Gearing up (or down) for more change. Incessant change.

Who moved our photographic cheese and what are we going to do about it?

Isn't it funny how the relentless wheels of progress make the (antiquated, 20th century) idea of buying permanent gear seem quaint and foolish? I'm sitting here in the studio doing clipping paths and thinking about how everything felt four or five years ago. At the time I thought, "if I can just find the right camera and assortment of lenses that really produce great results I can stop buying gear and hold onto it for a long time and be more efficient." But that was several brands ago and many different models within those brands. 

It's a hoary cliché now (and so are the words, "hoary cliché) but progress is changing so rapidly that, if we are to respond to our clients and markets, we feel that we must innovate our gear to keep up. I would never have thought, pre-Canon 5D mk2, that I would require, need and want high res video in any future camera I bought. It just never occurred to me. But once Sony stuck good video into the a99 and then went a few steps further by adding a headphone jack and audio level controls on the front of the camera I can't imagine going back and depending solely on a camera like my Sony a850 or some previous, non-video enabled camera for my business. For art? That's a whole different topic. For the pleasure of the hobby? Again, a different calculus all the way around. But as a creative content creation business the whole idea is to be on the tip of the spear. To innovate faster and better and to hop to something profitable from something dying. We're no longer in a market where one jewel like image carries the day. We're in a market that expects us to do a great still image and then turn around and construct some video to wrap around it. Again, I'm just speaking about requirements only for people who are doing this stuff for a living.

It's no secret that Samsung sent me an NX300 camera to play with this Summer. I like the files from the camera and I've been sneaking it into my regular jobs now just to see how a $699 camera with a kit lens holds up against full frame cameras with esoteric lenses. It's interesting to see just how little air there is between them for a remarkable amount of stuff.  Samsung is about to launch their next big camera. You may have read about it, it's NX (Some Model Name) running Android. It's supposed to be a really cool machine but I don't think anyone has gotten their hands on one yet.

I mention it because in one sense, while I have no fear about changing systems and embracing new cameras, I am slow to embrace new technology that is at a remove from my admittedly 20th century beliefs about what "a good camera is all about..."

I fought the viewfinder-less wars and lately I've worked on trying to leverage the good stuff about working on a rear screen. My other prejudice has always been against the need to add stuff like wi-fi to cameras because I didn't see a need for it in my work (I am Kirk-centric and feel that if I don't need a feature no one does..).  But now I'm trying to figure out how to make dynamic accessibility a feature I can leverage back to  my clients. As they get younger and younger (perception only) I find that there's disconnect between the way they access content and information and the way I traditionally delivered work.

I'm trying to learn more because I'd hate to have my reticence to learn new delivery methods negate my value as a content creator. I see the day coming when I'll be on location, shooting portraits, and my client/art director/creative director/buyer will be in their office and I'll be shooting test shots and streaming them to a shared folder in the cloud for instant approval. Without being tethered. Without a laptop.  We shoot a test shot, click "send" wait for the phone call (oops! I meant "text") that either gives us the big "thumbs up" to shoot more in that style or the phone call (oopski! "text") that says, "what the hell was our model thinking wearing that purple, paisley shirt with the Budweiser logo on the pocket? Can we change that?"

I need to get over my resistance to fast access and fast image sending, for the business. If it's my own work, done for my own enjoyment then I'll get to it when I get to it. If it's for my clients I want to make the whole process as streamlined and transparent as I can.

Perhaps, since we'll be able to add apps to the new generation of cameras coming down the line I'll be able to add a billing application. Imagine, shoot, send, bill and process credit cards all on the same camera body. Insane, scary and kinda fun to understand that this is probably what some version of the future looks like.

So I'm ready to get rid of more stuff. I think the professional shooter of the future will own a small, personal system. A couple of really good bodies and maybe three lenses. Maybe no lights or stands or auxiliary gear. You come to work with one little Pelican case of gear and everything else is rented for the day or the week. Need LED panels? Rental package. Need big Fluorescent panels? Rental Package. Need high speed studio flash? Rental Package. Need a really fast, really good lens? Rental package. You get  the picture.

It just doesn't make sense anymore (as a business) to make the big investments in gear that changes so quickly or in specific gear that can't do a wide variety of day to day stuff well.

I'm currently happy with the 2K video performance I get from my Sony camera but I know that clients whose work ends up on television are already spec'ing 4K video cameras; regularly. And today I read an article about a new 6K camera from Red that movie makers are salivating over. And two years from now it will be all about the 8K cameras....

And no small, single person business has any business actually thinking about investing in that kind of  gear just to have it sit around the office more than it's in production. Only bonafide trust funders can play in that arena.

The idea going forward will be to rent as needed. Own the bare essentials. Own the specialty tools for your niche but the minute you step outside your gear comfort zone you might be smart to rent and charge back the rental fees to the clients. They are, after all, paying for your eye and your expertise. Not an endless inventory of gear.

To that end I'm anticipating another round of downsizing. I'm looking at the video cameras in GEAR's rental department and figuring that I can do home made projects with every successive generation of hybrid cameras like the Sony Alphas and the Samsung Androids but it definitely makes more sense to use a dedicated (rental) video camera for big client projects. Out goes my endless and expensive duplication.

I looked into HMI lights and I've used them for a few projects. I like the smaller ones that you can run off household currents. But I can't justify buying a set of lights at $3K or so per fixture. I can justify renting them (and charging the client) as needed.  A day of rental may run me a $100 a fixture but I don't need to make the capital expenditure for them when I'm still using flashes for some work, fluorescents for other work and even portable flashes. You just can't justify owning everything just because you may have the need to use it from time to time.

I've noticed as I've sold off stuff over the past year that the lighter the inventory gets the more creative and free I feel.

Not owning stuff means you get to cherry pick what you'll use on a project by project basis and, when your business hits a soft spot you don't have capitol tied up in something that only produces ROI emotionally...

I've got another box full of cameras and lenses to put on consignment. And some more big strobes as well. The load is getting lighter and lighter. We are becoming more intelligent about the way we use our capital.

Who would have thought that everything changes? Now, how do I get this wi-fi network to recognize this camera????


Claire said...

I think the rental concept in camera/video gear will developp in a huge manner in the next years. And I mean, HUGE; It's a no brainer for the working pro, and could even justify itself for the gear greedy hobbyist. At the rate makers release new models, novelty curious amateurs would be better off renting than constantly buying/re-selling or worse yet buying/returning stuff.

MartinP said...

"...Imagine, shoot, send, bill and process credit cards all on the same camera body..."

I think you need to patent this workflow as fast as you can. Didn't Amazon manage some sort of patent for the blindingly-obvious use of an online shopping-cart? Imagine the possible benefits for event photographers doing souvenir portraits with your patented idea - could this fund your retirement?!


Wally said...

What market are you in a good read in the Harvard business review from 1920's (I think). The story is similar Western Union the telegraph company was offered the telephone patents and turned them down because they are a telegraph company not realizing they are in the communications business.

Go ahead be a camera fanboy instead of a content provider and you will end up in a job you don't like cause you didn't learn the lesson of Western Union. Ford turned down patents on the Diesel engine. Xerox gave away Ethernet, object programming, the mouse, and PDF technology cause they were in the copy business.

You have to be good, lucky (chance favored the prepaid mind), and show up to succeed cause markets are efficient and they are brutal. A disciplined approach keeping an eye out for the Benjamin's is as important as what gear you own or rent.

Cameras are only a tool everything else is your experience and vision.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, your right about new gear and renting. Video seems to be evolving much more rapidly than still photography gear. As Kirk mentioned 2K, 4K, now 6K, what's next. And the cost to purchase is so costly. buy a red epic brain for 30K or rent for 4 days for 1K. That 30K camera in a couple years would probably be replaced by a cheaper, better camera. One of my favorite photo gear blog sites is a photo rental business. Another blog site (hobbyist) I visited recently reviewed an item they rented.


Michael Matthews said...

Definitely the way to go, assuming your clients understand and accept the charges.

With very expensive gear for high-ticket projects rental is the only way that makes sense.

This does assume the availability of all the gear you need, when you need it, at affordable rates. Plus adequate lead time to plan and schedule its arrival to coincide with your client's need. Any of this gets out of sync and you're dead.

Having a client base that is sophisticated enough to work this way -- and well-funded so as to budget for it -- is a major advantage. Don't let any of them get away. Otherwise it's no more booking time at post-production houses and back to banging away at 2 a.m. with Final Cut Pro.

Carlo Santin said...

I had to get my oven fixed yesterday. Service guy showed up, found the problem, needed to order a part. He pulled out his smart phone, ordered the part, scanned my Visa on his phone to pay for it, went and got the part, came back and fixed the oven, scanned my Visa again to pay for his service. I thought, wow, it really is 2013 isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Your rental idea sounds nice, if you live in a larger metropolitan area. Rural, small town America doesn't have it available. Many times the jobs are not booked far enough in advance to make rental viable with delivery times and costs a real problem. We can't even get next day delivery from a number of cities with good rental houses.

I do enjoy your columns and writings and take what I can and don't worry about the rest.

David said...

Your correct about the future with instant approval. Phase one even now supports output of files on location from the camera directly to two Ipads. So one sits in your clients lap and can score images. This then gets sent back to your ipad to see and follow the trend.

I never thought this way. Why I like is Wifi is for full remote camera control from a distance. I like candid shots, a full silent mode with remote control would allow for the family shots of the event, and not just smile for the camera.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk. I've been reading your site for a little over a year and really enjoy it. Lately you've had several posts about what content people enjoy versus what spikes the metrics. I just wanted to let you know that its the posts like this, about your business and the calculations and adjustments you make as you navigate forward, that I enjoy the most. Keep it up. - Seth