Keep Your Eyes On The Road
In the business of photography, knowing what's ahead will keep you ahead.
Normally when I speak about technology, people immediately think of drones and the latest 100mp camera or the newest 8-core MacBook Pro. It doesn't surprise me when I come a across and old pro from the 80s and 90s reminiscing about the old glorious film days and how they were able to be a "real photographer" back then. But what really shocks me is that once in a while I will come across a young photographer that has the same resentment for a modern photographer's workflow which includes a lot of digital manipulation.
Like it or not, the work of a photographer now includes thorough knowledge for software like Photoshop, Final Cut, InDesign, Illustrator, or even Maya or Blender. You may not need to use it in your work but you need to have an understanding and understand how your work contributes to the work done with these applications. The truth of the matter is back 30 years ago majority of people were using photographs for news print and magazines. In fact, maybe just an earlier 10 years from then, majority of the world was still using hand drawn artwork for billboards (may sound surprising for most of you in the western world but yes it's true). Nowadays, the usage for your digital photos have numerous uses. Without making me painfully listing out the actual uses for digital photography today, it's obvious while demand for digital photos have increased so have the different uses for it.
It used to be that a photographer just needs to be able to shoot a photograph and ensure that it's in focus, doesn't clip and understands the subject that needs to be featured. However, if this is your sales pitch, I can only say "Good Luck." In 2020 not only does your photoshop skills need to be pretty good you also need to understand what other people will be using your photos for. For example, how is the product packaging designer using your photo the cereal box? or how the video editor prefer you to shoot in front of a green chroma key or a different color? You can argue, and say "I don't do photoshop and know any of the other programs you mentioned, and I am doing fine." However, I can tell you that the next generation of photographers will not only have photoshop and final cut skills but perhaps solid knowledge for 3D rendering and design. If you plan to stay in business after ten years from today, this may be a concern. If you don't have these skills you will be waaaaaaayyyyyy behind by then.
I know of a food photographer that still insists on complex lighting, and complex food styling regardless of the size of the budget of his client. Sure he does a great job, but quite frankly it takes a lot of time and as long as the photographer wants to make money from his work, it will never be anything close to cheap for the client. For those that are familiar with the world of food photography, well a lot of what you see are now either mockups or 3D renders. It's wise for big brands to use 3D rendering because it maintains consistency and although the technology/skill is still expensive for the time being, but if you stretch out the costs for lets say a 3D can for Coca Cola, it's a lot cheaper than having to hire a professional advertising grade photographer to get perfect water droplets and lighting on the can.
We are now at an era were we are using professional software from the cloud, so get used to the fact that editing your photos is part of your craft. Reminiscing about how photography used to be doesn't help tell your clients how good a photographer you are now. Clients expect a lot more from photographers than they did 20 years ago. So in fact they probably will think less of you. After all how many times have you heard "Hey can you take a video while you are at it?" or "Do you do drone work?" or "Hey I would like to create a a simple website with these images, can you take care of that for me?" You can say "Hey I got into photography to take photos, I don't wanna be a designer, videographer." However, if majority of your competition is offering these services, perhaps that is why business has been tougher throughout the last few years. As a modern photographer, don't resent technology, embrace it.
*If photoshop is already too complicated for you, then perhaps commercial photography is not for you. Being a photographer in 2020 will not be anything like being a photographer in the 80s,90s, or 2000.
School doesn't end for anyone in any industry after college. In today's fast changing world, just being at par with the technology is not enough. You need to be ahead. About 20 years ago, professional photographers were still unable to make the jump to digital photography. Back then clients were still willing to pay for film and the technology in digital cameras were really not quite there yet and lacked the quality film processing had mastered. However, could you imagine proposing shooting film now. You could if your name is Scorsese, or Wally Pfister. We are now at an age where digital medium is changing quicker then ever. From Jpegs to Raw from the early days to HDR video, Eye Autofocus and now what Canon has announced as HEIF (High Efficiency Image File Format). It's a lot to digest for those that are not that tech savvy. This is to say that professional photography today not only forces us to be tech savvy but in order for you to do well you need to keep your attitude about learning in a constant "upgrading" mode.
*For doctors and scientists, the studying and training does not stop after their professional qualifications. You work in an industry that is changing constantly with technology. Either you keep up with what's changing or you should find another business.
I have met also some photographers that are also too focused on a particular line of skill that they have gotten really overwhelmed when the current or future technology proves that the time they have spent to master the particular skill will soon be obsolete. For example, some photographers have this idea that behind a great photo the understand of lighting is key. They are right about that, but what they didn't see is that lighting can now be digitally applied in post and not just lit on set way which is the way they are familiar with. This is already commonly used in 3D rendering and product photography and soon I am sure we will see similar usage of this technology applied in other aspect of photography.
Remember Steadicams? I remember in early 2000s, many people told me that I should invest in a Steadicam vest and take the time to market my services. With drones and gimbals, Steadicam's day to day productions (except if you work on a Hollywood films set) is pretty much obsolete now. Or how about the craze about 3D filmmaking? Do they still sell 3D glasses at cinemas now? I know they still probably do but at least I know if I wanted to get tickets to a really popular showing, that 3D is my best bet. My point is, what may seem very popular today may be gone in a few years. Be invested but also be prepared to move on.
*Don't get too caught up on things that are working for you now. It may not be so in a few years.
Regarding a previous post. Don't spend a tremendous amount of money on technology. At the end, technology has been well known for depreciation, and unless you outlive your peers and live to a point where you can see your stuff being sold a Sotheby's, I wouldn't bet on your gear selling at a really good price. Being invested in technology really means for you to be invested in the knowledge and awareness. More or less, technology in photography today should be considered a culture. By culture I mean that you should be prepared to be always adapting to new technique, or not to be so used to the "orthodox" method of doing things. More importantly being wise in this business, meaning that you aren't overly invested in certain tech that when the day comes that it needs to be replaced you don't find yourself in a position of a great loss. In the past, a product photographer can easily support a family by doing catalogue shots day in and out. Nowadays, work is going to people with 3D rendering knowledge. Food photographers are losing work to food bloggers, because restauranteurs see value in the content of what they right over the pretty images a food photographer can create.
*Investing in technology doesn't mean, opening up your B&H app and buying the latest gadgets. Be aware of trends and where its heading. Trends that will lead your clients better efficiency and effectiveness.
I feel sad every time I speak to an old timer that is struggling to make ends meat in today's advanced photography world, but I also understand why. They still talk about the thousands of dollars they had once spent on the equipment they once had and most likely have now sold. They don't understand that majority of the work that they are nostalgic about is now being done by some kid with an Sony A7, iMac and a subscription with Adobe CC. True, one day I will be sitting with similar photographers reminiscing the same thing, but I want to be the one that chooses when that day comes and not the other way around.
So if you are a photographer, and business is struggling. Think about this. How many times have you seen photos of an event that you shot on social media way before you have delivered the edited final images to your client? If you are food photographer, how many times have you seen restaurants post photos on the web that were shot with a smartphone? How many of you real estate photographers are being asked for videos or even drone work? Photography will never be pure photography itself. In fact, photographers from this point onwards will partly be designers and editors. The client will only pay for effectiveness and efficiency. So how efficient or effective can one be if the client needs to find and extra graphic designer or videographer or editor to get what they consider to be a simple job done? In the past this would not be so, but it's not longer the past.
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