Buying Photos from Strangers

- - Working

When I started working as a photo editor I quickly learned a few lessons up front about buying photographs from amateurs: always ask how they planned to ship the images (we weren’t supposed to give out our UPS account to the non professionals) and determine beforehand what format the photographs might be in when they arrived.

I of course learned these lessons the hard way the first time I was handed the task of locating those awesome photographs the subject of a story always seems to claim his friend/mom/uncle/some dude took that will solve all the usual woes associated with trying to run stories about places no professional photographer has bothered to visit. A couple days would go by and I would call back to find the whereabouts of the images only to discover they’d been dropped in the mail with a stamp (duh, that’s how normal people send shit… not FedEx first overnight) and then a week later when the package finally arrives I discover the cruddy 3×5 prints (or worse disk film) and have to start the whole process over again only this time on a serious deadline.

The value in these otherwise unremarkable photographs was not the elusive subject captured by the writer’s uncle poorly depicted on 1-hour prints but rather the difficulty in obtaining the images and ergo exclusivity our publication would enjoy printing them (surely nobody else would go through all this trouble). In fact that exclusive look at things was so important, magazines with real budgets like People would fly a photo editor to the errant uncles house to gather the 1-hour photos themselves.

This has all changed of course, with the advent of digital cameras and the internet these once obscure, hard to obtain amateur photographs are everywhere and their value has evaporated overnight.

News organizations are picking up on this “citizen journalist” phenomenon as if we haven’t always used citizen journalists to fill in the holes and so I find it strange that they think they’ve discovered the holy grail of cost cutting in photography, because everyone seems to be missing one enormous piece to this puzzle. The value of these images to consumers is also zero.

It’s like walking into the furniture store and finding a junk-ass chair made out of two by fours and ten penny nails. “You’re trying to sell me a chair I could have built… drunk?”

Taking it one step further according to Thoughts of a Bohemian a website called Daylife (here) will scan the text on your web page and deliver relevant news images from a tightly edited pool of wire photography. He goes on to say “As newspapers and magazine are suffering more layouts as ad spending is weakening, most of the photo related professional are turning to the internet. However, because of its built in automation, it just seems that some of the jobs will not be recycle but ultimately replaced by machines. We will still need great pictures, thus talented photographers. Not so sure about needing photo editors.”

I totally agree that using wire photos or even citizen journalist images to “decorate” your story should be accomplished by machines because you’re not really adding anything of value to the overall package.

To all those content re-packagers who think any of this sounds like a good idea: good luck finding readers. Maybe machines will read that crap.

There Are 6 Comments On This Article.

  1. Well that works well, the Daylife web page demonstrates how the can automatically pull a picture of Barack Obama into a spot on the page where he is mentioned. Nice picture too, although I was unaware that Obama played pro hockey for the Penquins! ;)

    Really convincing demo when the photo they show has nothing to do with the subject they are talking about!

  2. Rob – Thanks for blogging about SmartImage! Our API and widgets offer even more possibilities that you may be interested in.

    Dave – I see what you’re talking about. SmartImage is still a very new product for us, and I’ll have someone take a look at this right away. Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention!

    Brandon Watts
    Daylife Evangelist

  3. This makes as much sense as using Google search and letting it write the story.

    While I don’t think this would take off but only within the laziest of blogs… corporate america is looking into replacing more and more skills and in the case of “citizen journalist” we see its more about dollars than quality.

    While we might dismiss it – giving them the proverbial “good luck” we should remember that post 90’s corporate motto is: “look at what one company does and match it!”. Its happen with Airlines, its happen with Banks. As soon as one Airline removes pillows, all the others do… and when they all do – there is no way to bring customer value back…

    So something will have to give at some point :(

    I just hope to never use a stamp…

  4. Does that mean that all those clever, conceptual PEs will have to go and be replaced by those clever, conceptual robots. Geez, I’m just all turned around.

    PE, I mean PS: Evangelists, are those still around. I though those had all soiled their robes back in 99.