How to navigate new territories during the Digital Disruption

How are we supposed to know what direction to launch ourselves when we are facing a digital industry that evolves every time we blink? The idea of Making Great Images will always apply. That’s what makes us professional, it’s a given and something that needs to be a cornerstone of our work habits and ethics. But beyond that, how are we to navigate what once had a reasonable and straightforward path towards success?

The Old Days

Even before the collapse of stock photography, there was a method to success. Maybe you worked on staff at a newspaper or did editorial work for magazines. Maybe you ran a large commercial studio shooting products or catalog imagery. Maybe you shot food or architecture. There was once a travel photography market that opened up new opportunities in addition to paying your bills. Those days are gone. They’re not coming back and don’t expect them to, but this isn’t about doom or gloom, this is about how you save yourselves as well as an industry that needs to survive.

The Problem

So, if you are one of us who may be left with fewer answers than ever before about how to survive and thrive, well, join the party. Embrace the fact that you don’t know and are not trained in modern ways. That’s been a reality in every industry that undergoes a fundamental change. Deal with it. What I find fascinating is how we as image-makers, that think of ourselves as part of the creative class, fall into the rut of being extremely inflexible when it comes to changing with the times. Resistance is surely part of our nature, but as creatives aren’t we the ones that should be full of energy and have little fear? When challenged with creative problem solving for a client we are motivated and energized. Why don’t we treat our business matters that way? It’s that simple. Take a step away from yourself and try treating yourself as if you were your client. Identify the problems you are facing getting your work in front of new markets. That’s the first step. But what are you going to do when you find yourself working with next-generation clients and how are you going to meet their expectations?

Creating Digital Solutions

So, maybe during your latest shoot, you created this brilliant set of images for the coolest client. Besides client usage, where are those images going to be seen, and by whom? Can your work go viral and reach outside of its intended space? Or are you aiming to be selling yourself like a celebrity and be hired as the guest Instagrammer at a hipster media event? What about producing short videos that find themselves on Social Media the same day they were shot? How about making images for those distracting Digital Billboards that light up the Interstates? What about revisiting 360 degree VR or better yet, creating Cinemagraphs?

Some of these scenarios may be familiar, but even if they are foreign, your Oldest School clients, the ones that think in Jurassic, will eventually be replacing their marketing & communication directors, or people that act as their art buyers.  They create newly titled positions that haven’t been thought of yet. But for sure, the new blood will understand how to reach the Digital Generation, we all need to keep up with them.

How about this? Rather than study the market you are trying to reach, perhaps it’s best to become the market you are trying to reach. Constantly read about every visual trend. Be curious. If you haven’t Smartphoned yourself and seriously started shooting with it, just do it. Use Social Media to connect and communicate. Imagine the ways your work can be used, especially in ways that aren’t conventional (we don’t want to be viewed as Jurassic either) so when that call, email, or text message comes, you’ll be able to exceed your client’s expectations.

Previously published on ASMP’s Strictly Business Blog.

John Welsh is usually found on the East Coast, most likely in Philly doing some ASMP chapter-related related things, while navigating the ever-changing photographic industry landscape…or something like that.

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