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iPad as Portfolio: The Barracuda Complex

May 15, 2010

After just reading yet another story about a photographer utilizing the new iPad as their portfolio, and selling this off as something revolutionary, I felt the need to address this lunacy before it goes any further.

The iPad is not inherently evil, not by any stretch. The iPad is just a new, shiny toy that was developed for entertainment purposes, purposes that have now become a major part of our lives. Movies, games, online streaming You Tube videos of women in bikinis shooting assault rifles, etc, you know the really important shit that we can’t live without.

But like all things tech, this nonessential piece of equipment is the latest fad to sucker in hordes of snappers who think they are now going to take over the world.

Look, there is absolutely no reason to use the iPad as a portfolio, other than you just thinking it might be cool. Hey, that’s fine. But don’t think having your portfolio on an iPad will make you a better photographer. Don’t think it will make you a more viable photographer. Don’t think it will make you a more “high tech” photographer.

You want to be a better photographer, get more jobs? Then take the time, money and energy you are putting out converting your photo-life to the iPad and go shoot some personal work.

Geeks get the majority of air time in the modern photography world, mostly because the tech companies are footing the bills, paying for advertising, etc, so it is no surprise, at least to me, that the iPad has become the flavor of the month.

Again, it is an interesting device, but if you have an iPhone, and a laptop, then why exactly do you need to have your portfolio on this thing? In short, you don’t. You just want it.

Do you really think a person in a position of power is going to say, “Well, this work is okay, but wow, the fact this person is mailing me an iPad over a print book is so cool we should give them the job?” My opinion, anyone thinking this, or doing this, really isn’t in position of all that much power.

On the rare occasions I show to work to power players I typically have two options, laptop or print. I’ve yet to have a SINGLE person choose laptop over print.

I know, I know, I can hear the masses screaming at me in the background, “But Danno, people don’t have time for print books, and the computer is just so much faster.” Or, “Danno, Danno, the iPad is so much smaller than my print book, it will be far easier to view and ship.” What? Are you sending 30×40’s? Get over yourself and modern feeling of bigger is better. The best portfolio I’ve ever seen was 8×10 vertical. And guess what, the images were really frickin good.
Ever wonder why the industry is in such sad shape? Ever wonder why the quality bar has dropped so low? Ever wonder why the value of imagery has fallen to current levels? Faster. Overworked. Stressed. Yep, it’s all connected. Personally, I think if you are meeting with someone who can’t take the time to look at a real book of prints, images, and feels SO rushed they have to punch a button on a keyboard as opposed to flipped a page…why are you working with this person in the first place? Is this a comfortable work environment? Do you want that same frantic relationship come shoot time?

Again, in the past few years, on those rare occasions when I met with a gaggle of editors, etc, I’ve always found the most beneficial meetings have been with folks who are in control. They didn’t have their Blackberry in their hand. They weren’t sitting next to a ringing phone. And they surely were not concerned about me having my portfolio in electronic form. The meetings were set up SLOWLY, over time, by proving to them I could provide UNIQUE CONTENT, not a power sucking portfolio.

And while I’m on this soapbox, and my voice seems singular in a forest of millions, if you are under the impression that the iPad is the future of photography I think you are in for a long and harsh future. I keep hearing this, that online content is the future, and that photographers, by the thousand, are all going to be creating stills and motion and their own content, and then selling this to the masses. You have to be kidding me. Again, if I’m doing it, and your doing it, and every single one of our friends are doing it, then where is the value? How on Earth will there be enough money to go around to support even ten percent of the photographer population? Can someone please tell me? What I see is a world that continues the trend of work for hire, work for free and photographers giving away every single position of power they ever had.

Also, if someone can find a single human being under the age of 30 who will willingly pay for online ANYTHING I would love to meet them, and then sell them to a museum for future study.

If I’m not mistaken, the internet, globally, is associated with free. FREE, FREE, FREE, FREE. For crap sake, porn is free. If there is ONE thing in the WORLD I would guess people would pay top dollar for it is adult content, and now THAT is free.

So now I’m going to support myself on charging for my online imagery. Man, I really wish this was doable, but I just can’t see that working. Ask the New York Times how easy that is.

Recently, I’ve been informally surveying small groups of people in regards to their online habits, mostly workshop students and college photography students. So far, I have a grand total of ONE person who said they would be willing to pay for content. And every single person under 25 has just looked at me like my hair was on fire.

People when is the Coolaid going to wear off? I’m going to call this the “Barracuda Complex.” I’m not talking about the Heart song by the way. The barracuda is a fish that loves shiny objects, so when you are snorkeling you might want to take off that wrist watch. Photographers are like barracuda, we love that next piece of gear.

But folks, the ONLY thing that will save you as a photographer is your work, your imagery. And within that statement, the only thing that is going to really save you is making your PERSONAL WORK your COMMERCIAL WORK. If you can produce unique content, RETAIN THE COPYRIGHT, RETAIN THE RIGHTS TO THE WORK, AND THEN LICENSE THAT WORK AT A SUSTAINABLE and LEGITIMATE RATE, you MIGHT have a future in photography, a future that in my opinion will have little to do with an iPad.

My last thought on this mess. If you put your best image on a t-shirt, then attended Photo Plus in NYC, and then walked around that magaziny area of the city, you would probably be showing your work to a lot more people. Have fun, good luck.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2010 8:34 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. The same principals apply to all those desperately creating Facebook Fan pages, twitter accounts, and the insistance on a Flash-based website. If you have nothing uniquely creative to offer in the photography world then none of the above will save you. You will only be viewed as the “darling of the moment” then quickly tossed into the dustbins of history.

    • May 15, 2010 9:00 pm


      It’s a strange thing. Sometimes the noise of these endeavors can translate into somewhat massive following, thus you have a lot of folks heading in that direction. I think the novelty of something like iPad as portfolio has a very, very short life, and in many cases is simply a distraction from the actual work. But, our industry has changed so much that distraction now seems to be a solid part of the process. Thanks for reading.

  2. May 15, 2010 9:59 pm

    Very, very true. This is the struggle of today for photographers who enjoyed the process of image making. Like making a table from scratch. The process should be somewhat painstaking. Otherwise, what is it good for.
    I am under no illusion that the “old” way of making images is a luxury. The problem is, is that people just don’t care about quality anymore. They care about the Linsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, chihuahua love triangle they can read on their ipad.
    So a solution?

    Be like Larry Towell and be a farmer/photographer. Do what you know is right, and to hell with the rest. For now.

    • May 15, 2010 10:05 pm

      A love triangle is a beautiful thing, only made more beautiful by the high resolution of the iPad.

      Actually, you bring up an interesting point. I think A LOT of us, perhaps even myself, would be far better off NOT working as photographers. I think the ultimate goal is to make your own work, and how you do that really doesn’t matter much anymore. Do whatever makes you happy, and then create your own work on the side. When you do this, you are no longer dependent on anyone else to make the imagery, and when you make pictures they are made based solely on your creative drive, not the limitations of the modern photography world.

  3. May 16, 2010 10:23 pm

    So true, Dan, what you said, and what Larry Towell IS. I guess that’s why I haven’t given up my my day job…

  4. Leigh permalink
    May 18, 2010 2:30 am

    I too have slowly come to realize “life isn’t fair or just”…fighting the very idea every step of the way.
    I’d actually would really love to hear more about how you choose the projects you pursue as well as your own process while shooting your projects of choice.
    I’m not talking too much about the technical choices but more of the aesthetic ones of who, what, where, when, how and why.

    • May 18, 2010 2:34 am

      Hey Leigh,

      Okay, I’ll write something about this. Projects are the best, just hard to finish!

  5. May 26, 2010 2:45 pm

    Hi Dan! Once again hit the nail on the head! I’ve had a bunch of people asking me about when I’m getting my iPad. You should see the look I get when I say that I’m not! I love my iPhone and don’t consciously leave home without it – what would I need an oversized iTouch for?!?

    Keep it up and hopefully I’ll see you someday soon! I believe that I owe you a beer or two!


    • May 28, 2010 2:06 am

      Hey SS,

      I hear ya. I’m seeing more and more of the things, and I’m sure people are going to love them. I think the key I keep hearing is “when this thing is an actual tool I will love it,” but not it is more toy than tool.

  6. May 29, 2010 5:20 am

    I love the ipad. It looks cool. But I have an iPhone and a laptop so I don’t have one. If I carried a backpack with me everywhere I went it would be useful for those rare impromptu opportunities to share my work. As you said though. People book me because they can see and touch my albums. If I didn’t need to show them those people would be booking straight from the website. If I can’t show people what my product is going to look and feel like I leave it up to their imagination. Not normally a good idea.

    • May 29, 2010 9:01 pm

      I think the ipad will be cool in a few years when it becomes tool over toy. I still prefer to look at prints. If it’s printed I see a different level of thought involved, typically, not always.

  7. May 29, 2010 7:47 pm


    You speak the truth … the more I gravitate towards shooting personal work the more I feel the connection to something real — problem is I find it’s easy to dream up a project but it’s hard to implement (for me). I got bills to pay. I’d love to read a post where you discuss concept to reality … I ramble.


    • May 29, 2010 9:12 pm

      Robert, funny you should ask…I just wrote a long post about doing projects…..but, instead of it running on Smogranch, it will be part of Finite Photo site, a fine-art photography blog out of Santa Fe. I think it will answer SOME of your questions, not all, and might surprise you. 3 days next week, working on a project, sleeping in my car, real glamorous.

  8. May 29, 2010 9:09 pm

    It’s hard not to be “the glass is half empty” here. I’m in the trucking industry, 20 years ago if you owned your own truck you could make a ton. If you got in with the right company you would get 5 week vacation, have amazing benefits and take home killer cash. Now with a flood of workers willing to work for less, with companies farming out there fleets you are getting less pay, less benefits and all around less respect from the industry as a drive.

    I see this in the photography industry now. With the shear mass of imagery you see every day (like you pointed out with the iPad), the general public has become immune to it. The publishers are getting away with pushing less quality in the norm. There are still bastions of great work out there (Vanity Fair covers and such) but those are only open to the top 2% of the shooters out there.
    Add to this the influx of shooters willing to shoot for less or for credit the middle lane is becoming very bad for photographers.

    This is happening in my field of weddings as well. The middle market is eroding and soon you will have to pick whether you want to shoot part time and cater to the budget brides or pull up your pants and have a go at the top market.

    Work is number 1….You are so right with that. If you want that top market, you want that Vanity Fair cover you have to get the hell outta that middle lane and you do that by setting yourself apart and being the better shooter.

    The trucking industry is dead. What do you expect from a career that only takes 3 months of classes….anyone can do it. But, the photographic industry doesn’t have to follow down the slope. I hear a lot of people crying out for the old days where you can take one picture and live off the royalties…The good ol’ days….Sorry, they are not coming back. Blame the part timers or the shooters willing to work for less. Blame the buyers demanding more control, more usage or out right copyright ownership. The real trick is to evolve with the times and find more creative ways to make the money. The public is the one pushing this and there is no fighting the public…Just ask the music industry.

    • May 29, 2010 9:23 pm

      Right on the money, just read Smart Money and a small story regarding freelancers working for $5 per assignment. I took a quote which went something like, “Anyone can produce average work.” Most clients now are fine with average work, heck, even below average. But, the key is make your own content, it is the ONLY thing of value. What is the point of working for something else and making pictures that everyone agrees are not great. You might make a buck now, but then have nothing to show.
      I’m going out on a limb here, but I think a lot of us would be better off NOT working as photographers, then really digging in and making ONLY our own images. After a while, year, two years, you will amass a serious body of work which might have some real value. I’ve been thinking this way for a while now. Not sure if I’m crazy or misguided. Both?

  9. June 2, 2010 12:48 am

    Oh man that hurt. I really wanted one of those iPads. I was trying to justify it by putting portfolios on it and being cool. But the truth is I knew all along I didn’t need it for that. Thanks for the perspective and for the great blog.

    • June 2, 2010 5:45 pm


      You used the word “wanted.” Hey, go for it. Want and need are two different things. I think the machine is cool, will be better in a few years I think, but my point was we don’t really NEED these things. I was reading about photographers who were touting their own brilliance in thinking they were going to blow people away by putting their portfolios on these things, as if this would make them more relevant. I think that is just BS, but hey, just one guys opinion.

  10. June 3, 2010 11:59 pm

    Wondering if you know of any food photography workshops in CA,UT,NV or AZ?

    • June 4, 2010 3:18 pm

      Hmm, that is a good question, food workshops. I would look at Julia Dean Workshops in Venice CA.

  11. June 4, 2010 5:21 am

    Honestly, I considered trying the iPad as a portfolio. Not for speed, bragging rights, none of that. (I didn’t even realize that it was such a fad even…) Fact is the images look better backlit than on paper. I’ve proudly spent hours and hours color correcting images for my printed portfolio, and I’ve proudly lugged it around. For me it isn’t about saving money, saving time, or even trying to be revolutionary… I just think it might be fun and interactive way of sharing my images. I’d be more likely to have it in my bag, whereas my portfolio is only brought out when I’m going to show it. I never thought it would make me a better photographer – good pictures are good pictures, whether they are on an iPad or in a printed portfolio. 🙂 While I don’t think it should replace printed portfolios, I don’t think it’s a bad option either. Each has its own purpose.

    • June 4, 2010 3:14 pm

      I think the iPad is just another option. Could work for some situations, not for others. I’m meeting with someone this morning, bringing four books and one magazine. Would never bring electronic portfolio to a meeting like this. But, last week, used my iphone to show work to someone while I was on a plane.
      What I get tired of hearing is the hype regarding new electronic equipment, whether that be a computer, or new software, etc. This stuff doesn’t make you a better photographer.

      • June 5, 2010 5:48 am

        oh i agree. the advent of “easy hdr” software makes me die a little on the inside each day.

      • June 5, 2010 4:01 pm

        that is really funny. I recently saw a presentation of work and someone had done the HDR stuff and it reminded me of cotton candy for some reason. There were some uncomfortable glances.

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