Sabin Russell Science Writer


A Not So Good Photo of a Great Moment, in Great Light

 I wondered this morning how much better this shot of a rainbow would have been had I used a quality camera, and not just an iPhone.

I wondered how much better this shot would have been if it were taken, say, by Fred Larson, my former colleague at the San Francisco Chronicle, who like me, is now freelancing in the brave new world without big-enough newspapers.

Fred told me once that a great picture is just a combination of the right moment and the right lighting. That's the professional view, because the right equipment and the right photographer are already in place.

Which gets me to the question, can we really expect to always have the right photographers, with the right equipment, in the current environment of journalism? Not so sure about that. Read this, from yesterday's New York Times:


By the time Matt Eich entered photojournalism school in 2004, the magazine and newspaper business was already declining.

But Mr. Eich had been shooting photographs since he was a child, and when he married and had a baby during college, he stuck with photography as a career.

“I had to hit the ground running and try to make enough money to keep a roof over our heads,” he said.

Since graduation in 2008, Mr. Eich, 23, has gotten magazine assignments here and there, but “industrywide, the sentiment now, at least among my peers, is that this is not a sustainable thing,” he said. He has been supplementing magazine work with advertising and art projects, in a pastiche of ways to earn a living. “There was a path, and there isn’t anymore.”

Then there is D. Sharon Pruitt, a 40-year-old mother of six who lives on Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Ms. Pruitt’s husband is in the military, and their frequent moves meant a full-time job was not practical. But after a vacation to Hawaii in 2006, Ms. Pruitt uploaded some photos — taken with a $99 Kodak digital camera — to the site Flickr.

Since then, through her Flickr photos, she has received a contract with the stock-photography company Getty Images that gives her a monthly income when publishers or advertisers license the images. The checks are sometimes enough to take the family out to dinner, sometimes almost enough for a mortgage payment. “At the moment, it’s just great to have extra money,” she said.Mr. Eich and Ms. Pruitt illustrate the huge shake-up in photography during the last decade. Amateurs, happy to accept small checks for snapshots of children and sunsets, have increasing opportunities to make money on photos but are underpricing professional photographers and leaving them with limited career options. Professionals are also being hurt because magazines and newspapers are cutting pages or shutting altogether.

“There are very few professional photographers who, right now, are not hurting,” said Holly Stuart Hughes, editor of the magazine Photo District News.

So, that's an excerpt. I recommend the whole thing. It raises a question for me. Had I not had the iPhone, I would not have been able to share this pleasant picture of a good moment with great light on Bernal Hill this morning. And you, my one or two readers, would not have seen this. But we are going to miss something important if we trade quality for quantity in the images we use to document our lives. I miss you out there, Fred.


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Posted by Sabin Russell

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  1. Make that three readers, Don Sabo. Nice pic. How did we survive without our Iphones before? It’s like having a miniaturized Junior Woodchuck Manual in your pocket at all times. Gnarly.

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