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I have been a still image fanatic since the early 90s moving from black and white to 4x5 chrome then on to high-end digital capture. As image-makers (photographers) know the image market has changed radically since the days of silver halide analog film, even one might say since the introduction of the digital capture. Things have sped up and become ever easier for anyone to enter the market, with little to no experience. Beyond that Instagram has blown wide open this image potential almost to an exponential growth rate. Although we all enjoy looking at these images the thought occurred to me that the market is becoming overly saturated with images. Furthermore, I wondered where does this massive influx of images affect now and in the future the carefully curated careers of professional image-makers.
Economics 101 tells us through supply and demand there will be a reduction in the “cost” of the product with such an oversupply, both in images and so-called “photographers”. Certainly, I have seen this price reduction and as with many image-makers, I struggle with the realities of running a business while being pressed to shoot ever faster and cheaper. Luckily there are still plenty enough clients sophisticated enough to continue the reach for great images.
Yet there is another eroding effect of all these images, corporations can now rely on these mass-market images for ad campaigns. A prime example is the Apple “shot on an Iphone” photo campaign, where images are pulled from an online gallery. Certainly Apple is not the only company relying on mass-market amateur imagery to fulfill its advertising needs, in fact, the market almost demands that kind of quick-footed advertising maneuvering. Companies that can’t react to ever vacillating market trends will get left in the gutter of failed businesses. And so we circle back to the professional photography market. The real question for a professional image-maker is how to react to these image trends. Do we hold fast to the techniques that got us to where we are or do we race forwards…some would say down that hole of the current light speed market?
I have given this a lot of thought and I keep coming back to the same conclusion, if we enter that race, good luck…there is almost no way to win, your competition is essentially every guy and gal with a smartphone. We need to find a way to stay out ahead to create work that is just not possible with apps and smartphone. How we do this is up to each of us but no doubt we need to evolve, up not down. Our work needs to more and more technical, be that through lighting, production or post-production. We need to offer the market something that is just not available, or sad to say we will be overwhelmed by the massive influx of imagery. Looking forward the market will eventually be shaken out a bit with those who are currently pulling market rates down. Personally, I just don’t see a way for them to succeed long-term due to the ridiculously low rates they charge combined with the sheer competition at that level of the market.
So now I look into my Magic 8 Ball to predict the future.
Yet as much as it pains me we might be simply delaying the inevitable. Will the professional photography market exist forever? Outside of various niche requirements, probably not. I feel there will be a point in which technology and the social esthetic combine with a result that images either are computer generated entirely and or society requires more informational depth than a 2D image can provide. How fast will that happen? Well, Moores observational law states circuits and the speed at which they operate doubles every two years, combined with the corresponding move to AI based platforms that change might be sooner than we want.