The Times They Are A-Changing

Photographers, it’s time you also made some changes!

In 1964 Bob Dylan wrote a song that rings out to today’s photographer. Digital has changed our business forever. Both a blessing and a curse, the digital revolution demands we either adapt and change with the times or close our doors.

This happened to me…

While attending a social function in which several of my long-time clients were also attending, I overheard two of my finest clients sharing images one of the two had recently received from a photo session conducted by the local high school principal.

I know [said one client to the other]. These aren’t nearly as good as Darrell’s work, but aren’t these nice, and for the savings in price, how could I ignore the opportunity? I simply posed the girls myself as I had watched Darrell do so many times and the photographer just snapped the camera. perhaps you should give him a call.

How could I be hearing this from two wonderful friends whose children knew me by a special nickname they personally invented just for me? I can even show you the sweet handwritten thank you notes I received from the girls after they attended my elaborate (and costly) annual Easter Fest. These were the same children I photographed while still in Mommy’s tummy.

Are stories like this keeping you up at night wondering what went wrong? Where are my customers going? Am I losing my touch and skill as a photographer? Is my competition that much better than I am?

Twenty years ago you could find the early signs of this problem standing near the Wal-Mart photo copying booth as you watched parents attempting (and succeeding) to scan paper proofs and then print out 8x10s and larger. Today, we just go to Best Buy and watch out future competition check out with their fancy $400 digital cameras, computers, scanner and printers, and a software CD with the introductory version of Photoshop.

Cannot my customers understand that my equipment costs many times that much? Do they not realize that I have invested 27 years and thousands into personal training? Don’t they know that I am a Master Photographer and have the ribbons to prove it? How can this be happening to me? Must I start substitute teaching at my new competitor’s high school just to make up some of the lost revenue?

Where do we photographers go from here? What do we do to stop this financial landslide? Admit it, most of us no longer have the same ambitious drive we one did… the youthful and optimistic spirit that said, “I’ll show them. I’ll just out produce them by lowering my prices and attract more clients with a new ingenious marketing plan. I’ll create a concept so incredible that these unfaithful clients will come crawling back and asking my forgiveness!”

When adversity knocks at the door, Greatness answers

Hostory is full of examples where greatness emerged out of adversity. For example, Monet did caricatures of public figures. Renoir painted pots and glasses, and Pissaro painted window shades when times were tough. John Singer Sargent desired to paint and sell like the Impressionists, but found the public would not accept his images, so he resorted to painting portraits of the elite in Europe. How lucky we are that he did! Sargent still lives, at least he does in my heart and painting aspirations.

My Story

Ten years ago I began to sense a changing in the public mindset towards professional photography in my area. Business was still good, but there was something brewing to force me to consider other alternatives which might better secure my position in the minds of the public. I wanted to be known as an “Artist” and not as a photographer. Please understand, I have the very highest regard for photography, but the Yellow Pages are packed with photographers while there are NO artists anywhere to be found.

The first step to becoming an artist is to admit that you are not one

The next landmark career change came when I decided that my photography needed to look more like art. Painter 6 had just come out, but I barely knew how to turn my computer on. How was I going to learn to use this confusing program? I did know one thing – I wanted to learn from a painter’s point of view and not from that of a photographer. I dreamed of being able to recreate the look of Sargent. After careful research on the internet I can across the name “Jeremy Sutton.” This was even before he became popular among PPA associations. His credentials were impressive and it appeared he had the technological expertise to teach even an old dog like me. How right I was! His wonderful teaching style encouraged me to follow my own vision.

Singing my own song…

Corel Painter has unleashed a plethora of want-to-be-painters. My determination is to not follow in that direction. The images I create must look like me and must meet the following criteria:

  1. My paintings must be paintings. If I am asked, “Is this a photograph or a painting?”, I’ve failed. When one views the paintings in my gallery, they must leave no doubt that they are paintings. Not only must they look like paintings, they must feel like and smell like paintings.
  2. My paintings must adhere to the same fundamentals as practiced by the great masters - values, edges, color & light, composition and technique.
  3. My paintings must look expensive. Presentation is everything. The brushstroke, the finish technique, the frame selection and the letter of authenticity – it must all project value.
  4. My paintings must be difficult to create. The more effort and knowledge necessary to create the image, the better! Why? Few photographers and fewer advanced amateurs are willing to invest the time and money necessary to follow my steps. A typical painting requires about 20 hours to produce when spread over about a week. Who are we to think our images should be worthy of being classified as paintings when the traditional master painters labored weeks and months to produce.

I Believe…

I believe that for photographers, failure to adapt to the changing winds will bring certain doom. Business as usual is no longer an option we can afford to follow. Mom and Dad are becoming pretty good photographers.

On a more positive note, I believe that now, today we are on the precipice of a new awakening in the world of art and photography. Never before have the two disciplines merged closer than now. Just as the Impressionists were willing to take the latest technologies of their day and then step outside the boundaries of their time, today’s explorers are blending the traditions of yesterday with the digital revolution of today to compose a new song – one with notes and modulations never before heard.

I believe that the next great masters will emerge from the ranks of photography not from traditional painters.

Photographers, Bob Dylan’s song could not be more reflective of our profession.

“The Times They Are A-Changing”
We must find our own unique song and create under its spell.

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3 Responses to The Times They Are A-Changing

  1. Darrell, you are right on the money! After 36 years as a portrait photographer, like you, a PPA Master…. I gasp every day I see our businesses get smaller and smaller. Studios are folding up everywhere I look. What you have to say is so in line with everyone in the industry (my age) I know, including myself. Our friend Jeremy has also been a great influence for me. I have dabbled in digital painting since painter VI came out. Only in the last two years have I realized the potential of my new passion. So far it has been very rewarding and I am so excited to see my art evolve. I really appreciate your philosophy and truly admire your art, it is beautiful. You are an inspiration…. Thanks, Robert

  2. Paul Marlin says:

    This is a very poignant article. When reading your words I thought I was reliving my thirty year career. Even my relatives copy my work with copyright all over the images and post it on Facebook.

    Thank you for the good thoughts and weighty recommendations. I have already decided to take the CPP Test with the PPA. My goal is to return to the camera art that I once knew and practiced every day. Digital or film doesn’t matter, getting your image right the first time is where it all starts. Hours in front of the computer trying to find salvation with Photoshop and Painter will never make me an artist. Then, your right, if I am to become a portrait artist then I need to master your four point criteria for real artistry.

    Thank you… Paul Marlin

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with this!! I have always wanted to be a “true artist”, and the changing landscape of photography and economics are finally pushing me towards my dream. Sometimes it takes a good kick in the pants to find our direction.

    Thank you!

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