Save the Photography Industry and Your Memories

Light Meter by Lisa K. Berton

Last week, my jaw hit the floor as I walked into my local privately owned camera store and photo lab. Nearly everything was on sale from 25 – 80% off and they had sold all photo printing and processing equipment. I wanted to scream and cry at the same time. “Now what?!” was all I kept mumbling to myself. Now where do I have my photos printed? Now where do I buy accessories? Now where do students get their Ilford black and white paper and dark room supplies? Now where do people go for expert advice?

I know the answers to these questions of course but it doesn’t stop the pain of knowing that little by little, that driving passion has been shifted because of technology. Sometimes “moving forward” costs people their jobs.

Let me go back about 20 years and then bring you up to speed. When I was a student in photography school, professional digital cameras were starting out. They cost tens of thousands of dollars and no one really thought anything of them. It was too much money and the technology was lightyears away from matching the quality of ISO 100 film let alone ISO 1000. We chuckled and continued shooting, developing, and printing from film.

Over the next few years, a small number of new digital cameras were released both for pros and consumers but they were still high priced Most folks were using film cameras and happily going to the photo lab at the camera store in the local mall

By the early 2,000’s digital consumer cameras were the new rage. The technology had gotten better, the cameras a bit smaller, and prices had come down so more people could afford them. People realized that even though digital cameras cost more than film cameras, it was less expensive to buy memory cards and print select images than to develop many rolls of film and have only a few keepers, depending on their photography skills.

At the same time, the largest chain of retail camera stores in the United States, Ritz Camera, saw the coming changes and bought equipment to print digital photos. They also started buying merchandise that didn’t belong in their stores including stuffed bears. For a while, the company was ahead of the competition by printing digital images but then drug stores and “mart” stores got into the digital game.

Jump forward to 2009 and what was once a chain that boasted over 1,100 camera stores was down to 800 and declaring bankruptcy that lead to closing roughly 50% of its stores. By now, the vast majority of people were on their second or third digital camera and printing less and less photos. Instant gratification of seeing images on LCD screens, in e-mail, social networking websites, and even on cell phones has stopped the automatic desire to print out photos.

We’re nearing 2013 and the camera store retailer is out of business. Since declaring bankruptcy the first time, at least 4,000 people lost their jobs including technicians, sales people, upper management, and those who took pride in getting the colors and contrast just right in your family pictures to be passed down from generation to generation.

Cell phones, tablets, smartphones, pocket sized video game consoles…whatever it is, the image quality does not compare to that of a camera. Period. You can try to plead your case with me but facts are facts.

While Kodak has been a pioneer in film photography, it pushed digital camera production and accessories starting in the early-mid 1990’s. However, they’ve since struggled to stay afloat and little by little have closed production plants, stopped producing film, and just this year filed for bankruptcy. Did they, the makers of photographic paper for mini labs shoot themselves in the foot by creating and holding patents on digital imaging? Perhaps.

If my rant leaves you with nothing but one piece of advice, it is this, print out your photos at a camera store’s mini-lab or pro lab. Technology changes constantly. Your memory cards will one day be obsolete, some already are. Electronics break. Digital files can become corrupt. You won’t be able to show pictures from your son’s college graduation, your newborn niece, the vacation you saved up for for three years, and every other special moment when the future changes the industry again. Print your photos and hold onto what matters most.

Skip on over to my Facebook page.

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4 Replies to “Save the Photography Industry and Your Memories”

  1. That is so very true. It seemed overnight that we went from floppy disks to usb. I once thought I wouldn’t own a computer due to the cost of it and now I have had 2, one hand-me down and one that i bought. Cameras and digital accessories are another thing I worry about since so much of things seem to change overnight.

    Thanks for the great article and I will definitely keep this in mind when I have a need for a photo memory to hold onto.

  2. Well written blog Lisa!

    But I have to disagree with some of your premises. Most people don’t care about getting the “color and contrast” just right. They CAN see the difference, they just won’t pick quality over convenience. They care more about instant gratification and convenience. Many people do not bother to EVER print their photos. We recently came back from a trip to Wyoming and took about 4000 pictures. We have not printed one. The people who would be interested in them would like to see them ONCE. They don’t want to keep them or catalog them. And I have my pictures backed up, so I’m not really worried about losing them.

    Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying this a good thing, just that it is the way things are today. And they are not likely to change.

    I’m in a similar industry – high quality audio/video. Wanna guess how many people don’t want to spend $10,000.00 on a good audio system, but are happy listening to the headphones that came with their iPhone? Or who watch TV shows on their 19″ computer monitor?

    Times change (not always for the better).

    Keep up the interesting blog.

    Lisa responds: Having spent many years working in the retail camera and photo lab business, my former co-workers and I can assure you, people do want their photos to look just right. While things have changed in terms of how photos are taken and how often they’re printed, one thing will never change, history, and it needs to be preserved in a way that’s visible to future generations. CDS, DVDs, hard drives, etc… won’t provide for them.

  3. Your post melts my heart. I’ve had a camera and have been doing photography as a hobby since I was 5, some 21 years ago. I remember my first digital camera as much as my first film camera. Now I upgrade my cellphone based on its camera. I even recently got an instant Fujifilm camera.

    I do print photos, every week in fact. Every Sunday night I pick my favorite shots from the past week and I pick one random old day to edit a few from and I send them to Costco. I thought about buying an old classic film SLR because the feel of my current 4 year old man D-SLR feels and reminds me so much of my first SLR and why I love taking pictures.

    I also scrapbook because someday I fear printing even digital photos will be a thing of the past and I want my future family to see and know the joy of life.
    Thank you for taking the time to post.

  4. Such a great article. It’s something professional photographers have been fighting for years, trying to convince someone why it’s better to order prints over a CD. Thanks so much!!!