Crystal ball gazing: Predicting the photographic ecosystem in 10 years, part II

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That impending sense of something looming just out of view…

Today’s article continues from Part I in the previous post: where will photography land up in the next ten years?

Prediction #5: computational photography becomes A Bigger Thing.

One of the reasons why a) there’s less mid level work, usually product and catalog – and b) more high high high end work – is because of integration with 3D graphics. On one hand, some things are simply easier not to shoot and retouch – watches, for instance, have been going this way for a while – and other things can be taken further by the ability to present the physically impossible. Eventually, this technology will reach the consumer level (we’re already seeing very rudimentary implementations in things like Snapchat filters) – when it does, we can kiss the perceived integrity of the photographic medium goodbye. But perhaps that isn’t surprising: a long time ago, newspapers were illustrated with etchings or artwork, which was at best a heavily biased impression; the problem now is that the expectation of a photograph is that it is an unmodified accurate and complete representation of what we’d see if we were there. There’s a problem with this, however: what two observers see might be the same, but what they notice is probably going to be very different.

Conceptually, photography is still about seeing and capturing and the underlying personal motivations to capture: we want to do it if we see something different and worth sharing. The challenge here is the whole concept of what constitutes ‘different enough’ will shift: it’s already been shifting with the proliferation of budget air travel, but will shift further as previously unpopular or undiscovered places become part of the mainstream. This will happen faster than ever thanks to the internet and social media; in the last couple of years we’ll all remember the massive increase in visibility of Iceland, the auroras, Antarctica, Cuba, Bhutan and other similar places. Accessibility is no longer a problem: a friend who went to Iceland recently showed me a video of that famous cone-shaped mountain and waterfall (I forget the name) – followed by a pan across the scene behind him, which was an almost solid line of mainland Chinese tourists on the path with at least two dozen tripods lined up and more tourists stretching towards a nearby parking lot. This is no longer adventure; it’s no longer different, and in a few years – it’ll be common. I feel that in some ways it destroys the joy of discovery, because surprises and serendipity are harder and harder to find; people will travel to specific locations with the express purpose of photographing specific things. For now, the tour companies will continue to make great profits, but eventually, boredom and jadedness will set in: what happens when we run out of new places to explore?

Prediction #6: the public loses interest somewhat.

A combination of rapid and significant changes in technology and reduction in cost, access to unique locations, and social media and its associated dopamine-psychology – has meant that the psychological reward for photographing has been greater than ever. If anything, the affirmation from ‘likes’ is like a sort of drug; but this affirmation only comes when you show something different, and if everybody is going to Iceland: it isn’t different anymore. If everybody in your social circle has been everywhere and documented every meal with their smartphones, then it’s no longer special or interesting: it’s just background noise. There is no more dopamine return, no more low hanging fruit to see, shoot and pluck, and the ‘different’ is going to be a product of imagination, not just seeing something uncommon. Imagination is something else: it requires education, effort, vision, experimentation, and a generally much higher level of commitment than most hobbyists have time for or inclination towards. Creativity is not something that can easily be taught: by definition, there cannot be a formula for this. As teachers, we can give you the tools and show you examples, but it’s up to the student to experiment and develop their own vision. End result: no more dopamine without significant effort; other forms of instant gratification become popular because their emotional return is higher; we move on. I’ve already seen this in some students and readers who were extremely enthusiastic and active in 2012-2014; I would say the average level of involvement has dropped, some have given up entirely, but a few others have gone to the next level to either become pros or down the deep end of larger formats.

Prediction #7: one more shift in the hardware.

The reshuffle will come as a consequence of several things. Firstly, the surviving pros are either buying extremely high end gear or the cheapest gear possible that passes sufficiency and delivers the best return on investment and capital efficiency from a business standpoint; on top of that, there are going to be fewer and fewer of us left. The reality is probably that the whole ‘pro grade’ badging will remain as a sort of halo product, but the whole idea of equipment being a judge for ability or quality of the user has been nonsense for a long time already. The volume buyers will remain amateurs; consumers will and have long since migrated to cameraphones and the like. Those who want to move up, will have, and probably not really feel the need for upgrades because even the lowest end gear is now comparable to or better than what 99% of pros had even five years ago. However, the motivations for upgrades and additions are going to be different: it isn’t going to be more, it’s going to be different. Whether that’s a difference in shooting experience (e.g. witness the recent popularity of mirrorless, rangefinder, MF etc. vs the largely dominant DSLR) – or a difference in the customer experience. I look at Leica as an example here: none of the other brands try to control and homogenise the buying experience to such a degree. As new customers become harder to attract, manufacturers are going to have to put a lot more effort into maintaining relationships with their existing ones. After all, it’s easier to sell something to an educated consumer who is already familiar and happy with your product than one who’s got to be inducted into the nuances from scratch. The brands that manage to own the customer relationship and innovate the shooting or ownership experience are going to be the ones who survive.

Unfortunately, none of them do it well at the moment: far too much of the customer interaction is left with the dealers, which generally do a pretty bad job and are almost never personal. They are not motivated to invest time and effort into relationship building because there are far too many tire kickers who just want to feel the product physically and then buy it somewhere cheaper online; as a result, they suffer because there is even less motivation for customer loyalty. It’s a shame, because the only way the dealers are going to survive in the face of ever thinner margins (as a result of customers voting with their wallets, and incumbent distribution structures) is by convincing the customer they actually add some value somewhere.

Prediction #8: Apple had it right.

I’m going to end by stating the obvious. The key to the photographic market wasn’t to be the best technically, or the most complex, or the most expensive, or the cheapest; it was to put ease of creation and the emotional payback from peer affirmation into the hands of a huge population. This in turn supported the growth of platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and created a feedback loop. (Notice there are probably more photos of cameras with an iPhone on Instagram, than photos by cameras other than an iPhone.) They made the experience different, easy, and consistent – both the photographic experience and the buying one. They owned the customer relationship not by emotion, but by making it very difficult to migrate out; in effect, a kind of Stockholm syndrome. And in very little time, redefined the nature of consumer photography. Why consumer? Because the higher end market wasn’t low hanging fruit; it may land up being the only remaining uneaten fruit very soon. And you can bet that whilst the first iteration will be far from perfect, an impossible-to-search list of scrolling custom menu items is on the endangered list. You can be sure that there will be capabilities we haven’t really considered or imagined today, but the company that makes them happen in a way that’s easily understood and used is the one that’s going to claim the next hill. Not only will haptic and UI changes be the key to both maximising the envelope under which all this technology can be deployed, it will be the key to unlocking the imagination of the next generation, too. All the better for us, I say. MT


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  1. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Since this one will go on forever, here’s another contribution.

    I see it going three ways, Ming – and pretty much along the lines you canvas.

    One – simplification, ease of taking pics, and this one has ALWAYS been there. Dad had a German folding camera, I had a Kodak Box Brownie (and mine was very second hand!) Others start with a point & shoot, with a 4/3 sensor and gravitate to a better smart phone with an even better camera in it. In between, we had Polaroid cameras – and Kodak Instamatics – and all sorts of other similar novelties. Sad, was when the major camera makers tried to take that market share – and to some extent, I think they all got bruised in the attempt.

    Two – “proper cameras” – no, I don’t think this will die out – it may wane in popularity, as lazier people drift off to number one, and get in everyone else’s way, when they’re trying to take a “real” photo. But just as there as still people out there using Daguerreotypes and collodion wet plates – and film based/analogue cams – there will be people using “proper cameras” for many decades into the future. Unless of course some weirdo invents something that makes this whole discussion meaningless.

    And three – as you suggest, 3-D. It’s been a ridiculous long time coming – I first came across it back in the 80s, when holograms were topical, and was told of a group in the US which had produced the technology that would enable you to project a 3-D image of a painting like Da Vinci’s Monna Lisa (no, that’s not a misprint – that’s the Italian name, and the alternative is La Gioconda – because “mona” in Italian is a disgusting word). Use your 3-D TV and, when you’ve finished, turn it off and leave the Monna Lisa displayed in place of the non-existent TV screen, which is apparently nothing more than a different hologram. What killed it was cost – technically feasible, but financially it came at a ruinous cost. Some day, someone undoubtedly WILL come up with a way of doing it.

    In the meantime I am going to enjoy photography – as I understand it – using the gear that I enjoy using. 🙂

    • Oddly the 3D stuff is the only one that hasn’t really taken off so far – there may be a bit more of it in augmented reality, but not so much from a pure capture standpoint.

  2. “…it’s easier to sell something to an educated consumer who is already familiar and happy with your product than one who’s got to be inducted into the nuances from scratch. The brands that manage to own the customer relationship and innovate the shooting or ownership experience are going to be the ones who survive.”

    Here, here. This is it precisely. You’re not just buying a piece of hardware, you’re buying an “experience”, or a piece of history, or some degree of “hand holding” if you’re a newbie, or… you get the idea.

    This is why it’s so baffling to me that Nikon has thoroughly dropped the ball when it comes to customer service. A paternalistic attitude using a sermon-from-the-mount approach just doesn’t fly, particularly today. Personally, I think they could begin by returning to the approach they used in the United States in the 1960s, when they were determined to conquer that market. That would be a good start.

    Leica has gone a long way to figuring this out. Leica stores and galleries aren’t just about the gear, they’re ABOUT photography, and about the experience.

    • “Leica has gone a long way to figuring this out. Leica stores and galleries aren’t just about the gear, they’re ABOUT photography, and about the experience.”
      It’s actually worked so well for them they’ve almost forgotten the photography part…one could argue the product hasn’t advanced massively in the last five years, yet recognition is certainly deserved for the quantities they are moving…

      • And either that’s “luck”, or there’s a lesson in there somewhere. Mind you, Leica are also sort of in a category of one; what works for them might not work for another.

        But I actually do think it would work for Nikon. It certainly did in the beginning.

        • Bit of both I think – some lessons and some luck…

          Nikon I think have lost their way.

          • It’s possible. What they do with their pro mirrorless camera will be the acid test, I think. They must bring their A Game with that release; something that, at the very least, one-ups the A9.

  3. Doug Dolde says:

    Link to Part I is broken

  4. Love your thoughts, but not sure you read the consumer right. As long as children play sports and perform in plays and concerts there is a use case for a long lens and speed/low light. For those consumers, convergence of still and video is already material since one camera purchase serves both needs (just like their cell phone). I suspect that the company who can enable consumers with no interest in learning photography to be successful with kids sports and plays/concerts, in still and video, trivially shareable with friends and relatives, will find a large and receptive client base.

    More broadly, there is a ton of innovation going on. Sony will soon solve rolling shutter allowing 30 fps crisp stills, easily fuzzed in software if you want a motion picture. Pros will learn how to apply one capital investment to both domains, and vendors will figure out how to switch haptics. Though true that you shoot video differently from stills, that is a skill set issue – pros who can do both with one kit will get better ROI and be able to thrive on more diverse assignments. Then there is Lytro, capturing 3D light field in motion, from which images from many points of view can be extracted. Currently has size/cost akin to a mainframe computer, but in a decade or two that may shrink to ‘laptop’ size and change expectations entirely. Just as VR goes mainstream….

    I am optimistic that incredible change will come. Not sure quite what will prevail, but I think your prognostications are not nearly adventurous enough. You are projecting linearly where I expect a nonlinear discontinuity to come in the next 10 to 20 years….

    Difficult game predicting the future, you are brave in the attempt and as always thoughtful and we’ll reasoned. But I hope you prove to be a pessamist as that future would be more fun.

  5. I hope the ubiquity of photography eventually causes it to lose its social media appeal. Cell phones are ruining so many tourist destinations. I went to the Louvre 10 years ago, and I remember having a relatively nice experience (at a museum that has a well-deserved reputation for being overcrowded and unpleasant). I guess I must have timed it right. Anyhow, I returned last year with my wife, who had never been, and it was truly awful. Hordes of tourists with their cell phones on selfie sticks jostling each other and not even bothering to even look at the painting they were photographing–they were only interested in showing the world they had visited. Some of the tourists were literally taking a photo of every painting they stopped at. It was an insane experience. This is a nightmare story, but the same is happening at more off beat ones like Angkor Wat.

    • I think that’s pretty much the story everywhere around the world, to the point that it seems a lot of people travel just to take photos of places they’ve been to – to show they’ve been. It might also mean that decent images have a chance of being seen for more than an instant, too.

  6. Martin Fritter says:

    Apparently, Leica is moving towards having their own stores in the US. Like Apple, or more like Prada, I suppose. They’re laying off their local reps.

    The notion of “pro” needs more differentiation, I think. You know: generalized journalism, sports journalists, forensic, product, advertising (many sub-categories), fashion, event, wedding, “fine art” (fantastic landscapes of places that actually no longer exist) and artists. And of course, soft-core porn…

    Your explanation of why 4k (and up) video can’t produce viable stills was great. Rock solid proof (I think). So satisfying.

    The analogies to digital recording are striking.

    Still, for some reason, all of this makes me rather sad.

    • “Pro”: either you make money out of it, or you don’t. The knock-on consequences are what matters here: something is bought because it is a functional tool and delivers return on investment, not because of the desire for the object or the emotional factors (though those probably don’t do any harm, because hey, nobody’s made of stone 🙂 )

      It makes me sad, too, but we can draw many parallels in other industries, too: Mosswings’ example of cars earlier was a very good one. things can get too good, too homogenous, and as a result – get just that little bit less fun somehow.

  7. Mosswings says:

    As Thom Hogan has said (repeatedly), it’s the workflow, stupid. That’s what Apple figured out: how to make taking and sharing photographs easy, fun, and essential to one’s life. Somehow, the traditional camera manufacturers never figured that out. They were always trying to create ‘photographers’, craftspeople, rather than make photography a natural part of one’s life. Appeal to expertise does not work, ultimately, for the mass market. When technology evolves sufficiently to become effortless magic, as it has, the hordes move on.

    • That works both ways: if it’s so effortless then it becomes unfulfilling and purely commoditized…which also does not sell cameras.

    • Mosswings says:

      Absolutely. The takeaway is that the notion of selling a camera – a standalone object for taking still (or video) images – is for most obsolete. While the ability to take a picture is still (and will remain) universally desirable, it is now considered a modality of communication, as commoditized as speech, part of a communication tool that doesn’t look or operate like a traditional camera at all. What you’re speaking to is the intrinisic satisfaction of craft, the pleasure of being able to translate a vision into an image through skill and fine tools. The mass market for cameras has, for the mass market, never really been about this…it’s just been the only way that we have been able to document our lives.
      Manual transmissions still exist on cars, and for a few they are essential to the enjoyment of driving; but for most of us, an automatic transmission works better. For a growing number of us, a transportation service makes even more sense – driving is too stressful, too demanding of our attention, and takes away valuable time better spent elsewhere.
      There will be a small group of camera lovers, just as there still are painters and stickshift drivers, and a small cadre of camera professionals to wow us with various visual entertainments. But not a billion unit per year market for single-purpose still cameras. You’re one of the best people to do it, but I don’t envy your new ambassadorship, Ming. The market is definitely heading for a huge disruption.

      • “What you’re speaking to is the intrinisic satisfaction of craft, the pleasure of being able to translate a vision into an image through skill and fine tools. The mass market for cameras has, for the mass market, never really been about this…it’s just been the only way that we have been able to document our lives.”
        Yes and no; I think the underlying motivation for many people who buy the more serious gear is really one of satisfaction rather than pure documentation; for that, phones are adequate (as the explosion of narcissist social media shows…). Your other examples are perfect demonstrations of this – the purpose is there, but the specialist product requiring more effort from the user only works for the enthusiast who’s out for the experience.

        • Roger Abbott says:

          I wouldn’t be surprised to see a resurgence of interest in luxury cameras at some point down the line. We’re seeing this in the watch industry, and even more so in the luxury pen industry. Even though one would think that new technology is making the pen bankrupt, the number of luxury pen manufacturers and sellers has been booming.

          • It’s already happening – that’s Leica. Technically, their hardware is nothing to shout about, but the choice of materials and cost is rather high…

            I think it’s precisely when something becomes unnecessary or discretionary is when you have the freedom to make it luxurious: by definition, you now have a choice and it is no longer merely a necessity; luxury is choice, not cost.

  8. I think you have touched on some salient points in this article. Whenever the mass market pick up on an idea it will have its inevitable rise and fall followed by a plateau. Those of us who are truly interested in the subject will stay the course, tune their skills and enjoy the fruits of a technical and creative struggle. Small retailers need to understand that building a long term relationship with their client group is an essential part of the process.

    • Those that survive will do so either on price/selection or relationship…but only one of these is actually sustainable since there’s a limit to how low prices can go…

  9. Jon Lai says:

    Might there be an unclosed italics tag? All the comments are italicized…

  10. Photography market is curious from strategy perspective. As a corporate strategist, my mantra was that the key to winning is to have the best understanding of the *true* customer journey, which extends far beyond points of interaction with any company or its products. Consumer companies seem to be relatively good at fitting their products in peoples’ lives, perhaps because both daily activities and higher aspirations of their target customers are well researched. This is where Apple (sharing moments, preserving memories) and Leica (lifestyle and status signalling) fit in nicely.

    Beyond that market is a different, more complicated one, where professional needs mix with status seeking, tech enthusiasm, fanboyism, and whatever else. That is where most camera companies operate, and the market is too small and intertwined to allow niche players to successfully carve out profitable segments. Thus the only feasible strategy may be to have a one-size-fits-all offering with added emphasis on 1-2 core segments, and hope that it will capture large enough share to sustain the business. In fact I think it may be good for the market and the customers if one or more of the existing companies is driven out of business. That would create breathing room for the rest to experiment and/or specialise, and in the long run photographers would have products and services that’d work better for what they’re trying to accomplish. It may also go wrong if conservative tradition & barriers of entry drive the innovators bankrupt…

    • I’m with you on all points, except I believe if the niche is interesting enough – the current market homogeneity will create space for it precisely because of the focus on the experience…

      • Remains to be seen 🙂 I agree that there’s always space for new and interesting products as long as they work very well for some user segment. Without having run any spreadsheets I’d also argue that these products or their slightly differentiated siblings need to be attractive to several other groups in order to be financially viable. I can’t guess what Hasselblad is going to do going forward, but branching out from tripod-operating pros to both serious amateurs and tech/hype driven sales with the X1D seems like a very smart, and necessary, move.

    • Mosswings says:

      NIcely stated, Tarmo. What I find fascinating is that the word “camera” is not present in either of the marketing strategies you’ve listed for Apple and Leica. Where Hasselblad erred in the past is thinking that it could Leica itself with lipstick and badge engineering. The X1D is the first “camera” in a very long time that embraces the implications of digital imaging in its design, and in the process extends its market somewhat into status-signaling but in the right way for technical types – it’s disruptively compact, beautiful to look at, and represents both an immediate technical advance and a serious platform for future development. It will never be a lifestyle camera, but perhaps the most important thing that it does is to demonstrate how stuck in a rut the mass-market camera companies are.

      • I think risk aversion is the best way to describe the mainstream brands…though ironically through being afraid to fail, they’re going to lose it all anyway…

  11. Many thanks for the inspiring two articles!

    To me, one big unknown are politics i.e. a potential ban of cameras in planes.
    Unless the airlines get a pramatic and save way of handling this, it will be a big hit on the camera industry. Who wants to plan and do landscape/travel photography without being sure that his camera is there?
    I assume the average camera buyer, even when ambibitious, will change to smartphones after the first lost camera and camera/lenses will be lost.

    A potential way out might be an increased focus on renting cameras, think of all the car sharing offers showing up like drive now or so.
    One lands at the airport and like going to e.g. SIXT for the car, one runs around to get the camera. A hell of a job to keep customers.

    • Lots more potential liability (and thus cost, and thus market limitation) in such a business model – but I can definitely say it’s put me off traveling to the US anytime soon…even if you can check it in, what of the batteries? Damage or pilferage in transit? Far too many risks for the average hobbyist unless they have absolutely no choice…

  12. I was really hoping that your predictions would cover some of the more controversial topics like will the DSLR be around in 10 years for anything other than vintage camera shows? Does mirrorless become the new norm? A most enjoyable read though, as always.

    • There isn’t much point in being agent provocateur if one can’t support the assertions…it just makes you look stupid. The reality is whilst technology and the rate of technology improvement continues at speed, if the market continues to saturate and contract, the incentive won’t be there for those who have to make the investment. I personally don’t think the SLR is going away anytime soon – both because there’s so much legacy already out there in bodies and more importantly, lenses, and because we don’t have a completely superior technology yet. Much the same as how film not only isn’t dead, but if anything experiencing a minor renaissance…

      • You would only look stupid if you are wrong 😉 But I completely agree with you, the SLR isn’t going anywhere because on this planet bigger is better and size does matter. The Pro’s left standing are not going to show up up at a job with toy size ordnance I do believe however that it will evolve…finally.

        • Actually, clients care a lot less about the size of the ordnance than the output…especially if they specifically hired you at the sharp end of things. They trust you use the right tool for the job, and at times that’s included a GR…

        • Frans Richard says:

          The (D)SLR might not be going away any time soon, but it wil have gone the way of the dinosaurs in 10 years. Some people may think bigger is better, but that doen’t necessarily mean (D)SLR. Mirrorless can be big too and I would even say mirrorless has an advantage in big (large sensor) cameras: no big mirror slapping around creating vibrations.

          • Expectation is the challenge: big finders still mean big bodies even if mirrorless – you can’t cheat optics. But I agree there’s definitely more real estate to work with.

  13. Kristian Wannebo says:

    #5 , §2
    has a nice initiative:
    “Un-destination photography”.
    ( “… lesser-known locations provide as much, if not more, opportunity for great photography than the iconic places of beauty many photographers rush to in the hope of creating masterpieces.”
    Although they have published rather few such posts as yet.)

    The Light L16 seems to be an interesting approach.
    ( )
    [ A 1 inch pocket sized box containing 16 individual 13 Mpx (1/2.3″ ?) cameras: 5x28mm-eq. f/2.0, 5x70mm-eq. f/2.0, and 6x150mm-eq. f/2.4.
    The images of many are merged to one photo of up to 50Mpx – movable mirrors can make the longer lenses shoot in parallel for automatic stitching plus merging with the wider camera.]
    ( I’d like to see if manufacturing precision will be enough to make results measure up to their expectations.)

    #1 (in part I)
    But the possibility to shoot a long high resolution 50 f/s burst (with exposure time set for photo) could sometimes make it easier to capture the right moment(s).
    ( 25 f/s can still miss, as I have seen when cutting video.)

  14. Ming
    I think what will be interesting is how the big companies of today will invest in research for the technology of tomorrow. Previously there were companies such as Kodak who basically invented digital photography, or organisations such as NASSA, that would fund blue sky research projects in everything from basic science to technology.

    What fundamental research is Google or Facebook investing in that is not expected to have a less than 5 year return on investment? Will this have an impact on photography in 10 years time? Possibly not relevant because it is the processing and interface access/ease that is now more important than the technology for the future. Either way the culture behind corporate investment in research has probably changed as much as photography has changed in the last decade.
    Regards Noel

    • A valid point, and one which we have little to no visibility into – all I can say is that it’s almost certainly going to continue leveraging users’ content and vanity in some way…very few of the recent true technology patents have actually been productised and often appear more of a preemptive land grab than anything really innovative.

  15. Equipment manufacturers have to find a way to lock you in. It used to be the lenses. If I look at the Apple model, they lock you in with software and a standard interface. Upgrading is easy because their interface is constant. You don’t have to re-learn where the buttons are, where your apps are, etc.
    On the other hand camera manufacturers have the gift to change buttons, configuration and even the plate attachment (typically by a few mm so that you have to buy a new L bracket). It feels that you have a new learning curve every time you get a new camera 😦
    Another model that would be interesting for the camera manufacturers (but it takes a long term vision) is the Tesla model. You build a standard car and enable functionality with software. So your basic camera can be updated by software to shoot more frames/second, your sensor can be toned up for more megapixels …. BTW, it means a lot less parts to manufacture and much easier maintenance. Now you truly lock in your customers!
    And finally with all the above implementation, you remove the confusion of the models, the functionality, the “useless” release of a new model with little functionality.
    Remember people loved their film camera. And when you wanted a different feel, you just bought a new film! With digital, if you want a different feel, you upgrade with software!

    • Actually, the best bit is what they change but say nothing about – e.g. tonal or color response. I know we (Hasselblad) try very hard to keep this consistent between models so that’s the last thing you need to worry about (and arguably, the most critical on a shoot).

      “You build a standard car and enable functionality with software. So your basic camera can be updated by software to shoot more frames/second, your sensor can be toned up for more megapixels “
      I wish it were this simple: a lot of those limitations are hardware driven, and if we put in the best we can upfront, you have to change the hardware to make it better. There’s no reason (or spare bandwidth) to cripple something then enable it later in hardware.

      New film unfortunately is a software filter at best, a new sensor at worst…

  16. An interesting subject, even to a non-pro like myself. I hope Hasselblad have faith in you that you can find answers to these points 🙂

    Two particular things which caught my attention:

    “I feel that in some ways it destroys the joy of discovery, because surprises and serendipity are harder and harder to find; people will travel to specific locations with the express purpose of photographing specific things”

    This is like what happened to travel journalism, I suppose. Once, only a certain number of people had the means to go to exotic areas, and now (as you say) it’s far easier and thus it seems far less impressive to say “I went to X, Y and Z and here is what I saw”.

    Maybe the only two answers to this, photographically speaking, are a) to do it so well that people have to take notice (while also creating an audience big enough to create a mass movement), or b) to focus instead on a non-exotic (or even local) area and instead find things there that others don’t see. Wasn’t it said that Saul Leiter got most of his best shots within the same four blocks of Manhattan, or something? A sort of macro-to-micro transformation. Of course, exotic to one person is normal for another…

    (On that subject, that’s another weird thing. Why would people all line up in the same place to take the same shot of the same thing? I remember going just outside Ise (home of the legendary shrine) in Japan, to a place with two very famous rocks bound by rope. They’re called the Meoto Iwa, and are said to represent marriage. Anyway. I was there with what I was using at the time – a Leica M8 – and there was a spot at the end of a wharf, where a dozen or more retired men where standing around with big cameras and big zoom lenses on big tripods. Just from the way they were bunched together, you could tell that they were all going to be getting more or less the same picture. Never quite got the idea behind that. I found a different area and shot hand held with the M8 : the picture is motion blurred and technically poor, but it’s one of my favourites).

    “If everybody in your social circle has been everywhere and documented every meal with their smartphones, then it’s no longer special or interesting: it’s just background noise”

    Yet they still do it and it still gets clicks. This is the interesting point. I think that clicking “like” has become in itself a form of validation, no matter what the content. I don’t know what the exact original concept behind the “like” button was, but surely it was not a form of mindless interaction with content which may not actually be any good.

    Or, alternatively, we stop using the “like” button completely because we see it as meaningless. I saw a picture you’d put on Facebook yesterday – an aerial shot – which was really, really nice. And yet I didn’t hit “like”. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps I’ve come to the conclusion that it makes no difference in the long term. The picture gave me pleasure, and also reminded me to never forget my camera on a flight. While you wouldn’t know this if I didn’t say it here, a simple “like” wouldn’t tell you much more either.

    You presumably put the photo there because you considered that it meets your standards (among other reasons). Yet you can be sure that a poorly executed snap of nothing at all taken by the latest overnight sensation “celebrity” will probably garner ten or a hundred times more “likes” than your picture. Now I’m sure this doesn’t bother you personally, because a) you’re confident in the quality of your work and b) you know how social media works, but it must be at least somewhat frustrating.

    The other possible problem is that people fall into the “argument from popularity” fallacy : “This photographer gets lots and lots of likes, so he or she must be good! I’ll hire him or her!”. Out of sheer curiosity, have you ever been contacted for a job and the client specifically stated that it was social media (as opposed to your site, or word of mouth) that brought you to their attention?

    • “Why would people all line up in the same place to take the same shot of the same thing? “
      This is a very good question, but much the same as “why does everybody make the same investment decisions and expect to get a better return than the next guy?” Safety in numbers? Fear of risk? Conformity of society? Who knows.

      “Or, alternatively, we stop using the “like” button completely because we see it as meaningless.”
      I almost never use it for that reason. It bothers me not whether one of my images is liked or not; I’m happy with the result and that’s enough for me to share it. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t. It can be interesting to see what makes people’s fingers twitch, though 🙂

      “Yet you can be sure that a poorly executed snap of nothing at all taken by the latest overnight sensation “celebrity” will probably garner ten or a hundred times more “likes” than your picture.”
      Possibly also a function of volume: they’ve got a hundred or a thousand times more viewers, so in actuality – is that really better, or just statistics? 🙂

      “Now I’m sure this doesn’t bother you personally, because a) you’re confident in the quality of your work and b) you know how social media works, but it must be at least somewhat frustrating.”
      It used to, and then didn’t when I realised it had no correlation whatsoever to commercial returns. And it doesn’t bother me at all now, for the reasons a) and b) you state.

      “Out of sheer curiosity, have you ever been contacted for a job and the client specifically stated that it was social media (as opposed to your site, or word of mouth) that brought you to their attention?”
      Yes, but it wasn’t photography related!

    • Kristian Wannebo says:

      “… weird thing. Why would people all line up in the same place to take the same shot of the same thing?”

      My mother and her brother one time in their youth stopped on the pavement and started looking up to the roof of a building – just for the fun of it – and occasionally pointed. After a short while people stopped and looked upwards too (without asking). There soon was quite a crowd staring up. My mother her brother slunk away and looked back at a crowd looking curiously upwards.
      Same weird mass behaviour?

  17. As a hobbyist I feel currently that my interests are steering away from ‘best’ and toward different. I’m enjoying film at present, my own – much slower than your typically prodigious approach – version of your ‘film diaries’. I recently spent a week in northwest Yunnan, near the Tibet border, visiting a high altitude wine estate. I took my iPhone and my Ricoh GR (the latter got me what I wanted ‘street’ wise in the town of Yunnan, in the car, and where I wanted to make sure I bagged at least something). But my ‘effort’ on this trip was to to a Hasselblad 501CM, 3 lenses, 4 film backs and tripod (!). Not my usual run-n-gun. I over-exposed most of the Portra 400, sadly. But almost everything I took (5 rolls) with Provia 100 was within metering tolerance, and I am pleased I bothered.(A roll of Tri-X taken in the winery came out okay-ish, but in hindsight I should have taken a lower contrast emulsion). Of course the lack of PP compared to what RAW allows forever embeds my errors on film, but there is a side of me that is pleased with that limitation. With the Hassy in hand I concentrated far more on all sorts of photographic discipline parameters. If I had really ‘needed’ these photographs I would have taken a digital camera for them.

    What does this have to do with your point about the present and future? I think absent some technological leap, I feel less compelled to be on the new-model GAS treadmill than I used to. There is now a great surfeit of gear out there far more than sufficient for most hobbyists (almost all of which exceeds in capability my own skills). Sometimes part of the fun is ignoring the gear-rumour gear-release mill and just finding what you find fun to use.

    • Actually, I don’t blame you at all. Different forces us to see something else and thus hopefully create something interesting and out of the ordinary. The process can help the result especially if that process is very different. Whilst I’ve shot with the V series on tripod a lot, I mostly use it handheld – a busy afternoon for me might be three rolls, and one is more normal. It’s been a while, though – difficult to get film and chemical and even harder to find somewhere to set up where your two year old isn’t going to interfere with it…

      What might get you back on the gear treadmill is ‘different’ again: something that isn’t the same convergence all manufacturers seem to be getting to…something to put the fun back in. I hear that…

  18. “far too much of the customer interaction is left with the dealers, which generally do a pretty bad job and are almost never personal” – yes – a hundred times yes….
    Is it just business model inertia that makes the camera manufacturers rely on dealers, or is it genuinely the only option they have? Personally I’d rather have a strong online relationship directly with the manufacturer, perhaps supported by a handful of directly owned showrooms in major cities, than the mess we have now. As a consumer I want to go to a global website and see a list of all models, with global prices, and pay online. I don’t want to be redirected to an out of date list of shops who need to be individually contacted and who may or may not have the model I want for a price that varies wildly.
    Just cut the dealers out entirely – they add nothing to the sales relationship, they must surely eat into margins, and there are inevitable supply chain challenges (last year’s model still hanging around when you’re trying to launch this year’s). Plus the consumer inevitably has to go directly to the manufacturer in the event of any warranty or support issues, anyway. Sales volumes are dropping anyway and dealers seem to be doing nothing to stem that flow, so kill that market before it dies of natural causes 🙂
    I know it differs a bit from company to company, and I guess (hope) Hasselblad have more freedom to innovate here than, say, Panasonic (who, now that Samsung are out of the market are surely the absolute worst camera firm from a CRM perspective). But I really really hope that this changes over the next 10 years….
    And fully agree with your other points, but whereas I’m happy to wait 10 years for genuinely useful (and usable) computational photography, I want a better customer experience now, dammit 🙂

    • I think it’s a holdover from the days when you really did need distributors to go around to every single dealer and present product…not at all necessary in the internet age, but the inertia remains and is very difficult to change for a lot of reasons. You’re 100% right in your analysis, though…and this is something I’m trying very hard to change.

      • JJ & Ming
        What happens when you want to compare products?
        If a manufacturer/brand chose to leave traditional retail then they risk missing out on a sale completely. I know that I wont purchase on-line because the small margin is worth it to being able to compare side by side. My time is worth more to me than the savings considering the time it takes to use (or abuse) the more generous return policies of on line purchases, and still not get the side by side comparison. In my case I have not spent much on cameras, however, if I did purchase high end gear I would insist on local support.
        Regards Noel

        • This is just one of the reasons most persist. That said, a lot of the time the stores can’t keep every product in stock (especially with low volume or speciality stuff) and you or they have to order it anyway…

        • Yes, it’s harder – and maybe we’ll never get away from showrooms for high end products. Actually I think DJI does this quite well, I was checking out their drones the other day, and I can purchase online (with the price clearly listed on the product page), but they also have a showroom I can go and visit. (So hopefully Ming can help influence the industry!) If you really want to compare two products by different manufacturers, maybe that won’t be possible, unfortunately. (Unless you live in the US, where it seems possible to order and return products without penalty…)
          But there are a lot of products I haven’t seen in stock, and not just high end / exotic products – I had to buy almost all my samsung and MFT lenses online, sight unseen, because I couldn’t find them anywhere under the current system.
          Local support is a different matter – actually if it’s a choice between a physical presence for sales and a physical presence for support I’d much rather have the latter – this is again something that we don’t really get from dealers at the moment, at least where I live – after a 7 day window, they wash their hands of whatever you’ve purchased.

          • The DJI (well, Apple really) model is the only one that works long term because there is otherwise no incentive for a retailer to entertain customers that will buy elsewhere – prices have to be fixed and the revenue must ultimately go back to HQ. If the principal is large enough to operate the stores and the online presence then there’s enough motivation.

            At least you get 7 days, it’s basically the minute you leave the store in malaysia…

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