Lessons of the Footless Gull

Several years ago, before the days of digital photography , I was walking on the beach with my camera, throwing bread to the seagulls along the shoreline, when one particular gull caught my eye.

At first I wasn’t sure, but closer inspection confirmed it: this seagull had no feet!

Of course I began to wonder how the gull had come to loose his feet. Visions of a shark attack from below as he floated on the Atlantic, or an unfortunate encounter with a tangle of wire fishing leader left behind by an inconsiderate angler came to mind.

Eventually I realized, though, that it didn’t matter how the bird had become footless. The amazing thing was that he had come to terms with his misfortune and had found ways to rise above it! He swirled and swooped with his fellow gulls above me battling for scraps of bread. He settled to the sand and rested on his knees when he became tired, then lifted effortlessly airborne when he chose to take flight. Sure, there were some differences between this gull’s life and the lives of his fellow flockmembers. For instance, I doubt that perching on a powerline was no longer a part of his life. But still, he didn’t seem to mind and went about his business as if he was no different than the birds that surrounded him.

A few years after my encounter with this footless seagull, digital photography came onto the scene. At first I thought I would not like it and was uncomfortable with the idea of no tangible film negative that I could develop and store securely in my files. Before long, though it became apparent that digital was here to stay and I began to embrace the technology.

Time went by and, as we all know, the business of photography was changed irreversibly and permanently. Image quality became better, cameras became cheaper. More and more photographers, talented and not-so-talented, were able to afford better and better cameras. The pool of available stock photography for purchase exploded and prices plummetted.

Here is where the footless seagull speaks to us. Some photographers chose to keep trying the same old things in hopes that they would work and their business would return to the levels of the past. Other photographers complained about how unfair things were and that no one understood the value of their work, many going so far as to putting down their cameras for good and moving on to other professions. The realists accepted the changes and realized that in the marketplace, a glut in supply means a diluted demand and lower prices and that ultimately the buyer decides what a product is worth. These photographers went about the business of finding new ways to create value for their photography. Whether that meant niche marketing, becoming a master of photoshop technique, or learning cutting edge SEO and online marketing strategies, these photographers found a way to survive.

So as I stand here in 2011 after almost 30 years in the business still holding a camera in my hands, I consider myself a colleague of that footless gull from many years ago: when my feet are cut out from underneath me, I’ll keep looking for ways to survive!


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www.bcpix.com is the online home for the photographic archive of Florida-based photographer Brian Cleary. At this portal not only can you search and browse an ever-growing collection of photography covering more than 30 years, but many of the images are available for online purchase as editorial images, commercial images and/or personal use prints.