I love to day dream and think about the future. The future photography industry trends has been on the top of my mind recently and I have been wanting to jot these ideas and thoughts down. I love to think about what will and what might happen to the photography industry in the longer term of 5 to 10 to 30 years, not just for the sake of fun (yes, day-dreaming and doing thought experiments are fun!), but also to position myself best at the current situation as a photographer and as a student of business.
I’ll be discussing these photography trends that are off the top of my mind, based mostly on intuition and from the point of view of a hobbyist photographer. I suppose the real value here will be the implications that stem from such changes and growth in the photography industry. I am not a professional photographer, therefore my perspectives of the implications to this group will be incomplete and skewed. Nonetheless, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments to make this discussion wholesome and relevant for all photographers alike.
Photography Trend 1: Technological innovation will drive new behaviors and growth in the industry
Cameras will get smaller. Batteries will last longer. Storage capacity and requirements will be inconsequential. Camera sensors will capture light better. Resolution of pictures will get bigger. For a unit price of equipment, the performance of image capturing devices will keep improving until there is no ability to discern image quality in terms of dynamic ranges and resolutions, due to our physical limitations of rendering pictures through our eyes. As a hobbyist photographer who takes pictures on small sized prints, I’d say that the current technological offerings are close to or are already reaching and hitting such limitations. You will be capturing images faster, on a real-time and sustained basis, at any time and location. Similarly, you will be able to access your pictures in the same manner. With the growth, penetration and adoption of the internet and smartphones across the world, photography will be ingrained into part of our lives as an intuitive, must-do and will-do activity, just like how we walk, eat, sleep and shit. Someday, you will be able to record your entire day and replay your life in pictures and video (Think about the Black Mirror Episode: The Entire History of You) Google glass gave us a sneak preview of our future state of real-time photography taking. In terms of picture quality, our iPhones have already given us the sneak preview of the future – the ability to take, create, and edit pictures with an ever improving computing power on a device that is aiming to become more compact and user friendly. Implications: At a bigger picture, this means everyone IS a photographer. There will be an explosion and exponential growth of photographs in the market. Barrier of entry into this photography industry will be insignificant. Everyone will be taking pictures and by association, a larger proportion of people would want to improve their photography and seek to become aspiring semi-pro/pro photographers. What does this bode for all current photographers? By the law of large numbers, the absolute numbers of higher quality pictures will increase. And this means that taking technically good photographs (well composed, edited, correct settings etc) is simply not enough to survive in this growing, low-barrier to entry market. The edge will then lie in scarcity (of a unique skill or your photographic vision), taking care of the business aspects of marketing and sales in both the physical and internet space, creating a good story with your photos, becoming a good story teller, having a strong and solid network of established photographers, and the ability to remain creative and unique to differentiate from the masses. In fact, nothing has changed, considering that the best photographers in today’s market have been practicing the same concepts mentioned above. The real change is that it is going to be tougher for one to be a striving and professional photographer in an ever competitive industry.
Photography Trend 2: We are all becoming increasing “Artistic”
Photography software in both the desktop (photoshop, lightroom etc) and the mobile space (VSCO, instagram, snapseed etc) is going to continuously improve to the point where technically imperfect pictures can be post-processed to their desired level of quality. Today, anyone can take pictures and slap on countless filters to achieve a unique and “artistic” look to their pictures. Someday, an app can suggest the best way to crop a picture based on predictive analytics and everyone will create superbly composed photographs.
Technology is going to enable the everyone to be “artistic” and to be perceived as “artistic”.
So there will come a point in time when we start to think: do what we do before pressing the shutter matter anymore, given that the post-processing tools are getting more powerful and easier to use?
As someone focused on the black and white photography niche, I can say that statement above do bear some truth. I do not think I am a good photography taker. I do think I am a relatively good image creator, aided by the software at my disposal. (I hope) I have an artistic vision that I want to achieve and my software tools helps me to do that.
The very act of photographic retouching and manipulation is going to be a mainstay in the future and I foresee that this will be a core required skill in the photography industry for your images to stand out from the growing competition.
I believe that in due time, technology is going to make what happens before the shutter less important. We are already seeing signs of this phenomenon happening. Look at those LYTRO Cameras, which you can adjust for your focus and depth of field after you have taken your photographs. Technological innovation is also going to level the playing field in the artistic community. The iPhones of today have more computing power than the Apollo space shuttle we sent to space. The kids of today are way smarter and more informed than the kids during our time. Photographers in the future will be way more proficient both technically and artistically compared to photographers of today.
Photography Trend 3: Growth of the Photography Support Industry
We are going to see a spurt of growth in the support industry for photography related hobbies. Gear, equipment, boutique lens, software, educational materials, workshops, classes, books and so on.
This is great for the photography industry in general, as more resources are dedicated and accessible to this activity.
What this means is that budding photographers, and those who are really keen in the trade, are going to get better faster. The learning curve is not going to be as steep as before. And again, this could be a potential threat for existing professional photographers, who often pride their trade based on years of skills and experience.
Regardless, the photographic eye to create thought and emotions provoking pictures does takes time to train, and experience does matter in delivering great pictures. I think this movement forces the top photographers to be on their toes to constantly deliver outstanding work to their clients, and to focus on developing and maintaining an awesome reputation so as to secure business from existing and future clients.
From a client point of view, they will be spoilt for choices in the future. It is going to be a buyer’s market as the pool of photographers, each specializing in all kinds of niche, is going to increase. My opinion is that strong competition is always good, as the cream rises to the top and the outcome is a win-win for these clients and top photographers.
Conclusion from these photography trends
How would I position myself strategically, as a hobbyist photographer, as a professional photographer, as a business given such trends?
As a hobbyist:
Everyone wants their pictures to be seen and appreciated. The question is then, how do we achieve that given the onslaught of photographs amidst a sea of hobbyist photographers?
Learning the key technical skills to take and post process great photographs remain important, but not as much as the other non technical, soft skills that remain the core of photography – the ability to evoke thoughts and emotions from our viewers. The ability to create or tell a story, the ability to post-process to achieve a vision or create the desired mood, the ability to engage your intended audience should be the fundamental core skills you should develop as a photographer, in your career (any) and in your life too.
In terms of gear, I’d say get what you need and stick with it. Technological progress is going to keep happening, equipment is going to phase in and out, and the performance of taking quality pictures is just going to keep increasing. Personally, if you “see” that there is no discernible difference between taking a photograph from an equipment, say an iphone, compared to another, then perhaps there is no longer the need to switch gears that constantly.
Remember this famous Ansel Adams quote:
“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it!”
Gear is just a tool to help you achieve your photographic vision. Focus on your vision.
As a professional photographer:
Be obsessed with this industry and your competition. Be on the lookout for the next wave of change especially in the technological and social media space, and take a risk by hopping into the bandwagon fast and early in order to grow your presence and potential sales lead.
Also, as discussed earlier, focus on your edge. The edge derived from technical equipment is going to narrow in time, while the edge as a creative artist can never be replicated and reproduced. Develop stronger softer non-technical skills. Be clear on your unique, non reproducible differentiating factor. If you are a wedding photographer, find out what are your strengths and what makes you different from the competition. Then sell it, hard. Continue to deliver great quality work to your clients and build a solid brand reputation for yourself.
The way ahead is tougher, but it is going to be even more rewarding as the competition increases.
During the gold-rush of the 19th century, the people who made money were not the ones who were actively seeking and digging for gold. Instead, the real money was made by people who created a support industry of selling equipment and tools for the gold seekers. Therein lies similarities in the way potential photography related business can be setup to prepare themselves for the future.
We had Twitch for gamers, so how about having a live-streaming video/stills platform for photographers?. Remember that I mentioned about the ability to record your day on a real-time basis (video or stills). Perhaps one day, we will be able to live in the lives of our friends or even strangers as they go through their daily life. Training and education will be a big game changer. Imagine if you can view and live in the eyes of a surgeon during your medical training. The possibilities are unlimited and exciting!
Another potential game-changer is to develop an outsourced citizenship photography agency or platform. Think about this scenario: A journalistic event happens, for example a murder or an earthquake. Real-time photographs are taken by citizens and are immediately accessible to the web. A news agency is then able to select among the masses of photographs and use them in their reports, subjected to payment. Citizens become the Uber of photographs, delivering pictures to newspapers and get paid for that in real-time, on demand. Photography as a skill becomes a shareable and monetizable commodity.
Storage platforms will also be an omnipresent requirement in the future. The best cloud solution that can provide accessibility, security, the ability to share and the ability to deliver an evergreen platform that lasts beyond time is going to take it rake in the cash.
So this is it, my long rant on the key photography industry trends. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below!