We have been working at clearing out old and unnecessary stuff recently. After more than 25 years in our current office, you might well imagine there’s quite a lot of that. Recently Wayne unearthed the very first digital camera FayFoto purchased. That got me curious, so I started sifting through old assignment log books for the first evidence of actually capturing assignments digitally.
They started showing up in the Fall of 1999. Given that we’re into the second quarter of 2018 as I write this, that feels like quite a long time.
We weren’t the earliest of adopters, but our market moved us into providing digital services before a lot of other photographers made the leap (or else said “to heck with this” and moved into some other endeavor). Pro-level digital cameras at that time were beyond our means. We eased into the inevitable by scanning negatives and transparencies for years before investing in digital capture equipment. Our first cautious investment in a digital camera was at the upper end of what was then the consumer level. (It was a Kodak DC265, purchased in the Fall of 1999 at the CompUSA around the corner from our office. You can still read the camera’s review in DPReview’s archive!)
In the bag with that camera were some Compact Flash memory cards. One of them had a storage capacity of 16 Megabytes. My current camera produces a file nearly twice that. That’s to say I couldn’t save even one photo with my current camera on that memory card.
And Photoshop – why would we ever need to learn that? My first exposure to Adobe’s Photoshop software was version 2.5. It still shipped on floppy disks in those days, and layers weren’t yet a thing.
And yet it was awesome. I clearly remember the sense of doors opening to opportunities never before available to generalist photography shops like FayFoto.
During this transition the familiar and comfortable work and billing patterns we were masters of were dropping away and the new patterns weren’t yet established. How could we manage, store, and deliver content as bytes of data instead of grains of silver? A steady flow of income from reprints came to an abrupt end when we began providing JPEG files instead of physical prints.
Our clients were learning as we did of course. The advertising agencies, already familiar with a digital workflow from prepress shops and new page layout software, were quickly growing comfortable with the new era. Corporate and PR agencies, more familiar with a workflow built around 5×7 prints, were less so. Many of those clients didn’t understand why a high resolution file looked so enormous in an email. Free technical support became a new offering at FayFoto.
That was the era in which I learned that the fastest way to gain a client’s distrust was to say “trust me…” We were all learning together. I was, fortunately, insanely enthusiastic about the new tools. I can’t imagine what our transition would have been like had I not been.
Today all that feels like a lifetime ago. The analog era of 12 or 36 exposure limits to a roll of film, feeling your way around in a pitch-dark room, and splashing in mysterious chemistry feels nostalgic and, well, quaint. (Though I do to this day sometimes pause when opening a box of ink jet paper in room light, which would have ruined a costly box of photographic paper.)
Mistakes and missteps were made. We learned from those mistakes, fine tuning our product and services as we went along. Fortunately our clients did trust us, at some level anyway, and they began to trust us more as time went on.
Our product has never been better. The raw format, our “digital negative,” gives us opportunities to refine color and exposure which film never did. Head shot portrait subjects love seeing images on a laptop computer as we go. In the film era there was no equivalent to the amazing interpersonal interaction this workflow gives us. (Polaroid proofs were immensely helpful but they weren’t anything like seeing each image as it is captured.)
It has been a long, challenging path to get to where we are today. But I’ll tell you what – even if market forces allowed us to, I wouldn’t for a second consider working as a commercial photographer with anything other than digital tools.
Change Doesn’t Stop… Ever
Who needs to hire a professional photographer when everyone who has an amazing camera built into their phone? It’s a new challenge for an old company, but we’re confident there’s still a market for experts. Listening to our clients, discerning their needs and pain points, then applying our experience and new tools to address those problems helps us stay relevant.