Everything we think about the photo market is suspect.

I don't want to sound like someone who is relentlessly positive but I think the rumors of professional photography's death are highly exaggerated.  I think the patient had a bad case of the flu for the past three years but I think it was  episodic and not as brutally permanent as pundits and aging photographers would have you believe.  Photography, for most corporations and companies, is like the HR department. It's great to have during the up times.  HR's in charge of head hunting and hiring and keeping employees happy and stable.  But it's not sales and it's not manufacturing and when the economy goes sour it's often as much of a target for cost cutting as photography and employee appreciation events.

During the last three years there's been needed belt tightening and then belt tightening as corporate theater.  Sadly, photography has always been perceived to be the caviar on the buffet. Take the good stuff off the table and bring out the hot dogs...  When times get tough fewer P.O.'s get written.  Fewer photo intensive projects get done.  Anything that costs money but doesn't move the water polo ball toward the goal in the short term is relegated to the "wish" list, not the "to do" list.  And so it's been for three long years.

But disgruntled photographers began to talk about how the "market has permanently changed".  They mistook a brutal downturn for whole scale evolution.  There were/are endless predictions that dollar stock and the web would be the final nail in the coffin of professional photography.  No one would ever assign again.  Best case (deeply pessimistic) scenario?  We'd all learn how to become videographers  slugging it out over in that sandbox.

But business needs images.  Business needs advertising.  And advertising needs to constantly evolve to keep its audiences interested.  Otherwise Mr. Whipple would still be squeezing the Charmin and Madge would still be soaking in Palmolive.  We'd still see "the little purple pill" every evening on the news.  Nope, the audience won't go to the same movie over and over again and they won't look at the same ads over and over again.  So, new and different is part of the product specification for communications.  And that means new ways of looking at things and that means new images and, by extension, brand new photography.

So now, three years after the big freeze there's pent up demand for photography of the same old subjects but imaged in a new way.  A new style.  Not radically new but new in the way that a Honda Accord gets a facelift every few model years.  Nothing worse for an executive than using an old headshot in a speaker's promotion or event program only to have aged a bit.  Likely he'll end up the recipient of many, "Have you been ill?" inquiries as the audience tries to reconcile his weathered and beaten current look with the headshot in the program they hold in their hands (someone remind me to tell the story of retouching gone wild and the cancer scare story....).

Here's what seems to happening right now in the business:  Products are getting new product facelifts and need to be re-shot.  Executive teams have been shuffled and need to be re-shot.  New markets are opening and old markets are re-opening and companies are getting ready to put on fresh faces and go after the markets.

Many have discovered that photo fees from professionals are really such a tiny part of the budget that the different between $500 and $5,000 is still just a fraction of a percentage of the overall cost of production and ad placement.  They are starting to understand the overall value proposition and would rather have proven "brands" (photographers) than taking chances on unproven generics.  In short, the market is showing the same signs of life it has after every market correction.

I put a photo of this building in because in the last recession the common belief in Austin was that the game had profoundly changed and no one would ever be able to sell a condominium in the downtown area in the foreseeable future.  Since then, this building and about 12 others have been built, are coming online and filling up briskly.  As late as last year pessimists proclaimed that the buildings would either go partially filled or that developers would have to radically reduce their pricing.  Now the buildings are nearly 100% sold.  People are clammering for more space close in to downtown.  It's the place to be.  The general take in 2008 was that real estate would be dead for a decade.  Now we need more.

The market is always more optimistic and pessimistic than the facts.  There aren't stock photos of the new CEO, the new building, the new factory, the new product, the new fabric, the new airplane, your kids, your daughter's wedding, or any of  a thousand other subjects.  We will need to take them.  We may take them with tiny digital cameras, we may take them with hulking behemoth cameras but we will take them.  We may deliver them on the web.  They may run on the web.  But they will still add the same or more value to corporations, companies, mom&pop businesses and other communicators.  We just need to charge accordingly, deliver accordingly and revive the working business model.

The sky may be falling but it may be the sky in some other market.  As a profession we need to stop putting energy into a myth that's destructive to our markets and our psyches.  The game was called on the count of "rain" for the past few years.  The clouds are breaking up.  Game on.


Boriann Photography said...

Indeed Kirk; I see plenty opportunities. Marketeers are fed up with lousy images, since it likely breaks down their carefully kept brands.

So, I'm now putting together a new campaign and this renewed desire for image quality will be my in the center of my pitch.


Don said...

Alls I can think to say is...

Yep. 'Bout right as i see it.

Pain is transitory. Recovery sometimes starts with self-healing. Negativity begets negativity and a cycle starts to emerge.

I like being positive too, Kirk. Getting that cycle going seems more like a good idea.

selina maitreya said...

Hooray for you for setting the record straight. I've consulted for years with photographers ,clients throughout the US and Canada,and the sky is NOT falling chicken little! What is happening is that in these tough economic times clients want more value for their dollars and that translates into visual value. They want photographers to show up with a definite vision and a portfolio that speaks to that vision, and one that is consistent. Many shooters still wont play ball. They refuse to work within the new paradigm. Those that understand the new process are holding their own and or thriving.

kirk tuck said...

Wow! Comments from Don Giannatti of www.Lighting-Essentials.com and ultra, world famous creative consultant, Selina Maitreya on one post. I must have gotten something right!!!!

The sky is not falling. And, bonus, clients are paying quicker than ever before...

Matt Perko said...

And now a reply for the not-so-famous Matt Perko! I keep getting inspired when I read your writing. Thanks Kirk.

Michael Ferron said...

Good analogy with the HR comparison Kirk. I work for a huge corporation and and chuckle about the HR position. First there was one at each location. Then it went away and became regional and then to cut again the position was downgraded, put back in each location but with less power and combined with an existing position. In a nutshell someone now has to do the work of two people for less money. I don't shoot professionally but I guess in these times many have to do more for less.

Tofuphotography said...

What a beautiful shot!