The Future of Still Photography: Hobby or Career

Posted on 2/10/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

Emily Chow, a photojournalism student at Northwestern University's Medill School, posted a story on Black Star Rising (see here) which basically takes the position that photography students should ignore what experienced professional photographers are telling them and forge ahead with determination to launch careers in photography. I had to respond. Be sure to read her story first.

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  • Paul Melcher Posted Feb 10, 2011
    Jim, You see the market through the distorted eye of commercial stock photography that has been ravaged by crowd sourcing. It is not an adequate perspective and certainly not one that should be applied industry wide.

  • Ellen Boughn Posted Feb 10, 2011
    I agree with Paul...photographers with the skills to solve visual problems will find success in advertising and soft editorial pieces. Those that can bring back a story, especially ones that are unique or dangerous to get will also thrive. Off the shelf photography now belongs to it should.

  • Shannon Fagan Posted Feb 10, 2011
    A gutsy commentary, and provocative. I applaud its efforts to educate and drive discussion and I thank Emily for her initial post. At times, I wish there was more commentary input here to add a mix of opinions.

    I hope that Emily isn't discouraged by the contents of this article, but rather, simply educated by the variety of opinions that are out there. If one were to ask a hundred photographer and analysts, that person would get a hundred different responses. Ultimately, it is Emily's responsibility to inform herself and make her own decisions. Hence, if she is reading this article and its commentary; I hope that she walks away refreshed that someone has provided an analysis specifically to her directly. To gain such attention is extremely rare in our industry. I personally can only count on one hand the number of times that I was provided with such insight (positive and negative) as I was emerging out of photo education and into my career. I needed and used both to make decisions. One needs mentors to succeed. Emily (like all of us) will find exactly the same when sharing her photography portfolio around...the variety of opinions will be astounding.

    Certainly Jim's commentary in opinion based, but it's not without its factual support as well. One only need thank Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" for demonstrating that for success "timing is everything" and as well as a healthy dose of luck mixed in. Our market for photography (and all digital content) is permanently changed. That is the important take away from Emily's article and Jim's response.

    Thanks Emily and Jim for taking the time to share your thoughts. Jim is highlighting the one thing that all business analysts suggest (and all venture capitalists require)...get into a large and growing market when building a business. Analysts will also tell you that you must first be passionate about your endeavor, or it will undoubtedly and ultimately fail. Thanks to Emily for reminding us of this side of the argument.

    One needs both.


  • John Harris Posted Feb 15, 2011
    Paul is right, in the rest of the industry the skill is in producing meaningful journalism not in reenforcing visual stereotypes. It does mean photographers have to stand up for themselves and not accept defeat from the hands of those "savvy businessmen" intent on monopolizing all markets by undervaluing the picture.

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