The Falling Photo Bubble

Over the course of the last several days, a conversation has been happening in the NAPP forums regarding the “photography bubble”.  I am calling it this because just like the tech boom, the housing bubble, and other historical events, the photography industry seems to be having something of an adjustment in recent weeks and months.  Have you noticed it too?

It’s happening in many communities, workshops, seminars, and other such events where participation has dropped considerably.  From what I understand of things, communities everywhere are seeing marked drops in the active member rolls.  Many colleagues who teach workshops and seminars have also noticed a drop-off in attendance and interest.  The economy is certainly having an impact on the disposable income of many enthusiast photographers.  But it’s not just that…

Even the Worldwide Photo Walk, which only two years ago drew crowds that maxed out four different locales around Denver (at 50 participants per walk) is now barely cresting the 100 member count among only three active ones.  The downtown Denver one is maxed out for 16th Street Mall, but the Louisville one and the Boulder one still have several openings.  Know what the requirements for these are?  Nothing!  They’re free!

All you need is a camera.  It can be a camera from your phone!  It can be a film camera!  A pen camera, or even a pinhole camera would be enough to go out and take photos with.  Yet the attendance has dropped more than 50% from a mere two years ago.  Probably the biggest indicator for me is the amount of Meetup activity.  Leaders and managers for photo walks are not as active, and walks are getting fewer people.

So that means attendance at free sessions has even waned to less than 50% of where it was even two years ago.What happened?  Now a lot has changed between now and two years ago.  Economic times are harder…I get that big time!  But a larger trend is occurring in photography, and I think we should be standing up to take notice.  Why?

I suspect a certain degree of market saturation has happened, believe it or not.  Many people have hung out shingles.  There’s been so many workshops, seminars, and conferences held – everyone believing that there is an infinite desire to learn from anyone wiling to teach, lead, or share.  While the capacity to learn is endless, the capacity of the market to sustain an infinite amount of instruction is likely not sustainable.

The market has peaked!  Just like the tech bubble of the 80′s, the housing bubble of the 90′s, and even (as a friend put it in the forums) the CB radio bubble of the 70′s, the bubble has burst.  People are starting to hang up their hats, cameras, and photo gear.  Many have said “enough is enough”, and simply just don’t have the time, energy, or interest to sustain their habits, creative endeavors, and SOHO businesses in photography.  The market waxes and wanes, and the time to wane has come to pass…

It’s kind of sad to one degree, because it’s never easy to sustain a creative vision or energy in a shrinking market.  Monetizing that vision is even more difficult because the almighty dollar has been stretched to capacity – and as a result, I suspect that as the dust starts to settle in the coming weeks and months, many will have stopped their craft.  As I said, a sad thing, but lest we all be concerned that our own craft will die, or go silent, it’s times like these that we must muster the energy, motivation, and vigor to continue on.  Not necessarily unimpeded, but at least try to continue…it’s those that continue through the best and the worst of times that will be more successful in the long run!

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What kind of indicators have you seen that the market for photography, and photo education has seen a peak?  Has your own interest or ability to participate waned in recent weeks and months?  What trends have you seen in your own market and demographic with regard to the photo community?

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1 comment for “The Falling Photo Bubble

  1. September 23, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    This is interesting, thanks for starting the conversation. I am leading the Photowalk in Boulder and am fine with the 26 people attending so far, but yes I see the difference as well. To be honest, I have been shooting since the 1980s and the influx of so many people in an already competitive business was disheartening. I think it takes a specific type of person to be competent and creative in photography and I have seen so many people with a new camera that they know nothing about, except to turn it to Auto mode and shoot, yet they are still saying they are professionals.
    I know this is competitive of me, but damn it’s a hard business to make a living in! Maybe it’s just evening out with the more passionate and skilled folks… and that seems ok.
    I attended KelbyOne Lightroom Tour yesterday in the Denver Convention Center and it was well attended, although most I talked to were amateur level photographers (that doesn’t mean there weren’t more pros there however). However it did move to a smaller room from 3 years ago.
    As an aside I have long felt that there needs to be a professional group that gives licenses to photographers like plumbers and mechanics, etc. I tried out PPA and was going to go for their certification, but I was really unimpressed with the group after 3 years with them. Wouldn’t it be great to have a source of accredited photographers you could trust? Currently it just seems like chaos and I think it’s hard for the consumer as well as the professionals to find their footing in it’s current form.

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