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15 June 2013

Money for NOTHING? Or money for SOMETHING?

I'm back on that perplexing subject of the future of photography, and what people are prepared and willing to pay for, and their capacity to identify the great images from the poor.

This afternoon we again had soccer.  I didn't take my camera along, because I was down as Team Manager, which is a rotating position.  I have to say that I didn't relish the thought at all, as I'd gotten all worried about having to keep score, etc, but it was all pretty straight forward.  But alas and woe, it would have been lovely to have had the camera, because the team had their first win for the season, and they were all so excited.  So were all the parents.  They won 3-1, although really, that should have been 3-0 because their won goal was apparently scored from an offside kick.  The offside rule being of course when when the French mustard has to be between the teriyaki sauce and the sea salt.  I'm sorry, the Bend it like Beckham offside rule is the only way I can think of it.  Does this make me a complete football philistine?  It probably does.  Heath was goaly in the first half and made great saves.

Before the game however, Heath's team had their photo session.  The photos were taken by a local company, which specialises in that 'churn them out' stockstandard, and frankly, pretty ordinary style of imagery.   The Club must get something out of it, or provide some fee, because the deal is that these team photos are also used in the soccer yearbook, which I've been fairly closely involved in the past few years.  This year should be my first one where I don't do it and from a timing point of view, this isn't a bad thing, because it's all got to be compiled at a bad time of year for me.

Granted, the packages, for what you are getting, probably aren't dreadful value in terms of the cost of the prints and how many you get.  But they must make a pretty penny out of it all, for very little effort, and I've never found the images to be great quality.  I admit that I am fussy, and particular.  I am, however, deeply appreciative of good quality, and have always been prepared to pay for something that I think is worth it.  I did see recently the difference in quality when a school I know of had the foresight to think outside the square, and turn away from these 'churn them out' traditional photo agencies.  And the difference in the images????  Well, it was quantum.  And I know for a fact that the images were appreciated.

And whilst on the subject of the quality of these run of the mill photo companies, my brother's kids go to the same school in Canberra.  One of my nephews is in the special school unit.  The kids in the unit are lovely.  They are engaging.  They got so excited the morning I took Talon's school jumper in.  One of the kids I later (months later!) ran into in our local shopping centre.  His recognition of me was instanteous.  He ran straight up to me, but his speech is poor.  I couldn't place him, but I knew that I knew him.  It wasn't until I walked out of the centre I realised who he was.  So I turned on my heel, retraced my steps and he was still looking about for me.  He ran back up to me when he spied me again.  I said 'you're in Talon's class, aren't you', and he beamed at me.  So these children are not withdrawn and difficult to strangers.  Yet the images of them were appalling.  Unflattering.  Terrible.  I was so disappointed in the 'skills' of the photographers involved, because one of the primary skills of any photographers is to be able to draw out the very best in your subject.  No matter what that subject is.  And yes, it's the same photographic firm that does the school photos at my kids school, which I've just paid a stupid amount of money too as well.

And while we were milling around waiting, and I was looking, somewhat scornfully, at the meagre set up the photographs had, some of the parents were saying I should have brought my camera along to do a team photo, because some parents have 5 kids and can't afford to buy these photos.  The coach, who's actually a really terrific bloke and is great with Heath and all the kids, said without a hint of guilt in his voice, that this wouldn't matter, and that we could scan or copy someone's team photo to give out to those who couldn't afford it. The photographer in me wanted to pipe up and say 'no, that's a bad thing to do!'.  Then I looked at the photographers doing the work, thought about the effort they were putting in and the money they would make, and shrugged my shoulders inside my head and thought 'what the heck, I shall pretend I didn't hear that'.

I just always think that it is a great shame that schools and sporting clubs, as a general rule, see no value in engaging someone who will do a great job over these run of the mill photo agencies.  And why some people are happy to pay for these run of the mill images but not some other really great action shots that I've seen.  Certainly this was my experience when I worked on our Club's soccer yearbook for 3 or 4 years.  Because in addition to putting the yearbook together, I also spent hours shooting, then manipulating, a large number of action shots to make the yearbook visually more appealing.  And the best shots ended up on the front and back covers of the yearbooks, which were received pretty enthusiastically.  But none of the parents weren't prepared (or able) to pay for any action shots.  I didn't mind 'gifting' some images to parents in our team, as I saw it as my little contribution to our own team,  but for the rest of the club, I wasn't prepared to part with any of my images for nothing.

This problem is also experienced within the racing and breeding industry.  I see some appalling examples of photographs being published.  Where ordinary work is favoured over high quality work.  What I believe to be the case is that some people making decisions about images either can't tell a good from a bad image, or just don't care.  Happily though, what I am finding, more and more, is that I am having strong client support purely on the basis that the love the quality.  

To cite a couple of examples, Magic Millions has been a recent convert, and their feedback has been that they have never produced ads of such quality which have been received so well.  And Arrowfield Stud, whom I adore working for, are so enamored with the images, and have engaged a really creative digital artistic team to produce their material.  They've sent me through the PDFs of their recent ads, and they themselves are SO excited about the new stallion brochure because of the imagery.  I find that reassuring and rewarding.  I certainly can't wait to see the new book.  And yes!!!!!!!  I want to get the Arrowfield people to show me how to deep etch, because they are doing such a great job on complicated stallion pictures.  Clearly their skill far outweighs mine, but I like to think that it's something that I can get good at!!!!!

I am convinced that there is a future, and that there are those out there who get it, and appreciate it, and see the benefit of using great imagery.  And having the right clients on board, who get it so strongly and most importantly, USE the imagery, means that a snowball effect isn't impossible.

So I find myself at this little tricky little cross roads.  Because I'm being asked to do more and need to expand somewhat, because  quite simply, I cannot be everywhere at once.  So it will be a matter of trying to find the right pair of eyes (because for a photographer, I firmly believe that the eye is everything), that's good enough, who can see the vision clearly enough, and can be trusted as well. And these people are not easy to come by because mostly what I am seeing is work that is just not good enough.  

That's my dilemma for the next little while.

Groundbreaking..  the reception these images have received, at the Arrowfield Stud marquee at the Inglis Easter Yearling Sale was quite something.  We are the benchmark.

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