Follow Your Own Path

This is one long and wordy post so dig in.

We live in interesting times my friends. It’s stated that just one generation ago most folks went to work for a company at age 20 and retired from that same company at age 62 with a generous “pension plan”. Today, we’re told, the “average” person will have worked at five to seven different companies in two to three different industries by the time he or she reaches age 62. This “new age” worker may never retire at all and if they do, they walk away with a 401K “savings” worth considerably less than they think their 40 years of hard work is worth. Not exactly the “American Dream” the previous generation lived.

Or is it?

Much is currently being said about how the rise of the Internet and the new “Social Media” are killing off the world’s newspapers, magazines and television. We’re lead to believe this new age of instant and “free” information is sucking the life blood out of the once robust news and entertainment industry and creating a generation of FaceBook, Twitter and Skype addicts that can’t get enough of their 24x7x365 fifteen minutes of fame. Not exactly your evening news with Walter Cronkite.

Or is it?

We’re told that the massive influx of cheap DSLR cameras from Japan, Korea and China is driving down the price for professional wedding, sports, travel, commercial and landscape photography so much that thousands of professional shooters have been replaced by millions of amateur shooters, effectively killing off the entire industry. It’s said that the stock agencies have been replaced by the micro-stock agencies that have themselves been supplanted by Art Directors trolling Flickr and Google sending the already rock bottom prices for photography even lower. Not exactly what Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Lachapelle or Annie Lebovitz had in mind when they got started.

Or is it?

The Shifting Paradigm
Sometimes we forget how far technology has come in such a short period of time and we underestimate the impact this change has caused in our daily lives. Prior to the twentieth century mankind’s basic situation hadn’t changed much in the past 10,000 years. Yes, civilizations had risen and fallen, wars had been won and lost and the Lord had sent his only son to redeem our souls. Still, people’s daily lives revolved around their family, their village and their region. Most knew little about the rest of the world and few had spare time for idle curiosity.

That all changed in the past 150 years with the most dramatic changes coming during the last 50 years. The industrial revolution created a new paradigm for non-farm workers and gave birth to the “9 – 5 Job”. It created thousands of jobs by inventing mass production, making durable goods cheap enough for these same “workers” to buy.

But the industrial revolution also killed many jobs by making those durable goods less expensively than they were made “by hand” before. The artisans and craftsmen of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century experienced this technological “shift” firsthand and found their life’s work too expensive to compete against the marvels of mass production. (Sound familiar?)

Fast forward to the 1930’s, 40’s & 50’s and the rise of the modern labor union. Union workers strike against company owners and win wage and benefit increases and give birth to the first pension plans. Non-union white-collar workers negotiate for the same benefits as their blue-collar brothers and create an affluent middle class with one single goal; retirement.

Never before in the history of mankind had a large percentage of people “stopped working” at age 62 and spent the rest of their (now longer) lives pursuing leisure activities. Whole new industries emerge designed to cater to this new middle class. The newspaper industry and print journalism in general flourished as people had the time and money to spend learning about the rest of the world. But this “golden age of print” didn’t last for long.

Radio and television become the media of choice in the 1960’s and 70’s with the war in Vietnam and the anti-war protests at home being covered every evening at 5:30 PM (CST). Newspaper subscriptions began their decades long decline and advertisers flocked to the TV like bees to honey. (We’ve been here before haven’t we?)

Fast forward to the 1980’s & 90’s. The integrated circuit is developed and the computer age is upon us. Main-frame computers costing millions are quietly replaced by faster and smaller mini-computers and a whole generation of assembly language programmers find themselves “made redundant” (until the Y2K scare). Only a few years go by and the venerable mini-computer falls to the “personal computer” or PC. A whole generation of COBOL programmers find themselves also “made redundant”. Apple opens their doors and Bill Gates releases Microsoft “Windows”. IBM and DEC find their market share dwindling day by day. (Getting the picture?)

Fast forward to the past decade. PCs, laptops and notebook computers are everywhere. Microsoft releases Excel, Word, PowerPoint, SQL Server, BizTalk Server, Exchange Server and Commerce Server and dominates the world software market. The smaller software companies and contract programmers find themselves broke, acquired or run out of business by the GIANT Microsoft. The governments of the US and several European nations sue Microsoft due to their dominance and domination of the global software market. Microsoft’s market share and profits continue to climb while the PC manufacturers find themselves barely able to make a profit. Mergers take place. Some hardware companies go out of business altogether and the profit margins of the remaining few continue to shrink. (Seem Familiar?)

Apple reinvents itself, retools, revamps and re-engineers its line of desktop, workstation and notebook computers and carefully controls the hardware to match their new operating system, OS-X. Apple opens their bricks & mortar stores amid speculation that they’ve lost their mind, but the crowds love the concept and devout PC users begin to switch to Mac. Microsoft releases a slow, buggy operating system called Vista which falls flat on its face. Apple begins a series of humorous ads laughing at Microsoft’s misfortune. Apple releases new iPods, MacBooks, iMacs, Mac Pros, iTunes, the iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 4G and the iPad. Microsoft watches their market share begin to slip until it’s an all out avalanche of folks switching to Apple products. (Myself included)

The Path

The Path You Follow – Fredericksburg, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 40mm, f/8 for 1/125th of a second at ISO 200 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: The Path You Follow – Fredericksburg, Texas

In Closing
For every dramatic “shift” in our society, in our technology and in the world of business, there will be those that adapt, survive and even thrive. There will also be those that cannot adapt and they will rail against the heavens, gnash their teeth and loudly call out for “social justice”.

The best advice I can give anyone starting out in this business is to follow your own path and be realistic in your goals. For example, there are thousands of very talented wedding photographers around the globe looking for work. The average price that a typical wedding photographer can charge has dropped by 50% in the past two years. Perhaps this isn’t the best time to target that market segment.

Finding niche markets or industries needing economical photographic work is not simple but with Google and the help of your local Chamber of Commerce, it can certainly be done. Do some research and get a listing of all the small businesses in your immediate area. Send out a targeted email blast and follow up with a phone call. Don’t sit in your home office spending hour after hour on FaceBook or Twitter. If you want to succeed as a professional photographer then get out there and “sell” your services.

Follow your own path and enjoy the ride of a lifetime!

Jeff

26 thoughts on “Follow Your Own Path

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Great post, it’s really inspiring to look back at changes in the economy, and see how what we thought was inevitable often isn’t.

    Thanks again, Rob.

  2. Pingback: Weekend Photography Links at The Discerning Photographer | The Discerning Photographer

  3. Hey Jeff,
    You’ve really said a mouthful here! Spoken with the authority that comes from one who has lived it personally. I could tell you didn’t have to do a lot of research to write this one–it was all between your ears when you started.
    I’ve also recently, in my case, switched BACK to Mac. The darned things really do just work, even though there’s a price premium associated with that.
    Andrew
    The Discerning Photographer

    • Andrew,

      Thanks for your comments. Yes, I’m speaking from painful personal experience here. If there are ten “right” ways to run a business and not starve, I generally chose the 11th instead. Being a stubborn Irishman, I’m sure all this pain is good for the soul but there are days when I know deep in my hear that Murphy was an optimist.

      🙂

      Jeff

  4. Jeff, An absolutely great post. And very well written. Good luck re-designing the future for yourself. It’s a project we’re all working on.

    Best, Kirk

  5. It’s easy for me (as someone who’s not relying on my camera for dinner) to tell those complaining about the glut of cameras to “man up” and show me the difference between a pro and an amateur. The cream always rises to the top.

    • Hey Derrick,

      I’ve got dinner covered. It’s the mortgage, car payment, utilities and two kids in college that keeps me properly motivated. The only difference I’ve found between a “pro” and “amateur” photographer is that most amateurs sleep better at night. 🙂

      Jeff

  6. I’m an ex-Apple user. I used them for graphic design (Quark, Freehand etc) work up to five years ago. I’m staggered by Apple, not because there is anything wrong with their products but for what amounts to one of the most successful brainwashing programmes in corporate history. Ask someone why they use a Mac and they will tell you ‘it just works’ without the slightest hint of irony that this message has been placed in their consciousness, successfully, by Apple’s marketing strategy. The company appeals by portraying itself as some kind of creative, free-spirit in those ridiculous ads when in reality they’re just another branch of the corporatocracy with restrictive business practices that would make Bill Gates blush.

    • John,

      Thanks for reading.

      As an ex- programmer, ex-developer and ex-MSFT MVP I can tell you that Apple did not brainwash me any more that MSFT did. I own a very nice Dell notebook running Windows 7 that has the same Core-2-Duo CPU and graphics card that my MacBook Pro uses. They both have the same amount, type and speed RAM. The MacBook starts up in less than 9 seconds. The Dell takes 25 seconds. When I close the MacBook lid it “sleeps” perfectly and “wakes up” with one key stroke. When I close the lid on my Dell it “sleeps” but will not wake up. My MacBook prints to any Windows “shared” printer in my home network but my Dell doesn’t and Dell can’t tell me why. My MacBook updates its software once every few weeks with security patches or updated programs. My Dell updates itself every time MSFT issues a security patch, usually three or four times a month lately (I hate patch Tuesday). My MacBook runs 64-bit programs without a hitch. My Dell running the 32-bit Windows 7 won’t touch a 64-bit program.

      I could go on and on about this John and I don’t hate MSFT any more than I love Apple. But Apple’s products do “just work” and work very well. No one brainwashed me to buy a MacBook, iPod and iPad. I run my own Photography business and I buy the most cost effective hardware and software I can find that works. Right now, that is Apple. Next year, who knows.

      Jeff

  7. Hi Jeff,
    I love your work! I am lover of the great outdoors and love the diversity that texas offers. You capture it so well.
    Now that I am close to having my kids grown, I am pursuing a path I have wanted to follow for many years. Please let me know when your next photo safari will take place and if you offer one on one instruction. Thanks

    • Cathy,

      Thanks for reading an for your comments. Information and the dates for the spring 2010 Texas Landscape Safari is posted on my web site. Just click on the Texas Landscape Safari tab or on this link. I do offer one-on-one coaching and I’ll email you the details.

      Jeff

  8. Wow, a great post. Thank you very much for putting some perspective on many things!

    I just want to add one more example:
    The music industry which has made a huge fortune with CD sales. They missed the train for a sensible adaption to the new times with digital media and internet and are still trying to turn back the wheel of time instead of accepting and it and adapting.

    • Marco,

      Thanks for reading and for your comment, great example. I hardly ever buy a full album these days on iTunes. Just the songs I like. If the artist creates more songs I like he gets more of my money. Sounds like performance based profit in its simplest form.

      Jeff

  9. Excellent Job of putting things in perspective Jeff. You know how much I agree with the closing, but then I always have done what I thought was right not what I was told was right.

  10. Great post, Jeff. I agree with your overall sentiment entirely. I do have to correct one thing though: While Apple may make it seem like there was an “avalanche of users switching to Apple”, in reality Apple still accounts for less than 10% of the personal computer market. Hardly an avalanche. Of course Apple always has been better at perception than reality.

    Mark

    • Thanks Mark,

      I wasn’t trying to beat up on MSFT or anyone in particular. My avalanche statement was purely anecdotal, but every time I go to the local Apple store in Sugar Land, it’s packed to the gills with folks lining up to buy their products. I don’t see the same situation at Best Buy with folks lining up to buy Windows 7 or the latest Dell notebook, but perhaps suburban Sugar Land is an anomaly.

      Jeff

  11. Whew.

    Jeff, I’m certainly glad you tood the time to write this. Very good coverage. I’ve had similar throught tripping through my head lately – due to overexposure to all things photography, I think – but I don’t know that I could have gotten it down so well. Now when people want gripe and complain, I’m just going to send them to this post.

    The world is always changing, as you so aptly show. People – doing whatever they do – have to change with it.

    As for your conclusion, I would just add….don’t just go out and sell your services, get out there and SHOOT so that you have services to sell.

    Well written, my frien.d

  12. What a refreshing opinion! I am sick to death of hearing/reading about professional photogs whingeing about the amateurs stealing their work blah blah blah… The bar has been raised, and those who work hard and have top quality original portfolios will always have people willing to pay a decent amount for their sevices. Adapt, survive and thrive!

    • Kerry,

      Thanks for reading. I haven’t heard anyone whining lately but there does seem to be quite a few folks depressed over the state of our industry. Zig Zigler used to say “your attitude determines your altitude” in life and I’ve always found a positive outlook to be a whole lot more fun that a negative outlook.

      Jeff

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