Photography Times…They Are A Changing

When the same theme strikes in three’s, the Universe is telling me I have to write about that theme…

Number 3: Today’s What The Duck:


Number 2: An article I found a few days via Photography Voter about estimates that there will be 130 Million Digital Cameras by 2010.

Lyra Research issued a press release back in January estimating that by 2010, there will be 130 million digital cameras shipped world wide (and this doesn’t include camera’s embedded in cell phones). Just last year their research showed that 96 million cameras shipped, an increase of 21% from the year before. They don’t specify how many of these cameras are “pro-sumer” or “professional” level cameras (I assume you might be able to get that data if you subscribe to their service), but looking at the camera stats from Flickr (setting aside the potential statistical flaws) I don’t think that really matters.

The quality of the cameras are being raised across the bar. Just look through some photos on the photo sharing sites and investigate the EXIF data from those images that really catch your eye. How many of them are from “point and shoot” cameras? More than you would probably have guessed before hand… Now how many are from “pro-sumer” cameras? The vast majority…

The fact is that the bar of entry into photography is low and won’t go back up. There is still a skill factor involved, but just the mass quantity of cameras combined with the law of averages means that great photos are becoming more and more common place. [I’m purposely setting aside the discussion about image saturation and it’s side effects in today’s world…]

Number 1: Jim Goldestein’s post today about Has the Photo Market Been Irreversibly Altered?

Jim and I talked about this subject briefly last week when we had a chance to meet in person in San Francisco. I think the answer to his question is a resounding YES. (See the previous two points)

To be a professional photographer today is one of the most challenging businesses. Especially if your still in your “break through” phase–trying to get yourself established and build your brand/customer base. Established photographers have their base of customersfor their revenue steams, but even they can only ignore the market trends at their own risk.

Lets look at the market pressures that are coming to bear (there are multiple factors that I see as being connected in a matrix, so you might have to re-read this list a few times to understand all the connections) :

  • Saturation/Lower Cost of Product: product can be further broken down into a few key categories:
    • Images: with the popularity and recent market extensions of the social photo sharing websites, access to images (and increasingly very high quality images) is easy to obtain. Some say we are living in an image saturated world…and it will only get worse. These sites become great ways for an undiscovered photographer to obtain a name and get wide exposure. At the same time, there is a lot of “stuff” on these sites and so it’s still work to separate the wheat from the chaff (though the search capabilities are improving). Whether they admit it or not, these sites have also help enable image theft. With leads to the driver behind these sites sites moving toward licensing of images for stock usage (on behalf of the photographer). Though the method of pricing is still debatable and it’s still unknown if the stock buyer’s in large are ready for self-service stock photography.
    • Cameras: prices for medium and high quality photos are dropping all the time. This make them more accessible to the general public. Likewise, shipments of these cameras are increasing. If just having the camera is a hurdle to be a photographer, the hurdle is pretty darn low…
    • Printers: When you have large corporations like Canon, Epson, and HP all trying to sell more printers, their marketing engines can do amazing things. The saturation of camera sales increases the market drive and competition. The competition drives down prices while driving up quality. For a reasonable price, anyone can own a printer capable of printing high quality photo up to and beyond 8×10 in size.
    • Photography Services: Want to print bigger, or cheaper on demand? There are multiple services to choose from. Less than $100/year will get you a professional photo website. Want to get published? Pick a website or online photo competition. The past 2 years has seen a huge mushrooming of services geared to photographers (hand in glove with the camera shipments).
    • Blogs, Forums, and Communities: Remember when Fred Miranda was the forum everyone seemed to go to? When DP Review was the source for camera info. When Photo.net was the best photography community? Every day there are new photo related blogs, forums, and communities to get involved with. With the increased number of camera owners, this is natural. For people who are self-learners, these expanding sources enable them to “get up to speed” with photography much easier. This also has been offering new outlets and revenue streams for the astute ‘professional photographer’.
  • Increasing Demand for Online Images: The “new guard” media is all about online publishing. The “old guard” media is finally accepting online publishing and putting additional focus on it. What does this mean to photographers? One, more images are needed (increased demand). Two, images don’t have to be as high of resolution and possible not as high of quality (lower expectations). This, coupled with the saturations mentioned above, means more opportunities for non-professional (i.e., semi-professional, enthusiast, even hobbyist photographers).
  • The Internet Bubble: This is the one that I don’t hear many people reference. One of the qualities of high tech worker’s is their ability to quickly learn and master new technologies. When the Internet Bubble burst, there were a lot of high tech worker who were either out of a job and/or frustrated with the high tech trap. Pair this with the innate (yet hidden) creative nature of some high tech workers, and digital photography makes a perfect place for them to focus their efforts on. There is a high percentage of photographers that I know who come from a high tech background. The online nature of sharing digital photographer dovetails into this. Thus we have a sudden surge of photographers who can learn quickly and innovate a market space.
  • Lowering Cost of Images: The stock photography market is continuing to undergo change. First microstock dropped the cost of images. Next came Creative Commons and even free images. These dovetailed with the lower cost of entry point to produce images along with the lower resolution needed for web publishing and the eagerness for a new generation of photographers to get their name out there. This same generation weren’t professional photographers (they didn’t’ need to support themselves on their photography alone) so they were happy take less pay for their work. Digital technology also allowed them to produce more work, so in their eyes it all evened out.

To summarize: yes, the photography market has been irreversibly altered. There isn’t a photography vertical (i.e., wedding/event, stock, travel, assignment, portrait) that isn’t affected by one or more of the factors I listed above.

Does this make me upset? At one level, yes. I would love nothing more than to be able to make a living by my shutter button. I think there are a lot of ‘camera owners’ out there who still don’t know what it means to be a photographer. And a lot of photographers out there who don’t understand even the basic design principals of photography.

But, on another level I understand that the reality is we live in a knowledge based economy. Technology’s constant is speed. Since we have let technology be the master of us, we have to change and adapt in order to survive. Maybe I see this more than others since I come from the technology industry.

The world of photography has gotten a lot bigger and a lot smaller at the same time. There are more photographers taking on average more photos. Basic business principals still apply of finding your customer and re-enforcing your brand. Will we be able to go back to the days where high quality images were valued more? I doubt it, the change in the use of the images won’t allow it.

So, how does a photography survive? That is the subject of an endless discussion.

When it comes down to it…being a photographer is part of who most photographer are. To me, just because I don’t support myself entirely with my photography doesn’t make me any less of a photographer. In the end, all you can do is be true to yourself and do what you enjoy. Sure, all these changes to photography are challenging the process of making money doing photography. But I still pickup my camera a shoot. (And I like to see the challenges are opportunities…)


4 thoughts

  1. I’m sort of part of that Internet bubble. I was a web developer and a technical project manager for 10 years. After staying home with my children for a year I decided to take a different path which lead me to my new children’s photography business. I definitely feel like my ability to learn new products and technology quickly has helped considerably…now I’m trying to get the art part down.

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