I’ve been around long enough to know that nothing lasts forever. I’ve experienced the up and down cycles of business and life in general and can tell you that nothing ever stays the same. Having an understanding and acceptance of that gives me the freedom to look around corners for opportunities and think outside the confines of my box. What I’m seeing is a growing demand for mixed media storytelling content from communications and marketing people to fill a plethora of needs –social media campaigns, TV spots, online pre-roll ads, and print ads.
Last September while attending the Next Video Conference and Expo in Pasadena, CA a light bulb went off after seeing a presentation given by Max Kaiser, Founder/Director of Hand Crank Films called Make Content That Resonates and Multi-Purpose. It was eye opening. Max explained how he demonstrates to clients the value of creating content that not only resonates with an audience but can also be multi-purposed and fill their other visual needs – including provide still images from his frame grabs. He said because he shoots 6K – he is able to produce high quality still images. I could see that still photographers aren’t just competing with other still photographers any more, they’re competing with guys like Max and small production companies that are providing solutions to all their visual needs.
There’s no reason still photographers can’t provide mixed media for their clients’ visual needs, but they need to scale the way they think about their business and their role and become more of a visual assets producer. Most photographers are producers anyway, so why not provide more services to a client and keep them in house – in your house.
I think sometimes it seems easier to give ourselves reasons not to do something but change is going to happen regardless if you embrace it or not.
Some things to keep in mind:
Video is not a business model – It’s a medium and one that is well suited for storytelling.
There is a demand for mixed media. Video is not new. But these days it’s easier, faster and cheaper to distribute, stream and watch motion content online – anytime -anywhere. Our phones and other mobile devices are our “go to” platforms for news, shopping and even entertainment. Position your brand and business to fit with today’s communication needs.
Make content that resonates and multi-purpose it. Video + Stills + Sound = Storytelling messaging. Content should be well-planned, scripted with high production values and should feel authentic. Create from your own point of view and identify the niches and needs in the marketplace that fit with your vision and style. Demonstrate value to a client by providing solutions to more of their visual needs.
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.