Article by Jason Wallis
Do You Have a Future in Professional Photography?
At the beginning of the movie Press Pause Play, the musician Moby says “Now everybody is a photographer, everybody is a musician and everybody is a filmmaker“.This sentiment is echoed by author Dane Sanders “It wasn’t always this easy to get into the pro photo game. Now it is – everybody is a photographer. If you own a phone you’re a photographer.”
Indeed, the Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire full-time photography staff a few weeks ago in favor of training its reporters to use iphones.
Professional Photography vs Social Proof
With all this social proof that Everyone’s an Expert does this mean there is no future in being a Professional Photographer?
No of course not. I will explain why in one sentence: Just because you can pull your own tooth doesn’t mean you should consider yourself a dentist!
Is everyone a photographer now?
In reality all these so-called photographers have no “expertise” and never actually make any money at photography. OK perhaps their friend lets them shoot a wedding for a few hundred dollars, they do a family portrait once a year or an unpaid TFP model shoot… Maybe the company they work for lets them be an unpaid photographer for its advertising purposes.
I’m sorry, that’s not being a professional photographer!
Don’t listen to people who tell you what you do is not a profession anymore… that anyone can do it. They don’t know what a Photographer is or even what makes a good photo! Napoleon Hill writes that opinions are the cheapest commodity on earth and their only real cost is the patience to listen to them. In fact I am sure you are constantly bombarded by opinions of others on what would make a photo look better. Listen: If someone doesn’t know who Richard Avedon is I am sure as heck not going to let them tell me how to take a photo.
Being a Professional Photographer means you make your living from the craft.
I guarantee you that not “everyone” can do that! In fact probably only one in a thousand can make a living from photography.
Being a professional and staying in business means you compete against the best and no one can get there by simply picking up a camera on a whim and taking a few shots and uploading them to Instagram. There is much, much more to it than that!
Can anyone be a Professional Photographer? No.
That’s like comparing a kid with crayons to an artist. Sure they have the sametools and they may even produce one “interesting” piece of work but that’s where it ends. Apparently even a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. Does that make the monkey a professional author? No of course not.
A professional photographer gets consistent high-quality results and can problem-solve the situations that each assignment brings. A professional can also bring a vision and point-of-view to photos.
For example, I like surfing and some days I am good and others terrible. I never really know what to expect. Kelly Slater always knows what to expect. Likewise for professional photographers.
If you still truly believe “everyone is a photographer now” then go and look at ANY of the professional photographers represented on these sites:
They are as good as it gets. True professionals that earn hundreds of thousands and are trusted with major campaigns worth millions of dollars.
So what are the real threats to being a professional photographer?
Here are my predictions for the future:
The Paradox: Software like Instagram, Hipstamatic and iPhoto get more and more user-friendly while Photoshop remains notoriously difficult and gets more and more advanced and esoteric.
The Photoshop learning-curve is huge. In some ways Photoshop is the new barrier to entry. People argue “just outsource post-production” but from my experience the quality is bad and retouching cheesy when you do that.
The Age of the iPhone
However, there is no doubt iPhoto and cheap high-quality digital cameras opened up the possibilities for amateurs to play professional.
We have the amazing iPhone camera and click-to-edit programs like Instagram and Hipstamatic.
These and other Apps make the photos look edgy and vintage. All with a single click of the button you’re a professional photographer!
So what does this mean? This is a serious threat in my mind. If anyone can press a button and get “professional” post-production results then photographers need to wake up and take notice!
But you protest “I have a Canon Mark 3 (or Nikon equivalent)!” So what, the cover of time magazine was shot with an iphone and hipstamatic!
So the technical became easy. What is left? Your passion and point of view! Also your artistry and skill with Photoshop.
Your photos must stand out above the crowd whether by concept and composition or by post-production. I covered this concept in my previous article. You need to work on your individual style. You need to shoot what makes you passionate.
For example: Like you, I love photography. I research photographers constantly, I learn Photoshop enthusiastically every day and after shooting I cannot wait to edit my photos. And this is after 16 years professionally doing it.
I believe you should have a career that is your passion. I believe it does not matter which profession you choose: there are poor and rich people in the same careers -sometimes only a few blocks from one another. My point is there are plenty of wealthy photographers despite any opinions that everyone is a photographer now. What separates them from part-timers is their commitment, passion and commitment to continuously learn and stay ahead of the curve.
So while the biggest threat I see for the future are the “one click” creative software programs and apps, ironically I also see the biggest opportunity in knowing how to use complicated programs like Photoshop.
Why? Photoshop is a powerhouse with incredible results when you actually LEARN how to use it properly. The results achieved by Photoshop are incredible and separate professionals from amateurs. Just look around this PHLearn and see what you can do with it!
You have the resources right here on this website and many others to learn Photoshop to a professional level and to constantly improve these skills until you are far and away ahead of weekend warriors and unskilled amateurs posing as professionals.
So is photography a dying profession?
Some people will tell you this: they’ll point out that they found a photographer on Craiglist offering to shoot their catalog at 1/2 your rate with their point and shoot (in a garage). That’s great, let them waste their time and potentially ruin their own business with less than professional results. That’s not your problem. Just shrug and say: If you are not happy with the photos I will be available to do a professional job for you later on.
This is the point: Yes anyone can take AVERAGE photos. Anyone can take good photos some of the time. Professional photographers own the key distinctions that make the real difference between a good photo and a great one.
Professionals know all the resources needed to make a great shoot. They know all the models, the stylists, the locations, the right lighting to make something look its best, the right poses. A professional photographer will not fumble around and waste a subject’s time and take weeks to get photos back to them.
All these things create value. Time is money: I was taking a photograph of a large group of executives the other day. One of them was running late and the CEO said: They need to hurry up, this shoot is costing me $25,000.
I laughed: I wish!
He then turned to me and said: No, it really is! I pay each of these people $400/hr.
Think about that: When someone hires you it is costing them their time as well as your fee.
This can help you understand your value of your professionalism. Mistakes are too costly to be left to an amateur.
So what do you think? Is professional photography on the way out? Do you accept low payment and bad terms because you are afraid of non-skilled competitors? Know that there are many photographers out there earning six figure incomes that know the opposite.
In conclusion, the general consensus is probably that photography is a obsolete profession due to the perceived low barriers of entry like iphones and easy photo apps. Indeed this has affected the profession as seen in the case of Chicago-Sun Times. However the irony lies in that the future of photography is actually in the skills you continuously upgrade through Photoshop -a notoriously difficult software program with no peer in my opinion.
Yes there are lots of unskilled amateurs posing as hipster photographers. They will undercut you and people will hire them once or twice. But there is a massive gulf of talent and skill between them and the true professionals earning big bucks such as those on the websites I gave you. The choice is yours to which group you want to belong. The choice is easy in my opinion but the road is hard (and rewarding).
Don’t get me wrong: We all start at the bottom. I challenge you to ignore cultural paradigms that “everyone is a photographer now”. That just devalues all your hard work and skill. Rather, look at the best in the profession of photography (I have given you some examples) and aim to be like them or better. No one is more talented than you or me at the end of the day. The only difference between you and these top photographers is in accomplishments and belief. You have all the tools. Now aim high and don’t listen to people who tell you that anyone can do what you do.