Rethinking Photography in 2011

Yesterday some mixed feelings and vague thoughts I’ve been having for a long time culminated in the decision to sell all of my photography gear and start over from scratch.

I’ve been a hobbyist photographer for a long time, I got my first camera when I was about 7, but in 2009 I quit my tech job and began putting more focus on doing photography as a career. ¬†What I found out about myself over the course of many months is that I’m not one of those people who likes to go into business for himself, and I wouldn’t be very good at it. I’m too altruistic and have such a relative sense of worth that it’s very hard for me to make money by selling art. Plus I hate selling, greatness should sell itself.

Aside from not being good at business, I found it hard to find people to work with. It seems like so many people talk and dream but few people actually produce. This was incredibly frustrating to me because I wanted to produce night and day, and had had that chance when living at 4211 with a gaggle of fashionistas living next door, the beach a block away, Rob always dragging me to punk rock shows, the rise of flashmob scene, and newbie exploration of the San Francisco festivals. Then after that I went off to travel and found unlimited things to photograph in SE Asia, and came back to America to focus on professional and fashion photography. However, the lack of interested parties and paying clients led me to retreat to the more lucrative technology sector, and the frequency of photo shoots dwindled.

All that while, the landscape of professional photography was changing. The number of decent to good cameras in the hands of average consumers skyrocketed. The iPhone 4 and its awesome camera was released, DSLR prices dropped while sensor technology got better. Micro 4/3 cameras took off. Cameras are now everywhere. This meant the bar to entering photography was lower, and in turn many people showed that they had a natural talent for photography. These people were not professionals but they were posting amazing quality work online, then giving it away for free to companies who would’ve had to pay just a few years earlier. Companies don’t need to pay for photography anymore, they just browse the creative commons area of Flickr, ask for commercial rights and get it. When they do pay, it’s a fraction of what they would’ve had to pay before.

On the flip side, I see people with charisma and capital but¬†little talent for photography out there shooting mediocre work and blogging about it and posting in every Flickr pool that requires comments and fav’s, gathering a following of praising people who don’t know great artistic photography from a computer animated dog food commercial.

Meanwhile I was carrying around a bunch of heavy, expensive, professional, photography gear doing my hobby thing, getting a few paid gigs here and there on the side. I was halfway in my professional photography mindset and halfway in my hobby mindset; living two lives. I feel like this has been a big distraction to my tech profession and my personal life.

Then there is technology advances. Cameras are changing. They have been mostly the same for a long time, but now we have iPhone apps that create panoramas inside of a phone where previously you’d have to take a shift lens or a land camera out to do architectural work. The cameras inside these phones suck compared to SLRs, but things like in-cam HDR generation and auto-stitching apps give them higher level skills. Of course, they aren’t approaching H4D level, but there’s no doubt that the camera on a phone can produce images that are stunning. After all, the best camera is the one you have on you, and now almost everybody has one.

But a lot of it boils down to me taking photography too seriously. I have a serious hobby, but it’s not a profession. Hobbies are supposed to be fun and enriching. With the failure of my attempted photography career, I think it’s time to start over, so that’s what I’m doing.