2010 was an interesting year. I felt very conflicted. Our profession faltered, changed and then recovered, after a fashion. Clients went away and some of them came back. But the structure feels different. Before there was a camaraderie with many clients that went beyond an ordinary business calculus. We supported each other. We bent over backwards to make everything as perfect as we could for our clients and they rewarded us with a sense of loyalty. Or maybe it was honesty. Maybe it was just common courtesy.
Then the recession interceded and clients circled the wagons. Many of us found ourselves on the outside of the circle. The clients of the clients snapped their fingers and budgets flew out the window. If the client screamed "stock" our client replied, "How cheap?" Fear gnawed at them and broke the teams apart. And it was every photographer for himself.
But now the ad agencies are feeling pressure to be good again. Not just hold the line or make the budget. The new dictate is to go back to being good. A lot of time's been lost for the ultimate clients. A lot of market share got lost to fear and indecision. And now they're coming back to the ad agencies and saying, "Show us something new. Something we can't just suck out of a catalog. Something that doesn't look exactly like the thousands of other variations that all of our competitors are using."
I had a client return. They're big. They didn't really get nailed by the downturn but they circled the wagons nonetheless. And when they came back they didn't ask about budget. And when the job was delivered they remarked, "This work is wonderful. It looks like HD in a standard world. It's so perfect it's three dimensional. We'd forgotten that it could be like this."
And we almost forgot as well. We (photographers) forgot that it really is much more than the regurgitation of technical skill sets. It really is about vision and craftsmanship and art. And there is a quality that comes from mastering working with the people in front of our cameras. There is a difference between what we do as professionals and the legion of people who have new digital cameras. And clients were amazed, after the long drought, that they COULD see the difference and it DID make all the work look better and it was WORTH paying for.
And I hope photographers don't forget this valuable lesson and accept the discounted status that accountants and account executives tried to foist on us when they held the leverage of the market. We needed to have this discontinuation to remind all the parties that everyone was bringing something to the table. And everyone was/is valuable in a way that can't be defined by spreadsheets and metrics.
And so this year of nascent recovery is coming to a close. Three more large clients are back. And they know that if we're turning the clock back it will be to the business practices of the time before the recession and we won't return to the ruinous pricing models of 2009.
I love this business. It will recover. It is recovering. It's time good photographers everywhere stood their ground and started asking for what they are really worth. 2011 WILL be a happy New Year.
Technical info: I left the house with an unusual camera/lens combination. I stuck on old 38mm 1.8 Zuiko Pen FT lens from the early 1970's on the front of an Olympus EPL1 body, topped with an electronic viewfinder. Manual focus all the way. I found the metering on the EPL to be impeccable and the color to be.....juicy. I spent a few quiet hours walking through downtown shooting jpegs at ISO 200. I was happy with the results. It made me feel good to see that I could go from a Canon 5D2 to a $499 EPL with a forty year old half frame lens and still make the same photos. Amazes me.
To everyone: No matter what industry or profession you happen to be in let's push to get paid for the value we bring instead of bowing to the power of the spreadsheet and precedent. Especially not the precedent of the last three years. We all deserve better. Everywhere.