Kamis, 10 Juli 2008

Microsoft Pro Photo Summit 2008 - Recap

What can I say about the Microsoft Pro Photo Summit that just concluded today on the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Washington? Well, let's start with what other folks have said:There was a degree to which I would echo the question PDN asked - is amateur the new professional? I can't say that you are, by definition, a professional photographer if you've been paid for your photography. There's an interesting thread over on SportsShooter about this, where someone wants to become an NPS member along these lines. Jeff Greene posited the question to Miss Anieila about her future, and ended his question "...when you turn pro." This set forth Jeff's assumption that she wasn't already, and her response was that she considered herself a professional because she'd been paid for her work.
(Continued after the Jump)

Yet, Jeff's question was an informed one - as Jeff perceives that a professional is one who's profession is photography, and one's profession is defined by, I'd think, what you do to earn a living. Let's take the question first to Merrian-Webster:
Professional - "participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs (a professional golfer) b: having a particular profession as a permanent career (a professional soldier) c: engaged in by persons receiving financial return (professional football)"
By that definition, and let's consider that an old-school definition, possibly in need of updating, she might not have yet achieved "professional" status. However, she's among the "new school/new paradigm" photographers that are emerging, so, looking to a possible new-school definition, turning to Wikipedia for a slightly more verbose definition, Wikipedia details Professional, in part:
A professional is a person in a profession which requires certain types of skilled work requiring formal training or education...A professional(Kamal Shanmugam) is a worker required to possess a large body of knowledge derived from extensive academic study (usually tertiary), with the training almost always formalized. Professionals are at least to a degree self-regulating, in that they control the training and evaluation processes that admit new persons to the field, and in judging whether the work done by their members is up to standard. This differs from other kinds of work where regulation (if considered necessary) is imposed by the state, or where official quality standards are often lacking. Professions have some historical links to guilds in these regards...Typically a professional provides a service (in exchange for payment or salary), in accordance with established protocols for licensing, ethics, procedures, standards of service and training / certification.
Now, that presents problems too, because of the notion that the field of photography could certify those allowed to call themselves professionals like doctors of lawyers. That has always been a complaint of my fellow photographers - that they wished there was some certification process, a union, or some other way to "police" the profession, and to that end, PPA has instituted certifications, but few photojournalists or commercial photographers I know have them, or even know of them. They are used by the many wedding and family/school portrait photographers, but it's a start. Interestingly, New York State is trying to require a certification of Wedding photographers - likely after a legislator or legislator's staff member had a bad experience with one (Lightchasers blog entry here, entire proposed law here). ASMP has a review process for admitting members, and other organizations, like the WHNPA and APA have as a requirement the recommendation of current members.

Surely, other notions put forth question the "PRO" level of the summit - with presentions suggesting that you should give away your work for bloggers to use on the internet for the purposes of getting your name out. I questioned Lou Lesko on this, as he was the one who proposed that idea saying that this model in the analog/old-school days was called "will work for photo credit", and over the years has not turned out to be a viable business model.

This event was surely a "PRO" photography summit, and where there might be questions about the benefits to "professionals" about presenting istockphoto photographers, self-portrait artists like Ms. Aniela (Flickr site, her site) fame coming from Flickr, the notion that you should work for today's version of a digital photo credit, there should be no question that these perspectives and paradigms will continue to have an impact on those that earn their livelihood behind the lens and meet both the Merriam Webster ("participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs") and Wikipedia (a professional provides a service (in exchange for payment or salary), in accordance with established protocols for licensing, ethics, procedures, standards of service and training / certification) definitions of "Professional".) definition.

Jim Pickerell spoke on the subject of Microstock, as noted in the PDN piece, and did his best against Lise Gagne, who talked about how great it was to be among the most prolific istockphoto producers, after she herself was used to paying several hundred dollars per use for images during her time as a designer - a job she got fired from because she was spending so much time making $1 images for microstock. As she kept talking, I kept thinking "I know that that image that you sold for $1 left so much money on the table you'd be retired in Fiji with what you could have earned licensing even a tenth of those images for traditional rates".

I was asked to speak again this year and update attendees on the subject of Orphan Works, and I was asked to present opposite Vic Perlman, General Counsel and Managing Director of ASMP. I thought twice, and then three or four more times, about that idea, but since my proposed presentation topic on the state of search engine optimization in our field, and how things are evolving (I had a great plan to talk about some of MSN's value to photographers) got nixed, I accepted, after trying to talk to two other people about being there instead. Given my serious criticisms of the ASMP position, and my otherwise appreciation for the work they do in so many other areas, I preferred to talk about SEO, but it was not to be. I felt that much of the audience, albiet experts in the field of photography's many facets, likely knew little about the legislative process, so I opted to spend 3-4 minutes of my time giving people a primer on it, and then get into all the problems of the current version of Orphan Works. Both Vic and I agreed that the chance of the final bill getting all the way through and headed to the President's desk for enactment was highly unlikely, we did disagree on the extent to which the bill will look different in it's final form from what it looked like now. Backstage Vic and I discussed other issues on copyright unrelated to this, yet there were a few folks (and I'm guessing from ASMP) that expressed a concern that I might attack ASMP onstage, as if, somehow, I am an unreasonable person. Hmmm, not sure why those that had those concerns felt that way, but that had never been my approach. In fact, with the vast number of problems with the current version of the House bill that I believe are fixable, and my interest in conveying the legisltive process primer, I had my hands full with talking about that. So, if you were among the two or three people reading this that had that concern - I'm sorry that I didn't live down to your expectations. Of note was almost the complete absence of panel discussions this year - the differing perspectives Vic and I presented on the status of Orphan Works could have been augmented with the perspective from the other side - someone from the libraries or museums. Yet, in the end, I felt that people's attention was drawn to this serious issue of Orphan Works, and that has a net positive benefit in the end. If you're interested in the changes that I discussed, and how they would take the form of amendments to the 5/8 version of the bill, send an e-mail to orphanworks-AT-photobusinessnews.com and an autoresponder will give you a link to download the PDF. It's a fairly extensive and exhaustive 30 page document.

One of the things that was presented here were visual stimulation and insights from Frans Lanting, reknowned nature photographer and Melina Mara, from the Washington Post. Against a heavy backdrop of mind-overfowing information on the state of the industry, and peeks into the future, both presentations provided a left brain break to allow the right brain to get in some exercise, and both were appreciated by me.

The audience seemed to be made up of about 20% full-time photographers who rely on getting and keeping paying clients to pay their bills (as differentiated from people who produce products or services to be used by photographers but also are photographers themselves) and a presentation by Skip Cohen, of WPPI on marketing to photographers was engaging and entertaining. I am guessing that the CTO's, company Presidents, and CEO's on hand were not as engaged as I was. I certainly enjoyed what Skip had to say. He said he was condensing into 10 minutes or so a four hour presentation he normally would do on the topic, so that tells me to tell you that if you're somewhere where Skip is doing that four hour presentation, make sure you don't miss it.

Other things that were amazing was the demonstration of the PhotoSynth application, which it was said, could be released as early as this Fall. I will be among the first to get my hands on it - it's an amazing application that would cause me to upgrade my aging PC and just so I can install and use it - for that reason alone. I also concluded that adding a Windows Home Server (currently only available in the US through HP) is on my to-order list when I get back to the office. A $599 or so cost for the ability to access my data back in the office - even in parallel with Apple's Back to My Mac capabilities - is a small price to pay, in my opinion.

Also something that I really enjoyed was the impromtu breakout session (that actually happened during lunch on Thursday) with half of the Expression Media team. They talked about the current version, and listened (and took copious notes) from the feedback that was provided. If you're a Lightroom or Aperture evangelist, don't count Expression out - they have some amazing plans as they move forward.

Also of interest was the presentation by David Reicks, on behalf of the Stock Artists Alliance, on metadata, and how it is being handled by several of the big agencies. I'll write more on this later, but suffice it to say that it was an eye opener on a Thursday afternoon that kept my attention.

Josh Weisberg did an excellent job of shepherding the speakers along (including me, when I ran 3 minutes over), posing good start-off questions of each of the presenters after each presentation, and minimized the "we're running behind" issue that so often arises at conferences like this - that was no small feat.

I was able to have about 80% of the offline conversations during the breaks and reception that I wanted to have. As I was leaving for the airport, Neil Latham, who was the ever-so-patient speaker liason, thanked me and said he looked forward to seeing me at next year's summit, if not before. Me too, Neil. I look forward to the next Summit - it provided an abundance of insights into the future, and learned perspectives on the state of our industry.


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