Hitting a Nerve

English: camera Français : video
English: camera Français : video (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What an interesting week it has been. This past Friday (the day before a long holiday weekend), on impulse, 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 I posted it the first time, back in February, 2013.

What had happened was that Rob Haggart linked to it from his blog, APhotoEditor and it went viral after that – all around the world.  That’s what amazes me about the age we live in, that something someone says, or writes can be heard globally in record time.  It truly demonstrates the power of “one”.   It’s staggering and something I never would have imagined some 35 years ago when I began my career as a still photographer.  In fact, most of what is happening now in photography. I never could have imagined – not in my grandest dreams.

What surprised me most about the comments I received from that post, was that most folks just couldn’t begin to imagine the future that I was contemplating in my writings. With the convergence of cameras, in regards to stills and video, I imagined a future, where a still image might not be captured by a “still camera” or by a “still photographer” for that matter.  A still image may come from a “frame grab” captured by a video camera.  I struck a nerve for sure, and most people thought I was predicting the demise of still photographs – perhaps because of Ron’s headline, excerpted from my text “ I think we are at a tipping point as far as the future of the still photography business”.

To be clear, I do think the photography “business” is at a tipping point, but not just because of the convergence of still and video cameras, but because of the glut of imagery.  The iPhone has been the game changer in that sense. Everyone has become a photographer and has a camera on them at all times, taking, sending and sharing millions of still images globally every day.  What that means in terms of the still photography industry is that if you want to stay in business as a professional photographer, you will need to create something that is authentic and unique to only you AND more importantly, you will need to provide a product or service that a market is willing to pay for – and pay enough that will sustain you in an industry that requires a reinvestment in tech and gear every two years, minimally.

In my attempt to “get off easy”, by rerunning a blog that I had written and previously posted more than a half a year ago, I learned a couple of things:

  1. Timing is everything
  2. It’s all perspective.

That’s the one good thing about getting older; I have a lot more perspective.  I’ve learned that the future is not at all like I imagined it would be.  I never could have imagined half the things that are happening right now.  And I’m sure that if I’m still alive 20 years from now, it will be a future filled with things and ideas that I could never even begin to imagine.

I will be moderating a panel at PPE this year, sponsored by ASMP “How Motion is Changing the Future of Still Photography”.   Our panelists include, Vincent LaForet, Brian Storm and Chase Jarvis.  Join us, it will be a discussion you won’t want to miss.

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What Still Photographers Need to Know About Convergence

We should not think in terms of how we can apply the newest tools of the trade to what how we are shooting today, but rather think about how these tools and future versions may be applied to what we will be doing in the years to come.  We also need to remember that it is not just creatives that are determining what we shoot with, how we shoot it and where the imagery will be used, it’s the top executives and money folks from the camera manufacturers, the advertising executives, broadcast networks, movie studios and magazine and newspaper publishers.  They set the stage and the content creators and receivers of the content or the “audience” react.

We as creatives have a choice of what tools to use – everything from an iPhone to a camera like the

English: Canon 5d Mark II set up for cinema st...
English: Canon 5d Mark II set up for cinema style shooting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

RED, able to produce 5k resolution stills shooting at 96 frames a second at a 200th of a second.  We make our decisions when choosing which tools to use based on a number of factors – affordability  and determining which tool or camera is the best one for a particular job.  Many times, it’s the end use that is the deciding factor. We need to remember that not only our tools are changing, but so is the way the information or content is delivered as we rapidly move away from print to electronic delivery.  Simply put, mobile devices have dramatically changed the way consumers are receiving content and information.

Who could have imagined just a few years ago that a phone could take photographs that weren’t just “good enough” but really good in terms of resolution and delivery?  We need to keep in mind that the limitations of today will most likely not be there in the future.  Technology is changing our lives and our businesses in an exponential way and will continue to do so.  If we are smart and want to stay in business, we need to look forward and imagine what’s next, rather than look at what is or what was.

When I started my still photography business more than 30 years ago, a photographer needed certain technical skills.  We needed to be able to focus a camera and that was tough if you were shooting fast moving action subjects and we needed to know how to get an accurate exposure.  The cameras of today have pretty much eliminated those skills with auto focus and exposure.  Still photographers still need to know how to light but as software becomes more sophisticated will that be a necessary skill set of the future?

When I’m giving a seminar to still photographers who are thinking of moving into motion, I start out by explaining the differences of the two mediums.  Still images are moments in time and video is time in motion.  That explanation sounds simple but it’s quite profound when you think in terms of convergence.  While today’s cameras have pretty much eliminated the skill sets of knowing how to properly focus and expose an image, a photographer or camera operator still has to be able to capture the “decisive moment” – that is where the skill set comes to play.  But is that still true today and will it remain so in the future with motion cameras able to shoot at 96 frames a second at a fast shutter speed with 5K resolution? Why would a client need a photographer to shoot still images when they can pull frames from a motion shoot?  They wouldn’t, especially when most camera operators in the motion sector are working under “work for hire” contracts and they don’t hold the copyright to the footage and/or still images or frame grabs from that footage.  That’s a game changer for the still photography business and licensing of images.

I read an interview once with Vincent LaForet and he was telling a story about having a discussion with a DP at a Red event shortly after the Red One came out.  He asked, “Who in the world would want to shoot a still image with this huge Red camera with a Cine lens?  It’s insane. Why wouldn’t I go out with my 5D Mark II that shoots RAW?”  The DP answered “We want to take your still jobs away from you, just like you want to take our video jobs away from us with your HD SLR’s.”

That was a few years ago.  Now I know a lot of high end still photographers who are shooting with smaller, more affordable and high-resolution motion cameras to shoot still photography jobs and so are DP’s.  That’s convergence and who knows what the future may bring, but one thing is for sure – it’s best to be knowledgeable in both.