7″ and 12″ vinyl records, reel-to-reel tapes, 4-track tapes, 8-track tapes, compact cassettes, CDs, digital audio tapes, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and many digital audio formats. With each media comes a new player, destined to become outdated and therefore inaccessible.

Not to mention the degradation: vinyl records wear and get scratched. Tapes get crumpled by the players. Digital files decay, device/media/backup systems fail, users unintentionally delete. And what if your computer gets stolen or your cloud-based storage service goes out of business, or is simply forgotten?

My costly collection of 500 music CDs sits unused on shelves in my basement because even though compact discs offer better quality sound, streaming music is easier to enjoy. Inevitably, one day I will not even have a CD player to play these CDs.

Video has the same risks. Fearing the loss of dozens of family VCR video tapes that my wife, Linda, and I recorded in the early 80s, we recently paid a large sum of money to have them transferred to DVDs. They had already deteriorated, and what we got back was a tiny digital video (in today’s high-pixel world) that played with a blurred orange cast. What are the chances that my children’s children will be able to learn about their grandparents through these videos?

Earlier this year Linda and I felt the brunt of media loss when we emptied out the house where she was raised. We had to move her 94-year-old mother to a new home. Boxes, drawers, cabinets, closets, an attic, and a storage room had held 65 years of living. We found my wife’s childhood box of LINCOLN LOGS®, a Huckleberry Hound VIEW-MASTER®, TINKERTOY®s, an empty PEZ® container, and several boxes of nearly perfect 45 rpm vinyl records.

One record brought back special memories to Linda. She longed to once again hear “Loving You” sung by Elvis Presley. There it was—the original record—in our hands, but no record player.

Discovering Linda’s father’s collection of more than 100 cassette tapes gave us not only insight into his music tastes but also a new understanding of him . . . and of life in the 30s, 40s, and 50s—101 Strings, Pete Fountain, Benny Goodman, Nat King Cole, Boogie Woogie, Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra. . . .

In one cassette case were six tapes with handwritten titles: “Favorites #1,” “Favorites #2,” etc. We wondered what he might have been wearing and where he sat when he used two recorders to record those tapes of his favorite songs. Which songs did he record? His tape player was long gone.

In the garage we found a box of 16mm film containers and an ancient Arriflex 16mm film movie projector. Ah-ha! We had the media and the right projector. We opened the film reel boxes—sadly, all we found was crumbled film.

We spent hours and hours going through photos taken by her uncle, her mother, and her father. Her uncle had been a professional photographer and longtime PPA member. Early in his career his muse was my wife. His film work was amazing.

After five days of cleaning and sorting, we had eight boxes that contained things we wanted to take home and keep—four filled with family photographs and albums. As I looked at the photos I learned so much about Linda’s childhood and about her family.

When we got home, we carefully stored the photos, so those stories can reveal her family history—our family history—and so that those photos can do what prints have always done best: give future generations countless opportunities to easily look into our lives.

After Linda read this post she said:

“What is sad to me is that ever since you began shooting digitally (and taking so very many photos), we actually see and enjoy them less than when you took film to a camera store. Each time a roll of film was developed you had prints made, and over time many of them found their way into albums and frames. Your beautiful digital photos are now rarely seen as they sit on hard drives in mass quantities. If you look around the house, you find albums and prints that we enjoy every day. Most all of them were printed in the days when you used a film camera.”

Ouch!

The old adage “A shoebox of memories never fails” has never been clearer to us. Later, as we looked at our wedding album, we wondered what the future brings to brides and their children, who get a thumbdrive to preserve their wedding photos.

In a future post I will tell you about my grandfather’s album. It reveals why my Italian family name Giorgis was changed to Georges, why my father was a bit of a hoarder, why I was taught to eat all the food on my plate, and more. . .

Art Matters

Our industry is filled with too much moaning and groaning about how bad business is, how many competitors there are, and how hard it is to get customers to pay enough money to compensate us for our efforts and costs.

Do many of us have any right to complain about this wonderful and very satisfying field of art known as photography?  It is a fact that most of today’s professional photographers have not been trained as artists. Yet we began to think we were artists when people started buying our work. And many of us with decades in the business have enjoyed many years of a roaring economy, with enough money in our customers’ pockets to allow us to live a reasonable life from our photography.

But increasingly we find ourselves overwhelmed by the number of competitors, new photographic technologies, and how hard it is to make a living as a photographer. In this down economy many of us struggle—big-time. We may ask ourselves: Is there that much difference between what I shoot and sell and what other professional photographers do in my area? Or, scarier still: How different is my work from that of amateurs (often our customers) with their expensive cameras and image editing tools?

Like all techy industries today’s professional photography industry is built around the lure of the new—new cameras, new lighting systems, new image editing features and plug-ins. How many companies are out there hawking texture sets, edge effects, settings for image editing tools, and automated action effects? Do you support these businesses, thinking that you too can create better photographs and once again earn a living doing what you love to do—take pictures?

We often hear instructors (not always artists) at workshops and conferences say things like, “Study the light,” “Think outside the box,” “Shoot with passion,” “Capture your subject’s soul,” or “Shoot RAW,” or “Use the rule of thirds,” or “Break the rules.” When was the last time you heard an instructor talk like an artist, or teach you how to create photographic art without excessive exposition about the technology, the tools, and the rules?

So many images on photo-sharing sites and on many professional photographers’ sites are heavily saturated, rich in detail (often processed with HDR or enhanced with tone control plug-ins), layered with textures, and heavily edited—as if to shout out, “Photoshop was here!” And the black-and-white images:  they often look like they’ve been subjected to one of the many black-and-white conversion plug-ins that with one click globally turn color to black and white.

Will these photographs not date themselves almost as fast as bell bottoms did? How often do you see photographs that were first and foremost art, and not imbued with technology and trendy image editing techniques? Do you see many images that make you think, “Wow!”—and then you realize how timeless or classic they are?

I strongly believe that even in today’s economy there are plenty of people who will buy photographic art when it really moves them, as true Art does. We know many photographic artists who are exceptional at creating portrait art and at marketing their business—and they still make a good living today, albeit less than they did a few years back. Our bet is that in the long term, the challenging economy and the difficult-to-master technologies will weed out many who hang their signs and call themselves photographers—leaving mostly those who create and sell photographic art.

We work in an Art market. If you are not an artist—can you complain?

 

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