Paulina Johnson
Creating Value Within the Digital Marketplace


“The digital revolution of the last decade has unleashed creativity and talent in an unprecedented way, with unlimited opportunities.” -PressPausePlay

Technology is a beautiful entity that has many advantages; at the same time, it has radically shaken up multitudes of industries. The digital landscape of our society has altered the way we define intellectual property, the way we engage in commerce, and the way we communicate as a whole. Technological advancements have removed the barriers to entry that a traditional gatekeeper would serve to uphold. Anyone with a keyboard and a blog can become an author. These authors can self-publish, or even earn their way into a publisher’s heart with the content of their blog, or via the following that they may have developed online. Musicians have access to recording tools and devices that dramatically quicken the production process. These tools were once previously available to a select few. For many musical artists, YouTube has facilitated the process of becoming discovered-- a feat that used to result from playing numerous shows in lounges and coffee shops.

Prior to the digital age, prestige was awarded to artists only after they received approval from gatekeepers.
The art of photography has been especially affected by the proliferation of technologies. Digital cameras and editing software have become accessible to the masses. The integration of digital cameras and cellular telephones has contributed to the image-saturated culture in the world today. Facebook users upload 300 million photos to the social networking site on a daily basis (Ianotti). Annie Leibovitz has called the camera phone “the new pen and paper,” adding that “[using a camera phone] is how we’re taking notes” (Ianotti). Imagery as a medium of communication and personal documentation has not been as ever-present as it is today.

This ubiquity of images leads some industry professionals (i.e. gatekeepers) to question the integrity of the work that is being produced, now that the methods of production and distribution are available to the masses. With images embedded into our daily lives, many of them created on iPhones, Instagram, and the like, do the Cindy Shermans and William Mortensens of our generation exist today? Does ease-of-access to creative tools reduce the quality of work produced? It is true that the photographic industry has become a saturated marketplace for photographers, ranging from seasoned professionals, to “momographers” and “clickin’ moms”, “Uncle Bobs,” and “weekend warriors.” Pierre Bourdieu has described photography as “a middle brow art,” and this is no less true today.

Others assert that the fact that images are embedded within our daily lives is an asset--that this makes images even more valuable in this day and age. The fact that we are an image-making, image-loving culture means that images, image-making technologies, and image-creating education are in demand. Giving a greater number of people the tools to be creative means that more people will value creativity and its application into various art forms. One might argue that more of the general public is becoming more discerning when it comes to art and design; take the success of Apple, which is renowned for its commitment to design, for example.

Many creative professionals reflect upon this concern and its effects on their respective industries. The documentary film PressPausePlay features interviews with “some of the world’s most influential creators of the digital era” to address the question of whether democratized culture gives rise to better art, or whether it drowns out true talent? (PressPausePlay). The commodification of creative industries has led to the problem of earning a living from an artistic trade. How can one become successful at monetizing artistic ability within today’s digital landscape? The key to commercial success--the convergence between art and business--lies within innovation. Artists are rewarded in many ways, including monetarily, by adding value to the world (more specifically, to their target market). How can one add value? By innovating. Innovation must be applied in various ways: in how an artist presents himself, within the technique of his work, in the structure of his business, and in how he interacts with others in his industry. These key features are especially influential in the photographic industry.


“Every business in our industry is scrambling to find their niche and redefine their business plan. Those that are not will be gone in less than two years. It’s simple: innovate or die!”- Salvatore Cincotta, wedding and portrait photographer

Many photographers wish to create art that has meaning, but also wish to positively influence those who come into contact with it. A creative genius helps no one if his ideas never leave the pages of a notebook and materialize. Innovation, or the materialization of “something different that has impact,” is the answer to the artist’s wish (Anthony 16). In spite of this, many struggle to innovate within the photography industry due to their possession of false beliefs about innovation, how to to bring it about, and why it is necessary. A photographer must have the right mindset in order to innovate and survive within the industry.

When one reflects upon innovation, figures such as Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs come to mind. Many assume that innovation is a gift awarded to a select few who often spend much of their time alone in a laboratory concocting brilliant ideas. By placing these innovative figures on a pedestal, many disassociate themselves from the process of innovation. Innovation is necessary for each of us--whether we are in business or not. Believing that one can and needs to innovate is the first step in distinguishing oneself in the marketplace.

The common misconceptions about idea-creation serve as another roadblock that keeps people from innovating. It is an unfortunate myth that one needs a completely novel idea in order to be innovative. Some theorists argue that innovation cannot be entirely novel because many ideas are extracted from other sources, whether these derivations existed prior to the contemporary age, or exist within the same time but in a different discipline (ex. combining cinema and portrait photography).

Me, with Chase Jarvis. Shoot NYC convention, October 2012
Me, with Chase Jarvis. Shoot NYC convention, October 2012

Innovation requires passion, persistence and tenacity. As commercial photographer and director Chase Jarvis succinctly put it, when you are competing among thousands who want to be a successful photographer more than anything else in the world; you have to have passion to make money; you have to have the determination to bring your ideas to fruition” (Jarvis). Innovation requires a willingness to fail. Failure is a part of innovation and those who fear it cannot move forward. Entrepreneurship is not for those who risk-averse and content with stability.

Chase Jarvis and Vincent LaForet, ShootNYC Convention, October 2012.
Chase Jarvis and Vincent LaForet, ShootNYC Convention, October 2012.

We have established the necessity of innovation and the personal characteristics necessary for one to distinguish oneself. But how exactly does one innovate? One must focus not on being better, but on being different. When I asked Chase Jarvis specifically what photographers need to be doing in order to innovate, he responded by saying that listening to the intuitive, creative voice inside is the key to innovating, and is the key to our success. Traditional business models are broken and we can’t necessarily stick to the script of what someone else says, especially if it doesn’t resonate with our own style. Being true to ourselves and working on things we’re excited about is what makes us different and is what puts a different spin on the industry. (Shoot NYC). Another way to be innovative is to continually allow oneself to be inspired from other genres, industries, and disciplines--in other words, have an interdisciplinary mindset. This kind of associational thinking is what breeds ideas that may not necessarily have never been done before, but are different and recombinatory enough that they they bring about sense of novelty in those who experience them. (Anthony 33). Creative people have a reputation for being able to do this inherently, which gives photographers a distinct advantage if they can capitalize upon it. Mastery of skill is important and almost goes without saying, but you also cannot depend on broken models that rely on technique alone to position oneself higher in the market.

One danger that innovators face is becoming content when they reach their benchmark of success, and failing to continue to invest in things such as research and development. In his case, it is easy to succumb to the idea that “If it worked in the past and got me here, it will work in the future...Why can’t I just keep doing what I’ve always done?” Harvard Business Review author Scott D. Anthony puts it succinctly when he writes, Success requires waking up every day and realizing that today’s sources of competitive advantage will not be tomorrow’s; that the products or services that constitute the core of today’s businesses might not constitute the core of tomorrow’s business; that success might require walking away from the things that you view as your core competency” (Anthony 28). This mindset is essential to innovators, and to all who wish to profit from their photographic skills. In relation to photographers in particular, investing in research and development would take place in devoting days to business planning, inspiration, and following the inclinations and dreams that they have for their businesses.


Innovation can also happen through personal work and devoting oneself to a cause larger than oneself. These videos detail this process:


In order to understand how artists can earn a living and add value to the world through their work, one must understand the notion of intellectual property. Intellectual property gives artists ownership over their work and ideas. It protects them from copyright infringement and other issues related to the illegal appropriation of their ideas and content.
Not only are there a numerous amount of photographers, but many of these photographers imitate each other in terms of posing, lighting, scenery, etc. How many portraits of a person can one count that were taken with the person sitting on railroad tracks?

Embedded with the concept of intellectual property and ownership is the notion of the author. Though artists have an inherent ownership through their works through copyright, few artists make the effort to register their works with the U.S. Copyright office. If these creative professionals are not asserting their authorship through legal institutions, what are they doing to counteract the threat of commodity?

The rise in the importance of establishing a personal brand may be the answer to this question. The influence of branding can also be analyzed through lens of a “culture of personalities.” This theory states that our culture has shifted from a culture of character to a culture of personality, in which we are driven by charisma (Cain).


“The brand is the promise, the big idea, the expectations that reside in a customer’s mind about a product, service, or company. Branding is about making an emotional connection.”- Alina Wheeler

An economist would assert that markets are driven by scarcity, but how can one create scarcity in a digital age that is driven by ubiquity? Many photographers have answered this question by asserting themselves in creating a personal brand. Entwined within the concept of a brand is the story. A brand is essentially a story about oneself, one’s business, one’s art. It describes how the art came to be in existence and what ideas and values that a company stands for. No matter what the product or service, consumers latch onto strong brands when they can identify with the story or purpose being given.

Many photographers are starting to recognize that photography is a very emotional art. Portrait and wedding photographers realize that their subjects often have an emotional connection with each other, and instead of focusing on technology and features, they now place a higher emphasis on creating an emotional experience for their clients in their marketing, and part of this experience is illustrated by their establishment of a personal relationship with their clients.

Content marketing is another innovation that enables photographers to establish themselves within the industry. In the video interview above, Tim Ferriss notes a model of sharing that has increased in use today among many mediums, but especially in the photography world (video:18:00). Many creatives are participating in a form of content marketing: giving away free content that they want to be shared, which establishes them as leaders in their field, while retaining a high user experience for those who wish to engage with them on a more personal level and pay for their time and experience. One example of this today is the idea of blogging and vlogging-- offering one’s expertise and accessibility others’ expertise for free, while offering books, video tutorials, and workshops for purchase. Ferriss described it as “giving away your best content as a way to introduce people to your work and to drive people back to your other work.”


“Prospective clients know exactly who I am. The minute you showcase your personality on the web, clients will start to listen to you. When people listen to you, they begin to trust you; and when people trust you they begin to feel safe by endorsing you, and when they endorse you you have a healthy and wonderful business. And this, my friends, is priceless.” -Jasmine Star

external image jasmine-star-magazine.jpg?w=590

Jasmine Star
Jasmine Star

One wedding photographer is particularly well-known for championing and successfully implementing the idea of establishing a personal brand. Her name is Jasmine Star: she started her wedding photography business in 2006 and is now an industry leader. By enabling others to connect to her struggles, triumphs, and personal quirks, Jasmine developed a persona, unique to herself, that thousands of photographers and clients alike have fallen in love with. Her vulnerability became her strength, as it enabled her readers to recognize that she was “real”: a living, breathing person with the same fears, dreams, and struggles as the rest of us.

When one is so willing to put so much of oneself out there, she is simultaneously attracting and repelling potential clients, which is a positive thing. This strengthens the power of a personal brand, because a brand can also be defined by what it is not. When one is repelling clients (but still attracting some!) it shows that one stands for something, whether that is a distinct way of interacting, a personality quirk, a style of shooting, etc.

Jasmine discusses the importance of sharing and social media in her success, but it is easy to look at the technology of sharing from a practical standpoint while in the process, losing the meaning of establishing a connection through sharing. It does not matter “whether we’re talking about a tweet that gives customers permission and a platform to discuss a product candidly, a campaign that gives aid to struggling communities globally, or a mobile website that allows people to experience a story remotely, for any brand to truly make an impact and create culture in the 21st century, it must take a “humans first” approach, forgetting questions like “how can we leverage social media?” and focusing on creating media that is at its core, social” (Casicotta). Branding requires the establishment of a connection with the artist, yet innovation must also take place within the customer’s experience with that artist and his or her business practices.


“Price is only a question in the absence of value.” -Sue Bryce, glamour portrait photographer

Embedded within the idea of personal branding is choosing an area of specialty, something which many photographers struggle with. This principle is reminiscent of the old adage, “the jack of all trades is a master of none.” This is the foundation of the boutique business model: a model that prides itself on producing businesses that provide customised products, services, and experiences for their clients. Photographers who photograph maternity sessions, families, weddings, pets, and landscapes under one umbrella are not specialized enough to run a boutique studio. Boutique businesses often operate on social norms over market norms, meaning that the relationship between a photographer and her customers is put above certain issues that may arise. This article by photographer Vanessa Joy further explains this concept.

Sue Bryce: an example of building a boutique business
Sue Bryce: an example of building a boutique business

Boutique businesses recognize that competing on price is a losing battle. There will always be a photographer offering their services for a lower price (ASMP talk Shoot NYC). Photographers are notorious for competing on price, yet in today's culture, price is not the best determiner of value. As Sue Bryce stated, "price is only a question in the absence of value." If photographers create value through their art and service by innovatively introducing new products and a higher level of service, they should not be in a price competition with others.

Some argue that when it comes to running a profitable photography business, business skills can be more crucial than photographic talent, especially depending on the market one is located in. Particularly in commissioned portrait work, many photographers find that their favorite images--the ones that they are most proud of--are not necessarily the ones that the client buys. As long a photographer is producing work that is appealing to a group of people, there is a place for him in the market. It is up to him to establish the value of his art and the service he provides, somewhat regardless of what his competitors are doing. Boutique businesses enable the power of a brand to shine through.
Does having an individual style of photography that may not receive accolades from the gatekeepers of the photographic industry reduce the prestige of the industry? Or, is this debate inconsequential if this person is profitable and is making a living off of their art and service? A recent article entitled, “The Photographers You Idolize Are No Better than You” explores the topic of experience as it relates to being able to make great art and have others identify with the artist.


There are some whose creative process is reminiscent of artisanal standards; yet, this is another method of distinguishing themselves (whether done intentionally or for the sake of personal work). This artisan-like quality is similar to embedding an artist’s fingerprint within each of his creations.

The video below details the process that photographer Jeremy Cowart takes in creating unique pieces of experimental portraiture. Much of this process involves a remix and hybridity of different styles, resulting in the finished image.


“What was the difference [between successful business and not]? The losers launched Web sites. The winners launched vibrant communities...The losers jealously guarded their data and software interface. The winners shared them with everyone.”- Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, Wikinomics (Lessig 221).

Within the photographic industry, many people who rely on a scarcity model and constantly complain about the newbies and amateurs saturating the industry are deemed as “grumpies.” However, most of the successful photographers recognize that they did not make it as far as they have, alone. It took a network of people working together and sharing ideas to help them become successful. These collaborative communities have the intent of “bringing the industry up together,” instead of tearing it apart with negativity and competitiveness. Sharing knowledge amongst one’s community also contributes to their personal brand because he will be seen as a reputable source of information. Many photographers attempt to do this via a “For Photographers” section on their blogs, detailing their advice for different issues that industry professionals face.

Many educational communities exist within the photography community. One of these that stands out is creativeLIVE. The video below gives an introduction to this online, worldwide creative classroom that was recently nominated for the “Best Education Startup” by Tech Crunch.

Creative Live is a community of practice based upon the idea that sharing, instead of the scarcity of knowledge (reserved only for those who can afford formal education or individual mentorship) will propel the industry forward.

Many of the underlying principles in the idea of communities of practice are similar to those championed by Larry Lessig and his innovation of the Creative Commons. These communities of practice are similar to creation nets. Creation nets “employ a set of institutional mechanisms designed to mobilize independent entities in the pursuit of distributed, collaborative, and cumulative innovation” (Brown and Hagel). Instead of thriving on a competitive, often destructive spirit, “the game becomes using our knowledge as a way to connect more rapidly with others to create new knowledge” (Brown and Hagel 11).


“The future of work is not balance. The future of work is innovation.”- Chase Jarvis

There is no quick, easy, or simple way to distinguish oneself in the marketplace. No one can prescribe a formula for others to follow, because each artist brings his or her own individual qualities and strengths into the market. It could be considered a blessing that creativity is not able to be formulaic or replicated from person-to-person. Instead, it is a process of discovering who oneself truly is, how to reflect that in one’s art, how to find customers who identify with this conception of self, and how to portray oneself to this lucky audience. Due to the fact that there is no simple route to prestige and prosperity, it is important to consider the many variables that affect one’s ability to find success within the photographic industry. Many photographers are aware that their businesses have slowed, due to the accessibility of camera technologies and amateurs who lack business sense devaluing the craft of photography business sense in the industry, as outlined in the introduction. They are taking the necessary steps to innovate by niching themselves in the market, providing specialized services, and differentiating themselves by their product offerings. Within the past decade, it has become apparent that “a camera does not a photographer make.” Photographers need more than technical knowledge if they are to survive in the current economic landscape of the industry. A strong sense of self, sound business and marketing knowledge, and a willingness to go back to the drawing board in the face of trouble will help photographers navigate their way to economic success in the industry.


Anthony, Scott D. The Little Black Book of Innovation: How It Works, How to Do It. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review, 2012. Print.

ASMP presentation (lecture, ShootNYC October 2012)

Bryce, Sue. (blog and CreativeLIVE course: “Inside the Glamour Studio”)

Casciotta, CJ. “Branding with Humans in Mind.” Web.

Iannotti, Lauren. "Who Snapped This? You Did." Glamour Dec. 2012: 87-97. Print.

Brown, John Seeley, John Hagel. "

Bourdieu, Pierre.

Cain, Susan. the power of introverts (TED video)

Cowart, Jeremy. Lecture, "Making a Difference with Your Camera" Photo Plus Expo, Javits Convention Center, October 2012

Cowart, Jeremy. Imogen Heap video __

Harrison, "__The Pictures Generation, the Copyright Act of 1976, and the Reassertion of Authorship in Postmodernity__," Art and Education Paper, June, 2012.

Jarvis, Chase, Vincent LaForet (lecture, ShootNYC October 2012)

Jarvis, Chase, Tim Ferriss. Interview.

Jarvis, Chase. Larry Lessig, Richard Kelly, Oleg Gutsol. Interview. "The future of photo sharing."

Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.

PressPausePlay, documentary.

Shutter Magazine.

Star, Jasmine. Youtube and Exposed Magazine.