The future of photography lies in education

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The industry in a nutshell: everything depends on everything else, but most importantly, knowing what everything does.

Over the course of the last few months, I’ve had a number of interesting conversations with quite a number of people involved in various areas of the photographic industry – from the corporate juggernauts that make the hardware, to the niche manufacturers, to professional photographers, to amateurs, clients/ image buyers and everything in-between. I suspect the nature of my work and involvement with the greater photographic community means that I have a little more insight into the big picture than most, and what I’m seeing honestly concerns me.

For the longest time, most of the money circulating in the industry was from selling film and supplies, then hardware; and finally closely followed by selling images. Digital has eliminated the first cash cow, upped the average revenue per sale/ item/ buyer (pick your metric) of the second, and I think it’s difficult to gague what’s happened to the third: on one hand, the average ticket price of a job has fallen, but on the other, there are a lot more small jobs, more photographers who perhaps are not full time pros, and more people still who’ve found a new passion thanks to overall lowered costs of entry*.

*Hardware has gone up, come down again, image quality potential has shot through the roof, but pros no longer have to burn through hundreds or thousands of dollars of film and processing on each job. The per job cost has definitely fallen.

I don’t think anybody would argue that digital is not mature: for the vast majority of consumers and pros, we’re there. It is easier than ever to achieve higher image quality than ever; long past what we could achieve with film. Even cameraphones in good light are not far off the best 35mm could deliver. But I think it isn’t image quality that’s the true measure of maturity: it’s the fact that sales are tailing off in most parts of the world for the core hardware (bodies, kit lenses etc.) The people who are serious – enthusiasts and pros – will buy whatever they want or need regardless, but they represent a small market. The volume buyers have what they need, and don’t feel the same urge to upgrade as the rest of us (and presumably most readers of this site) do: it’s like a washing machine for us. We may do some research and buy a good one, but we’re not going to buy another one because it spins with 10% more rpm or washes 15% faster or can take a bit more load. It does the job so we’ll continue using the one we’ve got until it breaks – and that’s what a camera is for most people.

The manufacturers are now struggling with the next wave of adoption. Over the last few years, there’s actually been a very good reason to upgrade; each successive generation delivered tangible and visible benefits that didn’t really require a lot of explanation to sell. The majority of buyers could see the difference with their own eyes. We are now at the point where we’re splitting hairs, and even photographers who can a) tell the difference and b) consistently deploy it and c) afford it are having to think multiple times to justify purchases: is the Zeiss 1.4/55 Otus really worth 4x the ticket price of the Sigma 50/1.4 Art? For most, the answer is a definite no. I doubt any more than a small fraction of the market can see the difference, and even less than that can use it. Even I frequently wish I had autofocus. Would I like to own every Otus? Of course. Will I? I don’t know, because each one costs a small fortune.

In order for Zeiss to sell one, they have to convince the potential buyer of the value. The only way for them to do that is to show tangible results: education. It’s a similar situation with the recent Nikon D810, over the D800E: headline numbers on the spec sheet are almost identical. Photographers with plenty of mileage on the D800E had to think quite a bit before upgrading: the improvements are so specific and applicable only under certain situations, not all of which every photographer will encounter. And you won’t know whether they’re even useful for you or not without some serious introspection into the way you shoot.

Consider this progression of hardware, aimed at the same serious amateur/ working pro: from D200 to D700, we gained full frame and about two stops of high ISO; from D700 to D800E, we gained three times the resolution and didn’t lose much – if any – low light capability. D800E to D810 – err, 1fps, new mirror/shutter and EFC, a few video modes, and a slightly larger buffer. Did Nikon sell a lot of D800Es to D700 or D3X users based on numbers alone, over every other camera that came before? Definitely. Are they going to sell as many D810s to D800E users? I highly doubt it. And each successive generation from now on is likely to be the same: just because there’s a quantum leap in one aspect of the hardware does not mean the rest of the imaging chain is up to supporting it. We early adopters of the D800E discovered this the hard way when it came to lenses, for instance.

But even though we can see something is wrong – we may not know why, or how to fix it. And there’s something similar going on with the market for images, too. It’s getting harder and harder to sell work to clients simply because the average level of ‘free’ is approaching the level of sufficiency for a lot of companies who would previously have paid for at least an ‘entry level’ job. Instead now we have friends of friends and relatives shooting for free or very little; this has thinned out an entire strata of the professional photography market. It is no longer possible to make a decent living from many small jobs frequently. This was previously a good strategy simply because the loss of one job would not affect the end of the month’s numbers too badly; things would average out. No longer. There’s now a ‘middle class’ of photographic providers who don’t do it for a living, but at the same time aren’t doing the things pros used to do: educating clients and providing consistency of service, for a start**.

**My article on what it means to be a professional explains this in more detail, as does this one.

At the high end – the commercial jobs that used to have creative and art directors and more than one person working – budgets have tightened in response to global economic conditions, and expectations of the unrealistic have risen thanks to the public perception that Photoshop can fix any multitude of sins – this is not a good place to be in at all. Naturally, those pros involved in these markets have grown even more protective of their territory, since it’s shrinking. I’m no longer sure that this is a good market to be in, either: the bigger the job, the bigger the risk, the higher the upfront costs, and the larger the egos involved – plus there are more people who want to have their ‘creative’ interests represented, too. At the end of the day the results land up being a dog’s breakfast and the photographer is blamed, because they are the most obvious person at whom to attribute the images.

At the core of this, the misalignment of expectations is usually to blame. I’m finding with increasing frequency that I get asked to quote on jobs based on the creative and experimental work in my portfolio, but then told that the final look would be decided by one of the clients (who inevitably have no or little creative experience) or an external art director (who usually isn’t any better). Perhaps this problem is limited to Asia and the developing world, but I can’t help but ask the obvious question: why hire me because you like my work, then ask me to copy something a competitor did and then be unhappy that the results look the same?

There are some clients to whom I explain this in as simple terms as possible, and some will go with my suggestion of trying something different. If they keep an open mind, they’re usually happy. The rest don’t listen and then complain. I don’t work for them again, nor do I want to. The only thing we can do is educate our clients: to trust that we should be an integral part of the creative process, and that’s why they hired us in the first place.

As for the art market, photography never really had the scale of painting or sculpture or ‘traditional’ arts to begin with; it probably never will now that the majority of people believe they can create their own – and they’re right, with practice and guidance, of course. Galleries and promoters of photography as art are not really helping themselves by keeping the market cliquish and closed.

We’ve now come full circle again: we’re past the point of selling based solely on the obvious. Even the niches are being filled, and there are only so many quirky experiments the market will support; most people cannot be buying expensive non-essential items every few months. And there simply aren’t enough people at the high end who can to support the R&D investment required to develop these things. This means that long term sustainability of the camera business is dependent on a few things: firstly, the influencers – i.e. the pros with a visible public profile – staying in business; the responsibility for client education and management falls on them. Then, the only way to get mass consumers to become enthusiasts is to enable them with skills and knowledge: they need to be engaged, and preferably by a brand. The first companies to start will be the winners, because they will have captured the loyalty of the most consumers. It’s easy for people to spend money on something if they’ve already convinced themselves they need it.

But there are only so many images or cameras you can buy. Invest in developing proper structured education programs for your hardware buyers; include them as value added extras (or heavily subsidized, and watch as more buyers convince themselves they need upgrades. I personally believe education is the way forward, and this is why over the last few years I’ve invested significant time and resources into developing this site, the workshop syllabuses and the teaching video series – there’s no limit to how far individual creativity can go. I’m openly stating it here because I know there are a lot of industry readers to this site: to any camera maker who’s keen to explore such a program, I would love to collaborate with you to keep our industry healthy and growing. It’s in everybody’s best interests. I have the structure and the track record – hundreds of students, a full range of videos and a complete end to end syllabus for everybody from compact camera beginners to serious artists looking to push creative development. Which manufacturer has the courage to take up the challenge? MT

On an unrelated note, this is post number nine hundred on this site – the vast majority of which were about education or the making and analysis of images.

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Comments

  1. Hello Ming, I have not read all the interventions, but I really do believe that the MFT group should be the most logical group to use your services. Wheres Nikon and Canon have their schools and Pro groups, Olympus and Panasonic seem to have put all their effort into the engineering and development of a fabulous product group and virtually nothing into marketing and teaching. Olympus Europe hardly has any resource to spend on enthusiasts, semi pros and pros to develop their understanding of the product and its use. In France, the pro support group consists of one person, who has no time to support pros, due to his many other jobs. So yes, they should be ripe for using a good training organisation.

  2. ” …final look would be decided by one of the clients…” Totally agree it’s very annoying some times.

  3. It’s been a long time since I shot film. I couldn’t help but notice your veiled swipe at film. I sometimes shoot with a D800, but mostly with a DP3M or DP2M. Most of my work doesn’t require high ISO. I have the pre Merrill DP1 which I am able to use 50 ISO very effectively, even in low light, with a tripod. I have an assortment of very good film cameras which are rarely used. A few months ago, I uncovered an Olympus StylusEpic and shot a roll of film with it. The results were a step above from what I can achieve using the D800 or Sigma cameras. But, that is for my expectations and others will not see it the same. So, it depends on your expectations and needs whether digital has surpassed film. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to battle on with digital. Now, experimenting with the Olympus 50mm digital macro on the Olympus E-1 at low ISO, surprisingly good; wonderful lens.

    • There’s no ‘veiled swipe’; film had its time and place and still does for some uses, but for the vast majority of applications, digital is now superior in every way. As always a skilled photographer can deploy either with great success and play to the strengths of the medium.

  4. nothingbeforecoffee says:

    Ming… congratulations on your 900th post and for championing the art and science of this thing for which I have such an unbridled passion. Photography, and by extension, photographers are experiencing the many effects of the commodification of the photographic image. Instagram is claiming better than 55 million uploads a day on their site and they are but one of many social media outlets with a seemingly insatiable appetite for imagery. As might be expected in such an environment, people have largely become like contestants at pie or hotdog eating contests where the object has been reduced to consumption and taste has been pretty much reduced to a not factor. I do however, remain optimistic. The recently wide spread enthusiasm for the work of Vivian Mayer, suggest that when asked to choose between candy floss and something more substantive, we will sometimes, if not always, land on the side of the more soul nurturing. Thanks Ming for doing your part to keep us well fed.

    Regards

    Terry Bell

  5. I think the future of Photography is quite safe. Recently I watched this ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GHsHA87cWe0 ) interview with Sandro Miller, which gave me a great boost of energy. If you have dedication, vision, ready to experiment and explore and put half of your energy into your own promotion you will succeed: this is the message of the interview. According to SM hard work is the best education. The third message: your art sells your professional work and can give it the highest qualification by others. Well, OK, he started his career long ago.

  6. Good observation Ming. Sorry to say, you are right… welcome to the information revolution. A huge collapse in the industry is under way. There used to be a lot of skilled cobblers and blacksmiths in each town, the industrial revolution changed all that. As the beginning of the information revolution lots of unskilled labor was removed from the workforce… phone interchange operators, then data entry clerks, gas station attendants. Now as the information revolution is moving up the skill ladder. So there will be another huge collapse of the photography industry. fStop jockeys, the people skilled at the technical side of photography will not be required, it will be those with great artistic skill that are still required, I’m not sure I know what the industry will look like afterwards.. but you will know long before most other folks. You are in the top percentage of skilled / educated professionals, you’ll help shape it. Now that you have had the epiphany, I imagine you will be out in front leading.

    I hadn’t thought much about this facet of it until I read your article. But I have been very frustrated with folks on many of the photography forums who seemed to miss the value of much of the technology by continually manual adjustment of each photo they snap instead of backing off and letting the incredible automation take over (as in the D800). I guess it is the artistic part that attracts me to photography, so I immediately stopped fiddling with the controls as soon as I could. It used to be that more than half of the skill of photography was the aperture / shutter speed / iso / focus part of it. It used to be that a well taken, sharp photograph with little artistic merit was appreciated as a great photo… any idiot do that now. Most of the technical stuff is going away or has gone. It is now only the artistic part that creates value. As you point out, there is an equivalent collapse in the hardware side. To me one of the real jewels of the Nikon D800 is the software! It has allowed me to make some adjustments at the macro level before a session, autoISO, minimum shutter speed, mode, focus mode and go into the dark forest and seldom manually adjust a thing. So the art is the only thing I concentrate on. I think the industry will loose an equivalent portion of people based on than not being a required skill anymore.

    The information revolution isn’t over, it’s barely started As more and more intelligence is built into software each industry in turn will be reshaped. It is and exciting time, but difficult if your in the middle of one of the industries that is being reshaped. I have been very fortunate to work at the cutting edge of deployment of technology for the last thirty years and seen it reshape industries at the personal level, and industry level. It is a wild ride. It will be interesting to see what it looks like in ten or twenty years.

    • The only reason to master the technical stuff and understand the gear very well is so one can execute your vision, but you must also know how to translate that vision into quantitative steps in the first place – I suppose it’s a bit like translating an idea from logic to machine code.

      If the software is done well, it can be quite transparent – why is it that we feel iPhones don’t need any more controls, but DSLRs and MF do? All in the software and UI – one was built for digital, one adapted, and it shows.

  7. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Another example:
    The Swedish tabloid Expressen just discharged all their photografers and photo editors (about 60).
    If this doesn’t create a big demand for photografic education of their journalists …
    But I doubt they see it like that.

    And, well, with most everybody having some experience of “taking pictures”, for that kind of newspaper that might well be at their level of sufficiency.

    • Sadly news is about shock value and content more than lyricism and story these days…

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        !!

        And one thing the internet lacks in order to have a more than occasional market of deeper content (i.e. story) – and perhaps even lyricism – is, I think, a simple international very low transacton cost system for very small payments – to read an article e.g.

        • Hey, I try, and I’m free 🙂

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            You most certainly do, and you do more than that!
            🙂 !

            I was thinking of the need for more structure on the internet concerning information sharing and spreading, especially as traditional media are in the hands of conglomerates with less interest in good journalism.

            That needs editors, and they need support to survive. Some payment system, e.g. like I suggested, could make more of them free and open up for new efforts.
            Provided we readers agree that freeing internet publishing from advertising is a good thing.

            • And that people are willing to pay at all…it’s an odd system of values, given that a decent article provides more value and entertainment than a cup of coffee yet most are unwilling to pay anything for the former. I suppose coffee is sometimes a necessity, not a luxury…

              • Kristian Wannebo says:

                On Cameralabs’ website you can read:
                “If you find my reviews useful, support me by shopping below, or buying me a coffee!”
                (plus an enticing image of a brimming cup)

                🙂
                We used to, and many still do, pay for single copies of newspapers. So I hope we can learn to pay per view once the transaction gets simple and cheap enough.
                ( With low enough per view costs it would hopefully be considered shameful to redistribute for free.)

  8. This is a thought provoking article, but personally I’d be a little disappointed if you became “affiliated” in some way with a particular camera company, when one of the strengths of your teachings is that the specific equipment used is one of the least important parts of taking a great photograph…. Perhaps a link to a camera retail company would work better? I’ve noticed the small independent camera shops (the few that remain) are often keen to help buyers get the most out of their cameras, although I’m not sure about the larger chains…

    • Don’t worry, none of the camera companies seem to be interested in doing anything other than getting me to write glowing reviews of not-so-glowing product. If I was to be affiliated with any company it’d have to be one whose products I would (and do) use regardless because they are the best and they push the limits of what’s possible; whose attitude to photographers and service are exemplary; and don’t compromise the engineering for the marketeers. I’m actually not sure any camera company exists that meets all of those criteria. 🙂

      • That’s great to hear Ming. I would be very disappointed if any particular camera company read this article and assumed it’s an invitation to “buy you out.” After all, you’re a resource for all photographers regardless of brand, size or price.

        • To be honest, I don’t know what they’d do with the material. Another moderately popular site offered to ‘buy me out’ in the past, but I can’t say I liked their attitude.

      • Good to hear! I suspect you (and all of us) will be waiting a long time for that kind of company to appear – just putting engineering above marketing is already impossible for most organisations…

        • Actually it’s not so much not putting engineering above marketing as not falling victim to making a product that looks good in an ad, but doesn’t work in practice. The Df is a good example of that…

  9. My first thought on this, other than agreeing with many aspects, was about the Porsche Driver’s School. It’s available to Porsche owners, though attendance is a very small portion of Porsche enthusiasts. Many would rather just have a highly capable machine, yet not explore the limits. I think this describes highly capable camera gear too, and many of the people who own that gear.

    People somewhat outside the professional photography realm tend to focus upon the technology, as if learning the machines and software is the key to unlocking the potential. I’ve heard of numerous workshops for photographers that did exactly that, rather than focus upon critical thinking needed to create compelling images. We shouldn’t be surprised that many people just don’t get it. Agree with you on the education part, though I’m not so sure the enthusiasts are the ones going back to work and suggesting hiring professional photographers. We’ve seen more than enough interns, temps, and even art directors, now shooting their own projects, rather than bringing in someone else with ideas.

    Read the comments about the Leica events, though I think they really do have the approach that targets their core audience. Leica is much more of a lifestyle brand than it ever was in the past. Photography as a lifestyle approach is valid, though it also excludes a large segment of potential users. Porsche have tried more attainable autos at various times, and of course many used Porsches are still good choices for those on a tighter budget. We don’t really have much in the way of good used attainable Leica cameras, other than film choices, because digital bodies devalue quickly. Maybe a certified pre-owned direction for Leica in the future, as their wealthy owners age out of their photography hobby. 😉

    It’s not easy to convey the creative process, and ideas generation, to people unfamiliar with it. Many want numbers and figures they can quantify. The other thing is the magic, and what I mean by that is that as professional, we need to maintain an idea of magic in the final results. The other thing is that being a creative professional now means more about relationships than ever before. If people want to work with us, for whatever reason, then I think that is the key to remaining a creative professional. The more people like you, the more you will be able to show them some magic. I’ve heard it many times from big ad agency people, the biggest thought that can kill any project is playing it safe. I’m not so sure educating a wider group makes that better, or would it push work towards higher levels?

    • Porsche probably makes nothing – or a loss – off the school, but I bet those who aren’t Porsche owners certainly have that brand first and foremost in mind when the opportunity to buy a sports car comes up – and that’s where they win (not to mention on the horrendously expensive options list).

      As for playing it safe – sadly been on the receiving end of that far too many times to count, especially locally. Here clients just don’t want to take a risk, and land up wanting a carbon copy of what was done by market leaders the season before – of course there’s no way to break out of the ‘follower’ pack. I still believe more education would help; perhaps not to the point that we replace ourselves or get too close to it, but some level of understanding is still necessary if you’re trying to sell an idea that’s never been done before. If your client can’t visualise it…they’re not going to sign off on it.

      • “…there’s no way to break out of the ‘follower’ pack. I still believe more education would help; perhaps not to the point that we replace ourselves or get too close to it, but some level of understanding is still necessary if you’re trying to sell an idea that’s never been done before. If your client can’t visualise it…they’re not going to sign off on it.

        While I personally do not care for anything about him or his brand, you may want to watch the piece on Tommy Hilfiger on this American Experience episode: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/the-boomer-list/watch-full-film-the-boomer-list/3492/ . Talk about going big on using marketing to create a brand from nothing.

        –Ken

        • Yep, that’s not the only example. But it doesn’t mean people can easily break out of their conditioning to take the risk; especially when they have no confidence in their own or their team’s abilities and run the risk of becoming unemployed afterwards…

  10. Hi Ming

    Thank you for your wonderful posts and insights. I do hope someone who cares and has vision in the hardware manufacturing sector to work out something with you. Maybe an introductory course (EP1 making outstanding images or a simplified version) with the purchase of a camera, and let the seed grow.
    Here is article 901.

    regards

  11. Ming. While I agree that education is the way forward for the individual deeply dedicated photographer, it is not the way forward for a camera manufacturer, at least at the scale to which such companies have become accustomed. A well-educated photographer is a discerning consumer, one who knows that now the constant purchasing of equipment in a consumerist vein is pointless. Money instead should be spend in the stimulation of the muse – travel, networking etc. The domain of another industry entirely.
    The paradigm shift necessary is for the photographic infrastructure to realize that they are not in the business of making disposable things, but art. This is Inherently a self selecting viewpoint that ensures a small and dedicated customer base, but by no means a growing one. With the change in the purpose of most photography to that of a conversational aid rather than an archival means, the dimunition of the photo industey as has been previously defined by the craft-based manufacturers and enthusiasts is assured.
    What you’re talking about is creating a cadre of artists with the means to support the manufacturers. Fine, but this is the equivalent of producing the next generation of PhDs. Only a few are interested in going that far. Only a few are needed. The mass market for high-quality cameras is returning to its natural level. The market for people wanting to be true artists is even smaller, particularly in an art whose entry cost is so very high.
    Nikon University? A good idea. But not a profitable one. Nikon thinks this…the money’s in repairing sick people for their new management.

    • We have plenty of people already. And no, not everybody wants to do a PhD, but that’s not to say a diploma isn’t useful. I agree it isn’t the responsibility of the camera companies – but the smart ones would make it so, since it’d probably cost a lot less than one meaningless ad with a celebrity…

  12. Albert Macfarlane says:

    Your brief comment on the state of the market for photographic prints which may qualify as art needs some expansion. Collectors and galleries vie at auction for attractive prints which are of historical value. Prints from more recent masters of photography fetch millions of dollars but only when they are known to be from tightly limited editions – as with limited editions of prints made by mechanical processes by other masters of the visual arts. In the digital age there is no limit to the number of prints which can be made of one image: most photographers appear happy to sell as many as they can, often at a price just more than the cost of the inkjet output. An original Ansel Adams silver print, made by the old man himself, may be very valuable and collectable, but his heirs are selling digital reproductions of “Moon over Hernandez” at whatever size you want. High art is driven by collectors with deep pockets, and no collector is going to spend big bucks on a print which has a potential edition of thousands, even if critics unanimously label it the photograph of the decade.

    • I understand the concept of scarcity very well. Well enough to limit my editions to at most 20, usually 10, and never print them again. And inkjet or other means – to produce a perfect print that exactly matches the artistic intention of the photographer requires far more effort than you might think…

  13. Digital seismically shifted the entire landscape. During the early years, the gradual iteration of digital sensors from something not quite as good as 35mm, to something better than 35mm, led to huge sales growth for the big two (even as other manufacturers, withered, merged, or were bought out).

    As soon as the camera became both mechanism AND medium (and this is the important distinction here, I think), it launched a syndrome whereby the camera manufacturers could bring out a new model every two years and people would flock to buy it, because the improvements were tangible and necessary. So in a sense, the camera manufacturers painted themselves into a corner as both a cause and consequence of digital; higher relative price points and new models every couple of years led to increased profits and significant growth.

    Now that we have hit a sufficiency + saturation point, they’re feeling the effects of market hangover. Things are settling back to where they used to be. And what I mean by “where they used to be” is this: Product life cycles for cameras 40 years ago (during the celluloid era) were typically every five to eight years. Cameras like the Nikon F2 lasted 9 years (hell, the F3 was manufactured for 20+ years!), AND there were less models.

    Without some sort of quantum leap forward, the camera market will shrink back to where it was several decades ago, IMO.

    What does that quantum leap forward entail? Well, first of all I think it will be short-lived; the same problem will re-emerge a few years later. I think organic [or whatever] sensor tech is one way to reinvigorate sales again for a while, because it could promise superior IQ in a smaller, lighter pro-level package—that solves a very real problem, aka size + weight = fatigue.

    I think Thom Hogan’s suggestion that the Japanese manufacturers need to simplify the workflow/distribution process is another way they could solve a real world problem … and it could similarly reinvigorate sales [though they seem reluctant to tackle that].

    My own view is that they will inevitably be forced to shrink, whilst simultaneously figuring out ways that they can help solve photographers’ problems (not just in hardware, but in software, support, education, training, etc.)

    In Nikon’s case, they have something called Nikon School. I think they need to expand upon it. They also have something called Nikon House at a few of select locations globally, though all pale in comparison to the one that used to exist at Rockefeller Plaza in NYC back in the 1960s and early 1970s (part art gallery, part museum, part place to handle new gear; they even had a Japanese gentleman who would perform minor repairs/cleanings to your Nikon or Nikkormat camera free of charge).

    Nikon needs to reexamine that model closely for the 21st century, IMO. Unfortunately, corporate greed has replaced customer service in too many quarters. The company that reverses this trend will reap the rewards, I think.

    Not even going to wade into the shifting landscape from the photographer’s perspective. I don’t think the dust has settled on that yet.

    • Even if the manufacturers are addressing the education portion, it’s in a very unstructured and haphazard way. And always very basic. Not the kind of thing that explains – or better yet, helps a photographer to come to their own realisation – why they need to buy your latest and greatest…

      • Oh, I thoroughly agree with you. A lot of people still like the bricks & mortar buying experience (Leica excels at this) and most of those that do want to have their hand held, particularly when spending a lot of money. It’s not a difficult equation, but it does require a commitment to rethinking customer service and adopting some “old world” ways…

        “Tell us what you want to achieve. OK, here’s product XYZ that will let you do that … now let’s take you through some specific options for how you can do that.”

        • It’s certainly very simple when put that way. I think what’s prevented anybody from actually implementing it is that the cost of education and hiring people that are willing/interested to be educated far outweighs the tiny margin on cameras these days…in short: short to middle-sighted business practices and pure bottom-line only focus mean that in the long term, everything suffers.

          • That’s why. Ming. You need to be there when a company realizes the real need for education. Sell your videos complimentary with a camera. That you helped design. For real enthusiasts. At a reasonable price. And I bet you have a winner.

            Obviously you’d be selling your product at a lower price. But making up for it in the bulk sales (hopefully)

            Why no manufacturer has approached you is beyond me. I think it would be huge.

            • Now I just need a few million for that camera…:)

              In all seriousness, this was a project I looked into some time back – but I couldn’t get funding in my part of the world, and the US boys weren’t interested in talking to somebody without pedigree.

              Manufacturers just want me to review their stuff and give it a glowing seal of approval…

              • “Manufacturers just want me to review their stuff and give it a glowing seal of approval…”

                I suspect that this is because it is a very high return on their investment. Loan out cameras, and as many “reviewers” fight for traffic, they will have to rely on their reputation, their fast reviews, and/or controversy to drive up traffic (and possibly ad revenue). And if they want to get early copies of equipment on loan for review, I suspect that it would not be in their economic interest to say anything too negative. In the audio world, it was common to say nothing if you could not say something glowing. At least it does not seem as bad as the pay to play schemes that are common in the mobile app world.

                –Ken

                • Of course, because there is NO investment on their part!

                  I’ve changed (and will continue to change) my editorial policy here: I’ll review it if it interests me, because the opportunity cost of doing a review is high (several days of work, unbillable to clients). My income is completely independent of site traffic and advertising etc. so frankly I don’t give two hoots anymore about being first or controversial; those reviews only tend to bring out the DPR trolls of equipment-bashers and non-photographing anoraks. But there’s also one more fundamental problem: review it first and be unable to do a complete evaluation because there’s no ACR support…

          • Well at least in the UK Nikon corporate is starting to get the ball rolling a bit. But I think it could use some lateral thinking … and stand to be ported to all sectors. And the Nikon Ambassadors are going to get increasingly tapped for this, if what I hear is true.

  14. Thanks for the interesting article.
    On the topic of education being the future etc… almost every successful photographer with an online presence seems to be selling educational products to other photographers or aspiring photographers. I am not sure how thats a model which can support itself, there’s not enough work for the current pros so they make a living by training more competition.
    That’s a very simplified view on it of course but still, I don’t know of any other industry which is as cannabalistic as the current photographic one.

    • There is a difference in quality. Look at the feedback from buyers/ students – I doubt anybody else has the 30,000+ words and hundreds of positive testimonials…

  15. Future of photography has to remind us of the past to some extent. Renoir for sure, undoubtedly, Rembrandt, had to paint portraits to make a living in order to paint what they wanted to paint. And undoubtedly had to put up with clients who wanted the same things yours do: something different and creative, but not too different from what everybody else is getting. Early 20th century photographers, such as Dorothea Lang, etc, the list is long, first apprenticed with professional portrait photographers, then stepped out on their own to provide an income . . . and at the same time took photos that they wanted to take. And when the economy suffered, their portrait business suffered as well. Renoir had to borrow money to eat at times or get an early commission before painting. This was the classic way to begin and survive as a painter and then as a photographer.

    My family just hired a professional photographer to take family photos of us on the beach. I was in them, so prevented from taking them! That was the idea. On the beach, nice set of 100+ photos. We all took our own as well when not posing. She commented that business has steadily declined, and most clients don’t realize what’s required to do a good job. Not just her business, everyone else’s as well. Not sure what this has to do with your essay; you don’t seem to be in the business of portrait photography. Yet here’s another type of “future for photography,” as well. It’s a very old one indeed. Where is it going?

    • There’s one other bit missing: most of these artists never saw any recognition in their lifetimes. Illusion of scarcity, perhaps?

      I’m not in the business of portraits or weddings or babies or kids even though these are probably the only growing sectors, because a) 99% of your clients lack education and expect the impossible; b) there are also the most dilettantes messing up client education and pricing, and creating unsustainable economics; c) it doesn’t interest me. Probably more of c) than anything else…

  16. Another nice essay. Looking forward to the next 900. Reminds me of the “journey of 10,000 li” begins with one step. How could you have ever started out with the idea of writing 900? One, then another one. So far, none boring. And they all seem well thought out and clear.

    Your comment about sellers (stores) educating is “spot on” as they say somewhere. I can remember a few years ago ending up teaching a (okay, young temporary) sales person in a computer store what he needed to know about computers to answer my question. He was grateful. All the main computer stores in the US went out of business. And at that very moment of industry failure, and completely against all common sense, Apple started opening up local computer et al. stores. They have always been crowded. Why? They educate the buyers: for free. You can go back to the store at any time and join an on-going workshop on how to use any one of their products. I see them every time I walk by. Always full, and the sales folks will help you immediately, know what they are talking about or get a supervisor, and they really like the products themselves. Surely, this spills over into how to take photos with the new iPhone “cameras.” Or will soon.

    My daughter sent a state of the art m4/3 camera back to the store this year, on sale with a second zoom lens thrown in for free. Why? The menu system and unbelievable, inexplicable number of options was like long fall into a bottomless pit. I tried to tell her she could start off on Auto and then learn features one at a time, but she fled while she could still get her (yes) US $350.00 or so back. This is almost exactly the price I paid for the first Pentax Spotmatic film camera (count the features with five fingers) with lens back in 1969, which today would cost US $2,270 today, corrected for the 548.6% inflation. She wants lots of features, but does not want to pay more that $350.00 . . . today. And yet, she is still unhappy with the quality of the images she gets from her small, now outdated P&S digital camera. She can see differences in image quality. She surely is not alone in the marketplace. She needs and would enjoy education if given out in many steps and starting at the right level. If she had time, of course. Personally, I would only seek education from a photographer whose own work shows without any doubt that he/she knows what he/she’s doing. That would be you, of course, and proves that you are qualified to teach. Comments from your readers confirm it over and over again. That said, I’m wondering why I’m not going to Venice in November. When I get time, I will buy your beginning photoshop video, which I now realize I need to benefit front he second level video that I did buy. Keep it all coming. The art world will take care of itself.

    • I started writing…to write, as much as anything, and see where it went. We’ll probably make it to at least 1,000 and beyond; I think that’s more than even say Luminous Landscape have published, and they’ve been around for about 15 years.

      If Apple ever gets seriously in the camera market (again), they’ll probably clean it up after an iteration or two – there’s been no innovation for years, and no education. That despite the amount of technological advancement. Most of it has gone into the sensor, but what good is that if that capability isn’t easily deployable by most users?

      You could still come to Venice in November 🙂

      • I know that you quote Thom Hogan on occasion, so I am assuming that you have read his posts about disruption in the camera industry. I am not sure if he has picked the exact features that need to change, but I suspect that whoever can create the iPhone/iPad of the photographic world will see a lot of sales, and perhaps launch the creation of the next generation of cameras. With technological maturity, it is now about workflow and communication, areas that the camera makers have been slow to understand implement. Hopefully, they will be able to play catch-up once the disruption begins. Otherwise, we will see some big names follow in the names of some of the more well known early PC manufacturers, like IBM, DEC, Compaq, AST, etc.

        –Ken

        • Huh? No, I don’t believe I ever have quoted Thom Hogan…and I frankly take his opinion with a grain of salt after he initially dismissed my D800 AF problems as inexperienced user error but then changed his mind and pretended to be a hero. So, credibility is rather lacking there…

          Disruption might happen. But it isn’t the same as a phone, because cameras require a system to be really effective solutions, and the cost/ resources required to develop and offer that are going to be the stumbling block for most potential competition.

      • Speaking of being deployable to most users, I saw this article in today’s paper after reading your post and posting my comment above: http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2024856038_headshottruckxml.html . I am not sure what to make of it, but it is a somewhat creative attempt to think outside of the box and deliver a service. Then again, it seems like we are taking one step backwards as a society in the name of saving money. It seems that quality and service can sometimes be a difficult sell, although there are exceptions (like Apple, love them or hate them).

        –Ken

  17. I’m actually cautiously optimistic about the future for pro photographers. The first reason is that the global economy seems to be picking up some steam, at last, and if that can continue for a while this will mean more budget will return to advertising and other needs for photography.

    The second reason is actually because we’ve reached the point of sufficiency for cameras, especially for the lower end of the market. Ten years ago, everybody was buying SLRs because it was the first time quality cameras reached a mass-market price. When I went to touristic areas, I’d see many people with SLRs snapping pictures. Those cameras were too much for most of the tourists — both in terms of complexity and image quality — but the alternatives were too crappy for them to use. However, some of them did enjoy the challenge and creativity afforded by a good camera and they persisted, becoming amateur photographers, and a few aimed to become pros. They already had near-pro-grade gear, so that made the process easier. That created a bump in the number of pros (or would-be pros).

    Today, however, lower end cameras have become “good enough” for the vast majority of people. When I visit touristic areas, I now see people holding their cellphones and tablets to take pictures. Even people who care for better pictures are often better served by buying a good point-and-shoot or a micro four-thirds camera. Those people don’t buy a SLR anymore, nor do they develop the skills to use one properly, so there’s an added barrier of entry to becoming professional: they must buy new gear and learn to use it. We won’t go back down to the amount of photographers there were before digital cameras appeared, but I think we’ll see fewer people trying to turn pro.

    • More money is in the pot for A&P, but more and more of it goes into a client or crony’s pocket – happens here all the time. I lose bids because I refuse to give kickbacks to the people at the working level making the recommendations (!). And their bosses are squeezing their budgets more to increase profits. At the end of the day, yes, there’s more work, but ever reducing price points.

      Good enough is one thing. People knowing how to use it is quite another…and most of them don’t.

  18. Congratulations on 900 articles Ming. I can’t believe it’s that many already.

    As for education causing sales, if they only saw the equipment our little group goes through … Of course, we may just be deranged people compared to the population at large.

  19. It is all about education and maybe we’d see more of this if the manufacturers had an effective way of making money from educations.

    Congratulations on 900 – the thing I respect is you have the ability to articulate yourself and produce content on such a regular basis. No mean feat to do alongside the day job!

  20. Admirable you hit the 900 mark number issuing one after the other brilliant writing. It is an outstanding achievement to the benefit of all serious photography. I have to give all my credit to this site, the Videos and the WS, for all my progress.
    Beside perhaps customers of professional commercial photography would need education of some sort, I strongly hope education would become the most important added value to both the gear industry, their distributors, resellers and as far as out to the shops handing over the gear to us. The only added value I get when purchasing new gear is perhaps a couple of extra batteries for free or a few percentages more discount. That’s has very little value to me compared to good consultancy on a broader view!
    The shop personnel is often found uneducated and ignorant about what they are selling. Many shops are totally unable to advice about anything. I am old enough to remember shop owners and their employees were good photographers themselves and were able to help the customer, not only to choose the camera they needed, how to use it in full, but also to add wise hints and suggestions how to make good pictures within the realm of their ambitions.
    I recall once many many years ago I was in my local shop to buy chemicals for my B&W film development, one customer came into the shop and asked the owner if he could suggest a camera. He asked a few clarifying questions and one of them was *Do you want to take pictures or do you want to photograph?*. Of course such a question needed further exploration, but just tells me the shop wanted to sell the customers the right gear to their specific needs and ambitions. That this shop were connected to the local photo academy and its teachers perhaps also explains why the shop was a serious one, and even one that had wall space for prints for educational inspiration.
    I could wish myself back to those days some times.

    • Thank you, Gerner. Short answer: I don’t think the people selling cameras are themselves educated enough to see the difference themselves, much less explain it. To teach well you have to understand something several levels higher than you are teaching.

    • Hear, hear!
      I vividly remember getting my first camera, a Zenit E back in 1980, and sending in my first roll of film to be developed. The camera shop owner patiently explained to me where I had over-exposed, where I had made fundamental errors etc. and all without me even asking him to! Fortunately at my school we had an excellent photography club, with darkroom facilities and engaged teachers (this was at an ex-pat British school in Holland) and so I quickly learned the fundamentals- at least the technical fundamentals – of exposure and printing. Do schools today even have such things, or am I being pessimistic?
      Today, I go into a photo shop and get such great advice as “buy the Sony, because it has a bigger sensor than the competing Olympus” /sigh.
      On a more positive note, I have a website such as this to gain education from, and so at 900 great posts, I would just like to say “Thank you ” Ming Thein. 😀

      • Seems you and I are old enough to remember 😉
        I agree. There’s no such great educational institution like Ming’s butik and blog.

      • There are still photography clubs at schools, but as far as I can tell they’re sponsored by brands to get kids addicted at a young age…

        Same question again, though: how can the store people make a suggestion of what you need when they themselves do not shoot or understand customer needs or have just been ‘educated’ by brand reps to push product?

  21. Congratulations on having 900 worthwhile posts . Apart from teaching store and workshops , well written articles with outstanding images makes this site far better than most of the photography sites . Your articles and images in themselves have great teaching value in them for those who want to learn…This makes me visit this site , and I sincerely hope that you will continue this good work .

  22. I took a similar route with these larger Nikon bodies. Before the advent of the Nikon D800E, I had repeatedly asked a number of well-respected “techsperts” whether I should have the AA filter removed from my Nikon DX3 and was told that it would be a very dangerous thing to do, and so I was afraid to void the warranty, etc.

    Even after I had the D800E, these comments persisted. It was the same thing when I tried to point out that apochromatic lenses brought a new level of quality to acutance and resolution. In other words, what I referred to as sharpness included how corrected the lenses were. And I tried to show these lens guys that lenses like the Coastal Optics 60mm APO, the Voigtlander 125mm APO, the Leica 100mm Elmarit-R APO and other macro lenses were superior, and again was ignored. It was the not-invented here syndrome.

    So now we know that making a highly-corrected lens like the new Zeiss APO lenses (of which I have all three) is worth the money, at least for my work. And the same kind of view goes with the Nikon D810. Having a workable Live View now and ISO 64 turns this camera into the best ever for my work. Incremental perfection seems to be the way it is going just now.

    • One’s own skill set has to be up to deploying those incremental improvements, too. And then there’s the creative question of how to best shoot to make the most of the added capabilities…

  23. A healthy plea for the industry.

    I think Leica would be the manufacturer that has come closest to this with the Leica Academy. They are well known to ‘involve’ their customers.

    Even though they focus on lenses and no longer on cameras, I think Zeiss could be a good target for this – or at least a version of it – more the ‘masterclass’.

    Obviously though it would more likely be Nikon/Canon/Fuji/Sony/Olympus. I think it is a great idea.

    • All of the brands do try to some extent, but it’s never very serious. Even the Leica Academie stuff has been more about socializing and the epicurean life than shooting – I’ve had a number of students complain that they were stuck in dinners or wine tastings at golden hour instead of photographing…

      • Oh really? That’s nuts. I’ve never been on their courses.

        • Neither have I, I’m just relating what I was told…there is of course plenty of ‘buy in’ to the Leica mystique (read: selling lenses…)

          • I have never been on an academie course (it’s very expensive for what you get I think – so I opted for email school instead) but went to a few Leica events in Singapore, private guided gallery showings, a free couples photo shoot for Valentines Day. I wasn’t impressed. The gallery showing offered on real insite into the images, and ended up with a Q&A where people kept asking about bokeh and “the Leica look”, our photos from the portrait shoot were sent to us with obvious dust and other crap from the sensor and we had to send them back to be retouched properly, all very unimpressive.

            It certainly didn’t give the impression of being about the ultimate artistic tool or a company all about precision.

  24. Congrats on 900 posts! I have enjoyed each of them. Your instruction packaged with a camera would be amazing. I have learned so much from the site and the videos. Keep up the good work!

  25. All I have to say Ming. Is. Well written.

    Thank you.

Trackbacks

  1. […] of their game never are: that’s a big part of why they are where they are. The gulf is one of education: when you start out, you might not know what’s wrong – but you know something is […]

  2. […] that sneaky feeling they’ve somehow been deceived, but not fully able to grasp why. (Hint: education should come first.) Any tool is useless without the knowledge to operate it; if anything, the sharper and more […]

  3. […] to somebody who knows why they need it” or as he has said more directly in a previous post the future of photography lies in education. Whilst you might expect comments like this from someone who earns at least some of his income from […]

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