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Once It’s Digital, It Doesn’t Matter

I had a chance last month to sit down and talk with my friend and photo mentor Don Giannatti. Don is a terrific photographer, but as digital started to put the squeeze on the industry, he moved to Project 52, a one year coaching class to help people who wanted to become professional photographers achieve that goal. This was (and is) a great idea, because the method I used to break into the business, namely assisting other photographers like Don until I developed the contacts and the book to break out on my own, just doesn’t happen as much as it did 30 (Egad, 30? Yikes!) years ago. You just don’t need the same scale of enterprise these days as you did back then. Camera? A full-frame DSLR will do nicely, thank you very much. No need for medium format, and rarely a need for large format. A bag full of prime lenses? Naaah. Today’s zooms are so good, there’s no reason to carry a 20mm and a 35mm and an 85mm and, well, you get the idea. 

And it’s that same way with lighting, too. F8 at 400 ISO is perfectly fine for many print or digital applications. Remember, we’re talking about 35mm lenses here. 80mm is normal on a ‘Blad, but on a DSLR, that’s a tele lens. As a result, you don’t need 2000 w/s for every setup. On top of this, today’s speedlights are terrific, with shoe mount strobes that have guide numbers that hearken back to the Sunpak 620s of yore. And loading medium format backs? Nope, not needed, not with gigabytes of high speed storage inside of your camera. 

As a result, the photographer of today doesn’t need an assistant as often, and so a new on-ramp had to be built, and Don did that. 

I say “Did,” because this latest class will be his last one. He’s moving on helping people become not just photographers, but full-fledged content creators, providing written content, video content, photos… whatever the client needs. 

Which is a good idea, I think. I realized decades ago that the age-old barriers between words and photos and moving pictures were meaningless in a digital world. The same phone that I use to read my email is the same phone I use to take photos is the same phone I use to watch YouTube. Once it’s digital, it doesn’t matter what format it’s in; it all winds up on the same device. 

The other reason this is a good idea is because content creation is becoming more inexpensive. What used to be cheap ($500 for a stock image) became really cheap ($5 for a stock image) and now, we have AI bots that can write coherent paragraphs and create realistic pictures at the click of a mouse.

However, there is no soul to what they make. It’s competent work, in the same sense that the $200 per CD full of stock imagery that I could buy way back in 1996 was competent. Is it good visual filler? Sure. But is it exciting? is it uniquely mine? Does it express something that makes people want to engage with my product or service? 

No. That was certainly true about the crappy stock photos we had available 25 years ago, and it’s also true of the AI imagery of today. As content is becoming more and more commoditized, creativity is becoming more valuable, and true creativity is always worth paying for. Always has been, always will be.