Saying Goodbye to the Photo Industry: What I’ve Learned in 9 Years

After nine years covering the photography industry, today marks the end of that long journey across multiple outlets, ending with my time here at PetaPixel. I’m not leaving journalism, but I am switching things up a bit. After a short break, I’ll be working in a new segment at a new outlet.

It’s an opportunity I am extremely grateful for and allows me to move my career in the direction I want it to go. You’re free to follow me on Twitter for more info on that. But as I bid farewell to an industry I love, I wanted to share something I’ve learned in that time, especially with how it relates to today.

In 2011, I wrote my first article about photography on Fstoppers, and I still remember the trepidation I felt prior to hitting that “Publish” button. 800 articles later, I moved to Resource Magazine. After that, Imaging Resource. Then, when IR was forced to scale back, I came to PetaPixel last Fall. Most recently, I had a brief stint at PDN/Rangefinder as their Senior Tech Editor, but COVID brought that to an untimely end.

In sports terms, I’m what is referred to as a “journeyman.”

How do these, what did you say they were called? Cameras? How do they work?

I have so many fond memories working in and for this industry. I love the people, the passion of the readership, and the companies who make the products. I am, of course, proud of the many stories I’ve written, scoops I’ve shared, opinions I’ve published, and reviews I’ve penned. There are literally thousands of them, and I’ve poured my heart into every single one.

Along the way, I made some lifelong friends and physically dragged myself around the world for you, the reader, traveling from New York, to Japan, to Germany and many, many more places to bring you guys honest content about the products you love… or love to hate.

Ted Forbes with me wearing Micah’s name tag. We like to have fun here.

I even genuinely adore the argumentative nature of the comments section. No, seriously. I like seeing my articles and the opinions there-in get torn to shreds for one reason or another, and I’ll tell you why.

My first couple of years as a writer were brutal. The comments section would come after anything they disagreed with, and pick apart any argument that wasn’t ironclad. That, I learned, was the nature of the photographic community, and let me tell you: it is extremely crushing to a young writer.

Looking back on it though, I’m grateful for the pushback. You all made me a better writer and a better thinker because of how you challenged what I wrote.

I’ve developed some of the thickest skin you can get and evolved from an insecure beginner who liked to say he “didn’t care” what other people thought (but really, really did) to a professional writer and editor who takes sincere criticism to heart without taking it personally.

The turning point for me was when I got to meet one of my harshest critics face-to-face. Known only as Spy Black, he’s been a constant in the Fstoppers comments section since my first article there. And boy, did Spy Black ever have some words for me. But then he went out of his way to say hello to me in person on a trade show floor. He found me, shook my hand, and told me how excited he was to finally meet me in person.

My harshest critic and me, November 2014

Spy Black is a lovely person, and I’m so glad to have met him. He changed my perspective on the “Internet Commentator,” and is one of the main reasons why I really like all of my readers – every single one. And it’s because I like you all and will miss you dearly, that we have to address the current situation.

I’ll be honest: things aren’t looking great right now, and everyone from manufacturers to publications to YouTube channels is feeling it. Because this industry is so niche, it was particularly susceptible to heavy damage. Perhaps more than any other tech segment, photography relies on customer loyalty. Every manufacturer of cameras, flashes, bags, and even memory cards has to build a strong brand or they will fail.

But there is reason to keep your chin up.

In 2012, I wrote my first detailed editorial that delved into why the photographic lighting industry was collapsing. At the time, there were multiple major independent photographic lighting brands that were all vying for control of the market. Now, only a couple of them remain independent, the rest being absorbed into major distribution companies or collapsing altogether. But at the same time, there have never been more options from more places to get lighting products.

I thought for some time that lighting was only the first of many in this industry that would succumb to this, but over the last decade that hasn’t yet proven to be the case. I have been very glad to be wrong in this regard. You might think that something as simple as a backpack could be knocked off and sold cheaply and successfully and eventually topple the original as was the case with lighting equipment, but brands like Peak Design and Think Tank along with Really Right Stuff and Benro prove otherwise. Sure, you can still get cheap tripods, backpacks, and straps, but are they really driving our favorite brands out of the market? I argue no, they aren’t.

Your loyalty to these brands is what saves them. Just look at Canon. I’ve been hard on them for a long time because of their lack of innovation, but they’ve still managed to do well despite waiting years to make their next technological leap with the EOS R5. They rested on their laurels and sold products based on the brand, but they did eventually make that leap. Patience and loyalty appear to be getting rewarded. The same goes for other brands. Despite Sony slowing down their once multi-annual technology jumps, their fans are still fanatical and for good reason. The company continues to make some truly amazing products, and fans of the system regularly have something to rally behind.

I know you all will remain loyal, even in the face of this current struggle. Even before the global coronavirus pandemic, the industry felt shaky, as though balanced on the head of a needle. I along with many of my colleagues in the photography press corps all felt it, but preferred to reassure ourselves that things would be good for just a little bit longer. Perhaps that would have been true had it not been for COVID-19. All the little cracks and fissures that threatened to become a problem in the future were suddenly hit with the full force of a global economic collapse, and what were once easily ignored niggling warnings immediately became full-fledged alarm bells.

But if there is anything I have learned in the last nine years, it’s that your loyalty will not only save your favorite brand, it can ignite it to incredible success. That loyalty was obtained for a reason, and this community fiercely defends it once earned. Things may look grim now and it’s entirely possible not everyone will survive this, but this industry is resilient. That comments section I said was full of strong opinions? I believe it is a living, breathing example of that fierce loyalty.

That’s the biggest takeaway for me after all these years: you all share a great love for the brands and equipment that allows you to create. That tenacity comes off as acidic at first blush, but after all this time I see through that. I see past the surface and recognize that the only reason we all get so worked up is because we care. That’s why I believe the industry will get through this, one way or another.

Throwback photo, a copy of which sits in a frame on my dresser. From left to right: Trevor Dayley, Patrick Hall (wearing Noam Galai), Lee Morris, Jaron Schneider, Lauren Jonas, Michael Kelley, Melissa Niu, Zach Sutton, Thomas Ingersoll

I will always love photography, making images, and creating compelling content. I am living proof that you can come into this industry and not know the difference between aperture and shutter speed and leave it an expert, one made wiser by the voices of his peers. I owe my knowledge and what has been an incredible experience to all of you.

I want to thank every company that supported me and every outlet I have ever written for. I want to thank everyone for their trust, their backing, and their friendship. I want to thank Michael Zhang and DL Cade for being the best editors I could have asked for here at PetaPixel, and even better friends. Finally, dear reader, I want to thank you for pushing me to be a better version of myself.

I love you, photography. It’s been an honor.

Update on 10/6/20: Five months after this was published, Jaron has returned to PetaPixel and is now covering the photography industry again.