If you listen to the word on the street in the photo business, you hear a lot of bad news – the stock photo industry is collapsing; the wedding photography industry is oversaturated; photojournalism is dead; in these hard economic times, people aren’t spending any discretionary income on family portraits, wedding photography, fine art prints, and photography in general; photography is becoming commoditized; and so on.
Despite the dire pronouncements, it’s not all doom and gloom. I see a lot of bright trends on the horizon. Today, let’s talk about some of the good news I see coming down the pike.
1] Visibility to a larger number of viewers is becoming more accessible
Some of my pictures online have been viewed literally millions of times. It’s much easier to get photos in front of millions of sets of eyes, and in front of a large number of potential clients, customers, and business affiliates, than it was when you had to personally give or send physical copies to each one.
2] Transaction costs are dropping
Not too many years ago, you had to send an original slide or negative to a client, to go to print – with all of the packaging, shipping costs, and waiting time in transport that this entailed. Now, you can FTP a picture file to a client at the touch of a button. Likewise, clients had to pay you by mailing you a check. Now you can directly invoice the client through a service like PayPal, and the client can pay at the touch of a button, with the money immediately transferred directly into your account. Moreover, these services reduce or eliminate the costs of currency exchanges. All around, the friction and the costs of transactions are dropping, making it faster and less expensive to do business.
3] International markets are becoming more accessible to small photo businesses
Whether it’s for Brazilian textbooks or Cambodian billboards, the internet’s increased access to international visibility, and decreased transaction costs, are breaking down barriers and opening up international markets.
4] Copyright compliance is coming to the untamed internet frontier
As I’ve mentioned, before, web hosts are taking the Digital Millennium Copyright Act more seriously; tools for finding photography copyright violations are more available; Google, Amazon, and others, are taking a harder line with copyright violators; and greater copyright order is coming to the wild world of the internet.
5] The world’s overall need for photo content is rising
The number of people in the world is increasing, and so is the number of businesses. We’re becoming ever more photo oriented. The world’s hunger for photos is growing.
6] Content consumption devices are on the rise
Devices like the Apple iPad and the Amazon Kindle are becoming more popular. These kinds of devices tend to have less memory, less processing power, lesser keyboards, etc., than personal computers have. While they’re by no means completely crippled, they are more oriented toward the consumption of content than the creation of content. Content consumption devices are greatly on the rise, right now. With them, distribution channels for photo content for consumers will be developed, and will be growing, in the near future.
For example, four years ago, e-book readers basically didn’t exist; two years ago, e-book readers were low resolution black and white, and not a viable outlet for photo-heavy books; now, they’re in color, and higher resolution, and they’re starting to become more viable for photo content.
7] The technical quality of photo devices is increasing
Cameras are becoming higher resolution, lower noise, greater bit depth, and more color accurate. Printers are producing better prints, with greater consistency. And so on.
8] Technology is putting more creative control in the hands of the photographers
Ten years ago, most photographers handed their film to a lab to have them develop it. Similarly, most of them let photo finishers do the printing for them. Nowadays, with the digital darkroom replacing the wet darkroom, most people are processing their pictures, themselves. Likewise, more people are printing the pictures, themselves, on printers at home. Even those who process the pictures, themselves, but then send them off to a photo finisher for printing, have the ability to calibrate, match profiles, etc., and gain more consistent output from the photo finishers. With film, I never liked turning my film over to a lab for development and printing, because: no matter how good they are, nobody else has a better feel for how I want my pictures to look than I do. Nonetheless, I regularly had others do it for me, because I lacked the resources and expertise to do as good of a job, myself (and I strongly disliked the smell of the darkroom chemicals). Digital technologies are more conveniently putting total creative control of the development and printing back in the hands of the photo makers.
9] Smaller picture files are becoming more marketable
It used to be that, if a picture was a little bit accidentally unsharp, or if it needed to be cropped too extremely in order to have a decent composition, then the picture likely had no commercial value. Nowadays, more and more market possibilities are opening up for rather small picture files. You can crop severely, or re-size an unsharp picture into a smaller but sharper one, and use it at a smaller size for things like iPhone and iPad apps, digital projection, website advertisements, and the like.
10] Photo gear prices are rising more slowly than the rate of inflation
In a sense, this means that photo equipment is becoming less expensive. For example, in 2002, B&H Photo was selling Canon 600mm f/4 IS lenses for $7,999, if I’m recalling correctly. Now they’re selling them for $8,400. That might seem like about $400 more expensive; however, when adjusted for inflation, $8,400 dollars in 2011 is equivalent to $6,930 2002 dollars. So, from an inflation-adjusted constant 2002 dollar perspective, the price went from $7,999 to $6,930. Similarly, with most other photo gear.
In sum, photo needs are rising, equipment prices are dropping, quality is rising, markets are opening up, and the friction which hinders transactions is disappearing. The world is constantly shifting, and there have always been those decrying that it’s the end of the good old days. In some ways, perhaps; in others, the opposite is true.
In the end, the folks at the big companies with the checkbooks are still there, still in need of photos, and still writing checks.
Anhinga Mother and Chick (Anhinga anhinga), Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Florida
All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917.