If you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you might not have noticed that the photography industry has gone through some major changes in the last few years. The digital revolution and slow economy have both been major players in many of the changes. With 2011 just starting out, it’s a good time to get the pulse of the photography world. If you can get a good grasp on where the photo industry is at, and where it’s headed, you can make better choices in planning where you want to go as a studio. This is by no means a comprehensive list of trends, but they’re the changes that we’ve noticed based on our experience with consumers and photographers across the nation. If you’ve noticed anything additional, drop a comment with your observation.
With Canon’s introduction of HD video in the 5D Mark II and 7D, more photographers have been adding video to their list of services. Even if the videography isn’t on the services offered, quite a few photographers are still taking video as promotional material or as a gift to win a client over. Other photographers are holding out on video and sticking to traditional photography. It seems like the 2 camps are becoming more distinct as photographers make their choices. It’s not quite to the level of the jpeg vs raw debate, but it’s getting closer.
Consumers With Pro-Quality Gear
Last night, Larissa and I held a DSLR class where we go over the basics of how to use your camera in manual mode. We usually find at least one or 2 people in the classes have gear that’s on par with what we use to shoot professionally. Last night was no exception. It has become common for us to have a 3rd wheel shooter at weddings. An uncle or distant cousin has got a nice camera, and is convinced that even though we’re officially the paid photographers, the bride and groom made the wrong choice in selecting us when they already had a family member with fancy gear.
Customers Want Digital Files
The reason there’s such a debate among photographers about giving away digital images is because so many customers are asking for the files. Some customers want the images to put on Facebook, while others are looking for the full resolution images and a copyright release. Customer demand for the cd is undeniable. Now it’s just a matter of how you cater to, or refuse to cater to what customers want.
More Entry Level Photographers
At last year’s imaging USA, a point was driven home to us in a powerful way. There were more photographers than ever at the convention. Who were these photographers? One instructor did a quick survey to find out. “How many of you guys have been in business under a year?” Almost every hand shot up. We felt kind of ridiculous being some of the only photographers who had been shooting more than 5 years. Turns out the reason so many photographers were at convention is because the industry had experienced a growth in the number of photography businesses, and they were eager to learn how to get their businesses started.
Studios are adding boudoir services as fast as they can update their websites. These same studios didn’t have a single boudoir client 5 years ago. The reason for the fast growth is that consumers now see boudoir as less taboo, and studios have seen how this type of photography can be a profitable addition to their lineup of services. With customers who want to be advertised to, and studios who want to do the advertising, the word has spread like wildfire.
Customers Still Value Photography Even With Less Income
You’ve probably heard discussions on how photography is a want, not a need. You’d expect that in a slower economy, photography would be suffering, but it’s not suffering to the degree you’d expect. The reason photography businesses are still doing well is because most customers don’t see photography as a want. They see it as a need. Just like a bride wouldn’t consider a wedding without a ring, there’s something about skipping professional photographs that just doesn’t make sense to brides. Photography is just as much a part of the wedding as the dress.
Walmart Does Weddings
The first time I saw this, I laughed. OK, I still laugh when I see it. I think it’s the quick and cheap position that Walmart has established in my mind. I just wonder if that’s the same kind of wedding where they serve McDonald’s at the reception. I’m sure some people will use Walmart to do their wedding and love it. The pictures are not going to be amazing though. Maybe it’s filling a market niche that other professionals are intentionally passing up. Either way, that means more competition for the low-budget weddings, and that means all the entry-level photographers are going to have an even harder time landing the “starter” jobs.
Magazine Style Albums
Albums with actual prints are becoming pretty rare. There’s extra freedom and creative options that go along with a magazine style album. These types of albums have been popular for a few years now, and just having a non-traditional album isn’t enough to create a buzz any more. Album vendors are introducing all kinds of products to get the Wow from a bride. Jewelry to video – you name it, and there’s probably a vendor trying it.
Professional Websites, Slideshows, and Music
Just a few years ago, having a killer website, slideshow, and music would have cost a fortune. There really weren’t all that many good options, so photography businesses who wanted a quality online presence were paying high dollar to professionals who could make it happen. Now there are hundreds of template options for photography websites, Animoto has rocked the slideshow market, and both Animoto and Triple Scoop Music are providing some really fantastic royalty free options for music. That means good news and bad news for photographers. Good news that you can now afford high quality online media, but bad news that so can every other photographer in your city.
There have been some big changes in the studio management software world. A previously big player, PhotoOne was bought out, so other vendors like Studio Cloud are stepping in for their fair share of the studio management software users. Everyone expected a new version of Photoshop. What everyone may not have expected was the introduction of Lightroom and the 1000′s of Photoshop plugins and tools to make our lives as photographers easier. It does make our lives easier, doesn’t it?
The Advertising Game Has Changed
Phone books don’t work any more for photographers. In fact, probably half of the ways photographers were advertising in the past don’t work now. Social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogging) is the new buzzword for getting the word out about your studio. There’s no magic in social media though. The photographers who are succeeding with social media are the ones who have something worth sharing. They’ve got unique images or something fun to talk about. There’s also Search Engine Optimization and other technology-oriented replacements for traditional marketing.
What To Do
If you haven’t already, take some time to read Purple Cow by Seth Godin. Realize that being exactly like the studio down the street isn’t making your business stand out. I think as a business owner, you have 2 ways to play the game smart. You can get ahead of the curve on some of the emerging trends – be one of the leaders who ushers in exactly what customers want. You can also go exactly the opposite way. You can shoot film in a digital age, or you can refuse to edit your pictures. Just make sure you’re making the right decision based on where you want your company to go. The one way to lose is to be a latecomer to the trends and just let the industry pull you along. That’s playing it safe. Safe is really risky as far as your business is concerned, so decide how you’re going to be risky. Go have some fun!