The face of change.

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.

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5 thoughts on “The face of change.

  1. I agree.

    I’ll add that although there’s uncertainty in the market, there’s one thing that I’ll offer as being a sure thing – whatever online material we offer whether single images or stories we’ll be spending more time ensuring our IP (Intellectual Property) is protected.

    Your examples of Harry Potter, Billy Elliot and Bridget Jones are good ones, but significantly they are ones whose content creators, and the businesses they feed – the film industry and book publishing – jealously and pro-actively protect their content in a way we photographers don’t and have not had to. The internet changed that virtually overnight.

    Part of the problem PC outlines is that we live in an ‘online’ age where content producers are viewed by many as providers of a free lunch. There’s a generation growing up who think anything you see online is free, and that its their right to download it if they wish, and profit from it as they see fit. Sadly that rather self-serving view is not only the preserve of the avaricious, but is a deliberately adopted ploy by many online service providers of such things as social networking sites and photo-sharing sites where ANY content uploaded is often automatically granted a perpetual, royalty free license to be exploited by the service provider with no credit nor payment to you.

    BUT they often add a clause stating that although you give them your images to use freely for gain, YOU retain liability for any legal actions arising from their use of your work, or the use of it by any third party to whom they sub-license it to (ie sell it to). So they want YOUR cake and they want to eat it too. Numerous photographic ‘competitions’ have sprung up as well, organized along similar lines, where not only do they take all rights in perpetuity, but they ask you to pay to enter as well! A case of them having YOUR cake and eating it, and asking you to pay to watch them do so.

    So whats my point? Well simply that such a system as we currently have will only last so long before it implodes. As a consequence of the proliferation of image use, content users want new work, and there’s plenty about with camera-phones now able to take publishable images, but a lot of it is quite simply not very good. As we working photographers know, creating good work costs, in research time, shooting time, travel time and expense and equipment, but if nobody is willing to pay for such content creation the supply will stop.

    But in reality it wont, because truly committed photographers will then simply find ways to offset those costs, and view such expense as investment. An investment that needs to be recouped. And how does that happen? By strictly licensing and controlling the use of the work and ensuring that the cost of its production is reflected in its exclusivity and market ‘value’.

    Which leads me to PLUS – which you can read about by yourself, it could flounder and die, or it could significantly change the way you work, and the way you think about the way you work. Or maybe not.

    Here’s a quote from an article about it (link below) – bet you never thought you’d hear the internet described as an ‘ecosytem’….

    “What is getting built here is a planet-size snowball where disparate versions of self-interest compel participation. The publishers, because they save time and money locating the raw material they want to use and managing what they own. The agencies, because they save time and money clearing and managing rights. The photographers, because they want to retain control of their work, be found and paid.

    A new internet ecosystem for images is exactly what PLUS is, and it is structured to facilitate good behaviour and impede misbehaviour. This is the opposite of the existing mayhem of the web.”

    Quote taken from a sort-of independent comment here:

    See the PLUS site here:

  2. I can fully appreciate the decline in image sales and the swamping of stock libraries. In that respect, digital has a lot to answer for, I guess. The equipment is readily available and even relatively inexpensive kit delivers good images these days. Yes, it’s the person behind the camera and not solely the equipment that produces the image, but the point is it’s a lot more accessible than it’s ever been before.

    Current economic issues aside, by and large people have more access to species and locations than they’ve ever had, so put the two together and yes, it’s easy to see why times are tough for the pro photographer trying to earn a crust from image sales.

    The bit that seems slightly surprising is the tours side of things. I would have thought that these were more the bread and butter side of the business these days. With a few execeptions perhaps, most people don’t have either the time or resources to go and stake out a location and research a subject in great detail to secure that “one” shot. Most are happy to pay for somebody to have done the hard work, put them in front of a subject and then let them press the shutter. The feeling to the “enthusiastic amatuer” at the end of the day remains the same – been out, found a subject (!) and got the shot. Whether it’s a limit on finances, time, or just plain laziness – tours seem to fulfil a need and long may they continue.

  3. Hi Phil

    The whole arena of ‘knowledge exchange’ (including tours) is as you say, many photographers’ bread and butter thesedays. That said, the huge increase in operators in recent years inevitably has an impact on established providers and ultimately, could initiate a price war as is the case in any over-crowded market. Let’s see what changes the next few years bring but there’s alot of head scratching going on!
    Good to see you and the Wild on White crew willing to try something different.

  4. Hi Pete,

    Yep, I have to admit the Wild on White stuff was a little out of the ordinary for me. Not the sort of thing I would normally shoot and to be honest I wasn’t entirely convinced beforehand that I was going to enjoy it. However, I have to take my hat off to Niall and Charlotte, they worked hard and put on a good show. It turned out to be a fun weekend, which I really enjoyed. I don’t know about the flower stuff, but I can definitely see myself having a crack at the bugs and amphibians again, back home.

    As usual the hospitality was top notch………..just wish that Sharon woman could bloody cook!!!!! LOL

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