photography and the economy, part 1: the hobby

The current financial crisis is the elephant in the room, so let’s acknowledge it and take a look. I’m taking the lead from 1001 Noisy Cameras and their recent post entitled Opinion: The financial markets and photographers.

I like to keep prophotolife relatively on point, targeted on the positive benefits of photography as a hobby and the realities of photography as a profession. Every once in awhile we’ve taken a little trip outside of our favorite topic to look at just how photography fits into the world at large. Right now the world is focused on economics. Tightening dollars are inevitable, given the turmoil in world financial markets. How will this affect photography?

A few weeks ago I published a post titled starting a photo business on a budget of $2000. A follow up is almost done on how the next $1000 could be spent. For me, this was a fun exercise and it seems it was for many of you, also, since it received great response. Right now I’m not spending much money, to be honest, and many people are understandably hesitant to spend. Writing a follow up to the original post seems a fun and valuable exercise, even if it is only play money we‘re using, so expect to see that soon.

*And speaking of soon, it was a beautiful weekend so I got out and shot the follow up to film vs. digital (2 DSLRs and 4 different films compared). Film goes out for processing today and then I’ll start scanning and compiling the comparison.

camera store photo by under creative commons

Photography as a hobby is booming, and rightly so. I don’t have to tell you all of the reasons photography is a great hobby, just fill that blank in with whatever it is that brought you to the party. How might this economic downturn affect photography as a hobby?

Well, it will certainly affect consumerism. Cameras have been flying off of dealers shelves and new models are appearing all the time. As spending slows, the hype over new camera models should slow. Increasing numbers of photographers will more likely “make do” with what they already have.

From strictly an enjoyment standpoint that’s not a bad thing at all. Your response to “how many mega pixels are enough” shows that readers of prophotolife don’t feel that the camera makes the photographer, it’s how the photographer uses the camera that matters. Right on.

Will cameras, software and computers come down in price? We’ve already seen such dramatic drops it’s hard to imagine prices falling further. But it seems like prices could very well fall further, especially if the holiday buying season is as bleak as predicted. Old stock sitting on shelves has to be moved so I’d anticipate some aggressive pricing.

A sad note is that this may prove the death knell for some of the few small, independent camera stores left standing. I’ve worked in camera stores and this is where you’ll find dedicated, knowledgeable, enthusiastic sales people that love photography. “Back in the day” consumers flocked to camera stores for brochures and information. All of that information is now easily accessible on the internet, as are “buy it now” buttons and numerous price comparisons.

But, regardless of where we buy, the U.S. economy depends on us buying new cameras, software and computers with regularity.  The digital design chains are heavily invested in planned obsolescence, where things are designed (improved) either without backward compatibility or to have a limited life span in some other way. At certain points in the cycle, if we want to move forward with a new camera we must buy new software, whose performance may be enhanced by the latest operating system, which may only function fully on the latest computer system. Sometimes buying a new camera involves more than just buying a new camera.

But I’m not a slave to fashion, I just like to use what works. The benefits of a slowdown in buying might spur even more appreciation for cool DIY ideas on sites like I’m a backyard mechanic at heart and enjoy building my own photo equipment. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of using something I‘ve made myself.

This past summer Epic Edits Weblog hosted a poll in which respondents stated they felt Photoshop was overpriced. Perhaps more talented people will contribute to open source software projects like the free, multi-platform, open source alternative to Photoshop: GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). John B. informed me recently that engineers have paved the way for GIMP to process 16-bit color and to implement non-destructive editing. That’s pretty cool.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Photoshop is a truly amazing product and, like Apple Computers, I believe they are superior to the alternatives. But will the average hobbyist think so if times get really tight?

I guess my final thoughts are that while the economy does count on the dollars spent on photography, enjoying photography as a hobby doesn’t have to be dependent on the economy (unless we let it be). And maybe, just maybe, if we’re spending less time spending money on other things, we may spend more of our time taking photographs. That’s not a bad thing, now, is it?

Next up:  part 2, the economy and photography as a business