26 October 2013

Malawi: Digital Electronic Gadgets Slowly Killing Photography Business

Lilongwe — In 1994, Augustine Kaponda, a freelance photographer using his analog Cannon camera could make K5, 700 a month, enough money to support his family. Fast forward 2013, he makes three times less than he used to make, thanks to the coming in of digital electronic gadgets.

Kaponda is one of the many analog photographers crying foul due to the technology evolution from analog to digital gadgets such as smart phones. The use of photographic film dates back to 1885 when George Eastman manufactured paper film which was first offered for sale in 1888. The film was loaded in his first camera which was named Kodak.

In 1900, Eastman took mass market photography a step further with a simple and very inexpensive box camera that introduced the concept of snapshot.

Emmanuel Chambakata of area 23, another freelance photographer who has been in the photography business for close to six years, couldn't help accepting the pinch that technology has brought upon photography.

He said nowadays, people prefer shooting photos using advanced gadgets such as smart phones, IPods and laptops.

"I rarely take pictures for individuals. The only time we make good money is when I have been invited to cover functions," he moaned.

He further urged people to value hard copy photographs, stressing that they are important because they serve as memento for important functions such as weddings, graduation and inaugural ceremony ceremonies.

"People should use professional photographers if they are looking for quality. We (Photographers) understand issues to do with angles and lighting which are crucial in producing a good photo. I hear people complain when photos come out poorly," he explained.

He said in a good business month he makes an approximate income of K95, 000 which is not enough to meet his personal and business demands.

"I have a wife and a kid that goes to school. As a bread winner I need to provide for their needs, however, I need to balance my personal and business needs to make sure that one doesn't suffer," he said.

It is not surprising to see no or few people processing photos in studios. In the past, photo studios processed and produced still photos from a storage facility called film. A camera would capture an image that would later be developed into a photo by cleaning it in mercury vapor.

Chang Lee, Lee photo studio's managing director says business used to be good in the last decades. Photo studios have been affected by the introduction of advanced gadgets which use digital system as compared to the traditional analog system which used films.

"Technology has really affected photography in Malawi. You may see for yourself that people are sitting idle here (Lee photo studio) proving that there is less work. This is totally the opposite of how business used to be in the past," said Lee.

He said business was good when they first established their company 20 years ago. Lee photo studio was operating from Nulite building before moving to Nico center to meet the ever increasing demand.

"We moved to Nico center in the late 1990's before the construction of Game shopping complex next to us. We had Lilongwe post office on the opposite side where many photographers would gather to shoot photos. The photos would then be brought to us for processing," he explained.

Nevertheless, he said that Lee Photos Studio is trying other alternative measures to make ends meet. The company has diversified into repairing electrical gadgets, selling memory cards, camera and cell phone accessories among other things.

"We also produce identity cards for companies and individuals. In addition, we sell picture frames and produce extra large photos as big as B0 size," Lee said.

With advances in technology, it is now simpler, faster and cheaper to produce a digital photo as it can now be produced using advanced gadgets that display the photo on its Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) or on a computer by attaching it using a cable.

Recently, Nokia Company launched its first tablet computer and a phablet (extra large phone) which have six mega pixels that produce photos with high resolution (quality).

A new application called Refocus lets owners determine which parts of a photograph are in focus and which are blurred after it is taken. The phones achieve this by taking a series of images in quick succession at different focus lengths rather than imitating the light filed effect captured by a traditional camera.

Social network sites have also contributed to death of analog traditional photography as digitally produced photos are easily uploaded on the sites.

Tamandani Malunga, an area 36 resident trashed analog photography saying, it is expensive and time consuming.

He further explained that with the coming in of Facebook and Twitter, people use photos to still connect with their families and friends living abroad or overseas.

"To process an analog photo requires scanning and transferring the photo to a computer. Analog photos are poor in quality. In addition, scanning is a long and complicated process as compared to simply using a digital photo," he explained.

"Processing a photo takes time and it's costly. It means one has to move from their location to town where professional photo studios are located," he said.

Malunga added: "We must move with technology just like the rest of the world. We know that our friends are earning a living through photography but we cannot stick to old technology because of sympathy.

He further explained that digital photos can be easily stored in laptops, memory cards and e-mails as compared to analog photographs that are easily stolen or can be destroyed by water or fire.

Malunga said it was high time local photographers like Kaponda switched to digital system if they still want to bring food on their tables.

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