Adapt or Die… Embracing Change

Flat Art Studio’s owner and head photographer, Dawie Verwey, shares his thoughts with us on the ever fast changing technological landscape of our world and where photography fits into it.

Donna's "adapt or die" iPhone. Photo: Lee Malan

“Adapt or die” Donna said as I handed her her new iPhone 4. She ‘s one of the star photographers here at Flat Art. She was ready to trust another fruit brand to provide her with a mobile device, but after consulting her tech savvy and ever supporting husband, Russell, she had to concede: touch screen technology is the way forward and hey, we’re photographers with Macbook Pro’s so the iPhone is perfect.

Furthermore I’ve got everyone on Mobile Me so now its easy for her to check her calendar and see if new bookings have arrived, sync her music and do her email. Also being biased, it’s an iPhone, it’s beautiful and frankly it rocks!

This was not the first time Donna had used these words. At the beginning of last year we moved to a new studio. A traumatic move which involved turning a whole office floor into two studios, with the standard gripes of working in a space where builders are still building.

We moved from a space with only one studio and a rather average kitchen to a building with a space that is beautifully structured with two great custom made kitchens and great facilities like a goods lift that opens up into the studio and a loading zone, 5 meters away from the lift. This was a big step. The rental had increased three times and the building cost was not something to scoff at.

It was a leap of faith. Would our revenue cover all these new costs? I did all the calculations I could, but in the end you still have to jump and see and it paid off tremendously. Clients loved our space. In that one year our business grew exponentially. The fact that we now had two studios meant that between the three photographers at the time at Flat Art Photography, we only on very rare occasions had to rent other studios. This also meant that clients knew they could almost always count on getting a great space to work in.

We had to embrace the fact that we were growing – we are now five photographers – had we not, we might have half the clients we have today.

Adapt or die.

Saturday evening we were celebrating Michael Le Grange’s birthday -also one of our top image makers in the company. We ended up watching the Champions League final at our favourite hang out here in Woodstock – Jamaica Me Crazy. (note: don’t miss the Monday Night Madness specials!)

So while Messi and Villa were annihilating Man United, I met up with an old friend who had come up the photography ranks with me since the years of shooting film. We both assisted the great and famous fashion photographers of the time. She had worked with Micky Hoyle and I with Gerda Genis and Robert Koene.

We had worked hard and assisting was stressful. You had to make sure the roll was processed right, marked correctly and of course did not get lost! That was apart from being able to load a roll in 8 seconds, making sure all the clients had good cappuccinos and croissants.

We bemoaned the fact that today skill is much less of a factor to get your foot in the door and that Photoshop in so many cases is replacing real skill and a true understanding of lighting. We reminisced about the days of nervously standing next to your client with a Polaroid underneath your arm (to warm it up) and praying that when you pulled it that you at least got the exposure right.

"Then" Mamiya 645. Photo: Lee Malan

We miss nervously waiting for Prolab, creative Colour or Orms to drop off your work and see if it all actually worked.

We miss our light table and our loupe. No screen still compares to watching a roll of 36 frames of velvia on a light table. We miss shooting on a Mamiya 645 or the beast of that was the Pentax 67 medium format. A lot.

Editing was tactile. You had a coloured crayon pen with which you marked the shots you liked. It took a few minutes and then you sent the roll off to the

"Now" Canon 5D Mark II. Photo: Lee Malan

client. Job done. If you did it well, you would be booked again. If you screwed it up, you could not fix it in the post. You probably would not get another call from them.

It was great remembering the old days. We were fortunate to have seen photography in its hey day. Photographers were rock stars in the 90’s. There were big budgets, big tempers and some amazing images.

But times have changed. Adapt or die.

Now budgets are small, more clients are going in house and using inexperienced photographers with cheap gear for smaller shoots.

To make beautiful pictures is not that difficult anymore. My iPhone App, Hipstamatic, sometimes outdoes my EOS on my travels. Just because I like the instant look and feel it provides!

Below are some classic travels shots that held up really well. They were taken on a cycling adventure through Egypt and Israel. These were shot with my 8megapixel iPhone 4 and processed with Hipstamatic!

I’m no fan of gimmicks but the quality of these shots are actually not bad given the little effort needed to create them!

So now we are at a place in the business where we really have to think about our strategy. There are so many new things to learn. I’ve started working in HD video and have done a few jobs as a director of photography. Moving pictures- its a whole new world. There is online publishing, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and iPad books and Applications to know about. There are whole new hybrid camera systems that are getting smaller and lighter and better. The speed at which things are changing is getting faster and faster and we have to keep up.

I’ve seen top photographers’ businesses go down because they did not acknowledge or realize that the world has changed, they did not adapt.

Trannies from my laser film

I bought my first piece of camera equipment when I was 16. I inherited my father’s camera gear. He had a standard manual focus SLR. It was a Chinon (probably from China or Russia) that handled like a brick but had a magnificent 50mm F1.4. Unfortunately the flash had given up the ghost so we went to a camera store in Long Street. I loved the place. It had glass cupboards full of lenses and shiny new Canons and Nikons and an array of coloured filters and big stands and lights standing around. They even had a whole selection of Leicas – the Rolls Royce of film cameras and also the M-series which was the true choice for documentary work. I bought a very cheap chinese knockoff flash just over R100. I was elated. I was stepping into a new world. Ready to take on the world with my new piece of gear.

A few years later after the digital revolution, I went to that store again. It looked exactly the same. The manual focus film-based Leicas were still there. There was no sign of digital. The mantra, “digital  will never surpass film,” hung thick in the air. It was now just old and dusty.

This weekend I drove past that shop again. The “To Let” sign boards told me how the story ended.

Adapt or die.

In our ever increasing fast paced world, we have to embrace our current circumstances and get ready for the changes flying at us on the horizon.

So the real question now is.

Whats next?


About Flat Art Studios

We are a tight-knit group of photographers specializing in food photography in the Cape Town area.
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3 Responses to Adapt or Die… Embracing Change

  1. Fiona says:

    Haha! I so remember those Polaroid, Prolab, Creative Colour and Orms days too! Great article 🙂

  2. Delene Fry says:

    Love your blog! will read it regularly now! Cogratulations! You really make me proud!

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