June 2005

Kay Warren Book Cover Image

Productivity Goes Up…. Bottom Line Goes Down.

As with almost everything in this world, the “digital revolution” has its pluses and minuses. Transitioning from film to digital definitely has its gives and takes…On the plus side; one tends to be a lot more productive on any given shoot. The immediacy of digital has provided a lot of benefits for most photographers. No more waiting for Polaroids, no more explaining to the client that the “real” shot is going to look the same yet different. No more loading film. No more film tests and color balancing. The trips to the lab, looking at snip tests, that nagging “what if” feeling before you actually see a properly exposed, properly developed, sharp image on film…. all gone. The ability to look at an images seconds after it is shot and say “That’s it. Let’s move on” seems.. well.. almost like cheating. But it gives you so many more options. If you see the final right in front of you and are able to say “that’s it”, then you can move on and do variations rather than worrying about “covering the shot” or go on to the next shot and get that many more done in a day. And being able to shoot a lot more frames on any given image with what can be perceived to be little or no cost ramifications is quite liberating.

But.. the problem is there are cost ramifications! Let’s start with the equipment. For fifteen years plus, my five cameras with their various lenses have covered 98% my needs. Up until about 4 years ago, my annual investment in camera hardware was …… ZERO. I had (and still have) top of the line equipment, that never needed replacing. Now? I need to put out tens of thousands of dollars every couple of years to stay ahead of the curve! Both in camera hardware and computing power. The film and lab may be gone, but now you or your assistant are in front of a computer for hours on end, editing, processing, ENHANCING, archiving, upgrading… it goes on. So those extra frames you can shoot now because your digital…. They’re not free! That’s just that much more time in front of the computer. Certainly we can just charge for this, but some clients still have it stuck in their head that because it’s digital, it’s cheaper. But it’s really not.

There are savings to be had. Clients no longer have to scan images. And you can get much more done in a day which can reduce production expenses. But depending on how you price yourself out, that could also eat into your fees! You can fix things in post production in five minutes that might take an hour to fix on set. Etc., etc.. All in all most of the savings are savings for the client. With all of the capital investment a photographer must make these days to stay current and the fact that generally speaking photo fees if anything have stayed flat or gone down, the challenge is to remain profitable in what sometimes feels like a dwindling market with more and more competition.

In the end though, I think you have to come back to one of the basic motivating factors for many of us getting into this profession in the first place; it’s always fun to have a new toy!