04 October 2017

Times They Are A Changin'

“Where else could you parlay that talent?”
That was a question someone asked me while looking at my concert photos the other day, after I told them I didn’t do it for a living because no one really wants to pay for that kind of work. I was flattered by the compliment, of course, but the answer holds true. I like to consider myself a photographer, and can even call myself a professional since I have gotten paid on occasion.
The market, however, is saturated with people like me, though. I saw someone local post on Facebook a few weeks back asking for recommendations on local photographers that can do indoor and outdoor portrait photos. I don’t really do portraits because, frankly, I’m terrible at them. (I’ve done them a few times and I’m lucky I didn’t get hunted with pitchforks.) In response, I saw at least a dozen names thrown out there, and I only knew one or two of them. In a town of 40,000 people, that’s a LOT of photography!

DSLR cameras are getting cheaper all the time, with the lower-end cameras getting the performance that cost four or five figures just ten years ago. Cellphone camera technology has gotten to the point that fans shooting photos from the first dozen rows at concerts are getting shots that some pros can’t get, especially when access is limited to shooting further back by the artists.

And artists themselves, they’re finding less and less reason to need photographers. Magazines and newspapers are dying, even online. When it comes to music media, even the venerable Rolling Stone magazine has announced that they’ve put themselves on the market recently. Social media is the new communications method, and at any given shot, a performer can expect hundreds or even thousands of images to pop up instantly after – often during! – the shows. Even radio stations just send their own people and grab cellphone shots to share! (This isn’t a knock, by the way. I know that’s an industry trying to figure things out, too, where they have people wearing more hats than ever before, covering on-air and behind-the-scenes responsibilities!)
So where does that leave me? I’m over 40 now, and I’m just starting to dip my foot into something that I would love to do for a living, but it’s a field that’s becoming extinct. My name isn’t Ross Halfin or Todd Owyoung or Annie Liebovitz. I’m not really getting calls asking me to go to shows (I have gotten a handful of those from a publicist for smaller, up-and-coming acts). When I go shoot shows, they’re for myself, and for fun. This might be shooting myself in the foot if the wrong people read it, but I work freelance through the local paper because you have to be credentialed through a reputable source to get in the door. But the deal is I use their name, they run photos and reviews on occasion, but that’s the exchange. It’s not for-hire work. I think it’s a fair trade, because it’s gotten me into shows I wouldn’t get any other way.

But I’m still subject to photo releases from the band, which means they tell me where I can shoot, for how long, and what I can (and can’t) do with the photos afterward. I’ve seen some photographers talking about how they simply refuse to sign those. I guess I could try that, and then I would imagine I would be told to have a nice drive home.  As I said, the bands and artists don’t need me at this stage in the game, so they get to set the rules.

Back to the original question: Where can I parlay what I love doing (and what some people apparently see as me doing well) into a money-making gig? The answer to that is…I have no idea. A band might call me tomorrow and offer to take me out as a tour photographer. That would be cool. The odds of that are about the same as them picking a kid from the crowd to join them as a guitar player or singer. Which, I might add, has happened, but not very often. I might get offered a deal as a venue photographer somewhere, but since most places have a few shows a year, maybe as many as a few dozen for a really busy venue, that’s still not likely to pay the bills. And that would certainly require moving, also.

None of this is meant to be a complaint. I’m really loving what I’m doing right now. Would I like to be making money at it? Hell, yes, I would! I just think I’ve come along at a time when the whole business is shifting away from that whole model. And that kills me. But as long as I keep getting “approved” in my e-mails, I’ll keep going. I’m seeing performers I love, shows I never thought I’d see, and I’m getting to shoot some (hopefully) great photos of them.
And if a few folks are enjoying what they’re seeing, then that’s just a cherry on top for me.

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