Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why I No Longer Subscribe to Outdoor Photographer Magazine

First and foremost, Outdoor Photographer (OP) magazine is nothing more than a pretty picture book. It pretends to sometimes offer advice and help on technique and often falls short. By using banner cover blurbs such as “Landscape Masters Reveal Their Secrets,” which often amounts to some alleged “master” who you’ve never heard of before telling readers to use a tripod and a polarizing filter. Duh…

Though no magazine will ever admit to it, the advertisers have great influence over editorial content since ad revenue is what keeps a magazine afloat, not subscription sales. OP is no exception and the whole magazine is really one, large advertising vehicle, down to ads that are designed look like articles (those are listed in small type as ads). Hence, the editorial content that for all intents and purposes is useless for helping photographers and more helpful for the sellers of products. Products, I may add, that never get critiqued for quality so never a bad review to be seen. If you want to know the worth of camera, lens, or other related accessory, go to the Internet.

The Old Boy’s Club
Not to pick on my home-boys, but this is a male-centric publication. All the monthly columnists, and most of the featured photographers are all exclusively male. The only time you see a woman in OP is when she is a model in an ad. To be fair, they have featured women photographers in the past but they are few and far between.

The Old Boy’s Club extends far past women, as many men are not included as well--such as men of color. That’s right, it’s a white man’s club there. I am a firm believer that photographers of quality should be given proper acknowledgement, but I find it hard to believe that they are all Caucasians. It’s a closed circle and the same faces are seen over and over again in many of the featured articles and the gravy jobs–the covers.

The Galen Rowell Appreciation Society
Before his death in a plane crash in 2002, Galen Rowell was a pioneer of sorts in nature photography, with many national magazine assignments, numerous published books on everything from photography to mountaineering and many prestigious awards. Rowell became the king of “adventure photography” where, you guessed it, Galen Rowell is the star of the show. A famous shot shows him dangling off the side of a cliff, camera in hand. How heroic! (An iconic shot that ironically was taken by someone else other than Rowell.) Rowell and his wife Carol perished in a plane crash in 2002. For many years OP featured his monthly column where to me, he came off as conceited and elitist. And never a year goes by without him getting a mention of one sort or another.

A case in point is when he wrote about taking a group of photographers on a workshop to Machu Picchu. He complained how the place is becoming a hub for Eco Tourism. Ha! As if the group of photographers that Rowell is hiking in with aren’t Eco Tourists as well, just with better camera gear. And of course would not the Great One consider himself a tourist with all of his celebrated jaunts around the globe? Apparently not with an ego this big.

In an OP article published shortly before his death, Rowell discusses not giving out specific locations for where he took a particular shot. He found it necessary to minimize, in his words, the “excessive impact” on the environment in an area. But hey, it was okay from him to go there–just not the rest of you rabble. I can understand his concern to keep pristine places pristine. One hates to be hiking through what resembles virgin territory just to find a Coke can by the trail. Rowell wants us to trust him, and him alone, to be a good steward of nature. He probably doesn’t realize he’s coming off as an elitist. As if the rest of us can’t be as well.

Rowell also benefited greatly from his relationship with OP when he started selling the Singh-Ray graduated neutral density filters. All he needed was a quarter page ad in OP because the editorial department was ready to hype the usage of this alleged superior and certainly pricey ($100) product every time they could. Rowell saw no shame in mentioning the filter in his columns, complete with photographic examples utilizing the filter as well.

And this is still ongoing. A case in point in how this is done is in the December 2010 issue, which featured the article, “25 Pro Gear Choices.” Coming in at number seven is the Singh-Ray graduated neutral density filter. Who was the professional photographer endorsing it? The esteemed Art Wolfe, another member of the Old Boys’ Club, who just happened to have one of his landscape shots (yes, mountains reflected in a lake…once again) on the cover of the December issue. Grease those palms, boys! Actually, sort of amazing considering Rowell is no longer around to see the benefits of the endorsement though his heirs probably do. At OP he’s like Elvis…never far from the heart!

And it doesn’t end with Rowell’s death. They’ve brought in his son Tony to write articles and showing off his photos. It’s akin to the NBC losing their beloved news personality Tim Russert from a sudden heart attack and then later bringing in his son Luke to be a talking head. It’s a sign of a “special” relationship going on–a very tribal thing. I don’t see how this benefits anyone except those living in the closed circle. It’s almost like they are paying homage to a fallen Hero.

Having said all of this, Galen Rowell was a photographer of some merit though what he lacks in artistic vision, he makes up for in technical prowess. With his passing, OP lost a lot of its Green prestige that Rowell brought them having been so deeply involved in the environmental movement and promoting awareness through his photography and in his well-written articles and books regarding ecological issues.

The Theme Issues
There is the annual landscape issue, the “ask the Pros” issue, the Fall Color issue, the Holiday Buyers Guide issue and the list goes on and on, the same themes every year, the same thing said every year. That is a good reason not to subscribe anymore. One could do a one-year sub, stack the issues in a pile, and you would have all the information you would ever gleam from the publication.

I always thought the fall color theme issue was the biggest letdown of the year. You’ll get a beautiful cover with gorgeous fall leaves. On the inside, you’ll usually get one article–that’s right one article–regarding shooting pictures in the fall season. It will be the usual fluff piece telling you to use a polarizing filter. The rest of the issue resembles any other issue. It’s disappointing and misleading to the reader, as it basically offers nothing of substance.

(A good example of this is the October 2009 issue. One article is about filters for use in shooting fall color. And of course, Galen’s filter gets a mention as do the other advertisers.)

The End Result
I don’t begrudge the owners of OP (Werner) for wanting to make their magazine successful. But in conducting operations this way they are not helping out the end reader with fluff pieces, non-critical product announcements and featuring the photographic work of a bunch of middle-aged white guys who often use their column space to promote their business interests. It all results in one, massive conflict of interest of which the participants have no shame.