Friday, June 8, 2012

Publishing for Nothing

A dozen or so shots from my A-36 walkaround shoot appear in Mushroom's new book on the A-36, a nice thing that happens now and then.  My spouse's question was, "How much did they pay you?"  Umm, nothing; just credit and a comp copy of the book.  "Why do you let people do that to you?  They should pay you."  One or two of my more venal friends (i.e., investment bankers) echoed the sentiment.  The rest of them understood my motivations a little better.

Amateurs supplying photos for nothing or nominal cost to for-profit entities that would otherwise have to hire pros is a touchy topic in photography these days.  Many pros feel that "crowdsourcing" deprives them of immediate income, devalues photography, and results in inferior photos being published, harming the consumer experience as well.  Most serious amateur photographers are friends with pros and some aspire to be one, so they can't just brush off such sentiments.  But they don't appreciate being made to feel like scabs just because they like to shoot for fun and get a kick out of incidentally seeing their work in print from time to time.

What separated the pro from the shutterbug in the past was the pro's better quality photos, created by three things:  better composing, lighting and shooting skills; better quality gear than the amateur could easily afford; and privileged access to the subject, whether by connections or by effort.  The other thing about a pro is reliability.  Pros don't just happen to get shots, they are sent out to get them and they had bloody well better come back with them.  They achieve this through redundant equipment (2 or 3 cameras at the wedding) and a business-oriented approach to workflow.

But most of the gaps separating the pro from the amateur have been closing, and others apply only in same circumstances.  Pros and serious amateurs shoot the same gear now, and the technical requirements for the resolution and quality of a photograph -- even in print, but certainly on the web -- have declined to be within reach of even modest amateur equipment.  Not all photos require mastery of photographic technique or a lot of creativity to obtain.  The economic case for a pro in many circumstances is weakening.

The pro's biggest remaining advantage is the special access, which can matter a lot in airplane photography.  At an airshow, a pro who can get within 200 feet of the runway will get better photos than us proles back at the crowd line.  Many shots of military airplanes are available only to those with ties to the services.  Air-to-air work, the most sought-after gig in aviation photography, requires connections and cooperation, often resulting from trust built up over many years, as well as a somewhat unique skill set.  So we amateurs aren't really eating anyone's lunch by grabbing and giving away a few opportunistic ground shots.

As a last resort, the pros sometimes try to make us feel like we are debasing ourselves by giving away images.  "Is a photo credit all your pictures are worth?  Have you no pride?"  Well, not all of us shoot for pride.  The "worth" or "value" of a photo for a lot of amateurs is in the taking, the personal enjoyment, the sharing with friends and enthusiasts.  Monetary compensation is not even gravy -- it's parsley.

Thinking about my banker friends, what seems to bug them is the idea that someone could extract money for an asset but chooses not to.  Leaving money on the table is offensive, almost sinful, to them.  These tend to be people who don't have a lot of hobbies.  Perhaps what they're missing is that there can be a lot of value in not even being "at the table" sometimes.

Anyway, if you like A-36s, get the book.  It's a good one.

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