Photography: Selling Dreams

December 05, 2012  •  2 Comments

     I spent Tuesday of this week at a Scott Kelby seminar in Sacramento. For $99, I was one of some 500 photographers who spent the day elbow-to-elbow in a large conference room, watching a presentation on Lightroom 4 by Matt Kloskowski.

     There is no doubt about it: the presentation was excellent. And well it should be - Kloskowski has given the seminar dozens of times. He is a terrific and entertaining presenter, fine photographer and fully knowledgeable about Lightroom. And yet, something about the day made me uneasy.

     Let's put it like this: while Scott Kelby's books were among the first I bought when I got serious about photography, and I've watched many of his online tutorials, the seminar was the first time it dawned on me that the affable Mr. Kelby is more than a helpful photographer. He is the head of an immensely successful enterprise which offers books, DVDs, seminars, conferences, services, the works.  His surrogates offer highly-attended seminars on a variety of photographic topics all around the nation.

     At this seminar, along with the instruction on Lightroom, there was an ongoing undercurrent of sell - for $99, join his organization, NAPP, for ongoing access to seminars, tutorials and insider info. Buy the latest books and DVDs. Become, in short, a member of the Kelby universe and stay on top of everything you need to know to be a fine photographer.

     I do not mean this as a criticism of Kelby. I am a capitalist! He is the most successful in this realm, but he is not alone. Photographers have become a lucrative target for a mega industry of seminars, software, equipment and travel.

    Today's top professional photographers have recognized there is real revenue to be made from - and let's not mince words here - people like me who are, at least for now, photographer wannabes.

     I've been a part of this for a couple of years now, but something about this seminar, perhaps its scale and slickness, stopped me in my tracks.  I suddenly realized I was there in two capacities. As a student, and as meat for the machine.

     There is no question that excellence in photography requires on-going learning. We need to understand the artistic elements, such as composition and subject, and technical subjects, including the operation of complex cameras, editing software and printing. There's a lot to know, and there is ongoing change.

     But what has struck me is that there is a  mega industry out there with the hidden agenda of convincing us all that the learning never ends, that there is a depth of knowledge we can never achieve. And so we must go on photographer-led trips, buy new software, take classes to learn how to use it, and seek feedback on further improvement. Not to do so is to risk failure.

     All of this is true to a degree, but each of us must step back and ask to what degree it is true for us as unique individuals.

     Take the software. There's Photomatix, Topaz, Nik and many more, all offering amazing enhancement opportunities. There is an implication that any good photographer is capable in all of these, but I am growing less certain about that. Ultra-enhanced images appear in marketing presentations, online "wow-me" galleries, and photography club competitions. Where else? I am not sure. But I'm suddenly aware that this is an important question.

     I certainly have a lot of learning ahead of me. I do it best in smaller seminars offered by groups like Sacramento's Viewpoint Gallery or through photographers like Terry Nathan whose work and teaching style I admire.  I am thinking more carefully about my own goals. Is it to be part of a group? To share images with friends or online? To do fine art? Editorial work? Stock?

     My own clear understanding of these questions will help me interact effectively with the big machine out there whose business is to foster a society of photographers who yearn to learn. That machine can definitely offer value, but for those who wish to become something more than photographic acolytes, it must be managed with care.

     I left the seminar to take rainy night photos of one of the area's most-holiday-decorated homes. Back behind the lens of my camera, I felt more at ease than I had all day.


Toy Shop


Wayne Kelly(non-registered)
Hi Michele,

A thought provoking piece indeed.

I was going to attend the same Lightroom seminar and for whatever reason procrastinated up until it was too late. I had also, due to the budget limitations of this economy, allowed my membership in Viewpoint Gallery to lapse over the past year. I think your blog gave me the answer to a problem that I was having right up until that last moment before missing the seminar. The question being...would the $99 be a wise investment given the fact that I have already taken several Lightroom classes taught by local photographers that I actually know, and greatly appreciate right here in our community. The "no" answer that was already in the back of my head is suddenly confirmed. That $99 will be happily sent off as a membership renewal to the good people at Viewpoint as a wiser investment with much more rewarding dividends. Instead of feeding the Machiavellian machine I will opt for the right thing to do, and certainly feel better, but also open the door to perhaps even elevating my photography skills to a higher level through a year's worth of solid interaction and personal relationships rather than being sardine canned for six hours in a hotel banquet room.

As usual thanks for the inspiration that you provide to the local photographic community.


Wayne Kelly
Kelly Design Group, LLC
Local Landscape Architect &
"Wanna-Be" Fine Art Photographer (or appreciator thereof)

Your closing paragraphs are spot-on! The mega-machine you speak of very much does create its own market, one that any "wanna-be" photographer is guilty of being a part of. It is this "want" - whatever it may be for each unique individual - that we each must manage carefully, unless we, too, should become, in your words "photographic acolytes".

Great perspective on a subject that's at the heart of a question that's been vexing me for some time - thank you!
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