Predictions for 2014. Number Three. Video emerges as the new profession of photography.

Lou. Still Photograph. Old School. H-blad. Film.

Stop! Move your fingers away from the keyboard and calm down! Read the headline one more time!!! I'm not saying that hobbyists, amateurs, lovers of the print, keepers of the absolutely still flame of the still frame must have anything at all to do with moving pictures. I am ONLY making the prediction that working (paid, vocational, commercial) photographers in most modern, major  metropolitan markets will need to embrace various forms of video in order to survive financially. 

I'm not predicting that the still headshot will go away but I could make a pretty good argument that it will happen as the adjunct to a video interview, or vice versa. I'm not making an argument that we'll stop documenting commercial processes but I can make an even better argument that we'll be doing that still documentation in parallel with video documentation and right now you have a choice as to whether someone else in your market makes you their photo "bitch" or whether you control the entire piece of the action in the near future. Video and stills aren't really different things altogether. For procurement they both are filed under, "marketing." Not like toilet paper or toner cartridges. Clients don't see a big separation just two variations of one thing called "content."

There's only one major driver pushing this. It's the relentless increase in web bandwidth. That's where the advertising is going and if companies are paying for web placement then for the most part they are aiming for the most bang for their buck. For generations increasingly raised on video games and television the most obvious bang is coming from motion/video. It's not an emotional argument it's a math meets data points argument. And it holds water.  Wherever the bang is that's where the bucks are....

At this juncture clients know us (speaking collectively about commercial photographers....) as people who are good at lighting, working with talent and composition. No one has actively sold them against using photographers to also do video. Our blind spots are the need to keep the images actually moving and the ability to edit in time. Another hazy (but learnable) spot for still camera jockeys is sound design but that's secondary and, when you start getting jobs with decent budgets it's a hire-able position. So, until someone actively points out our blind spots it's time to jump in with both feet and learn to be good video producers. And editors. And sound guys. In addition to being great still photographers.

Why? You might have lots of loyal clients but here's what's going to happen going forward: Bob Smith is your friend and client. Bob shoots a project with you every year. You go out for five days and shoot beautiful portraits of Bob's company's people in wonderful locations. Bob's company pays you nicely! But this year Bob's boss, realizing that YouTube channels are essentially free and also that video files can be sent to clients, placed on the company website and even provided (to the culturally slower potential clients) on DVD for barest fractions of the cost of a printed annual report or other four color printed brochure. And the difference in mailing costs is even more dramatic (especially since, in most cases, the digital distribution is essentially free....). 

Bob's boss insists that in addition to the still photos his real interest this year is in a video "version" in which each person will be interviewed and their work processes shot as "B-Roll".  Bob comes to you and asks you for a bid to cover both halves of the project. He is a savvy enough client to realize that your new DSLR will also do nice, clean video and he wants to work with you because you represent the known commodity instead of the scary and much less desirable "great unknown."

You are a purist and have NO intention of getting caught up in "This Video Fad." So you calmly explain your position of purity and career focus to Bob and suggest that he hire a video crew to do "that video part."  Bob sighs and works his network, gets suggestions and hires a really nice little company that is thrilled to do the video part of the project. Bob accepts their bid and off you go. But to save money and cut down on the amount of time valuable employees will be in front of cameras Bob and the video company decide that everyone must work together so they'll be setting up the lighting they need and shooting the interviews and you'll need to "hop in there after they finished but before they break everything down" and get what you need for the stills." 

Once on location you find that the light the video crew needs and the light you want to use for your branded version of still portraits is profoundly different. A meeting ensues in which you argue for your case in lighting. And you argue from the point of view that your images are the platinum target of this exercise while the video is just the whipped creme on the top. Bob's boss, who is spending five to ten times as much money on video compared to what he is spending on your photography disagrees. Bob suggests that you be a team player and learn how to modify and leverage the light the video guys are using.

While you are clearly disgruntled you finish the job professionally. So does the video team. Your face to face time with the client is over until the next project comes up but the video teams is just getting started. They will work with Bob for the next few weeks getting the project edited and treating Bob like royalty. They'll develop a good working relationship because they are good marketers. And Bob's boss loves the final product. Yours, of course, but theirs even more.

Next project rolls around and you don't hear from Bob..... You hear from one of the guys at the video production company. The initial project went very well for them and Bob and his boss have been finding more and more ways to make additional video work in their business. Now they have a relationship and have settled in comfortably with the video guys. Bob's asked them to handle production of the project you used to work on directly with Bob. Only now you'll be working as a sub contractor for the video team. 

First thing to go wrong? Well.... you and Bob both understood the copyright laws and the SOP of the still business and you always owned the rights to your images and protected them so you could make more money from additional uses. But the world of video has operated in quite a different way with the clients getting  ownership of the finished product at the end of each project. The video company wants to use you to make the stills but they want you to sign a "work for hire" agreement. You balk. You go back to Bob for recourse only to find that, "Bob's hands are tied on this one. The boss decided to use the video company as the sole point of contact in these projects."

You need the work so you hold your nose and sign the WFH contract, at a reduced rate from previous years, because they told you that was all they had budgeted for the still work this year.  You are unhappy and you grouse but you do the project. While on the project you find yourself assisted and art directed by a nice young woman who is constantly wearing an unprofessional looking dinky mirror less camera around her neck. She pays keen attention to the way you work with the talent. She's there to help. Right now she's helping you. She'll even run and get you coffee or pull your batteries off the charger and bring them to you. In the future she'll put her on the job education to work helping the video production company do more projects like this. Ones that you were not "grandfathered" into.

The next year there is no call from Bob and there is no call from the video production company. You finally pick up the phone and call the producer to find out what happened to the project. He tells you that after the "paperwork" issues that came up last year everyone involved thought it might be easier/more cost effective/more fun/more streamlined if they just took the whole project in  house. You are incensed and call Bob. Bob hems and haws and finally says that the CEO really liked the still images he's getting from the in-house photographer at the video house. Raves about how much he likes her "eye".  You make an impassioned technical plea based on your envious inventory of Nikon D800s and massive investment in the world's greatest glass but Bob counters by letting you know that the millions of hits they get every year on the video work has overshadowed the effectiveness of the 5,000 copies of the $30 a piece brochure they used to send out every year. Sales are up so much as a result of the metrics generated by the video placement everywhere that, well, the print portion of the project is gone. The still images all just go to the web.

"From what we can see the photographer from the video company is using cameras that are more than good enough and she uses the video lights well."  So well, in fact, that she was able to use her little mirror less camera to do some side interviews and behind the scenes video as well as portraits on the last project. "Keep in touch. I'll call you when something right for your talents comes up."

Of course it could have been played in a different way from the start. The minute clients started thinking about video you could have been on Lynda.com learning from a sea of great tutorials about how to shoot video with your DLSRs. How to move the camera. How to do basic editing. How to work with sound. And, since video is free now in terms of your own production you have ample opportunity to practice your stuff and work on editing. You don't even need to master incredibly complex video editing programs all at once. All the really matters is a nice, clean edit with a good story line. You could pull that off  with your free copy of Apple's iMovie.

When Bob approached you about video you could have said, "Yes! Of course! Glad to help!"  And the minute Bob got off the phone you could have hired a producer to help you bid the project, hire the crew, rent needed gear and help complete the project. If you weren't up to editing just yet you could hire an editor help you. You could have had both sides of the bid. And kept the client. And kept  your business and rights models intact. And, as you spend quality time with Bob and his boss  you can make them happy with your growing range of skills while at the same time reinforcing the value of your still work to them. 

2014 will see the real introduction of the newest Power Mac computers which will come ready for the new 4K video (both in terms of editing and display). It will see the introduction of the Black Magic 4K video camera at a price point of under $4,.000. And it will see an ever increasing demand for video content from everyone from mom and pop businesses to the biggest corporations in the world. The growth numbers for video on the web are gigantic and accelerating. It continues to be a viable market in part because it requires both time and skills. 

In forward markets (smart, highly educated markets driven by young client companies) we see a new power base growing around smaller content companies. They market scripts, motion, stills and web integration both to larger ad agencies and directly to clients. They are currently eating every part of the advertising market they can find. Could I suggest that joining this club by creating your own content company, based around stills+video, is a lot less bloody and frustrating for you than trying to grow a business playing sub-contractor to another group of photographer/videographers who were a bit faster on the draw?

2014 will be the year of capitulation. You'll learn to offer video. Or you'll learn to say, "Can I have a name for that order?."  You may shake your head, confident that your little niche of still photography is immune. Believe me, it's not. It may just be a bit more insulated. This is the year the friction of the market eats through the insulators.

To the hobbyists, collectors, and enthusiasts. Yours is a totally different calling. You needn't change a thing. See how smart you are not to be in a business like this?

Disclaimer: It is very hard to accurately predict the future and so all predictions are opinions. The above is the opinion of the VSL senior research staff. It does not have to be your opinion. Your reality may vary. Your perceptions my be different. That doesn't make this content wrong. Don't like the prediction? Neither do I. But I'd rather have the diagnosis and the tools to manage the condition than sticking my head into a sand pile and pretending that nothing will ever change. Just do the research...


Anonymous said...


I agree video it is definitely going to affect the stills only pro photographer. I am just an amateur, but looking at blog sites (such at Small Camera Big Picture) and advances in video capability (Black Magic, GH3) over the last several years, I definitely see a trend and agree with you about video and the marketplace. Companies like Black Magic and products like the GH3 would not exist without the demand in the market place for lower cost pro video equipment. Same market forces apply to sites like EOSHD.

Michael R

Michael Matthews said...

Spot on! And I do believe your time spent with Craftsy.com may have been the most crafty (other meaning) move you've made in years.

Complete immersion training from both sides of the lens -- and you may even get paid for it!

Does life get any better?

Anonymous said...

The two first paragraphs of your blog post are telling how NOT to take the headline, and explaining what the blog post is NOT about, and the last paragraph is a disclaimer explaining that this blog post is merely expressing an opinion (well, duh!;). Almost like reading the small print of your insurance offer. Too much nannying, man. :-)

My point being, about 20% of your readership has been getting it for well over a year now. More than a half of them are no doubt getting your talking points without the nanny bits.

The rest, apparently a loud but quite small minority consisting of
a) grumpy hardcore curmudgeons
b) gear-centric geeks insecure about their gear choices and skill level
c) pedantic people

will start arguing (about something else than the actual talking points) with you, anyway.
In other words, just forget the jargon, ignore the PC, and just say it like it is. ;-)

Other than that, your story about Bob & the Pompous Photographer was quite entertaining.

This is obviously just my opinion, too, and I'm writing this with my tongue in my cheek, not to be taken literally. I agree with your actual talking points, but couldn't help noticing the excess amount of artificial sweeteners added to the message. Those are not good for your health, you know. :)

Michael Matthews said...

What the heck, I'll answer my own question. Does life get any better?

Yes: Lou Lofton. Hasselblad.

Speaking of video, have you seen Ming Thein's latest trailer "How To See Ep.2: Tokyo"? It's a riot.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, I think you're right. 101%.

Just wondering how long the 'still purists' can hold their positions before getting washed away by the tide..

A merry Christmas, and a happy, prosperous 2014 to all of you.

Michael Gowin said...

I've been using video in my marketing efforts (also a great way to get practice) and have started to offer it for clients. There's no going back.

RFS said...

Though I'm mainly a freelance writer, more and more I'm doing it all—stills, video, b-roll for local TV news, social media—the only thing I don't do yet is puppet shows.
My observation is that for the businessperson of today, FaceVine and YouTwit are all tentacles on the same confusing octopus that's attached itself to their face and all they really want is for someone to pry it off so they can breathe again.
Plus, nobody really knows if YouTube (video) is better than Pinterest (stills), or whether Facebook (stills and video) is more effective than Twitter (pithy words and pictures) so they are looking for someone to fill all the channels until this crazy market sorts itself out.

RFS said...

There are two new products that make this whole scenario much more do-able for the individual.
The first is the Canon with its new video-style focusing on the 70D which lets you get cool focus pulls without an AC. The second is the Redrock motorized camera slider which moves your camera in an arc on a curved track so that you can have extremely sophisticated camera moves without the need to hire a grip or lay dolly track.
It's kind of a good news/bad news scenario for the industry. It only takes one or two people to do what it used to take a crew so more customers can afford it. The bad news is that the increased number of shoots might not balance the unemployment caused by the lower budgets.
I should have gone go law school like my parents wanted me to.

Kirk Tuck said...

RFS, hate to tell you this but Panasonic GH3 users have even better AF in their cameras and have had the ability to do the auto focus pull for more than a year now. You can also do the "touch here" focus pull in the $600 G6. I will admit, the curved sliders are nice but it's good to remember that the concept if based on the curved dolly track that's existed in the film industry for decades....

Yes, we should all have been lawyers. Then we could sue each other for fun....

Rob Wehmeier said...

I've been looking to add video for a few years and due to various excused and toe dipping have put off a full commitment. Not anymore! in the last few months alone I have had a few inquires that have convinced me that I will be jumping in with both feet in the new year. I have seen the one stop shopping happening, asked for stills then video was added and visa versa. Like you said, it's all content and the content is visually matched and the client is happy to have a few less details (i.e. multiple vendors) to deal with. The vexing question is where do I start.

Mike Tesh said...

As a professional DP/photographer I have to completely agree with this article. I work with corporate clients and my video crew is just a department inside of a web media company. In fact we're hardly even our own department. We exist inside of the greater "creative" departmart that includes graphic designers and front end web developers.

We work as a small three man team. We have a project manager that oversees video production and acts as our producer on shoots, myself as the main DP/photographer/editor and my audio guy that doubles as a second camera operator/editor. We've been working like this for years and have tackled a couple six figure productions.

Most of our work goes to web (since we work for a web media company) although we've also done local TV commercials, DVDs and video for presentations.

The project we just wrapped up on was for a major symphony orchestra. Threee video spots to be used at their annual shareholders meeting. The video was projected on a large screen to an audience of shareholders, donars, local politicians and so on.

From my perspective, if you want to continue to work solely as a photographer then you should shoot weddings or find yourself a niche in the art world. Unless you have a name for yourself doing high end product photography or fashion photography there is hardly any room for you in the middle market anymore. By middle market I mean clients looking to spend anywere for a couple thousand to 30K for production, which is our typical bread and butter.

I do portraits, product photography and office/scenic type shoots when it comes to stills. We used to have an inhouse photographer, but his main job was as creative director over the whole creative department. He ended up leaving to do more freelance wedding work that he was already doing on the side.

My background is in both photography and film(motion pictures). I learned both in the mid 90's when I was a teenager. By the time I started my career in the mid 00's I never got the chance to be just one thing. My audio guy and I also do front end web development and web updates when there is no video/photography work. I wish I could be just one thing. I would love to focus on being just a DP. My heart is in the field with a digital cinema camera lighting and shooting. But I can't be just one thing or I would be out of work. The fact that I am a swiss army knife is what keeps me employed. Sadly that's not even enough as I'm expected to also be amazing at motion graphics/design as well.

This is not an easy field to be in. I love what I do but I do not recommend it to younger people. When they ask me, I tell them to go to school for computer programming, right off the bat you'll double your pay.

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks Mike. I like hearing from other folks who are making their way in the this business. And I totally share your point of view. We're becoming more and more multimedia every month. Thank God I know how to write....

Angela Clark said...

Online video marketing is huge - lots of small business owners think they can be successful without video ads, but having professional video really sets you apart. In big cities like Atlanta video production is necessary for your business or corporation. Great article.