Wanted: Camera Operators

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.

Welcome To The Demand Economy

I read an interesting excerpt from a book called “How Companies Win” where the authors (Rick Kash and David Calhoun) argue that we are in a state of oversupply and the companies that win are those who seek demand. They go on to say that “constant innovation–the ability to find and fulfill new demand opportunities–is essential.” We’ve gone from a supply and demand economy to a demand then supply economy. The old way of thinking was you supplied a product and built demand around it.

I’ve gotten a barrage of comments lately from people saying “nobody pays for photography anymore” and “photography is all but dead” and “technology killed photography.” And, I have to agree. “Photography” is in oversupply. If your job is simply delivering a photograph then all you are doing is adding to the oversupply. You don’t have to look further than the discussion boards on Sports Shooter where it was revealed in a deal for Gannett to buy US Presswire that photographers were happily shooting games for $100 (or on spec). How’s that for oversupply.

So, how does this new demand economy work: “the damand-and-supply world requires innovation, adaptation and flexibility.” The easiest examples of photographers innovating and reacting to demand are the those who shoot video and stills together and those who are using social media to reach their clients or their clients customers. Photographers who are creative problem solvers have always been in demand. The top tier of photography is mostly comprised of people who can solve problems.

I believe the job of photographer has always evolved (from chemist to technical guru to creative problem solver) and while this may be the most radical evolution we’ve seen, it doesn’t mean there are not opportunities for those willing to innovate. I met someone recently who started an advertising agency so he could give himself photography jobs. Sounds crazy, but really he’s just filling a demand he discovered.

SFMOMA Discussion – Is Photography Over?

A major symposium on the current state of the field was held at SFMOMA in April 2010. You can view all the videos and transcripts (here).

Watch Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Peter Galassi (former chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York), Vince Aletti (New Yorker photography critic), Charlotte Cotton, Jennifer Blessing (Guggenheim Museum photography curator) and other luminaries discuss the topic.

Fascinating discussion best taken in small doses to avoid an ice cream like brain freeze (for example, they don’t agree on what photography is).

via, I heart photography.

Payment When Pulling Stills From A Work For Hire Video Shoot?

A reader asks:

I’ve had a strange situation crop up. I went to your blog to find guidance but the closest I could find was this article on the breakdown of fees for shooting video vs. stills:


In this particular case, I’ve been hired by an ad agency to shoot stills for an annual review, and video for a mini-doc – shot concurrently. So far I followed the structure from the article above – having consulted a few different producers and agents (all of whom are doing their best guesswork since this stills-and-video space is so new). Video was work for hire, and the stills I shot required fees for their use in the review and elsewhere. But here’s the new snag: the client wants to take the annual review in a different direction and fill a portion of the review with stills we’ve pulled straight from the 5D video footage.

The question now is, am I able to charge usage on those frame grabs as well? My thought is yes; If you’re hired to shoot stills and video and decide to shoot it all on the epic and pull your stills from the footage, then those stills require their own usage fees. Though the client is suggesting differently.

It seems with better and better technology and the ability to shoot entire photo jobs with 90fps video bursts, usage would have to defined by their use and not by their method of capture.

I reached out to Vincent Laforet to see what he thought. Here’s his response:

Unless he specified it FIRST in his contract that no stills could be grabbed from video without further compensation, and a detail of how that would be dealt with – the client can grab as many frames from the video as they desire, because that video is WORK FOR HIRE.

Happened to me once and it will never happen again. That’s going to be in all of my contracts from now on.

Vincent Laforet – The Future Of Photography Is Convergence

Rob: I want to talk with you about the post you made last week on your blog (here) where you asked people to guess the camera you used to make an image then revealed it was a frame grab from the Red Epic M digital cinema camera.

Vincent: First of all, this is not a philosophical discussion between the value of a photograph versus the value of the moving image. Because no one can win that one, there is no answer to that question. And I’m not looking to challenge either side of that argument because I find it utterly pointless. The value of a still image versus the value of a movie or a still frame from a movie means different things to many different people. Each discipline has its clear strengths depending on how each is used and for what purpose it is being used. I am just looking at emerging technology and how it could potentially affect our future.

A still image is still going to be the entry point for everything in the future.

I’m not so sure anymore. YouTube gets more than 2 billion visits a day…

How can you get a message across quickly using video? When we’re talking about information overload and trying to catch someones attention with a piece of advertising video doesn’t have a chance compared to a still image.

Remember “Minority Report”? I don’t remember seeing too many still image billboards when he was walking through the mall, ever.

Right, but that’s a film maker’s idea of the future. It was probably the same in “Blade Runner”, right?

It was. And in “Blade Runner”, they actually hired a futurist who studies these things and helps technology companies design future products. The point is, no one knows the future and to proselytize about it is kind of pointless. I’m fortunate enough to work with a lot of leading companies out there and get a glimpse into, and often a private glimpse, into what they’re working on years ahead of time, as well as introduced to what I would call forward thinking people. Some of them are geniuses who are literally inventing the products of the future.

And when you get to sit down with these people, you’re fortunate enough to get a pretty good glimpse of what the future might bring.

You’re not going to tell us, are you?

I don’t know that much more about the future than anyone else reading this blog, but I have been exposed to what the leaders in different industries are actively working on and thinking of.

I think anybody involved in producing content or in the advertising world would love the 30 second commercial to live forever. It’s an expensive buy, it’s an expensive thing to produce. They would love that. But maybe the like button is the future, one dumb little button that I press and tells all my friends that I eat Cheerios. There’s a pretty big gap between those two ideas.

Sure. I want to make sure we stay focused on what I know, which is not the secret to advertising in the future. And, how to keep people’s attention in the future, when most viewers have the attention span of say – a mosquito. What I have been exposed to, is what camera manufacturers, computer companies, network companies, distribution companies, et cetera are working on. Whether it’s holographic imagery, chairs that move in your living room based on the input from the action movie you’re watching, new delivery methods online and ways to interact with the content so that you can purchase it from your TV or browser, technology that tracks all of your likes and customizes advertising to what you know. To what cameras will be shooting, what resolutions, what ISOs, the form factors, new changes in lens technology.

Yeah. So given with all that you know and have been exposed to, has shooting with the Red made you really stop and think, “OK, one camera that does it all…” I mean, is that what blew your mind?

I’m not going to go as far as to say that the Red is the camera that does all of it yet. It’s definitely the single closest thing I’ve used to date that made me say “wow.” But, given the pace at which things are going, it’s only a matter of years until these live action cameras, the Reds or other cameras, are taking hundreds of images a second at the same resolution that our 5D Mark II’s are shooting today. And many will doing so in a raw format.

And my reason for talking to you is not to freak everyone out, but everyone should look at this technology and look at the examples out there more closely. I think they need not ask themselves: “Well, how can I apply this today?” Instead they should at least ponder how all of this might come to be applied in a few years from now. That’s what we need to be thinking about, because we have the power to influence and sculpt that as creatives.

Why is this future camera that does both, that allows you to pull still frames out of motion, so important?

On the one side there’s technology pushing things but on the other side we have the manufacturers of television sets, the magazines publishers, as well as advertisers that are also going to push their agendas. The choices of what we shoot, how we shoot and with what we shoot is often made by executives, or worse: bean counters… not necessarily creatives.

So you’re saying that the convergence is a matter of cost and convenience?

It’s one of the big factors, is going to be that, absolutely. And I guess that’s a bit of a negative way of looking at it. There are positives to this. It’s a complicated matter. This is not a “one answer, one solution fits all” deal.

For certain uses, it’s really obvious that there are a great series of tools that are coming out. For example this morning I was about to leave my home to go to work. I had my Epic with me and my daughter got into her ballerina dress for the first time. And I had a choice between my Leica M9 or the Epic, two very different tools, to very different ways of shooting, and two very different results obviously. One’s noticeably heavier. But with the Epic, I get 5k resolution stills. I’m shooting it at 96 frames a second, at a 200th of a second. And I’m able to get incRedibly sharp 14 MP stills from the camera.

I’m most likely not going to print poster images of my daughter- as much as I love her. But I will definitely print 8×10, 11x14s with a 14 megapixel camera, which is what the 5k can do. And it’s going to allow me to pick one of 96 frames every single second. And I also have the benefit of having a video clip to go along with it. Slow motion video that is @6 times the resolution of 1080p content as a result. So why would I choose the Leica other than the form factor, obviously? And the fact that it’s a still image and slightly higher resolution.

You’d choose it for price.

We’re talking about the future here. Not what things cost today. My iphone shoots better pictures than my $20,000 Canon D2000 shot 10 years ago.

All right. You’ve seen the future.

No, but I have seen what the future can potentially bring. I’ve seen that I shoot more than 60 percent of my personal images now on my iPhone. Because guess what? They’re more than good enough. Two years ago I would never have dreamed I’d be doing that, because the iPhone’s quality was nowhere near where it is now. These days, I hesitate between running up to go get my 5D MKII or Leica if it’s not near me or pulling my iPhone out of my pocket. So form factor and price are always a big factor, of course. But the reason we’re talking about the future is the technology that’s in the Red Epic today could very well someday be in a very small Red Epic, or perhaps even in your cell phone or your still camera. The question is: what will you shoot then? Especially when you can get both high resolution stills plus video simultaneously? THAT is the question. Other than the amount of data you are shooting – if you don’t need to make a choice between the two – will you?

Here’s what’s important, if you can shoot 120 frames or 96 frames per second at a high resolution, it removes one of the single most difficult aspects of being a photographer, which is to capture the “decisive moment.”

You just said something very outrageous, you realize that? Camera manufacturers have eliminated the need to focus and the need to nail exposure, now you’re saying no more decisive moments. Christ.

Yeah. That’s the key point here and a whopper of one. Focusing was a technical skill once that made it very difficult to break into sports photography. Exposure was a technical skill that was another barrier. Granted, both can be used for artistic purposes of course. But the decisive moment, to me after 21 years of taking still images is still the number one most difficult thing to do. By now, after 21 years of shooting, I can do expose without a meter. I can frame a shot without thinking about it too much. And I can most of the time either auto focus or manual focus relatively easily by now.

The one thing that’s going to make me miss or succeed as a photographer is capturing “the” moment, because that involves anticipation and predicting the future. It involves a lot of skill, a lot of guess work, and experience. And I think ultimately knowing when to press that shutter is one of the greatest skills you can develop as a still photographer.

And eventually, there’s going to be no shutter to press.

Precisely. The cameras can now be recording all the time.

So doesn’t that just transfer the job of capturing the decisive moment to editing the decisive moment?

Editing is going to become one of the most important, sought after skill sets in the next five to 10 years. I think we’re going to see such an incredible amount of data coming in, to the likes of which we’ve never seen before that editors are going to become one of the most important job positions out there.

So there will be a need for a photographer to pair up with an editor?

I don’t see how a photographer/videographer can do all this on their own. They would never sleep.

Ok, let’s talk about the workflow. I mean that’s probably the biggest issue. There’s so much data and you’ve got to edit it and deal with it and save it and archive it.

The workflow is a bear. There’s no way around it. I shot, yesterday afternoon and this morning, for probably half an hour each. And I have half a terabyte to copy over.

[laughter] That’s ridiculous.

It is ridiculous. And people are going to roll their eyes right now and go oh well, this is all crazy! But wait a minute. Firs, I’ve got 96 frames of every second I shot in those two periods of time to pull beautiful stills off of and then of course the video. It’s all raw which why it’s so huge. Now you can do the type of color correction you expect to do on your Canon or Nikon raw file with your video. And then you can project this footage on any motion picture screen in the world. All this with a camera that’s not that much bigger than a Hasselblad. The data is crazy now. But has hard drives get bigger, and compression formats and workflows get better – it will become irrelevant.

And you think this is going to get down to the Canon and Nikon type of situation?

I don’t know if it’s going to. The point of the discussion is not to wave any flags of any color, white flags or red flags or black flags, but just to get people to think, that’s all, about what we’re going to be doing in a few years, and to think about it positively, not with fear, but with eager anticipation.

When I look at the imagery I’m getting off this camera, I get absolutely nothing but joy in terms of what I’m seeing in the moving image as well as in the still images coming from the footage. It’s an incredible pleasure to get to see both. The only downside to the technology so far is the post.

And that should improve as well, right?

It always improves. And creatives should not be worried about that stuff. Other than keeping an eye on it for their productions. Creatives should be worried about creating different visual pieces of art and other types of art. If you get bogged down into, “Oh, my God, look at the post workflow,” you’re losing sight of what your job is.

Tell me, how does this compare to what happened to you three years ago when you discovered HDSLR filmmaking?

I haven’t felt this sort of excitement or urge to get my hands on a camera and start playing with it since I saw the 5D Mark II. And I should point out that back then certain people at Canon told me I was making a huge mistake, that this was not a video camera. This was meant to be a still camera that happened to have a video feature. And that a lot of people outright attacked me on the Internet and in person for saying that I was crazy thinking anyone would ever shoot with these HDSLRs. So I’m eagerly awaiting the inevitable comments coming my way.

Keep in mind that I’m not trying to change anything. I’m just trying to remark or observe on what I’m seeing happening, and what I’m hearing people working on for the future, and how it’s going to possibly change the way things are.

Again, I’m not getting into a debate on what has more value, the still or motion. Nor am I really commenting on where things are right this minute. I’m looking at where things are likely headed.

I’m also reacting to something a cinematographers told me a few years ago that left a mark, something that I think is very relevant, and that we should all worry about as we discuss our job titles and our careers. When the Red One came out, they had the ability to save stills to an external card. And I went up a DP who was on stage at a Red event, and I asked, “Who in the world would want to shoot a still image with this huge Red camera with a Cine lens? It’s insane. Why wouldn’t you go out with my 5D Mark II that shoots RAW?” His response sent shudders down my spine. He said very bluntly, in a German accent, “We want to take your still jobs away from you, just like you want to take our video jobs away from us with your HD SLRs.”


So for the readers of your blog, who I assume are mostly on the still end, we’re very often focused on how we can evolve our career into the video world, and add that as another set of skills or another service that we produce. We don’t often discuss on the fact that most film makers, videographers, directors, DPs, are feeling the exact same pressures we are from their clients and are very eager to move into commercial photography. Not because they want to be commercial photographers, but because they want to land that job at all costs.

“We want you to shoot the commercial, and we would like to pull some stills from the footage to use for print ads and Internet billboards.”

Exactly. Don’t forget that most people in the motion world are “work-for-hire.” So they don’t get the same type of deals with still imagery that we do with still commercial photography contracts. Don’t think that that’s not going to effect the still market. And lastly, don’t think that I’m happy about this. I have no joy in sharing that thought or seeing it happen.

No. I think we don’t have to emphasize it, hopefully people realize that you’re not trying to destroy anything. You’re trying to help people understand, because you do have access to $30,000 cameras to mess around with and you can explain what might happen if it was a $5,000 camera.

Here’s another revolutionary part of the equation, I’m carrying my entire Epic kit with matte box, filters extra batteries and cards, in my backpack. I have a motion picture camera in my backpack. That’s going to shake things up a bit as well in some areas. You still need a full crew for a major studio film, but for some work (such as what Tom Lowe is doing at Timescapes.org) you no longer do. One other quick note photographers should pay attention to, I’m having to modify the standard DGA (Director’s Guild of America) contracts I sign now to prevent clients from pulling images from my commercial shoots. Just recently a still client and agency pulled a still from a commercial I shot for them. I had a previous relationship with them as a still photographer. They had also hired a still commercial photographer for the still portion of the shoot. But when the client asked to use a frame grab from one of my clips they did so without hesitation. They were unapologetic. Lesson learned. Most directors being hired out there aren’t thinking yet about whether or not their clients are going to pull stills from their footage.

Since you witnessed what happened with the HDSLR in the last 3 years, can you predict how quickly this will evolve and people will adapt to it?

I think that the HDSLR movement was much more rapid and far-reaching because of the types of market we’re talking about. Everyone from amateurs to professionals can afford to buy one. Price is a major factor. This will have a slower effect, but a more noticeable one, on the high end. Bruce Weber, Mark Seliger and Annie Leibovitz are shooting with the Epic already.


Yes, and tons of fashion photographers. The higher production people are going to be using this camera. And it’s going to have an effect. I don’t know how fast, how quick it is. But ultimately, I think you have to try your hand at this technology, you can’t sit back. I’m not saying you change your business model, or even own an Epic. But I think you need to have some experience with it, and rent it for a weekend. So that when you’re client calls you and says, “Do you know how to do this?” You don’t say, “No, I’ve never tried.”

Because not all video requests require Technocranes and 50 member crews. Some of it’s relatively simple. If they just want you to roll some video on that certain types of shoots, then the answer can be “absolutely,” for most photographers.

So is this your advice for most photographers, to prepare themselves for what you see as a convergence?

Dip your toe into it or make someone in your studio at least know something about it. Keep your mind open. And more than anything, the hardest thing to do is, instead of reacting to the change with fear (which is a natural human instinct that we all know about) react to this change as something that’s exciting and full of new opportunities and new ways of being creative.

It’s very difficult to be original as a photographer these days, given how long the medium has been around and how many photographers there are out there. But this is a new medium, in effect. It’s a cross over medium that’s becoming viable and offers up a lot of really interesting new ways of communicating. You’ve probably seen those example of photographs, where part of it is in motion, right? That’s a new medium that’s developed out of this technology. And that’s exciting, I’m excited. I’m not scared of any of this. I guess that’s just the way I look at it, but it does not scare me. I find it’s tremendously liberating to not have to choose between shooting video or stills. That doesn’t mean I won’t be making the choice between the two anymore of course – every job has the right tool. But I now have a new tool in my toolbox.

You seem to be walking very carefully around making any declaration that the still camera is going to be dead in the future. You don’t see that?

I guess I’ve gotten a little older, perhaps slightly wiser, and realized that you can probably make the same point, and get people to think more, without making huge declaratory statements. I think big statements like “the camera is dead” or “game changer” starts to fall deaf on certain people’s ears after a while.

I think it’s more important to say, “Take note of this new technology and try it out if you can. And if you can’t try it out, think about its potential uses and how that might benefit you in a future assignment, your creativity, or your business.”

Google Announces New Image Search

Google is adding the ability to do searches with just an image (official announcement here) which looks to compete directly with TinEye.com a site I use whenever I want to see who shot something or where it has been used (*what’s up with all these Russian blogs with copies of your images on them, makes zero sense). I see this being a very useful tool for photo editors who want to fact check something in an image or find out who shot something they like. Also, it seems like it would deter any legitimate businesses stealing images off the web. A simple image search will reveal the source (*sometimes I’ll see a suspicious image on a site and do a google image search for the keywords on the story and discover they pulled it off page 1. Really!?).

We’ll have to see how it plays out, but on the surface it seems like a good development for professional photography. With so much imagery flying around there’s a need for things that are original and unique.

Note: Looks like they will turn this feature on at 6 PM, PST today.

The Future Of Photography Is In The Photographer Not The Photograph

Stephen Mayes, Managing Director of VII Photo and former Jury Secretary for the World Press Photo Awards (2004-2009) is a leading thinker on the future of photography and of photojournalism in particular. He was speaking at the Flash Forward Festival in Boston last week and Miki Johnson live-blogged his talk (here). Reading her notes, Stephen talks about the traditional role of a photograph as recording something real that happend. Analog photography is about fixing something and creating an artifact but digital is the opposite of this. The photograph becomes more fluid and online it is never static, there are an infinite amount of changes that can be made to it. He goes on to say that while the photography business is in decline this is a moment for invention not dismay.

His solution involves rejecting the idea that the value of photography is in licensing/selling content by the “unit” (book, album, photograph) and instead focussing on the integrity of the photographer or institution. His evidence is that with VII Photo, more than half the money generated has come from integrity, not the sale of images. Companies come to them, not to buy images but to partner and find solutions. This all fits in very nicely with the Blog, Facebook and Twitter information feed that people are plugged into. Distribution of information depends on who it comes from not what it is.

He goes on to outline the different ways photographers have advantages in this new ecosystem: being small and fluid is better than big with large overhead, there’s a huge population of kids who don’t care about newspapers but still care about the issues, you don’t have to rely on print to be recognized, bringing the subject into the relationship structure is very exciting and tailoring the story for the specific distribution platform. He concludes that there is no single solution but instead the answers are limitless.

Good stuff.

The Future Of Advertising Is Integrated

I found this story on TechCrunch about banner advertising quite interesting (here). Companies originally saw online advertising as a way to drive consumers to make a purchase, but they quickly discovered that traditional display ads yielded very few hits. The average banner ad generates 0.2% CTR (click through rate). You can see in this graphic from 2008 that while marketers still believed and wanted the internet to drive traffic they were starting to come around to the idea that creating awareness, familiarity, consideration and loyalty were just as important.


The story, written my Mark Suster a VC at GRP Partners goes on to point out that banner advertising is horrible at creating any of this awareness that advertisers seek online. The solution to this problem is integrated advertising. You don’t have to look further than The Strobist and Joe McNally to see integrated advertising hard at work in the photography industry. Savvy marketers have caught on to the value of endorsement and product placement for creating awareness and they’ve latched on to two early movers.

What really caught my attention in the story was the value of in-image advertising as a form of integrated media. GumGum a company I’ve written about before places advertising on top of images and delivers a 2x industry average CTR. Another company with Google backing called Pixazza places product advertising inside the image.

What does all of this mean for photographers? Something I’ve long argued: photos will eventually out-strip all other forms of communication online. Their ability to deliver information quickly in a crowded marketplace, makes them extremely valuable for marketing, advertising and storytelling.


I Think This Is Where Journalism Is Going

Photographer Stephen Alvarez sent me a link to a film he made for NPR (story here) and he seemed quite sure that “this is where journalism is going because these new cameras open up a narrative that was unavailable just a few years ago.” I wanted to find out more so I asked him a couple questions about it:

Rob: Can you explain why you feel that way?

Stephen: I can now see in film the same way that I saw in stills, I build a story arc the same way that I would in a photo essay, but with movement and sound.

Rob: Video cameras have existed for a long time now, what’s changed?

Stephen: Technologically this is possible now. A photographer and a radio reporter can go into the field and come back with a set of pictures, 3 written essays, 3 radio reports and a film. Just the 2 of us in the field working together sharing the production and reporting. Then of course a great team at NPR working closely with us in post production. I don’t think I could have pulled my end off if I was using a video camera and a still camera. Aesthetically, the stills and video are similar enough that I can switch gears between them. Plus these new cameras will work in almost no light so with my fast canon lenses I can shoot anywhere.

Rob: Do you think video is a better way to tell a story?

Stephen: Economics have pushed me toward making films. The photo essay, the form of journalism that I’ve spent most of my career creating is all but gone. Sure there are lots of places that will publish your pictures once they are made, but almost none that will pay you to do it. I mean the New York Times Lens Blog does not pay anything. I want to keep working in long form journalism, so collaborating closely with a reporter and creating films is one way to do it. I’ve also always felt sort of hemmed in being a photojournalist. Photo essays are wonderful things but they are not so good at providing nuanced information. Film can do that and provide emotional impact.

Rob: Do you think magazines on the ipad should be chock full of video?

Stephen: I don’t see e-magazines chocked full of video. But I do see long form, feature stories moving in this direction. It is a huge amount of effort and it does take close collaboration, something that photojournalists are often loath to do, but the truth is that both Jacki Lyden and I reported a better story in Nashville together than either of us possibly could have separately.

Tomas Van Houtryve Tries Alternative Funding Methods

Photojournalist Tomas Van Houtryve has been testing alternative funding methods for his photography projects and I asked if he would give us a report on how it’s working out for him. His latest project is called “21st Century Communism” and he’s using Emphas.is to fund it (here). Here’s what he had to say:

I realize there are a lot of gripping and important events unfolding around the world at the moment, but I want to share my first experiences on the beta version of Emphas.is. A few weeks ago I put up my project pitch, and then I hit the road for Laos.

It’s a bit like being a test pilot for an exotic new aircraft: I can feel the huge potential and the power of the platform, but I’ve also had to adapt and cope as the site engineers have worked through fixing the early technical glitches.

I had been eyeing Emphas.is and other alternative funding models for months, and I really wanted to be one of the first photographers to give it a try. Based on the launch dates that they initially announced, I cleared my schedule for several weeks to dedicate to fundraising, followed by a trip to Laos timed with key events on the ground. Unfortunately, the official launch of Emphas.is was pushed back as the developers raced to finish the site. Days of delays turned into weeks, and eventually I risked missing the events in Laos if I kept my plans on hold for the launch.

Running out of time and options, I decided to post an early call for support on my own website. I put up a project synopsis and video on my site and sent out a flurry of emails and Facebook postings. Within 3 days, $1935 worth of pledges from supporters rolled in. It was far short of the total $8800 budget that I still need to finance the project, but I had enough to book my plane ticket for Laos.

Then, just one day before I got on the plane, the Emphas.is beta site finally went live. For the first 24 hours there were reports that people were having trouble registering. Regardless, I crossed my fingers that it would start working smoothly, packed my bags and headed for the airport. The area I was heading to in Laos was extremely remote. In addition to an 11 hour flight, it took another 12 hours by night bus and then two full days on a riverboat before I finally got to a town with an internet connection.

Thankfully, when I logged on I saw that contributions were starting to add up on my project page. I quickly sent out my first exclusive update to the project backers, with details about crossing the border into Laos and photographing a shady Chinese casino in the Golden Triangle.

Then, it was back on the road to photograph Hmong villages in the mountainous hinterlands.

Now, I’ve finally made it to a major city with a solid internet connection. I’m just past half way through the time limit for my funding drive, and I’ve got 60 backers onboard contributing roughly 40% of the total budget.

For any folks that want to give Emphas.is a try, I would certainly not recommend such a tightly compressed schedule where I have to juggle shooting, fundraising and a withering travel schedule all at the same time. Its been very intense keeping all the elements on track.

On a positive note, the great thing is that there is something very intuitive about using the Emphas.is model, now that everything is finally up and running. Backers have started to pose relevant questions in the “Making Of Zone” where I post my updates and comments. As my project proposal has made its way through social networks and attracted support from strangers, I’ve made some really interesting and fruitful new connections. In addition to generous funding contributions, several individuals have stepped forward with key contacts and very precise and helpful advice for my subject. I have already managed to make stronger photos due to their input. This is a pleasant shift over the lone-wolf existence that I’ve experienced on many of my previous documentary photo trips. I now have got a crowd of very supportive people behind me, and it is clear that they have a stake in the project’s success. It’s very inspiring.

Emphas.is isn’t a magic bullet that will solve every problem plaguing visual journalism, but I think it is turning out to be a good model for long-term documentary projects.

All the best,

The End Of Free

If there’s anything that signals the end to the internet era of free it’s the long anticipated, much talked about, subscription plan for the New York Times. Announced on Thursday, visitors to the NYTimes.com website will be given access to 20 articles a month for free and to read the 21st article they will be given the option of buying one of three digital news packages:

$15 every four weeks for access to the Web site and a mobile phone app (or $195 for a full year), $20 for Web access and an iPad app ($260 a year) or $35 for an all-access plan ($455 a year). All subscribers who take home delivery of the paper will have free and unlimited access across all Times digital platforms except, for now, e-readers like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook. Subscribers to The International Herald Tribune, which is The Times’s global edition, will also have free digital access.

They have smartly decided to make some of their content available for free to take advantage of social distribution so that anyone can read an article someone passes along to them via email, twitter, facebook and blogs. The freemium model has really become the standard for making money on the web and it works quite well when you have a digital product that costs next to nothing to make a copy of.

Personally I believe this marks the end of an era where everyone scrambled to make something free and marveled at all the people who used it. Increasingly I’ve found myself looking at all the free options and then going for the higher quality paid option. That doesn’t mean that free will no longer exist, just that products you use heavily or want more quality/reliability out of will be paid. And historically, with new technologies, this has always been the case. As consumers begin to rely on something or competing products battle for attention the quality goes up and so does the price. I think we’ll all look back at this moment, forget about all the hand wringing that went into it, and talk about the genius behind hooking everyone for free and charging the addicts who want more.

Huffington’s Plunder

The sale of The Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million is a sad milestone for media in the internet age. TruthDig columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges grinds down to the point that makes this so painful for journalists.

Any business owner who uses largely unpaid labor, with a handful of underpaid, nonunion employees, to build a company that is sold for a few hundred million dollars, no matter how he or she is introduced to you on the television screen, is not a liberal or a progressive. Those who take advantage of workers, whatever their outward ideological veneer, to make profits of that magnitude are charter members of the exploitative class. Dust off your Karl Marx. They are the enemies of working men and women. And they are also, in this case, sucking the lifeblood out of a trade I care deeply about. It was bad enough that Huffington used her site for flagrant self-promotion, although the cult of the self has reached such dizzying proportions in American society that such behavior is almost expected. But there is an even sadder irony that this was carried out in the name of journalism.

[…] The argument made to defend this exploitation is that the writers had a choice. It is an argument I also heard made by the managers of sweatshops in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, the coal companies in West Virginia or Kentucky and huge poultry farms in Maine. It is the argument made by the comfortable, by those who do not know what it is to be hard up, desperate or driven by a passion to express one’s self and the world through journalism or art. It is the argument the wealthy elite, who have cemented in place an oligarchic system under which there are no real choices, use to justify their oppression.

Read the whole story on Truthdig.

There Has Never Been A Better Time To Be An Artist

…because everyone’s a photographer now. Those two seemingly contradictory statements are the subject of the soon to be released film, “Press Pause Play” which will premiere at the SXSW festival in Austin, March 11. The trailers have been floating around for awhile now and whenever I watch them I can’t help but hear my bullshit alarm screaming in the back of my head, because they’ve interviewed a bunch of people who plan to make millions off all the wannabee artists that are now suddenly empowered by the internet. I would argue that while it’s gotten easier for people to create things and absurdly easy to distribute them, creating something interesting and engaging has remained as difficult as ever.

Yes, supporting and curating that consumer driven content is a new income stream for many people, but what’s routinely touted as revolutionary is simply a byproduct of a recession. Hiring creative problem solvers who can rise above the fray will always win in the end.

via Wonderful Machine Cog

Is Editorial Photography Dead?

I’m participating in a 2 day phone seminar with photography consultant Selina Maitreya starting tomorrow (professionalphotographytelesummit.com). I think one of the questions she asked me is really interesting so I thought I’d write about it a bit here first. She wants to know if editorial photography is dead, alive or just on life-support?

Editorial photography is alive and kicking, growing even, what’s dead is the idea that editorial anything only lives under the aegis of benevolent newspaper and magazine owners. We’re all familiar with the idea that the cost of printing and distributing content is nearly zero and with the aid of email, facebook, twitter and blogging the reach far exceeds what can be done with delivery trucks and newsstands. When true editorial ceased to exist because the financial crisis gave advertisers the upper hand in making sure the content didn’t come at odds with the advertising message, desperate magazines decided the best way to to keep advertisers happy was to make their content more commercial. The readers current apathy with editorial offerings is evidence that this was counter productive.

So, what happened to editorial content then? Consumers took it upon themselves to produce it. Blogs, forums, product reviews and social networking is filled with editorial content. The rise of social media in general is simply editorial content making a comeback. With true editorial product reviews long gone from most magazines, because of pressure from advertisers the social content cloud is bursting with opinions about products and services.

So, what about professionally produced editorial content, the kind we care about, the kind that gives photographers jobs and livelihoods. Here’s where it gets interesting. A few visionaries have taken it upon themselves to create their own profitable editorial niches. People like Scott Schuman, AKA The Satorialist, who defied the glossy fashion industry by shooting simplistic street fashion pictures. And, The Selby, a blog founded by photographer Todd Selby where he documents the interiors of creative persons homes. Both have not only seen the traffic to their blogs soar but their careers have as well because of it. The photography on both is very editorial in voice.

Here’s what’s about to happen next. Savvy companies are realizing they can attract consumers solely with editorial content. As documented this week in an article by David Walker on PDNOnline, cycling clothing manufacturer Rapha “runs almost no print advertising, and has few retail dealers. Instead, it mostly sells direct through the Web, and has built its brand by sponsoring events and by producing documentary stories and other editorial-style content for its Web site to stir the longings of desk-bound he-man riders of means.” The story talks about hiring Oregon photographer Benji Wagner who spent the last year producing editorial content for them. And for larger companies it’s going to be about producing two streams of content, advertising and editorial. Those companies will be looking for savvy photographers who have the voice and the ethics to produce content that will attract consumers.

So, yes, editorial as defined as something that appears in Magazines and Newspapers is dead, but editorial as a style of photography is on the rise.

Then There’s A Race To The Top

What happened while we weren’t looking was the industrial age ended… 100 years of rising productivity based around bosses who owned factories telling employees to act like human cogs… that system made us all rich… all built around making average stuff for average people… there’s a new revolution here… if what you want to do for a living is do what you’re told, you must understand that the boss can find someone cheaper than you. So, now there’s a race to the bottom… compliant folks are going to get hurt because I can always find someone cheaper. Then there’s a race to the top…

Seth Godin

Gap Pulls A Shepard Fairey

Here’s a little serendipity for your hump day. This landed in my email box yesterday (thanks Michael Mahoney) just after I’d argued that the value of an image is difficult to determine. Gap appears to have found what I’m sure they consider an unremarkable image of a Jaguar on Flickr (here) and converted it to a graphic for kids onesie’s here and here. And, if you follow Shepard Fairey’s fair use argument where he claims to have transformed something unremarkable into something remarkable (and very commercial to boot) then Gap could argue along those very same lines. Since the AP decided to settle with Fairey we’ll never know what the courts think.

Picture 3