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The Bright Future of Photography

Friday April 9th, 2010

APA/NY held a daylong workshop last week called “Fools Rush In” (it was on April 1st), which included portfolio reviews and a panel discussion on “The Bright Future” of photography.

Panel (from L) at Bathhouse Studios : Savannah Spirit, Karen D'Silva, Charlie Fish and Sean Stone. Photo by Bron Imaging.

In the morning, our photo editor/portfolio consultant Sean Stone reviewed portfolios alongside creatives from Martha Stewart Living, McCann Erickson, and Marge Casey, among many other industry consultants and players.

The portfolio reviews were setup like “speed-dating,” with each reviewer spending 15 minutes giving their input on a photographer’s book. This went on for three hours. Sean said it was exciting and exhausting at the same time, because he was held strictly to the 15 minute timeframe, and sometimes he had more that he wanted to say! He also told me that he talked so fast that he could barely catch his breath. However, it was a good way to strip his opinions down to the essential.

In a few instances, Sean felt that photographers were protective of their work and weren’t open to critique (and he’s always cordial in his approach). He recommends that any photographer attending a portfolio review should try to stay open to input. Of course, they should take each reviewer’s opinion with a grain of salt, too, and ultimately balance the feedback with what creative direction they’d like to go in. However, if 20 professionals tell you to remove an image, or drop a series because it’s not as strong or unique, you may want to weight that more heavily. Overall, he tried to convey that it’s always better to show consistency in one or two styles than try to be all things to all art buyers.

After the reviews, Sean spoke on the panel discussion on “The Bright Future” of photography, led by consultant Karen D’Silva. The talk was really about what photographers can do to help themselves in a bad economy (which generally applies to a good economy, too!), and the industry trends that may enhance their opportunities. To paraphrase D’Silva: 2008/2009 were tough years for many photographers, and now it’s time for them to get in control of their own bright future.

A few things that stood out to Sean from the panel discussion:

Creativity

  • If not enough paying jobs are coming in right now, it’s an opportunity to spend more time shooting portfolio work. Shoot the kind of work you’d like more of, and perfect your technique.
  • Karen D’Silva also suggested that leaner budgets sometimes push photographers to innovate. Ie. if someone was accustomed to shooting a certain way in the “flush” days of greater budgets, limited resources might inspire a photographer to change their approach and try new ideas.

Stock Photography

  • In 2005, Getty Images licensed 1.4 million stock images. Last year, that number jumped to 22 million. Photographers can decide if they’d like to be in that game, but the #’s are hard to deny.

New Media / iPad

  • 2010  is the first year that more advertising money is being spent online than in traditional media.
  • The iPad is on everyone’s mind right now, and magazines and advertisers want to take advantage of this interest.
  • For magazines, it’s an opportunity to deliver content more cheaply. According to D’Silva, 90% of magazine expenses come from printing, shipping and paper costs — so there’s potential for budgets to be freed up, and the money could be used for more creative content (photography included). Especially as publications like The Wall St. Journal and The New York Times are already figuring out ways to charge readers for their iPad content.
  • Of course, a larger screen like the iPad’s lends itself to having a digital portfolio that photographers could carry to meetings, or at least to bring to networking events (without the weight/heft of an 11×14 portfolio) — although Sean doesn’t necessarily recommend that as a replacement for a print portfolio. Some of the audience members at the panel discussion worried that everyone’s books would start looking the same, but Sean Stone thought the potential for dynamic presentations was much greater with a digital book. Especially when you consider how relatively few options there are currently for printed portfolios, in comparison with digital presentations.
  • Additionally, video has become much more valuable to online media, and the panelists recommended that photographers keep an eye on technologies to meet this relatively new need for motion content.

Sean’s suggestions to the audience revolved mainly around the “basics”: photographers should keep their portfolios and websites well-edited, consistent, and targeted. Same with their websites and branding in general. He maintains that good images always trump the flashy container that holds them. And a solid presentation of your work should happen no matter what the economic climate.

-Neil Binkley

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