Events photography

Digital photography has killed photo studios. And yet Photohut survived and thrived

March 12, 2022, 11:55 a.m.

Last modification: March 12, 2022, 2:16 PM

When was the last time you printed a photo? The likely answer would be when you needed to print passport sized portraits for some form of official document.

With the advent of digital photography, the need to go to photo labs to print photographs – remember film cameras and negatives that needed to be “developed” – disappeared.

And with it came the downfall of photo studio businesses.

Photohut, a Dhaka-based photo studio and print lab, is perhaps one of the few entities in the city that has not only survived the global transition to digital photography, but also thrived because it quickly adapted and upgraded.

The key to success was the owner’s knowledge of the business. “As I knew the technical aspects of photography and photo printing, it was easy for me to steer my business with the advancement of technology.

Photo: Abrar Faiyaz Niloy

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Photo: Abrar Faiyaz Niloy

My fellow competitors who didn’t have that just couldn’t keep their businesses,” Shah Alam, owner of Photohut Studio, told The Business Standard.

The owner and his photo studio

Shah Alam is a commerce graduate. His association with the photo industry dates back to the early 1980s. While studying at Jagannath University, he took a part-time job with Fujifilm in 1983.

“Fujifilm just started its journey in Bangladesh around this time. I learned negative retouching, film development, darkroom printing and much more while working there,” Shah Alam recalls.

After working there for six long years, Fujifilm sent Shah to Japan for advanced training. He returned to Bangladesh in 1994 and joined Fujifilm Bangladesh.

It was 1999, Shah went to America, and it was there that he mastered the technique of sublimation printing. The following year, he returned to Bangladesh and established Photohut Studio, with just six people.

Today they have a team of around 30 people, including three photographers.

Over the years, Photohut has led the way as a pioneer in bringing brand new printing gadgets to the country. They are the premier importers of machines like Fuji Frontier 7700, Dye Sublimation Printer and more.

In addition, the largest print possible in the country (width: 44 inches, length up to 150 feet), is only available in this studio.

Shah Alam, owner of Photohut. Photo: Abrar Faiyaz Niloy

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Shah Alam, owner of Photohut.  Photo: Abrar Faiyaz Niloy

Shah Alam, owner of Photohut. Photo: Abrar Faiyaz Niloy

Apart from digital printing, Photohut also provides analog film printing services by converting film negatives to digital format.

Shah is a firm believer that having a deep understanding of the business is essential to the sustenance of the business.

Photohut provides European standard printing with uncompromising quality, while all other local studios offer much cheaper Chinese quality printing. And because of the high quality of their prints, 30 top photography companies and photographers nationwide trust this studio for all their printing needs.

Shah said, “The opportunity for event photography has increased dramatically. Collaborating with them for draws is also a reasonable fit that I would suggest to my peers.

Additionally, they opened up services like outdoor/event photography, photo retrieval and processing, lamination, digital printing on mugs and antlers, photo framing, and more.

Photohut Studio is also in the process of opening a new branch in Dhanmondi. And according to the owner, instead of opening outlets across the city over the past two decades, it was more appropriate to invest and focus on acquiring newer technology and equipment.

And his strategy seems to have paid off. Photohut Studio has become a household name in Dhanmondi – its only branch is located at 11/A – and nowhere else in the city.

As you enter the premises, you will inevitably come across a crowd of more than 15 people busy at their desks, processing photos and customers waiting for their orders.

Photohut is always booked at maximum capacity and to avail of their services you must make an appointment in advance.

It might make you think this scene is commonplace for photo studios in the city, but that’s far from the truth.

The tides of change

The downfall of photo studios due to the shift to digital photography has disrupted the market in more ways than one.

Slowly but surely people stopped going to photo studios to do family portraits. Remember when families put on their best outfits, put on lipstick, wore ties and brushed their hair back? Maybe the girl’s hair would come up in a ponytail and everyone would be invited to smile for the camera?

It was an event. And that remained true for a long time.

Owning a personal camera was a luxury back then, and the only way to store photos was to print them; or “wash them”, technically speaking.

Film cameras and having to have photos ‘developed’ and printed at a substantial cost also meant that people would be cautious, even stingy, with the number of moments ‘clicked’ and then chosen from the negative reel to be printed.

Photos, at the time, were only for very important or special moments. As a result, the business of photo studios was at its peak.

However, as digital cameras became more affordable and smartphones became more common, people no longer felt the need to rush to photo studios. And for storage, we can use our vast built-in storage space on our devices, such as mobile phones, memory cards, and even free 15GB cloud storage on our Google accounts.

This ushered in a shift in our behavioral DNA.

Photo: Abrar Faiyaz Niloy

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Photo: Abrar Faiyaz Niloy

Photo: Abrar Faiyaz Niloy

We no longer need to go to photo studios for prints. No one really goes to studios for personal photos, and photo printing has become, at best, an occasional occurrence.

Institutions like Photohut Studio have suffered and many have not survived the market breakdown of the photo industry.

“I like to keep myself up to date. I intensely research the latest technologies and try to bring them [to my studio] even before others know about it,” Shah said.

Shah is a firm believer that all kinds of businesses need adaptation. He said: “The demand for photo prints has dried up and we have to adapt to that. Either way, things won’t be like the good old days.

That being said, if a photo studio business is solely dependent on delivering passport-size photos, which a client probably needs once a year, it clearly won’t survive.”

Despite its success and well-deserved reputation among customers as a reliable outlet, Photohut continues to readapt and expand its horizons.