Monday, October 22, 2007

Speculative Photography - The SPEC-photographer's Mentality

"... I don´t have to do the assignment if I don´t want or don´t need to...."

"...I never thought of sticking with them in the long term, really...I´m already in the changing process, since I need to shift my focus to more reliable assignments/clients. Time to grow up..."

Gone are the days where your ability to be hired was based significantly on the source of the tear-sheet/clip. Yet, far too many people think that getting established should be easy - or easier. If you've not put in your time covering the non-glamourous work, learning the craft, then being able to make images at "the big game", is going to mean giving up something - revenue.

(Continued after the Jump)

Just because, however, you understand the argument against spec, doesn't mean you have a valid counter to it. The prevailing attitude is a combination of "I make my money elsewhere, I don't have to care if I am hurting others" combined with "it's not really hurting others...". Others then write "Really the bottom line is this. What I do should not affect you.", but it does. If a photographer is willing to shoot for free, that diminishes the value of the work that everyone else is doing. The argument from drunk drivers caught is "I didn't hurt anyone", and smokers opine about how their smoking isn't hurting others, despite reports to the contrary about second-hand smoke risks. It certainly does increase the costs of healthcare to everyone. Shooting spec does affect others as well.

Another photographer suggested that shooting "on 'spec' meaning give back to the community type of work for some small colleges and high schools. I also made money on them from parents and relatives of the players...", which reveals not the magnanimous nature of the photographer, but rather, the profit-making angle, as he then goes on to say "don't brand me as someone who gives away his work. Just ask my kids if I EVER give anything away and they'll tell you NO in an instant." Thus, this photographer is, in fact, operating a business on the sidelines - turning up to local games and making images with the intent to sell prints. If these are semi-pro or youth-sports leagues he's doing this at, there may be limits on earning income from non-professional athletes.

One photographer, who, after 20 years in the business of information technology, suggested that "perception is reality for everyone", and, were that the case, anarchy would rule the day. Reality is not maleable to one's circumstances or perspective. Just because very smart early historians perceived that the earth was flat, didn't make it a reality.

Further, the attitude is that photographs of pop warner football, to demonstrate ability, just won't cut it. This just isn't the case. In fact, at pop warner games, you can actually make arrangements with coaches and staff much easier to get access into the locker room beforehand, and afterwards, to be able to make the same behind-the-scenes great images that an SI or ESPN photographer can get of the major sports leagues of athletes "preparing for battle", celebrating victory, or wallowing in a bad defeat. Showing that behind-the-scenes coverage along with strong game-time imagery will let prospective paying editors know that you can tell the whole story, not just what happens within your narrow purview of your 400 2.8.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

"If a photographer is willing to shoot for free, that diminishes the value of the work that everyone else is doing."

Where to begin with that one?

1. I'd venture that most spec shooters are not doing it for free anymore than a lawyer who handles a personal injury case on a contingency is doing it for free. Just because the money isn't up-front or guaranteed, doesn't mean there isn't any money being earned.

2. If a hobbyist is able to produce photographs that are of sufficient quality as to impact sales by the professional photographer, then the pro is not creating images that are different enough, creative enough, or of sufficient quality to set himself/herself apart.

3. Equating drunk drivers and spec shooters is ludicrous.

4. The fact that what one group does may "hurt" another group, doesn't make it wrong. It's competition, it's freedom to choose, it's the marketplace. If what you are producing isn't distinct enough and good enough to withstand the onslaught of spec shooters, then either get better or get out of the way.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous:

No one hunts on the plains after all the buffalo are extinct.

Ponder on that thought.

Anonymous said...

It's not the "buffalo" you are worried about, it's the price you can get for the buffalo pelt.

The buffalo are not endangered - there are and will always be plenty of things to photograph. And there are more buffalo hunters than ever before - it seems everyone has a camera now - which means some will either have to stop hunting, accept less money for the pelts, or provide better pelts than the other hunters (and at a price the market is willing to pay).

Look, the cold reality is that there is lots of competition out there. The advent of the digital era and the incredible photography equipment that is becoming available and affordable to the masses is changing the landscape. Yes, that means busines models have to change; it means some people are going to get "hurt", the same way, for example, some web-designers got hurt when software made it possible for many people to design their own websites (or to design their neighbor's website for less money). Are the homemade websites as good as the pro's? Usually not, but they're "good enough." The consumer votes.

There's nothing inherently wrong with shooting on spec. I suspect the real problem is not the "spec" part, it's the practice of selling the images/rights for "less" money (or for no money). Regardless, who are you or John Harrington or anyone else (including me) to tell someone that they shouldn't take photos and give them away or sell them for less money than you or I do? If the hobbyist in the stands (or on the sideline) or some spec shooters undercuts your prices (and mine, too), well, that's their perogative. I don't like it, but I see nothing evil or reprehensible about it. I then have to find a way to make my product more valuable and more appealing through quality, price, convenience or whatever.

No, what I find most repugnant is the air of moral superiority that is present in so much of what John Harrington has to say on this subject and the exceedingly broad brush with which he paints spec shooters.

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