It's good to get a grip on what's happening so you can plan for the future but it's best to figure out what has already changed so you can live in today.
We are witnessing the demise of print in commercial communication. Magazines are giving way to websites. Newspapers are yielding to blogs and news sites on the web. Even core advertising is moving relentlessly to video, television and webvertising. In some areas the moves are gradual but in most areas the moves sit around building momentum until they reach a tipping point and then change seems sudden and wrenching---even though the atmosphere was filling with gas fumes day by day we are still surprised by the explosion.
But here's the thing that causes photographers to be rooted in the past. Most of us grew up when print was in ascendency and we learned to use tools that stretched out to fill the most demanding parameters: tight, four color printing on gloss stock at high lpi's. We needed all the detail we could get out of cameras in order to satisfy the demanding nature of high quality printing. Especially so for double truck ads.
And in the 1980's and 1990's the paper manufacturers pulled out all the stops and provided offset printing papers that could suck up ink and return luxurious detail and depth. We needed our Hasselblads. And it is no wonder that the number of megapixels became the holy grail.
But we've lost 35% of the total number of magazines in the market in the past 36 months and the ones with the best printing quality and finest papers seem destined to be the first to savor extinction. Titles like Gourmet, which help define the high end of the printer's art.
As one medium subsides another rises. And now we have the web. A big file isn't measured in inches and lpi but in pixels and, because of bandwidth considerations, small is the imperative goal. If logic prevalis we'll see a downsizing of pixel densities and an increase in parameters that will make the files better web content. Maybe richer color or files pre-optimized for web representation. But one thing is for sure, the need for higher and higher res is slipping away. Magazine by magazine, glossy brochure by glossy brochure.
I've talked to trade show experts recently in doing research of future photography trends. Here's what you need to know: Trade show booths used to be prime display space for large prints. The kind of large prints you could walk up to and put your nose against. But a 30 by 40 color print, printed on a durable stock and mounted on heavy duty Gatorfoam, shipped across the country was a costly investment that usually had a shelf life of one or two show. And a ticket price of between $400 and $500.
Industry experts let me know that clients are quickly moving to plasma displays to take the place of last century, single image, printed graphics.
And why wouldn't they? The screens can be endlessly repurposed and can show graphics, still photographs, commercials and video programming interchangeably. Imagine you are a semiconductor manufacturer at an embedded systems trade show. Your booth faces the doors to an auditorium where breakout sessions are being conducted.
If you consult the schedule you'll know exactly what each breakout covers. You could fine tune the images on the video displays to match the interests of each audience over the course of the show. And there are study metrics that talk to the efficiency of this model. Average trade show attendees spent 17 seconds looking at a typical still photo display print but would linger for up to three minutes in front of a display with video and still programming mixed. And, purchased in any quantity the price of these almost infinitely re-usable screens is lower than the price of one static image.
You certainly don't need the resolution of a 5dmk2 or a Nikon D3x to fill any 1080p screen. You need between two and four megapixels, tops.
If our markets are moving to this paradigm, and if jobs are less plentiful and fees less juicy, then why in world are we dropping kilo-dollars into the ever escalating arms races of camera acquisition?
Pretty much the stuff we had last year would work just fine this year. It might even represent overkill.
Someone will mention fashion photography or product photography and the need for higher quality repro and you'll have me dead to rights there. But how many of us really do that versus how many of us do corporate headshots, products for the web, and lifestyle for web and lower quality print publications?
The gear anchors us emotionally to a past that is NEVER coming back. Even when the economy recovers we'll still face the reality that our media have shifted. That production has changed. Everything has progressed into a direction that is bearing less and less resemblance to the past.
WHAT TO DO??????
Well, Buddha would tell you to burn the past. Make a clean break with habit and precedence and move on to the next thing. I agree. When we hang on to outmoded routines we sabotage our ability to see and react to what's happening in the present.
I sold off all my Nikon cameras and lenses this Summer. I assume, in retrospect, that this was my attempt to make a break from the way I practiced photograph last year, last decade and last century.
You'll have to find your own way through the maze but I will tell you that the tools you'll need are curiosity and an ability to be underwhelmed by technology and focused on the content rather than the production aspects that once gave our craft succinct barriers to entry.
Here's the plan for Kirk Tuck Photography:
1. Focus like a laser on my core strength: Portraits. Understand that the camera is much less important than the rapport or the lighting.
2. Minimize my investment in stuff to maximize the creative process. Understand that gear will continue to be less important but connections and creative thinking will become primary.
3. Understand that multi-media is the new IP and clients will want a unified provider. Learn sound and video.
4. Become a true minimalist. Evolve my gear to be lighter, smaller, faster, cheaper. Put the profit in the bank, not back into the camera bag.
5. Burn the past so I never have to say, "This is how we did it in the old days." That's the kiss of death as AD's get younger and younger.
Ian Summers famously says, "Grow or Die".
I say don't let the past anchor you to the same old thing. Throw yourself your own revolution. Have a coup de grace with your last century equipment fixation. Show me how sharp your mind is, not your camera.