Once upon a time photography and videography rarely crossed paths. In virtually all markets for visual communication (commercial, editorial, corporate, documentary, events) photography and videography were provided by completely separate individuals or crews, the fees came from different budgets and the client base rarely overlapped.
But that era is rapidly fading. Until recently, the primary venue for still photography was print material of some sort such as magazines, books, brochures and albums. Video was primarily experienced over broadcast or cable channels or distributed to consumers and corporate customers on tape or DVD.
Publishing and Broadcasting Converging
The Web is now the default vehicle for reaching audiences and publishing to mobile devices is rapidly on the rise. From the publishers’ perspective, the technical separation between still photography and video is rapidly disappearing. More importantly, the cost of delivering video to an audience declined significantly in just the past few years. Not long ago, the barrier to entry for getting video in front of an audience was extremely high. Getting a magazine, brochure or even a book was typically much less expensive. Today, there’s little distinction between publishers and broadcasters.
There are distinct differences in the way each of these media types conveys information and affects the user experience. Still images have an instant impact that videos, due to their temporal nature, can’t match. Video, on the other hand, can tell a more complex and nuanced story (when done well) than can a photograph. Photographs also require less of a commitment on the part of the visitor than the 30 seconds or longer it takes to watch a video. In most cases it doesn’t require a click to see a photograph on a Web site but it does to watch a video. This might sounds trivial but getting people to click things on a Web site is one of key challenges faced by Web publishers.
When publishing was synonymous with “print,” photography had no competition from video. Photography is ideally suited for the printed page, but it doesn’t have that same advantage on the Web. Not just video but also 3-D renderings, animation, interactive design and other visual crafts are generally as well or better suited than photography for communicating with audiences on the Web and through mobile devices. As a result, while paper publications continue to shrink and fold and the Web and mobile increasingly becomes the default publishing platforms, a greater amount of the budget for visual creative and editorial work is moving away from photography and towards these other areas.
Adding more bad news to the mix is the rise of “user-generated content.” This could be in the form of microstock (which is in fact sometimes produced by professional), shared “open source” images from services like Flickr or editorial images supplied by audience members or advocacy groups. All these new sources of imagery have flooded the market and generally put significant downward price pressure on most areas of professional photography.
The Shrinking Photo Market
So where does all this leave you, the professional photographer? It really depends on how you view your art, craft and business. Photographers who see the market as it was 5 or even 3 years ago are finding themselves fighting over pieces of a shrinking pie. Print publishing and other print-based venues for still photography (signage, packaging, portraits, cards) won’t go away in our lifetime but their steady decline is likely to continue. If photographers want to succeed they need to first accept and then embrace this changing landscape. Otherwise they’ll find themselves unable to sustain their career as the market shrinks.
This isn’t to say that photographers should chuck their photo gear. (In fact, an increasing number of digital SLRs can now now capture high-quality video.) But you should learn how to express your visual style with video. If you do, it will make you not only a more well-rounded visual artist but it can also make you more marketable as clients increasing seek creative talent that can produce both still images and video to be used in the same ad campaign or editorial story.
A Moment of Opportunity
This is a moment of opportunity for photographers because an increasing amount of professional video is being created specifically for use on the Web and mobile devices. This means they are small media buys (the amount advertisers spend to place their ads) that translates into smaller creative budgets than those for video shoots that appear on broadcast or cable television. This means that ad agencies are looking for professional quality video that can be produced for a lower cost, which usually means by a smaller team. This is an area where a photographer can be the sweet spot. The same principal applies for editorial and documentary video. Web publishers want to offer video to their audience but need to deliver it without broadcast-level budgets.
This also allows photographers to take advantage of the quandary currently faced by video producers. They have historically been organized to tackle relatively big budget projects. Like photographers, they are also faced with rapidly shrinking budgets for their projects and many are struggling to streamline their operations to meet their new market reality. Photographers are already used to working leaner, with smaller (or no) crews and faster turnaround.
Bridging the Gap between Photography and Video
Of course there are big differences between the process of creating professional-quality video and the equivalent quality still images. The cost of gear and the technical expertise required to use it are no longer the substantial barriers they once were. More importantly, improvements in the usability of video gear means that a few people, or even one person, can now do what it used to require a large crew. This brings the number of people needed to shoot video in line with a typical commercial photo shoot, or in a pinch, a single cameraman for editorial or documentary work.
A major obstacle for photographers shooting video is tackling the creative elements of video not present in photography, most notably time and sound. But the biggest challenge is the editing and other post-production processes required to turn raw footage into a finished piece. The skill needed to do this well is equal to the skill needed to create the original footage. This is also the part that photographers, who typically feel more comfortable with a camera in their hand than working in software, have the hardest time mastering. It’s worthwhile to both teach yourself the basic elements of video editing and to seek out some experienced editors you can work with.
Creating New Opportunities
Is photography dying? No. Is the market for photography shrinking? Clearly it is at the moment but a new burst of prosperity might cause an upsurge in demand for all kinds of services, including photography. But the long-term prospect for the professional photography market looks stagnant even under the most favorable economic scenarios. But as technologies and business models based on publishing to the Web and mobile devices continue to make video more ubiquitous, indications are clear that opportunities for professional videography are growing. Photographers who ignore these trends do so at their own peril.
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