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The Little Camera That Could
Have low-cost “selfie” cameras cast a dark shadow on commercial photography?

by Zack Seckler

Photographer Justin Paget provided these shots to Corbis in response to a brief the stock photo company sent out to regular contributors that emphasized the importance of capturing beautiful, candid moments—those everyday, unstaged, slice-of-life scenes that mobile photography lends itself to. Images with this amateur look and feel are tagged with the term "Instagram," which is searchable across all categories on

Photographers who are dependent on licensing their images and staff photographers at publications are among the first to feel a tangible effect, as the increased supply of imagery has brought about a significant decline in the price that media outlets are willing to pay for professional images. But the much broader effect on all visual professionals results from how much the aesthetics of UGC have saturated our visual culture, especially through social networks like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. The fact is, UGC captures something that traditional advertising has struggled to achieve: authenticity. As a result, the big ad dollars are going toward professional content that’s shot like amateur content. “More than ever there’s this increased value in depicting real people through candid moments in natural settings,” says Amber Calo, a visual trend spotter who works as senior manager of creative intelligence at Corbis. “Unless it’s product shots or you’re going for really high-end conceptual photos, staged imagery and more traditional photography is becoming quickly outdated.”

Some ads have become nearly indistinguishable from amateur video. Just look at the top videos on YouTube and you’ll see a ton of branded content shot in the raw style of UGC. But is blending in a good idea? “Brands should only make their content seem like it’s user-generated if it makes sense for the specific concept,” says Jacubovich. “When used incorrectly, viewers can sense the effort is just an opportunistic trick. Since it has become such a trend, many brands end up losing the personality and style that sets them apart.” In the long run, she says, “I don’t feel competing with people’s true stories, songs and creations is what brands should be doing.”

Claudia Monaco of Monaco Reps, a 30-year veteran of the industry, believes we are only beginning to see the effect of user-generated imagery on commercial photography. “The immediacy and mobility of our phones has directly influenced photographic composition, and the fresh look of ‘real’ lighting and ‘real’ people, albeit hip people in cool places, is finding a place in advertising.” Monaco is quick to note, however, that “professional photographers are still behind the camera,” citing examples such as the many Marc Jacobs campaigns shot by Juergen Teller. “The product, or the branding, still needs to be protected,” she says. That may be true, but at the same time, our visual culture will continue to be influenced by all the new content that consumers can produce.

Recently, I came home after a photo shoot and swapped my DSLR for a GoPro. I strapped it to my forehead and promptly began to tickle my one-year-old son. We rolled around on the ground, laughing, smiling, making funny faces—having a grand old time. Later that evening, as I watched the footage, I melted. The images of him shot with my professional gear are wonderful, but the footage from this wearable camera offered a level of intimacy that was entirely unique. As I watched, I thought about the millions of consumers out there who aren’t professionals, who aren’t used to making powerful imagery like this, but who now can create some-thing special, without even reading a manual.

GoPro is now the best-selling camera in the world, and the company is slated to go public this year. The profound effects of this technology on our industry are still playing out. Nobody knows how much this little camera will change photography in the coming years. “I think we’ll see more marketers using wearable devices to capture the world from the perspective of a celebrity, athlete or someone behind the scenes at a VIP event,” says David Griner, social editor for Adweek. “[We’ll be] using wearable tech more as a way to give exclusive access to content most of us couldn’t produce.”

One thing that’s almost guaranteed: the more visually sophisticated and engaged consumers become, the more visually educated our culture becomes. It’s like learning about the subtleties of art, music or wine—the more people learn, the more they appreciate quality and inventiveness. This cultural shift will likely increase demand for high-quality visual content across the board. I think it’s safe to say: it will be a win for us all. ca Seckler
Zack Seckler ( is an award-winning commercial photographer who enjoys putting an uncommon twist on common situations, creating images that inspire humor and imagination for such clients as Bank of America, GQ, New York, Travelers Insurance and Vicks.