8.28.2014

AUSBOOM!!! It's all happening in Austin, Texas.

The new "Math Accelerator" at the newly re-purposed Highland Mall. 
Highland Mall was the first regional shopping mall in central 
Texas. It's been more or less mothballed for a little while but 
Austin Community College (which I serve as an advisor to 
the arts programs) bought the facility and are renovating it with
the help of a stellar architectural firm.

Detail of math lab shot with the Panasonic 7-14mm lens on a
GH3. Why the GH3? Looked like the GH4 while I was 
packing in the early morning....


Austin is in another of its regular booms. This time the expansion dwarfs all previous booms. The number of fine dining restaurants has nearly doubled in four years. We have thousands and thousands of high end condominiums coming online each month and the sale of new homes over a million dollars has skyrocketed. Every time the phone rings it's a new start-up company that just moved to central Texas and needs video and photography----right now. 

What a contrast with 2008 and 2009 when everything slowed down to a crawl and photographers were boiling their leather camera straps to make soup.

So how has this impacted or improved the lives of the city's photographers and photo community? Well, of course, everything has changed with the democratization of digital imaging. There is a huge bottom to the the triangular hierarchy now with zillions of "no pay," "low pay," and "won't this look great in your portfolio: you should be paying us for the opportunity" types of jobs to be had but the pyramid thins out quickly as one goes up the scale into jobs that require skill, taste, lighting and a deeper understanding of production. 

There will be, for the foreseeable future, a number of projects that require nuanced lighting and at least a decent inventory of lighting tools and professional modifiers. CEOs still need to be handled well. Juxtapositions of foreground and background still need to be handled gracefully. And the photography based on an idea or good concept or even good cheer instead of a transient technique is always in style with someone out there who still has a budget. 

My take right now is that at least in Austin the pendulum has swung back to benefit tried and true photographic artists and away from the possible cost savings of the untried guy in shipping. The reason is that the movers and shakers who are driving the client side of the market have nearly unlimited budgets and they are in a hurry. A big hurry. They might have used a less expensive, unknown in the past but now they don't have the time. They need guaranteed delivery of very good product and while they might have the budgets to do things over and over again they have neither the patience nor the schedule flex to do iterative sourcing any more. They think of it as "opportunity loss/cost."

My gut feeling is that we get hired for two main reasons: 1. We have done a the thing our clients want done, or a near variation of it, thousands and thousands of times, successfully. All of our learning curves are in the dim, dark past and they were paid for long ago. According to the marketplace we are a "safe bet." Need it done now? We can deliver it every time. Track record. Experience. Now viewed as a cost saving attribute, not baggage.

And 2. Photography can be wonderful and complex and there really are learning curves to things like lighting and portrait/subject rapport and straightforward production. How to get the models your client needs. How to find the right locations. How to put together a crew and how to make sure they work smoothly and on a schedule. How to choose just the right light and lighting device to make the photograph turn out exactly the way the client wanted/envisioned it. Without wasting everyone's time desperately trying to figure it all out with a line of people waiting for you. Oh, I guess that's still just experience. 

And I am re-discovering for the ten thousandth time.....people will pay what it costs to work with someone that they like and trust. It's not enough to know how everything works, you have to bring some joy to getting their job done. You can make a successful photograph and still be a sociopathic nightmare---but you can't be a sociopathic nightmare and count on return clients. Ah, the stories I hear....

At any rate, the  market here is booming but all markets have a parabola. The faster the rise the faster the fall. I think of local economies like sine waves. There's always a peak and it's always followed by a trough. There's no real way to time it but there are clues. When I hear, "This time it's different. This time there won't be a bust!" I start stocking in the canned food and put more money into savings. I've been on this ride before.


2 comments:

Mark Davidson said...

Spot on Kirk.
I have been enjoying the benefits of being the "known" quantity in my area. But that took a lot of time.
I did not get to my place of good fortune with two seminars and a maxed out credit card. It took a lot of time and practice.
At the time I was resentful of the bottom feeding clients and the photographers they used but it was a huge gift to me to turn down those jobs.
I am fortunate enough to get regularly called by clients who want a job done right and on time.
I flatter myself that I also try to bring something extra to each job while still delivering on the specs. I know I am not the best but I am reliable enough to make my clients bosses look good.

Govis said...

Deficiencies in function being important or not, can we at least acknowledge that for mirrorless camera systems that are simpler, often have a smaller sensor size, actually remove an area of mechanical complication from the camera, the prices for many of the bodies and lenses aren't actually good values compared to DSLRs? Fast, long glass for these mirrorless systems would likely be hideously expensive.