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Photography in 2021 — What should we expect?
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Aside from photography, 2020 will obviously forever be known as the year of Covid-19 and the resulting pandemic and it will be the year that not only changed our world and pushed us towards what will be a new normal, but it also changed our photography world for good — and for bad.
Certainly it has been a brutally tough year for many in our industry. Work dried up and income was lost. Tradeshows and events were cancelled. Because of social distancing and health concerns, it became impossible to hold most events that we enjoy photographing and it became impractical to work one on one with another subject or collaborator unless you were comfortable with the health risks. 2020 saw companies taking extreme measures to stay afloat and saw many full time professional photographers pack it in and head off to retirement or other careers.
But as we look towards 2021, I am the eternal optimist. At this point in my life I do find that optimism is sometimes weighted by experience and life lessons as well as a better understanding of history, but I do sincerely feel that we have a lot of awesome things to look forward to this coming year.
Let’s start with gear. The good and the bad of it. My first prediction for 2021 is that NONE of the camera companies that are rumored to be failing — will go out of business. Contrary to all the crap that we have read and all the declarations that have been posted on YouTube and the various Photography news websites — Nikon, Olympus and even Pentax are still with us and will still be here when we enter 2022 a year from now. And I sincerely believe that all of these companies will release more than one camera in 2021. I also predict that each time they announce a new camera, there will be numerous photography news websites and silver haired or big haired or tattooed YouTubers who will claim that those cameras suck and the company is going to fail. Some things will never change. At least not in the next 12 months anyway.
A bit of the bad, I predict by the second half of 2021 that gear prices across the board — cameras, lenses, lighting, and accessories will all increase — considerably. There is a simple reality folks and that is that these companies need to make money to stay in business, and they need to sell products to make that money. Many manufacturers aggressively discounted their products this year in an effort to keep cash flowing, but they can’t continue to do that and stay afloat. As the economy slowly opens up, the prices will go up as well and in order to do that without people noticing the increases, I believe that you will see a rush of new gear this year. But not revolutionary new gear. I am talking about gear that represents variations and incremental changes over existing gear. These will be products that allow companies to get creative with their marketing to justify the additional cost to consumers to help boost their profits. We will see a lot more rebranding of Chinese products to Americanize or Europeanize a less expensive item made in China. I am not trying to make equipment manufacturers out to be bad guys — it’s just a reality of what they will need to do to stay in business. It is always easier to build more profit into a higher price with a new product than it is to raise prices on an existing product in an effort to increase profits.
Let me repeat that piece of business advice for you — because it also applies to all of you who are trying to build a business as photographers. If you made the rookie mistake of pricing yourself too low to begin your journey as a pro — it’s a tough sell to raise rates for clients who are already happy with your work and your existing rates. By modifying your packages and service offerings to include additional high profit elements like a large print for a portrait, you can charge higher rates while barely increasing your costs. A commercial advertising photographer might start by being more detailed with their itemized list of services and include a line on each proposal and invoice that includes free digital archiving for life at no charge. That is a commodity that you can place a value on — but you are already doing it by archiving your own photos — it is a service that doesn’t increase your overhead — so you charge more and increase your profits without increasing expenses.
What do these gear predictions mean for you? I think if you are wise, you will make 2021 the year that you legitimately focus on building your skills as a photographer so that you can create better images — instead of it being another year that sees you buying more gear with the thought that it will give you more capabilities and somehow make your photographs better. By now, you hopefully have realized that it doesn’t work that way.
The economic landscape makes this a perfect year to really embrace the idea that the best gear is the gear you have and the best photographs come from excellent problem solving. My advice is make 2021 the year that you hide your credit cards and seriously work on your skills and your understanding of the foundational aspects of photography. If you adopt this policy and take enough pictures, your experiences and your photographs will show you what gear will actually help to improve your photography. In other words — only upgrade when you actually need to instead of want to.
Another prediction for 2021. We are going to see more and more and more content being created under the label of How to Learn Photography. It seems that everybody wants to be a YouTube dude — especially in the 30 and under crowd. YouTube Dude — that’s what my 6-year-old grandson calls people who make YouTube videos. It’s becoming a thing among younger photographers to try to become influencers as soon as they have about two years of experience with a camera. I know — I sound like an old guy griping about change. If that’s what you think — you are missing my point. I will say that I think 2020 went completely off the rails last week when the photography news websites published articles about YouTube photographers making videos about each other with rap music and clips of coffee beans. I am really struggling to find the newsworthiness or educational value of that information — but hey.
What I am actually talking about is the fact that more and more photographers are getting sucked up in the YouTube whirlpool of talented young photographers who are actually better storytellers than educators and then spending way too much of their free time watching these videos instead of actually taking pictures. Sadly so many people watch these videos and claim they are learning about photography when unfortunately you often learn more about how to make a good cup of coffee or decorate your living room. The fact is that these videos are entertainment masquerading as education. Even watching another photographer photograph a pretty girl in a video that has loads of gimbal shots and cool music and color grading is NOT teaching you anything about how to be a better photographer.
I still haven’t met a photographer who purchased a camera with the intent of watching YouTube videos. Most people purchase their first camera to be able to take better pictures than they can with their smartphones. Sure — there are great learning resources on YouTube in addition to all that entertainment — but if you don’t actually pick up the camera and use it — all of that learning is pointless and will not be remembered. That’s just science folks. In fact there is such a thing as too much learning. You wind up with a ton of memorized facts in your head which do not make you a better photographer until you give some real life context and experience to those facts by actually practicing with your camera.
Moving on — let’s talk about the trends for 2021. You probably know that I am not a fan of chasing trends, however they are a part of the process of creative evolution. We already know that yellow and gray are the big colors of 2021 — as published by Pantone.
I do predict that we are going to see an uprising of “rules free” photography. In large part because younger photographers are more focused on the concept of authenticity and showing emotion in their photographs.
For many from Generation Y and Generation Z, their photography is their therapy. It is part of how they explore their emotions and feelings. We are already seeing in print and in advertising many more images that reflect the rawness of film and early color film emulsions. These images are very similar in style and feel to images from the 1960s. These images are frequently done by natural light and can still be heavily styled even though they are styled to look natural.
It is almost as if this trend is a revolt against digital creativity and current photography trends that have become very commercialized. High speed sync might come to mind.
I personally love this return to natural and emotional photography. I am not very good at it — my mind sees things in a very polished and commercial way — but I am excited to see where the younger generations will drive this trend. It is important to remember that while we are in the middle of a pandemic, we are always in the process of evolving and changing—and change can be good.
I am also confident that we are going to see much more diversity in models both in art and advertising. I am sure we will see more natural and real people as opposed to the traditional tall and skinny agency type models of past decades. I will bet you that an interesting face, great eyes and full lips will remain a consistent feature in high profile work. Science dictates these are features that people are drawn to — so I don’t think that will change any time soon.
Just a little side note — this trend towards more raw imagery with less production will contribute to the challenges faced by manufacturers which in turn will contribute to the new gear and pricing predictions that I already made. Younger photographers are not nearly as gear centric as millennials and baby boomers. Manufacturers will have to be more creative and evolve their marketing to get these photographers to part with their money.
Based on 2020 numbers, I predict that Wedding and Portrait photography will still be the higher earning categories for 2021 but I expect that we will see a continued surge in demand for product photography as new home based businesses are opening every day and existing businesses big and small are finding new ways to get their products online. I assure you that any smart business is looking for ways to make their business pandemic proof in the future. That requires selling online and that requires great images. Given that much of the world is in lockdown right now and the rest should be working on social distancing — this may be the perfect time to work on your product photography and still life skills.
I could go on with these predictions as if I were some kind of savant, but I am not. Just like my teaching — I am a guy who has been fortunate enough to make a lot of trips around the sun with a camera in his life.
Your cameras will still take great pictures this year, and they will take even better pictures if you really put in the effort and practice. Companies will come and go this year. YouTube Dude photographers will get better at rapping this year — hopefully, and maybe even try some country tunes. Better yet — how cool would it be if we turned all the Sony Artisans into a K-Pop group? Business is going to be tough this year for photographers, but there will still be photographers who are successful because they will work harder and smarter than anyone else. The pandemic is going to continue to make life hell — but things will get better and slowly but surely as vaccinations roll out — it is getting better.
Our world and our industry are evolving and I intend to evolve with them. I can promise you that 2021 is going to be a year of growth and change for my teaching efforts and that is good for you. I am committed to keeping the overwhelming majority of it free of charge. So look for cool things ahead.
So my advice for you — the same as it always is. Go and pick up that camera and shoot something. Because your BEST shot — it’s YOUR next shot. Whatever your definition of success may be as it applies to your photography — the only path to reach it involves effort and practice.
I am introducing a new feature for TOGCHAT this week. It is my Photo Quote of the week. I know that doesn’t sound very exciting, but it’s not really about the quote — it’s about the photographer who is being quoted. I want to use this feature to introduce you to photographers that you may not know of. Photographers who have had real careers. I’m talking about careers that had impact — photographers who have assembled a body of work that is truly worthy of admiration. These are people that we can all learn from.
“My favorite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. If you are curious, you create opportunities, and if you open the doors, you create possibilities.”
– – Mario Testino
Born in Lima, Peru in 1954, he began his career in the mid 1970s in London England.
Testino’s images often mix masculinity and femininity and his photographs almost always appear spontaneous. He has documented subjects from A-list stars, muses, supermodels and artists as well as ordinary people from all walks of life.
I invite you to check out Mr. Testino’s work. I have a link to his website and portfolio in the show notes.
As you look through his work — please note how many “rules” are NOT followed and how many “bad poses” there are and even more importantly — how much energy and emotion exists in his images.
Like it or hate it, you will “feel” a response to Mario Testino’s work.
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