20 October 2013

Embrace the Pain... State of the Industry 2013

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."
~ W. Edwards Deming

One of the benefits of subscribing to Rangefinder Magazine is the end of year report they do on the State of the Industry, (sourced by  IBISWorld), usually in the October or November issues. One thing that remains consistent with trends from last year is the steady decline of customer's need for pro photogs for various reasons. One is the re-prioritizing of disposable income where photo services may not be as important as other things on people's financial agendas. Wedding, Portrait, and Commercial genres still hold the vast majority of need for new clients and are the largest sectors of the photo industry as a whole. However, even in those sectors of the industry, customers are still scaling back. And commercial budgets have been cut as managers are seeking more ways to slash expenses. People will still need memories and documentation of their events. Companies will still need images to entice us with their new product lines; just less of it. The digital prints that stay on e-magazines, websites, Facebook, Flickr, or the hard drive has become more important than physical prints that go in paper magazines, hang on the walls or sit on the mantle.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
So what's this mean for the pro photog? Demand is declining much like the water levels in Lake Mead. If you drive out to Hoover Dam in Boulder City, you'll notice a broad ring around the canyon walls where the water level has significantly dropped. Those rings are about 100 feet high.Touring the northern end and you can now drive out on larges sections of land that used to be underwater. The nature of photography is definitely evolving, changing, and morphing into something slightly different. Picture production at its core has remained fundamentally the same. We need it. We actually need more of it! But how its done and what we do with the results are entirely different than even when I was a kid. I'm living in a good time. My generation gets to see and recognize the transition. The generation after ours was born into this and don't know anything different. To me, it's actually exciting to witness history!

I call this the Commoditization of Photography (Or maybe its already been called that before.) And like any other commodity, a market has to exist for it. And if a market exists for any given commodity, equilibrium is an essential requirement. And by equilibrium, I mean supply and demand which is governed by that "invisible hand". Think about it. At one point in the life of photography, Supply was limited with a high demand. Photographers were paid well for their services because barriers to entry were relatively high. Cameras were expensive and the skill required to manipulate the camera to achieve a proper exposure and focus was a slow and arduous task made achievable with years of training in both the field AND in the darkroom.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
"If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger."
~ Frank Lloyd Wright 

And then technology happened. Significant advancements started to chip away at those barriers to entry. Leica introduced the first Auto Focus system in a camera. 1959 saw the first production of Varifocal or "Zoom" Lenses. Advancements in film chemistry also contributed to less complexity and skill needed for photography. Smaller sizes, Polaroid film, disposable cameras all inflamed the interest in consumer models. But as we all know, it was the advent of digital technology that ushered in the exponential changes in photography. Highter ISO's. More Megapixels. Dual Pixel Autofocus and CMOS sensors! Those barriers began to break open like the Berlin Wall. "EVERBODY'S GETTIN' INTO THE ACT!!", so to speak. But as I said, all markets require equilibrium. Supply has outpaced demand at a time when demand was beginning to dwindle anyway from other economic pressures. I'm sure you recall your ECON 101. What happens when supply outpaces demand? Prices fall. Things even out again.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
Thank technology for all this. We love it, but its got a mean streak too that we have to also embrace. The trick is being one of the survivors during the photographic market correction and learning to utilize all this new tech to your advantage. And trust me, skill and complexity is on the rise again. More time spent in training is becoming essential. Differentiation is absolutely necessary. You have to stand out from the pack. Photographers are having to learn video, Photoshop, Digital Asset Management, etc, to be better. Clients have higher and higher expectations and when we don't OVER-deliver, we fail them. Its making it so that if you don't love this thing, you're gonna hate it and get out. Then everybody that got into photo for a quick buck starts to look elsewhere because photo has become "too hard".

Embrace pain. The world is so much easier when you do.

Dang! Somebody else used the term, "Commoditization of Photography" just earlier this year!!


Karl said...

I agree and applaud the term "Commoditization of Photography" . A friend's daughter with a good eye can take photos with her iPhone, add some cool app filters and borders and put out some interesting work. I think this is also a democratization of photography. For many who care about the craft, it is easier for them to enter into it and improve their work. I am all for that.

As someone who would not mind making money from it, this makes me improve my game. Like you mentioned it means learn, learn more, experiment, and push my art further.

I also think there are new opportunities by going very specialized, finding a tight niche and being the best in it. Let's say that you are very interested in photographing fine art nudes that have nudes integrated with horses and pastoral scenes. Get to be the best at it. I bet over 99% of the world will not give it a second look, but let's say 1/100th of 1% find that subject matter to be perfect. If you are good at marketing and getting your product to them, give tutorials in how to do it, and leverage all parts of it, you may make a decent income. There are roughly 7.2 billion human souls on this planet. 1/100th of 1% would be 720,000 people that are potential customers. (Please check my math, but the point is that there are lots of people out there with the same interest).

While technology makes it easier for anyone with a camera to be a self-described photographer. That same technology allows us to be much more specialized and find our niches and markets much easier than a generation prior.

Sorry to hijack this, but your post was very inspirational.

Photo Anthems.com said...

All I know is that I'll keep doing my part in this. I just want to keep believing myself, sharing my art, and celebrating other artist's accomplishments. And then just trust that it'll all work out. All I can control is me. To an extent...