I'm being more proactive about getting people to drop by the studio. I forgot how much fun portrait sessions can be. The more informal the better.
It's hard to turn off the learned habits of a long career and opt instead for unalloyed fun instead of measurable achievement. We used to measure the success of the photo business by a combination of the bottom line (profits), customer tenure and the prestige of the projects we got handed. If the project was fun that was a bonus. And, if you get your thinking lined up correctly you'll find that most photographic projects contain parts that are truly fun.
2020 upset the whole apple cart. I've been predicting and, I guess, hoping that 2021 would be a quick year of recovery and that we'd go right back to where we were before the onset of the pandemic. Clients would call, we'd do the work, get paid and keep the whole "shark" moving forward looking for the next opportunity.
Life is full of moving targets and sometimes we can't even identify the targets we used to hit with reasonable accuracy. Another metaphor is that life is like a river and one can never enter the same water twice. It all continuously rushes past. The pure process of "photographic work" has changed in the last 16 months. What was in style then seems passé now. What clients thought they needed for marketing in December 2019 doesn't even show on the radar in Summer of 2021. And as one person businesses, mostly, photographers are having a tough time doing deep dives into marketing research to figure out what is currently relevant. And where their markets are headed.
There's a relentless march toward consumers getting all the information they need via their phones. The other end of the spectrum is the full embrace of home theaters for entertainment and gaming. Both of those venues tend to squeeze away the need for lots of traditional photographs and the advertising that drives them. Phones, because marketing on small screens works better in fat, graphic chunks with little detail needed, and the lure of moving images growing ever stronger; and big TVs because canned or streamed entertainment can be sourced with ads completely bypassed. Hence a declining need for traditional, visual content in the two spaces that are growing the quickest.
Most of the clients I'm working with currently are in traditional fields, have deep pockets and have a need for a certain amount of continuity that keeps us replicating and evolving the basic kinds of work we did in the recent past. We're still making custom images for websites, headshots for public relations, product shots incorporated into lifestyle scenes, and portraits. But, in truth, most of the work is being done for an aging group of marketers who are trying desperately to integrate what they know with new stuff they aren't fully comfortable with yet. So, a series of ad images on Instagram but at the same time insertions into a printed copy of a community newspaper. In essence they are most comfortable chasing the baby boomer market but will soon have to make a hard sea change and focus more on how to deliver messaging to Gen X and Millennial market segments. The newer the industry the less likely they are to need the kinds of services most photograhers have delivered for most of our careers.
For working photographers who need to keep producing profitable content, and who depend on the photography business to pay their bills the current period of cultural transitioning seems daunting; frightening. One need only look to the retail market for new cameras to understand the broader market. Camera sales now stand at almost one tenth of level achieved at their peak (2008-2010). The capitulation of everyday photography to phones is more of less complete for 95% of the user population. It stands to reason that there is a relationship between the popularity of traditional photography as a hobby (camera sales) and the appreciation of "professional" photography services.
If you don't need to make a living taking traditional photographs you are freed to pursue photography in any which way you desire. You can continue to till the most traditional of photographic soils and make majestic black and white landscapes, a la Ansel Adams and John Sexton. You could choose to continue in the Joel Meyerwitz/Stephen Shore traditions of "Fine Art" street photography. If you have the desire you can spend your days becoming better and better at photographing birds in flight (BIF). You can work on becoming a "master printer" and make big prints to frame and hang on your walls. Alternately, you can travel the world (once it opens back up again, and if the hard right in the US allows for official vaccine passports, etc.) with an iPhone and make photographs to your heart's desire.
I used to keep score and also felt the need to always have some sort of ready rationalization for the kinds of photographs I like to shoot just for myself. I could couch a series of painted wall images as a "color test" for a new camera. A series of swimming pool shots could be "an evaluation of a new wide angle lens." A series of urban landscape shots and details of our downtown could be justified as "an exercise in getting used to a new camera, or a new post processing app."
But now I think my latest effort is to shoot anything that captures my attention and to stop labeling the intention behind the action of making photos. I like the process of walking, and it's a lovely combination with seeing, framing, and personalizing acts of conscious observation. The press of the shutter being the coda for each observation. The process is enjoyable whether we use or share any of the results. In fact, in some sense, sharing the images is merely "proof of concept." The walk and the observation occur even if the resulting images are erased at the end.
I don't know about you but I enjoy the process of photography almost as much as I enjoy getting a really wonderful image for my collection. I guess we are like butterfly collectors in a way; we like being out in the field. We like the process of learning. We love the thrill of discovery and identification and, at the end, we wind up with something beautiful or rare tacked up on our walls. Nothing more.