A meeting with colleagues this last week proved to be a tad dispiriting with talk of rapid and widespread change within the business of nature photography. Stock sales are in massive decline, tours are more difficult to sell and print sales are almost non-existent – all traditional revenue streams. There is undoubtedly increased demand for nature imagery but this is countered by the massive upsurge in supply over recent years. Everyone it seems, wants to be a nature photographer (who can blame them) and the market is knocking at the door of saturation. The spectre of image fatigue also hangs in the air – it’s simply more challenging than ever to elicit a reaction from an audience perpetually bombarded with top-class material. Factor in economic uncertainty and I’d like to meet the photographer who disagrees that times are tough.
So what of the future? What of the keen young fellow I met recently who was desperate to give up his (well paid) day job to follow his dream of becoming a photographer? Two years ago I’d have had a good stab at answering these questions – I’m less sure now.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Think Harry Potter. No, I tell you what, think Billy Elliott or Bridget Jones. All great films. All absorbing entertainment. The former perhaps relies on outrageous budgets but the latter two are just simple tales: stories. We love stories – as a species I mean. We’re hard-wired for stories. It doesn’t matter if they’re in book form or in 3D wraparound film format. A good story is always in demand – always will be (think Jackanory if you’re old enough).
And let’s face it, nature offers story-telling photographers untold material – we just have to package that material and importantly, make sure our stories are told. And therein lies the future I think. There are plenty of photographers who have something to say and then there are the few who know how to say it. In a volatile marketplace that’s perhaps the crux of it, and I for one, retain my optimism for a future that might look very different but will still welcome the modern-day yarn-spinner.