I got my first camera over 30 years ago… it was a Minolta X-700 35mm camera, well before the advent of personal computers, camera phones, Photoshop… and even before auto focus. It was state of the art gear at the time though, with auto exposure, aperture priority and shutter priority modes and a sync socket for professional flash units. I didn’t buy the camera to make money, only to finally have a camera that didn’t disappoint me every time I got my film back from the lab. I wanted to have clear pictures of my kids and pets for me to look at and enjoy. I got the camera to experience the sheer joy of photography.
It never occurred to me that I could make money with a camera until I was going through a divorce… a guy at work admonished me to be sure to keep the camera, that I could make money with it! I didn’t really think too much about it at the time but I knew that I wanted the camera anyway, so it was the one thing that didn’t go out the door with the ex along with everything else I owned 😦 But… as it turns out, child support is expensive and so was photography at the time. Buying film was pretty low on the things to do list and the camera remained unused in the bag for years, except on special occasions like trips to visit the kids and my rare trip to Phoenix with my buddies for the first annual Phoenix Marathon.
In he early 90’s, the computer business was changing rapidly and I could see the writing on the wall… there wasn’t going to be much use for mainframe operating systems analysts much longer. I wondered what I was going to do for a living if my computer career went completely south. People kept telling me that the pictures I took were better than the ones they hired someone to shoot and I recalled the words of my friend about making money with my camera. So I thought what the heck… a little research about how to go into business and I put out my shingle. A decade of senior portraits and wedding photography later I purchased my first digital camera, the Canon EOS-1D. It was awesome and without the cost of film and processing to consider I could finally consider my dream of becoming a stock photographer. Those were great times, not many photographers had made the transition to digital, prices for images were good and the internet was exploding along with the need for quality imagery. The future looked bright!
But then the price of the cameras came down, image quality at all levels improved by leaps and bounds and it wasn’t long before everyone was getting in on the action. Not long after I started submitting images I had a large enough portfolio that I could count on receiving a check every week and I was making plans for a new career. But it wasn’t long before the industry was awash in imagery, prices were crashing as big players cashed in trying to corner the market with profits on volume and razor thin margins.
Now I’m lucky to get one minuscule check in an entire month. Photographers are treated like dirt by the agencies who profit from their work, some taking as much as 85% for themselves and their stock holders while often paying the photographer just pennies for an image. Stock photography has become barely worth the effort, in fact it has become little more than an insult to the artists.
So today I almost left my camera behind, what was the point in bringing it along? But as I strode along through the woods I was glad I had it with me. I love the feel of the cold steel in my hands, the sound of the lens jumping to attention in it’s effort to quickly focus and the clack of the mirror scrambling to get out of the way in less than a thousandth of a second to make way for the light to come pouring in through the lens and onto the sensor. Today I didn’t see much, the mountains were the same, the trees the same, the lighting the same… but I was still happy to be carrying the camera. Then I spotted the distant fox sunning himself in the prairie grass. The animal was way too far away to get a salable shot but I stopped to shoot anyway, I couldn’t resist. As I shot the images I thought back to the days of my clunky manual Minolta X-700 and the joy that it brought me to just create for the sake of creation. Not that long ago I would have passed the fox by knowing that he was not going to make me any money… but now I realize, I still love photography and I still love creating for the sake of creating.
Once again, it may be time for a change in philosophy, from a mind focused on business to simply a camera focused on the sheer joy of making pictures. Mr. Fox here could be the turning point, the first sign of a new life focused on joy instead of profit.