Public vs private

While I was scanning old family photos, I was struck by the difference between the studio portraits and the album prints. There is a distinct difference with how my grandparents displayed them. Family snapshots went in the albums. Studio portraits were framed and displayed in the house. My memories of visiting my relatives also include seeing all the portraits on walls or bookshelves.

Despite the gradual amateurization of photography and photographic equipment, we seem to still cling to this distinction today. It may be harder to distinguish yourself as a professional, but consumers of photography desire professional photos as much now as they used to.

When I look at people’s homes, I see school portraits and wedding photos on display. I have to look through albums* to see the birthday parties and vacations.

*Or Facebook or Flickr. Or on the fridge door. Or, increasingly, on a cell phone.

All of which goes against the standard narrative that professional photography is gradually dying. More people may be photographers now. But the photos we frame and display are still pretty much unchanged from what our grandparents did decades ago.

It’s tempting to say that the photos people display are the professional ones since those are the best quality. But I think it’s the events. We commemorate certain events—especially those which are child or family related—by taking photos with the express intent of displaying them in our homes. And we prefer that those photos be taken professionally.

There’s still a huge demand for professional photos but too many professionals are getting hung up on the  concept that “anyone” can be a pro now. Too many professionals may also be completely misunderstanding the market.

Take, for example, Pinterest. Photographers don’t quite understand it yet and it’s tempting to dismiss it as having a lousy return on investment. It’s not a portfolio site to share your own items, you use it to pin and share what you like and aspire to. That the kind of photography people are willing to pay for happens to be the same kind of photography which a lot of Pinterest users like seems to be flying over a lot of photographers’ heads.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

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