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This is the photography blog for photographer and writer David Moore. He's based in Santa Fe, New Mexico but speaks with a funny accent.

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    February 10th, 2010

    The Digital Skills Pro Photographers Need Now

    Sometimes the younger generation seem to get a handle on all this more quickly

    As a photographer, Apple Aperture consultant and web designer for photographers, I spend a lot of time helping other pros.

    Recently three episodes have shown me how drastically the photography business is changing, and what range of skills are required to run a successful photography business.

    Episode 1 – “WordPress is hard”

    I’d just finished a site for a client and had carried out a training session on how to use WordPress to keep the site up to date. The next day I got a call from the flustered photog who had spent the afternoon trying to add one article. ‘This is much harder than I thought it was going to be,’ he explained.

    I have some sympathy – for people who’ve never spent any time around a website before, the admin panel and functionality of a content management system takes a little getting used to. But part of his difficulty was that he lacked even basic web skills such as knowing how to copy a link from the address bar of a browser and paste it in somewhere else. This lack of familiarity with what are for many everyday habits made everything else much harder.

    If you run a large studio where you can employ someone to do website updates for you, maybe that’s not such a big deal. But if you’re a single-person operation like so many photographers this lack of comfort with the internet is a big handicap.

    Episode 2 – “I don’t want to spend more time in front of the computer”

    Another week, another training session for a photography client. This time we were talking through the functionality that Photoshelter offers, and its system of Archives and Galleries. As I explained how to upload images I could see I was losing the guy. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘I’ve been thinking that maybe I’ll make a change to something completely different. I don’t want to spend any more time in front of a computer.’

    It wasn’t just the prospect of uploading images that made him think of a career change – he admitted being ambivalent about the website project as a whole in the face of declining stock income, so I asked him what he thought he’d be doing instead.

    ‘More teaching, workshops, you know’. This isn’t a bad idea but it too will probably require web skills and a commitment to be an active participant online. In the same way as you won’t escape book-keeping by opening another business, you won’t escape the computer by moving from being a shooter to a teacher.

    Episode 3 – “This sort of thing is just not my thing”

    Later in the week I got a call from another photographer I’d done a small amount of web work and some Aperture consulting for. The photog’s Aperture library had been on his computer’s hard drive, and he was running out of room. And he didn’t have it backed up. I’d moved the library to an external drive, set up another drive as a backup vault for him and talked him through the pros and cons of off-site and online backup strategies.

    But that was a while ago and now he was having some more trouble. Turned out he had unearthed an earlier version of Aperture on his machine I hadn’t know about and had created a new library in the old version of the application and his photos were split across the old new library and the new old library.

    ‘This sort of thing is just not my thing’, explained the photographer. Again, if he had someone in the office to worry about this, maybe this would be OK, but he doesn’t, so it’s not. Being able to find your work instantly, and being comfortable that it’s securely backed up is crucial, whether it’s your thing or not.

    The Architects analogy

    My wife is an architect, and when she went to architecture school, they all still drew their sets of plans by hand. But early in her professional career, AutoCAD arrived and even though she’d not learned it in college, she knew she had to jump into this because this was now what architects needed to do.

    Some people her age and older jumped with her, but others didn’t. So now they need to pay people to work on their sets for them, and they never learned even how to make changes themselves. They’re at a tremendous disadvantage.

    For photographers, people thought that moving from film to digital was the big shift that pro photographers would have to adjust to in their careers – the equivalent of the architects’ move from drawing on paper to AutoCAD. And it was a major change.

    But in some ways it was just a different way of doing the same stuff – getting the image from your camera to the client. The market the client and photographer were in hadn’t changed that much, nor had the way the photographer connected with the client.

    What you need to know now

    But I think the biggest change the pro photographer will face is just becoming apparent now. The market – stock, editorial, commercial, wedding – is changing drastically. Some sectors in decline, like the newspaper business, but they’re all being recreated in unpredictable and exciting ways. Much of the communication, marketing and day to day work across all markets is now online – which requires a new set of skills.

    Running a photography business has always been about a lot more than being a good photographer – and all the clients I’ve mentioned here are way better photographers than I’ll ever be – but now the list of skills required is different.

    Here’s a partial list the biggest gaps I see in my completely unscientific experience of working with a range of photographers over the last few years:

    • solid grasp of digital workflow, including captioning and keywording, backup strategies and the pros and cons of different file formats and sizes
    • knowledge of monitor calibration issues and color profiles
    • moderate internet skills (everything from using search engines effectively to email and discussion board etiquette)
    • ability to update your own website with text and images (including an ability to write clearly)
    • moderate social media skills (you don’t have to be tweeting ten times a day, but you should be able to asses which social media platforms could help you and how you could start using them)
    • a good grasp of how your particular markets are changing, and how you can adjust

    Dane Sanders, in his valuable book Fast Track Photographer, describes a Grumpiness scale, which outlines how likely a pro is to look at a list like the one above and complain that ‘It wasn’t like that in my day. All these kids coming in, stealing our work. Why can’t I just take pictures.’ (or words to that effect). I think that attitude is obviously a problem, but I think the bigger problem is skills gap among some photographers.

    To their credit, the first two photgraphers I’ve talked about here manfully got over their initial discomfort with WordPress and Photoshelter and have been making changes to their sites themselves. And the good news is that there are plenty of resources available for people like them who want to learn some of the other required skills.

    But if you’re an established pro or a newcomer to the industry and you don’t at least make an effort with this stuff, you’re going to struggle.


     

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    6 Responses to “The Digital Skills Pro Photographers Need Now”

    1. Danielle Lewis Says:

      Interesting article and even though I work in IT I’m quickly learning how true your skills gap list is…

      Thanks

    2. Lovelyn Says:

      This article rings true for me. The internet has changed the skill sets for so many professions. Some people are getting left behind.

    3. Dave Pattinson Says:

      Excellent article!!! I agree with all your points and find it an exciting industry, although challenging, to be in now.

    4. Brandon Says:

      I know what you mean with your 1st point especially! I’m 17 and have around a half dozen WP websites, and am actually showing my dad how to use WP for photography! Like the previous comment says “those that do not understand this modern technology will get left behind”

    5. Cole Says:

      Delivers some valuable insight in a very practical way. I do think hesitancy to move forward is often based more on one’s past experience than a product of one’s age.

    6. David Says:

      You’re right that it’s not necessarily an age thing. Some of my older photographer clients are keen to learn the skills required, or have already picked them up.

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