Technology doesn’t define us…

…but it is a part of our identity.

I got my first job in this business because the photographer that hired me didn’t understand the concepts behind digital imaging. He knew f/stops and shutter speeds and watt/seconds like the back of his hand. He could estimate flash exposure (without a meter) within half a stop, and his client relation skills were out of this world. But he had just mortgaged his house to buy a digital camera (Kodak DCS460) and he needed help.

That was 15 years ago. Digital imaging was just beginning to become an acceptable alternative to film for some uses. Royalty free stock photography had just entered the market and pulled the rug out from under a lot of photographers. The global economy was finally starting to come out of a recession. Fifteen years later – we’re (hopefully) coming out of recession, microstock has showed up, pulling the rug out from a lot of photographers, and integrated video is once again, to use a phrase from the ’90’s, shifting the paradigm.

Looking at the past few years, newspapers and magazines have struggled horribly as advertisers have cut back ad budgets and shifted to digital marketing. It’s pretty likely that advertising supported print publications are not long for this world. Second, recent product prototypes by publishers like Conde Nast© and Time/Warner show that e-readers are coming fast. And if Apple launches the iSlate (or whatever they decide to call it,) later this month as predicted, and it’s the game changer it’s expected to be, it’s entirely possible that the newsstand and bookstore as we know it are headed the way of Betamax and CD’s. Right now publishers are simply converting their print publications to electronic versions. But that’s soon to change. Audio and video embedded into magazine, book and newspaper articles are only a software upgrade away.

Those photographers outside of the commercial field are by no means exempt. Moving pictures embedded into family snapshots (a la Harry Potter) are currently technologically possible, but economically unfeasible – and we all know how that curve works. Wedding and event photographers are already combining their stills into slide show movies with transitions and background music. Making the jump to embedded video is a logical next step.

As with any monumental change, there will be those who resist, those who adopt early, and those who go with the flow. It’s probably too late to be in on the early adopter phase, but it’s certainly never too late to be a resistor. After all, there are those of us who still shoot film, and are sought out because of it. There are those who make images using oils and watercolors and etchings, and make livings doing so. I expect that there will always be those who make a living exclusively doing still images with a camera, but they’ll be a minority. What’s left is the middle ground of going with the flow. Usually, it’s said, that standing in the middle of the road is a good way to get run over, and it’s true. But what may be worse is not crossing the road in the first place.

A lot of the skills that we’ve learned as still photographers translate to video very well. Composition, lighting and attention to detail are still important. New skills like capturing quality audio, maintaining continuity and compression codecs steepen the learning curve – so get on it and learn. As with still photography, specialized help is needed in some instances. We hire food, makeup and prop stylists all the time in the still world. It’s no different in the motion world, other than you need more people. Freelance editors, script supervisors, line producers and audio technicians may come into play.

ASMP has just published the results of their research here. It’s well worth reading.

Fifteen years ago I got my start because an industry veteran realized that he knew a lot, but didn’t know enough. So he hired some help. That’s a lesson worth taking to heart. We know a lot, but we need to know more. Either learn, hire some help, or get run over.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Hello Steve,
    I find that I am having to constantly reinvent myself and my offerings to satisfy my clients as technology advances through time. I got my start as an Air Force Photojournalist back in the 70’s but I have adapted and embraced the changes that technology has brought into our medium that used to be just called – photography. Now we are merchants of multimedia in order grow and thrive in this new age. At times it seems overwhelming but it also keeps me thinking young. I really enjoy the creative challenge all of this “new” technology. As a commercial photographer we now offer products that we never thought we’d be able to 10 years ago. The biggest challenge for me in this economic environment is balancing the need for new equipment and software while client budgets are down.
    Your article definitely hit the nail square on the head.
    Best Regards,
    Ron

  2. Hello there,

    very nice article, very close to how I see the evolution of things. I am not professional photographer but for now just trying to get better. But as an IT guy, I could say that I have some insight into where things are going.
    I like the Harry Potter style newspaper comparison as I also think that it in one or another form that reality is not very far away anymore and integrating movies instead of static images in all sorts pores of our life seems will become a standard.

    Best regards,
    Dejan

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