How Motion is Changing the Future of Photography

Mid-19th century "Brady stand" photo...

Mid-19th century “Brady stand” photo model’s armrest table (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years ago I heard visionary Ray Kurzweil speak at NAB (National Association of Broadcasting).  He was talking about the exponential rise of technology and how that would profoundly change people’s lives – and was.  His focus and predictions were mostly related to the advances we’ll see in medicine, but he relayed an analogy that has stuck with me.  He said:  (and I’ll paraphrase) that if you were in the horse and buggy industry at the turn of the century and thought of yourself as someone who sold buggies and whips, you most likely would  have gone out of business.  But if you were in the horse and buggy business and thought of yourself in the transportation business you most likely would have adapted, recognized that the future of transportation was in motor transport – and thrived.

The thing is, the ones who adapted early on – before the majority did – were the ones who made fortunes.  The ones, who waited until everyone embraced the automobile, either struggled to keep pace with the competition or died out.  I think we are at a tipping point as far as the future of the still photography business.  If we continue to think of still photography and motion as being two separate entities in the business of visual communications, it will be our demise.

Change never happens overnight.  Change is slow.  No one gets to be 400 lbs overnight; it’s a slow process.  But once it happens, it’s really hard to get back on track.  The changes that are taking place in the way we communicate are monumental, unlike any changes in the past.  I used to shoot a lot of annual reports, but not so many anymore.  I used to make a large portion of my income from the licensing of my stock images, but that income has dropped significantly because everyone has a camera and the supply of images is more than the demand.

I’m not an alarmist in predicting this change and in fact for someone my age who is on the tail end of his or her career, I wouldn’t be alarmed at all.  However, if I were just starting out in photography or even in my late 40’s or early 50’s and had another 20 + years ahead of me, I would not be complacent.

Some things still photographers should be thinking about:

  • Understand that there will probably not be a divide between the still photography and motion businesses.  This is really hard to envision because we tend to see things, by looking at the future in terms of the knowledge that we have on hand today.  But with motion cameras able to shoot 96 frames a second, and each frame being good enough to pull out and used as a still image, the changes for still photographers will be profound.
  • The concerns are not like those that a still photographer has had to face in the past, like when digital replaced film or when one needed to reinvent themselves as their markets changed. (For example when car shooters were phased out by CGI artists)  Shooting motion is a different mindset all together.  It also has profound differences in the way you run your business. While a still photographer of today, may find opportunities to shoot motion for their existing still clients, that too is rapidly changing.   I don’t think this will be an option much longer for still photographers. I think that motion shooters will be shooting motion and in the process creating stills as opposed to still photographers providing the motion content and the stills.  Just like a professional still photographer distinguishes his or herself from an amateur photographer who has an expensive camera, so do motion shooters distinguish themselves from the still photographer who seems to have little regard for the craft and knowledge of motion and thinks they will “just” start shooting motion when the time comes. It’s not going to be “just” that simple, especially if you’re late to the game.
  • Understand that technology affects everything and will continue to do so.  You may think  in terms of what’s possible today and that it would be incredibly labor intensive to go through tens of thousands of motion frames to pull out still images. But advances in technology will change that as well in the future. Technology affects everything.   Realize that software is changing too and that the edit process for pulling out frames will be easier and more streamlined in the future.  In fact, an editor’s job description will change greatly and that may be a job that is in high demand in the future. Even now, just do a quick search on LinkedIn and you’ll see that while there are very few job listings for still photographers, there’s a lot of demand for video editors.

Bottom line – start recognizing that photography and video are not separate businesses any longer.  Start understanding that will have an affect on the  future of the still photography business especially in terms of licensing, because traditionally motion camera operators work under work for hire agreements.  While still images won’t go away, that doesn’t mean that still photographers will be creating them in the future.

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20 Responses to “How Motion is Changing the Future of Photography”

  1. I think we are at a tipping point as far as the future of the still photography business Says:

    […] via Journeys of a Hybrid. […]

  2. How Motion is Changing the Future of Photography | Michael John Burgess Says:

    […] Read More: Journeys of a Hybrid […]

  3. Brian Storm Says:

    Interesting comment from Ray that I believe was referenced from here: http://mediastorm.com/blog/2008/12/20/university-of-missouri-school-of-journalism-2008-commencement-speech/

  4. 45SURF (@45surf) Says:

    I shoot stills & video @ the same time during every shoot with a dedicated stills and several dedicated video cameras–recently published an article comparing different methods for simultaneous stills & video & about how I do it:

    http://45surfer.wordpresss.com

    This is the future folks.

    It is useless to stand on the shore and yell at the waves to stop. One must learn how to surf them! :)

  5. Ottmar Says:

    Hi Brian, I totally agree that the change is already here. But please remember that “the decisive moment” is a single frame that cannot be duplicated in film. I’m referring, for example to Eddie Adam’s Pulitzer winning moment of a summary execution of a Viet Cong. Though TV crews were there to record the execution, what remains in most people’s minds is the still image that has the impact to be remembered. The television images are long forgotten.

  6. Chris Says:

    I work in both mediums and I just don’t see this happening. The technical side of shooting both at the same time is riddled with compromises and flat out problems that involve physics. Film looks best at slower rates that blur a whole lot, most still photo clients expect crisp images. That alone is enough to jack this whole idea up, and it does right now. My brother teched on a big dual format commercial shoot. They had a dedicated motion camera (Red Epic) and a dedicated stills camera – neither shot at the same time. The reason: they don’t always play well together at the same time. This is becoming apparent to RED, as they have more or less all but abondoned developing the actual SLR side of the RED cameras (right now everyone is just filming and pulling frames). Just do some research… you can’t use flashes, the sensors are formatted for widescreen cinema, ect… This isn’t as clear cut as so many people make it out to be. Once you get under the hood with all the technical details, you realize they will never truly merge. They are very separate mediums with vastly different approaches. Film requires an army – a still photographer can cut a zillion corners the film guy can’t with a fraction of man power. Even the post end of things is a total joke. You’ve got millions of frames to look threw – total overkill. I can understand the concerns about licensing / business models. Photographers do far better than cinematographers (even unionzed ones) – so that is something to keep an eye on, but I wouldn’t get too worried about this. Sheer physics will prevent most of these types of forecasts from happening. If someone ever makes a camera that can actually shoot the same image at two different frame rates at the same time (one slow for the motion, one fast for stills), then I would say these types of forecasts are extremely valid and something to think about.

  7. Hitting a Nerve | Journeys of a Hybrid Says:

    […] and feeling a little lazy, I shared a link on Facebook to a blog that I had written 8 months ago, How Motion is Changing the Future of Photography.  I didn’t expect to get thousands of hits in 2 days time – it had barely gotten noticed when […]

  8. David Mendelsohn Says:

    Love the quote “good enough “….does that mean that the quality suffers in the current state of the technology. “Good enough” has always equated to “well, maybe no one will notice” in my mind. Perhaps down the road, but simply put, can I currently make an exquisite 30 x 40 print and be proud of it from a single motion frame ? If not, then I think I’ll consider the two very separate entities until that can actually happen.

    • Gail Mooney Says:

      David,

      Good enough for a 30×40 print? It depends on the subject matter you are shooting (something with a lot of motion like a sport) and how you are shooting it – type of camera, shutter speed etc.

      Good enough to me isn’t “well, maybe no will will notice” – I think most folks do notice but don’t care – or don’t have the budget.

      It’s more important than ever, to define your target audience, their budget and what they are willing to pay for.

  9. duckrabbit Says:

    Nice post. However what is unlikely to be true is that 100 years from now you can be in two places at the same time, running around with two cameras. Shooting video and photos is physically totally different in the way you use your body. Photos you move a lot (for editorial). Do this all the time and the video is useless. This is a recipe for bad photos and bad video. It simply doesn’t work. I say that running a company that makes films

  10. Lea Sophie Says:

    thanks for the post, I think it is very true that the two worlds are combining, maybe not that still photographers won’t exist, but I think that clients expect their still photographers to be able to do motion as well. I for one am very excited to be a part of this transformation. I’ve been working on including video editing and motion in my work for about a year now, its hard work, and I think there will be a lot of resistance. But I think creatively the results could be phenomenal!

  11. Past Predictions of the Future Have Been Greatly Exaggerated | Journeys of a Hybrid Says:

    […] I re-ran a blog post How Motion is Changing the Future of Photography, I used a similar analogy, that Ray Kurzweil had given when I heard him speak at NAB.  Ray said […]

  12. Paul Lovelace Says:

    I simply do not agree. Excellent photography is a craft on its own and a different skill to how a videographer would capture a scene. Photography and Video are separate business models and always will be. A good example of this was when I did a shoot for Nestlé to photograph a new product that was being launched. The brief was to photograph the product being prepared and sampled in the test kitchen but they also hired a film crew to shoot a high end video of their latest product with a producer on hand to direct everything. Blue chip corporations are simply going to hire a professional videographer to achieve the results they desire and a professional photographer for the still images they desire. There will always be a demand for photography. Still images are stronger than ever in the world of corporate photography and are in constant demand for use on websites, media campaigns and social media platforms.

  13. Paul Lovelace Says:

    I came across an article on A Photo Editor on how motion is changing the future of photography. I simply do not agree. Excellent photography is a craft on its own and a different skill to how a videographer would capture a scene. Photography and Video are separate business models and always will be. A good example of this was when I did a shoot for Nestlé to photograph a new product that was being launched. The brief was to photograph the product being prepared and sampled in the test kitchen but they also hired a film crew to shoot a high end video of their latest product with a producer on hand to direct everything. Blue chip corporations are simply going to hire a professional videographer to achieve the results they desire and a professional photographer for the still images they desire. There will always be a demand for photography. Still images are stronger than ever in the world of corporate photography and are in constant demand for use on websites, media campaigns and social media platforms.

    • Gail Mooney Says:

      Hi Paul, I appreciate your thoughts. But, the tides are quickly changing as far as the “business” of photography/video. Last week, I received a bid request for a “blue chip” Tourism campaign. I have received this request every year for the past 5 years, but this year was DIFFERENT.
      They were not asking for a bid for still photography, but for video with the following requirements:
      1. Must shoot with a Red Camera, 4 K or better
      2. Must provide native Red files
      3. Must be able to provide high quality frame grabs (still photos pulled from the video) for use in printed material.

      That’s new – that’s a game changer.

  14. Paul Lovelace Says:

    Hi Gail,
    Thanks for your response, much appreciated, you have some great content on your site which I shall follow.

  15. Gail Mooney Says:

    Reblogged this on Journeys of a Hybrid.

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