You can trace the decline of the Camera Operator job back to the days when being a photographer meant you were actually a chemist. Steady technological advances in film, lenses, cameras and software have turned operating a camera into something a monkey can do. You don’t have to look any further than Craigslist to see postings for camera operators listed at $0.25 per object and $10/hr, to realize operating cameras is not a good way to make a living. I don’t think I’m stating anything new here, just working my way to several points I want to make in response to this email I received:
As a benchmark, I am interested in PDN’s 30 under 30, but I can’t help feeling, that it’s about being connected to the right channels, presenting to the right audience and in the right manner. I wrestle with the notion of, “It’s who you know, not what you can do.” And a lot of times, it all feels like a networking popularity contest, or how one presents/markets his or herself.
How does a photographer best position his or her work to a photo editor to be considered at that level? What draws their intrigue? Is it a look, a ton of skill, getting published in the places, being unique in a world when everyone is trying to be unique and therefore mimics one another?
Photography as a business is not about operating cameras. It’s about operating a business and applying the rules that govern successful businesses: advertising, marketing, networking, professionalism, instilling confidence, igniting word of mouth, leadership, standing out, evolving, defining your offering, building a team of talented people… etc. While it may be horrific to see jobs that once paid well go for McDonalds wages, those people are only looking for someone to operate a camera.
The other point I want to make, is that hitching your wagon to something like the PDN 30 is not a good idea. Professional photographers have multiple points of contact with their clients before getting hired. If the first time anyone sees your work or has heard of you is in the PDN 30 you will disappointed by the lack of response. As a benchmark your appearance in the PDN 30 should be accompanied by your 3rd year of direct marketing, a spread in a great magazine, successful portfolio meetings and the completion of an intense personal project.
The job of camera operator has been in decline for many decades, don’t follow it into the ground.