5.11.2013

Rejecting fear of change and living life on your own terms.


Life is a very interesting thing. It continually throws curve balls at us and it's how we deal with new stuff that comes out of nowhere that determines whether we are successful or whether we just give up and capitulate to the inevitable decline. I think about this in my profession. So many people my age and even younger are so wedded to the way they learned to do things in school and the way processes operated as they did their craft that they seem unable or unwilling to accept that some aspects of photography have irrevocably changed. Some types of photography have entered the same realm as making a Xerox copy in that there is no need for a gifted operator in order for the process to be successful. Richard Avedon's first real job in photography was taking I.D. card photos for the Merchant Marines. I doubt that they still need a trained and gifted artist to do that....

The discussion I put up yesterday about Adobe and their Creative Cloud marks a change of process and a change in the way we address the tools we bring to bear in the making of some of our images. I don't own Adobe or their stock. If I did I'd give myself free software for life. But I have no control over that, at all. And it's not as if Adobe is the only company that is doing this. I'm sure the move by Apple to stop having boxed sets of software in their physical stores is the first step in Apple's transition to a subscription model for their software content as well. Once the big suppliers initiate the tipping point I can imagine that software from smaller and smaller developers will follow. Eventually most discretionary software will come to us this way. We can fear this or understand that it's an evolution and learn to leverage whatever advantages there may be to this system.

We (as photographers) have done a lot of moving around before this. Our product has become more or less virtual and has been for nearly a decade. In the film days our control was our ownership and possession of the physical slide or print. But that's gone now. We deliver transient information. We changed tools. We changed deliver methods. We changed deliverables. And at each step people became fearful or frustrated and dropped out. We adapted to the changes in the markets in order to stay profitable and relevant to our clients. That's the nature of all industry.

I've been talking a lot lately about incorporating digital video into my product mix. I would never have considered this if my clients hadn't developed an obvious inertia in that direction. And, given the depth of my research, I was/am fearful that I might not become as proficient as I need to be as quick as I need to be. My fear/understanding is that while 2K video has a hard time yielding a good still from a video stream the eight megabyte files from 4K video will be good enough for lots and lots of uses, if they are shot correctly. And already on the heels of 4k video is the very real appearance of 8k video which is more than enough actual resolution (and dynamic range) to be repurposed into just about any demanding still use.

The hyper technical among us will jump up and declare that it will never happen because the shutter speeds at which video is shot are too slow to freeze action. The next argument will be that it is well nigh impossible to sift through the horrendous amount of data that the cameras will generate in order to find that perfect frame. (And what if the new cultural evolution means that we no longer have to have the "perfect" frame, just a perfectly good frame....). But with automated facial detection and smile detection and almost certainly open eye detection the sorting process will become automated to the point of efficiency.

Here's the scenario: Client undertakes a fabulous television commercial shoot, hires really good director and cinematographer who cut teeth doing fabulous lighting for great movies, and creates expensive and mindboggling cool sets. Client also wants stills for ads on web and in print that match the look and feel of the commercials. Get the pose and gesture just right and run a few minutes of moving images before each take. Sort and select. It would be hubris to think that we, as a group, are better at lighting and posing than great DPs and directors, yes?

All of this trickles down. The junior AD on the set may not get to do projects of that scope but is being trained in a new production paradigm. Not going to happen in our still businesses? Consider that I was hired for one shoot last week for my ability to "light once, shoot twice" on an industrial shoot. I designed light that would work for both motion and stills and we used the same camera to go back and forth between the two. If my fear of change had paralyzed me into inaction and I refused to start the learning cycle necessary to go in both directions I am convinced that my client of many years would have, sadly, hired someone else who was less inflexible rather than continue with the added expense and time of sticking with the traditional system of hiring both a still photographer and a separate video crew. Job lost, money gone. Opportunity squandered?

No one likes it when I talk about EVFs but that's just one of the building blocks of shooting in an efficient hybrid manner. So are headphone jacks and microphone jacks on "still" cameras. And, by the way, if you've been a long time reader you've probably noticed that I haven't changed systems in over a year. No one else offers a camera with the flexibility I've gotten used to. And it's a combination of these things. And it's a good thing I haven't wanted to switch because I've been spending all my extra cash on microphones and marketing.

Everyone makes their own choice about when or if to give up growing in their fields. The day you start saying "this is all I need to know, I'll just keep doing this until I retire" your market is already starting to shrink. We love to blame stuff on age discrimination but it's really initiative discrimination.

I've been watching and experiencing all this stuff myself. It scares me. But I'm not willing to give into fear and stop and neither should you. We are all capable of learning so much. And putting what we learn into action. The key is to stay flexible and bend with the prevailing wide. Get too stiff and a hard gust will snap a brittle tree while a flexible one bends and recovers.

When I wrote the piece about Adobe yesterday I wasn't applauding their move or even agreeing with them. I wasn't jumping up and down with excitement at having my software paradigm shifted all to hell. But I was trying to reflect the idea that it wasn't the end of the world for any photographer. Hardly a speed bump in our workflow. And nothing to be afraid of. Adapt and move on.

Sorry to ruffle a few feathers. But the sooner we learn to shift and bend the quicker we'll see new opportunities and act on them. That's what I've learned after 30 years of doing this to put food on the table.

And it's amazing---- I feel the same excitement in learning more and more about motion and sound that I did watching those first black and white prints coming up in the darkroom so many years ago. It became fun when I stopped fearing the transition.



Please use our Amazon links to buy your camera gear (and anything else you like at Amazon). We'll get a small commission which helps defray my time and cost while costing you zero extra.
Thank you very much.