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The Photography Industry: Are There Reasons to Smile?

When photographer Joe McNally wanted to cover the future of aviation, he shot from the back seat of an F-16 with one digital camera in his hand and another wedged between his legs. He shot just over 200 frames in half an hour -- without having to stop and change film rolls.

The future of photography is digital. But what does that mean for the industry as a whole?

"I wouldn't recommend going into the field of traditional photography," says business futurist Joyce Gioia.

"Film as we know it is going to go away and the employment picture looks bleak for the film manufacturing industry. Digital photography has completely changed the face of the film industry -- in [North America] and worldwide."

Digital is definitely here to stay. But that doesn't mean photographers are becoming obsolete.

"Film as we know it will be less critical to the success or failure of a photographer; however, shooting techniques are still the same. Never will a 'phone' camera replace conventional photography from a quality perspective," says Roger Zacharias. He works with photographs for sports trading cards.

"I wouldn't let the digital camera versus the conventional film issue hinder one's decision to enter the field of photography."

Others agree that the field still offers opportunities.

"Photography is still here today and is as meaningful as it was 20, 30 or even 150 years ago," says photographer Gary Nylander.

"It's really the image itself. What it's made with, whether it's a camera with film or a digital camera without film, is not of importance."

So what are the advantages of a digital format?

"With digital cameras, a photographer can look right away at an image that was just made. In many cases, this can be very helpful in knowing if you 'got' the shot or not," says Nylander.

"Digital is here because it takes away a few steps to get that image on to paper, whether it is fine art, prints, magazine or newspaper."

Many of those who used to make their money through film are finding new niches in an effort to survive.

"Film development companies have simply adapted to the rage and host digital output devices where people insert memory cards in a self-serve environment," says Zacharias.

"The digital era has resulted in convenience and very low maintenance for the film development companies that have done their research and development in preparation for the extinction of the film process."

Photographers themselves have also had to adapt.

"At one time 150 years ago, a photographer needed a pack horse and close to a ton of camera gear, which included a portable darkroom," says Nylander. "Over the years, cameras have become smaller and lighter and photographs have adapted to the change to remain competitive in their business."

"I know three professional photographers personally who have all migrated over to digital because the technology is more user-friendly and they can continue to use old lenses, lights and other support equipment that is not obsolete," adds Zacharias.

Shin Sugino uses digital cameras to take professional photos for most of the major automobile manufacturers in a huge studio. "I haven't used film for five years," says Sugino.

But moving into the future isn't cheap. "A professional outfit can run from $10,000 and go up from there," says Nylander.

Sugino points to a chunk of digital equipment the size of his fist. "This piece alone costs $48,000. And I have to replace it just about every year."

Technology has changed the nature of photography. But it has also opened up new opportunities for would-be shutterbugs. The future is bright for those who can move with the times.


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