Don't Listen to Photography Gatekeepers

Photography culture is a weird thing, and there can be a lot of unnecessary gatekeeping regarding gear, skills, creativity, access to opportunities, and more, and it can all be rather discouraging, especially for newcomers. This excellent video essay offers some important words of encouragement for facing those gatekeepers. 

Coming to you from Daniel Norton Photography, this great video essay discusses some of the discouraging words we often hear in photography and how it is important to remember that photography is for everyone. I think it is important to remember that when it comes to professional success, the conversation is a bit more nuanced, as the marketplace is quite inundated and finding financial success takes a lot. But the gatekeepers we often deal with have nothing to do with this. Instead, they are often speaking from a place of insecurity, frustrated by what they see as an influx of people threatening to take their jobs or undermine the sanctity of their art. This then comes out in the form of insults and gatekeeping and can often lead to new photographers feeling discouraged and leaving the community or photography completely. Do not let these sort of people ruin your love of the pursuit. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Norton. 

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Tom Reichner's picture

I actually like the gatekeeper mentality, at least for my genre of photography, which is wildlife.

Personally, I think that if a huge number of people are able to take quality wildlife photos, then I will have to work much harder to sell my images and make money from my photography. I don't want to spend my time selling and marketing my photos - I want them to "sell themselves" the way they did 20 years ago, so that I can spend my time out in nature taking pictures of the animals instead of on the computer and on the phone trying to sell them.

If we only could have kept all of these masses of newcomers out of wildlife photography, then I could spend my time doing what I love to do, instead of having to spend my time at the more tedious, less pleasant tasks such as trying to market myself to clients.

I don't want to make my living by doing workshops or trainings for the new people - I just want to make my money from licensing my wildlife images to publishers. And all of these new wildlife photographers have made that so much harder, because of drastically increased supply, and now I am forced to spend hours and hours every week doing things that I don't enjoy doing as much.

So yeah, I think that some of us would have benefitted from keeping other people out of our genre of photography. We failed to do so, and now we are paying the price because we have to adapt and do things differently, and the new different way isn't as fun or easy as the old way was.

David Pavlich's picture

Is your post tongue in cheek?

Tom Reichner's picture

Not at all. Ask anyone who made a full time living in the 1980s and 1990s from selling wildlife photos to publishers what the influx of newcomers has done to their income stream. Ask them if they actually like leading workshops and organizing tours, or if they would rather go back to just taking photos on their own.

I am actually one of the newcomers who helped to ruin if for those longstanding icons of the wildlife photography community. It is because hundreds of people like myself were able to enter the community that image supply went way up, which drove prices way down.

It has nothing to do with how good of a photographer one is. You don't get paid more for a great photo than you do for an average photo. Rates are based on how the photo is used, not on how good of a photo it is.

People used to get $4,000 for a photo to be used on a cover of a nationally circulated hunting magazine. Today you'll get $200 to $600 for the cover of those same magazines.

Used to get $5,000 to $40,000 for an image to be the lead image for a product marketing campaign; now you get $100 to $2,000 for that same usage.

This is entirely because of increased supply of difficult-to-get wildlife photos. When there were only a couple dozen people in the world capable of producing high quality photos of fully mature Whitetail bucks with big antlers. Today, there are hundreds of people who can produce these photos. Of course the bottom dropped out of the market, and no one will ever again be able to make three or four big sales and then take the rest of the year off.

David Pavlich's picture

Welcome to the 21st Century. Browse any photo site like Flickr and you now see hundreds of world class wildlife shots. Genie's out of the bottle.

Tom Reichner's picture

Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.

And that is really sad for the few folks who made a VERY good living doing what they loved.

It was so lucrative for those folks back in the 1980s and 1990s. And what they did had very little stress and allowed for a little work and a whole lot of fun! And now, sadly, because of people like myself, they can no longer enjoy that easy, fun, adventurous, free lifestyle.

I, and others like me, stole that from them. If they had been able to keep me, and others, out of wildlife photography, and make us feel like we weren't ever going to be able to be "real" wildlife photographers, then maybe they would still have their awesome lifestyles.

Now, the full time wildlife photographers have to really grind away at just making a modicum of a livelihood. They have to do a lot of work that they do not really enjoy doing, because we took their lifestyle away from them.

Is it any wonder that some people try to gatekeep? If they can do so successfully, then they may just be salvaging the lifestyle that they love so much.

David Pavlich's picture

Yea, and AOL was a big money maker. Oh yea, and there was Netscape. And my favorite, Compuserve. And think how well the Postal Service would be doing if someone didn't come up with email and fax machines. Time marches on and so does technology. Businesses adapt or fail.

Tom Reichner's picture

Yes - exactly. If any of those companies had done effective gatekeeping, and found a way to keep others out of their industries, then they would be able to ride the gravy train even till this day.

If you don't find a way to shut out the competition, then you will have to out-compete them. And out-competing others is a lot of hard, unpleasant work ..... so much so that even if you can out-compete them, you wonder it doing so was worth all of the tedious hard work.

What good is success if you have to pay such a high price to get it? If the very reason you want success is so that you can have an easy life and still afford everything you could ever possible want, then striving to out-compete others is going to ruin your life, because even if you out-perform them and have more success than they do, you will not get to enjoy that success by having an easy carefree life with lots of money and also lots of free time and little responsibility.

What good is getting lots of money if you don't have gobs and gobs of responsibility-free time to enjoy that money?

Adam Wood's picture

This is archaic mentality. If I didn't have to evolve to keep my job then I'd fear that my career might be coming to an end. This post is exactly why we have things like "barber licenses" in many US states... It's because when more people began doing it they felt threatened and lobbied for a licensing structure. In some states you might have to go to school for up 6 years just so they can cut hair... the same mentality caused some states even have licensing requirements for interior decorators requiring several years of schooling just so you can tell someone what colors to paint their walls, what type of furniture to buy and where to place it...

I'm not downing you for your aspirations but change is inevitable and if you don't embrace it then how can you ever continue to be successful?

Tom Reichner's picture

Those professional licenses and regulatory requirements actually work in many instances.

Look at it this way ...

If you want an easy job that pays well above average, but that doesn't require a lot of hard work or a lot of training, then how can that exist, if not for a licensing system that limits how many people can do it?

I mean, almost everyone would love to have a job that pays really well, yet is really easy. So as soon as such a job exists, then a lot of people want to do it. This means that the supply of employees is high. Which, of course, means that employers don't have to pay so much. Because it is easy, and a lot of people want to do it, that means that employers can pay less and still find plenty of people to fill the positions.

So, given that, how do we make sure there are really easy jobs that don't require much training, but that are very high paying? The only way I know that this can be accomplished is to manipulate the system by putting a license structure in place. This will limit the number of people who will be allowed to do that job, which will keep supply down, which will keep wages high.

I mean, how else do you create really easy jobs that anyone could easily do, that have practically zero stress and very little "hard work" and require very little learning or training, yet pay very well?

This is exactly the kind of job that fits my desired lifestyle the best, and I know of no way to ensure there are such jobs out there for people like me unless there is some kind of gatekeeping system to keep the supply low enough so that the pay scale stays high.

Blood Lord's picture

Literally nobody cares what the noobs think. The problem is the Youtubers who think they know it all. Those people need to get wrecked...

David Pavlich's picture

Gate keepers, You Tubers, IG, FB....why does ANYONE let what someone else does or says influence one's photographic endeavors? Do what you do the way you enjoy doing it. Keeping others away from specific areas of where and what you shoot isn't a solution, it is an admission that you aren't that good. I welcome more photographers. It's more consumers for the camera industry and that is good for all of us.

Scott McDonald's picture

I'm with you can anyone tell others that they're not "good enough" to play in their field? Besides the snobs, of course, and they're out there for sure like they're in some sort of officially closed club...those photos aren't using the 'right' composition, your paintings aren't true to the genre, you can't sing like so and so, that's not considered classical ballet, no one would ever go to see that musical on stage, that sculpture is too obscene, you write stories like an eighth-grader, that fashion-designer is insulting the heritage...etc. I know that many people 'like things the way they were' but life doesn't work that way. Without the disrupters and those carving bold new directions for their art...we stagnate. No one can stop change by complaining, wishing, and whining. If you don't like what you see in the market or on YouTube or IG or FB or wherever...don't watch it, and if you think you're better, then show us! If no one pushes us to be better then guess what?...we won't be...just the same old-same old.

Jan Holler's picture

I think it is quite easy: It is better to be a talented photographer without having that much knowledge e.g. about colour theory, than being an educated photographer without or a small talent. And skill (technical skill) is needed less today than it has been before. Let the photography speak and not the grade of professionalism. - But sure, any education is for the good. Talent and knowledge, a great combination.

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

Remember when there was no WWW!, just papers and magazines and the phone on the wall not in your pocket!!! Where inspiration came with National Geographic. Enjoyment of the capture was pure but the sell was hard. Never had a class or a sale but called a photographer not just a snapper. For those who just look, it is not the education but the eyes and the pull of one's soul to the places of the dream that was seen in the mind that planning gets the capture! Gear also does not get it, may help with something better, for it is playing and experimenting with what you have. A photographer sees' the animals in clouds, things in rocks and enjoys a good view from ground or mountain top and captures a moment in time that will never be duplicated but viewed forever by few or many. A sale only helps with living like a painter of yesterday, and keeping out of the ditch so many have to dig in their whole life. For us who can look back at the beginning and see the paths taken over the decades from film to now digital and wonder how we got to this point or what directed us, it was the dreams that woke us up every morning with a smile. Something also put you in that place with the perfect conditions with the camera with the desire and only we know the whole story not just what the watchers think they see. It is the ride in the universe that tomorrow is unknown but the photo memories that prove the yesterday really happened the great, good, bad and ugly for the photographer records it for the watchers in their forever ditches. The best thing for a photographer is the ride continues!!!!

Rory Gallagher's picture

There's nothing wrong with a barrier to entry. Not everything has to be all inclusive. Its alright to make things hard. It fosters hard work, passion, and respect for those that paved the way for you.

David Pavlich's picture

Question: Would you have the same opinion if it were you that is not being permitted to do a photo shoot because someone doesn't want you to intrude on their line of photography? I'm not discussing a contractual situation, by the way.

Christian Lainesse's picture

Don't tell me what to do! ;-)