What the image sharing culture has revealed is that non-pros are much better at taking pictures than anyone thought. In an analog world, everyone kept for themselves: Pros shooting for large distribution periodicals and amateurs shooting for friends and family.With the advent of Flickr, we started seeing a large volume of non pros with high quality images. It wasn’t new, it was always there. We just hadn’t seen it before.
Every profession would love to have an impossibly hard moat to cross . Unfortunately for pro-photographers, theirs is small and almost dry. It is also made weaker by camera manufacturers who continuously upgrade making the divide easier to cross. While schools and universities would like to make you think that no one can turn pro without their proper education – and in turn, alumni also believe that – the painful truth is that it is really not that hard to learn.
Sure it is faster if someone shows you how to properly light a kitchen for a real estate shoot. But trial and error, especially made simple with digital, will also get you there. All you need is an eye. One that can discern between quality and mundane. And that is what really creates the divide. But it also doesn’t protect it. That is, anyone can be gifted with a creative eye. Some can even acquire it by learning from thousands of existing masterpieces. All the information, after all, is included in a great photo. Where it was taken, how it was lit, how it was composed, how it was framed. Even strong hints on its technical aspect like lens , aperture, speed and so on ( but does that really matter?), if not explicitly sitting in the exif data.
Point is, the only thing that separates the pro from the non pro group is that one has people willing to pay for his images. Mostly, only because one asked and the other didn’t.
The other aspect is commitment. A pro is willing to commit a lot of time and resources to photography. Over and over again. From continuous learning to financial investment, pro photography demands a high level of engagement. While a non pro can always shoot as well, if not better than pros, it’s always in a passer-by fashion. Almost by accident. A pro will work to create opportunities to deliver great images while an amateur will stumble upon them. It is mostly related to a question of disposable time. Since a pro is paid to perform his trade , it is evident that he will use all of his time to perform his task. An amateur, concerned by making a living using another trade, will not have as much time to dedicate to his photography.
So what does one pay for when licensing/purchasing a pro photograph? time. One pays for the time spent by the photographer prior, during and after the act of taking the photograph. As well as the resulting time spent by the viewers. Since the best images captures attention, a great image is one that makes people pause for longer than any other image. What we value in a photograph is its ability to stop the viewer from moving on . If that image in turn makes to user want to act, either by sharing it or getting involved (the ad world calls this engagement), the time effect is multiplied. Thus, the time spent by a pro to master his art is only valuable in his ability to transfer it into the images produced. It’s a transfer of time: Time spent mastering the trade converted into time spent by the viewer in connecting with the photos.
There a lot of non automated path here: for example, it is not because a person has spent a lot of time mastering his craft that he automatically becomes a great photographer. While the 10,000 hours will certainly be useful, they are certainly not a guarantee. The opposite is also true. A beginner can very well become a masterful photographer without spending a lot of time learning his craft. There is such a thing as talent. But what is expected, what people are always ready to pay for is for the final images to clearly put a block in people’s lives and make them pay attention. To spend time with the image and eventually its surrounding.
There is nothing glamorous in taking corporate portraits or real estate pictures. If given a chance, all pro photographers would rather be making a living shooting what they love, like amateurs do, rather than shooting to pay the bills. It is always easier to be good and authentic at what you love. If forced to, amateur photographers would do a very lousy job at shooting to pay their bills instead of shooting for fun.
The great divide, the one separating pros and amateurs, is no longer there. Even photo agencies, once the guarded grounds of pros only are starting to accept amateurs in their fold ( See Getty/Flickr). Publications, mostly online, are happily using amateur pictures. Brands and advertisers are turning to Instagram for their next campaigns. What still protects the pros are rights management ( copyright, model release, property release) but that is also fading away quickly as more and more platforms are helping out . So what’s left ? Who will put some water in the moat ?
No one. It is in no ones interest to protect professional photographers. Publications couldn’t care less who shot the image as long as the information contained is validated. Brands, advertisers are just looking for the most authentic images to transform their name into a lifestyle. Camera manufacturers want to sell as many boxes as they can. Social media sites want as many users as possible. Google, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creatives Commons, all want images to be free. Couples, once married, couldn’t care less if their wedding photographer still has a job. No one has pro photographers best interest besides themselves and a few trade associations.
With 1,8 billion images uploaded and shared a day, it is time to break the divide. There is no reason to protect something that isn’t. There shouldn’t be pro vs amateurs. The division should only be talent vs dull. One promoted, nurtured and celebrated, the other hidden in the bottomless pit of some password protected social media platform. There should be exchange platforms between pro and amateurs where both could learn from each other, whether online or in real life. Finally, there should be other defining terms than whether one has a check in his hand and the other doesn’t.