Last month, I created an in-depth report from The Canon Expo in New York City. Towards the end of that future trend analysis, I mentioned that we’d see a transformation from the word and job description associated with a “photographer” to a new term and skill set known as a “digitagrapher.”
Digitagraphers are the commercial digital-service-providing artists that will take the place of what was once known as the twentieth century photographer. There is a “price” associated with this change. Let’s take a look at the education costs associated with the emerging twenty-first century trend towards digitagraphy.
A Price Check Comes with a Reality Check
Since the 1960s, collegiate photographic education has generally revolved around a core of darkroom work, historical studies of photography’s origins and contemporary stars, and studio and/or location based production shooting in the field. Up until about five years ago, this photographic arts curriculum was well suited for commercial application. After a short stint at photo assisting post-university, one could generally be guaranteed placement in any level of competitive commercial work; barring talent, hard work, and a little opportunistically driven good fortune.
Preparing for future commercial work is shifting exponentially. An already lagging educational system for contemporary photographic pursuits has been exaggerated by the development of Internet connectivity and a flat-rate licensing era. No longer is any wet darkroom work relevant to the future of the commercial photographer. A study of photography’s past, even up to 2005, is increasingly irrelevant to the path laid out for the future. Production orientation with film and transparencies has been eradicated. Digital high-resolution stills are now even quickly being surpassed by new video/motion captures capable of individual still image isolation. These changes require a new thought process for how one prices the costs associated with learning the skill sets necessary for commercial imaging jobs.
Digitagraphers Need Digitafication
For emerging photographers, never before in history have the barriers of entry been lowered so rapidly for entrance into the commercial sectors of image making. It would be advisable to study any and all levels of digital imaging; and to completely bypass film/transparency educational curricula. Invest in high-level digital training courses, direct on-the-job training (even if it means low pay or no pay) and access to diverse learning environments (ideally the more metropolitan the better at this time). Consider pricing your educational research and development interests into re-tooling and potentially relocating short-term to make these experiences a reality.
Put Your Money Into Experience, Not Gear
What’s the price tag on the newest DSLR from a top-level manufacturer? It doesn’t matter, as in two years it will be 30-50% less than today. Since megapixel capabilities and storage space are seemingly reaching infinity, consider pricing yourself into experience-based learning, not gear-based acquisitions. Save money by not buying “the latest and greatest.” Invest that savings into a 2-3 month stay in the city of your choosing to train under those who know the equipment and can connect you to more learning opportunities. Invest in relationship building first.
Mentorships, Not Internships
Internships, like educational programs, are equally going to lag in this developing 5-10 year technological gap in terms of their future relevance for training highly experienced commercial digital service providers. One should consider seeking out leading mentors and perhaps put off a “default” name brand internship. Do your homework and find key individuals whose reputations stand out for what they are critically acclaimed as being good at. This could be production skills for digital motion capture, post-production editing, high-end retouching, or high-level business acumen for operations. One good mentor makes all the difference. While finding him or her might seem like a “needle in a haystack” proposition, you’d be amazed at how many people’s wealth of knowledge simply go completely untapped. Make a list, and spend the money necessary to make the connection. This might be an international phone call, an informational interview made over dinner, or a round trip flight to visit for the day.
Consider the Second-Tier “Mezzanine” Level of Learning
I’ve long been a critic of students who only seek out household-name persons to work with and/or only consider name brand educational institutions to attend. These situations do indeed work on a case-by-case basis, but are often overrated and can be underwhelming. It is advisable to consider them wisely and to ask a lot of questions before committing. Be warned that marketing recognition can hide many ills of expertise. The “next tier down” is a zone of learning nearly always poised to give both a) better personal support and b) a price offering at a level of greater affordability. If it costs half as much and achieves the same result, put the remainder of the saved money into building relationships on your own. This will ultimately be more rewarding and more life giving to future pursuits.
Stop Learning Photography
The future of the photographer is shifting and is evidenced by all things media and technologically based. The future of small business success in our industry will be directly correlated to one’s skill set for financial planning, production multitasking, legal comprehension, writing abilities, research interests, and connective relationship building. It will have less to do with strict image making talent. Pay attention to what the internet is teaching us about the future of creative commerce. Price yourself into a diverse skill set combined with an original and unique vision for your work.
Do you agree? Disagree? Already on your way? Share your situation here.