The Future of the Professional Photographer

“The Future of the Professional Photographer” 

Author: Tiffany Roweth

Fact: More than 28% of people own a Digital SLR camera (survey of 2,245 people)[1]

Fact: 25% of people have said that their phone’s camera is their primary camera because they don’t see the need to carry around an additional device. (Survey of 566 people)[2]

Fact: According to web photo sharing giant Flickr’s data, the iPhone 4 is more popular than both point and shoot and SLR cameras on their site.[3]

Fact: Growth in the market size is down -1.1%[4]

The definition of ‘Professional Photographic Services’ compiled from several resources – is providing still, video photography services, including the video taping of events such as weddings. It can also include the editing and printing of images. Products and services include but are not exclusive to: weddings, advertising/fashion, school and graduation, portrait, commercial and industrial photography.

The landscape of the Professional Photography industry has been changing, partially due to the widespread adoption of digital SLR cameras by consumers and amateur photographers. The demand for industry service has also been affected by the trends in the general economy and the capacity of households and businesses to purchase photography services.

Many are starting to wonder, ‘What is the future of the professional photographer?

In the mid-19th century when photography was starting to come to life, the world was left wondering if painting was going to end, and now we know that that’s not the case at all. So I don’t see any reason why photography should end as an art or a profession.

It is very difficult to predict what is going to come next, how seriously should we be taking this? I see people using iPhone’s for photography as tragic for the industry, while they are good for snapping things when you don’t have a camera on you, I don’t think they should be relied on as ones main camera.

Photography has indeed drastically changed since it began, (but everything changes in life), it’s not giving any signs of weakening, if we considered how wealthy the photography industry is, not talking about the media- newspapers and magazines, but rather about the millions of competitions, awards, grants, festivals, exhibitions etc. that we see growing year after year (Average salary for a photographer: $52,000 P/A * Wages will vary according to level of skill, experience and employer[5])

What has already changed though is WHO does photography and with WHAT and HOW photos are shared. I think it will always remain a medium and although consumer patterns may change. Images/photographs are still as important as they ever were, if not more.

The future of photography? Just about everyone is or thinks he/she is a photographer.

Photography is what you want to make it. Never has there been a bigger demand for images, nor a bigger supply. It is a buyers’ market its future is more or less in the hands of the consumer.

Photos really do say a thousand words; images have been surveyed as the most engaging post type on Facebook. Over 5000 brand pages 93% of interaction was on photos. The layout of websites particular Facebook has been changing to support more visual content. In March, the social network went as far as calling it “the best personalized newspaper in the world” it provides a space for strong visual storytelling.[6]

The future of photography is in the thrill of capturing what you think you saw, grabbing a piece of time, in a few cases having very happy clients, but mostly it is personal and the ability to have how you see things, viewed by many.

In my survey of several photographers’ blogs and comments the majority say that: If you are smart with your business plan you shouldn’t have any issues. But if you don’t you will struggle to keep up with the market and be lost in a sea of people who think they are photographers.

Sharing and distribution of images

The biggest change in photography has surely been the ease with which people can self-publish. Now people can share their images much more easily and with a much wider audience than they could before, even just ten years ago.

As a serious answer, I think images will become even more immediate they are already shared online with the world, instantly, through sites like Instagram, Flickr; mobile devices increasingly include simple ways to upload images, almost as soon they are taken – it stands to reason things will keep moving this way.

In this way, everyone can be a photographer, in the same way everyone can be a writer. Good photographers, as good writers, I think we need not fear this!

Surely part of the joy of being a photographer is having your work out there to be seen by as many people as possible.

With the advent of computer technology, the days of processing our film and getting physical prints are diminishing. Most photographers show their work online and rarely make prints. A multitude of websites and programs have been created that allow you to post and share photos with anyone. And anyone can edit (or over-edit) their work, online or offline using software.

My own website has had 2, 578 views since January this year. Average views per day is 8. A lot of people are viewing my work, and this many people certainly wouldn’t have seen it if I didn’t have my work published online.

‘This Studio’ (Professional photography business) have a website, Flickr, Instagram and Twitter accounts which are readily updated so their work is no doubt being viewed a substantial amount.

Technology puts better photos in the hands of amateurs.

Manufacturers have continued to add more user friendly features to digital SLR cameras and market them to hobby photographers. In addition to the long-term influence of camera technology, the demand for industry services is affected by the trends in the general economy and the capacity of households and businesses to purchase photography services. In the current slow economic environment, householders and businesses (e.g. media outlets) are undertaking photographic assignments that would formerly been the realm of professionals.

It has been said that photography is a numbers game, in that only a certain number of your shots will be professional quality. The more shots you take the more professional quality shots you will get. This means that any hobbyist or amateur with a good camera can shoot and shoot and shoot and eventually get a prize-winner. He may even receive an honourable mention in a photo contest, or sell a photo for use on a website, then thinks he has the right to call himself a “professional photographer”. Many have the DIY attitude: “Why pay someone to do something that I can easily do myself and have fun doing at the same time?”

A current example is the royal baby portraits taken by Micheal Middleton (Kate’s father) when traditionally they were taken by professional photographers such as Sir Cecil Beaton and Lord Snowdon. “Portraits of previous newborn royal heirs have been taken by professional photographers in royal residences – including William and Brother Harry’s baby shots with their parents, which were taken in front of a blue studio screen.” His photos have been criticised by the professionals, “The finished result may have charm but is technically poor and lacks the gravitas of previous official photographs”.[7]
While using a member of the family to capture the images one could argue about the sentimentality of “family albums” and how many people are choosing to take family snaps themselves. The quality of images differs greatly from professional photographers in comparison.

In my internship at “This Studio” I have learnt that their prices are quite low which gets a few more families in for family photos. However I am concerned that these costs are much too low for their qualifications and experience and I do believe they are selling themselves short.

‘‘People just don’t want to go and get their photos taken because they can… produce a reasonable photo themselves.’’[8]

Advantages of using a Professional Photographer

Why use a professional? According to the Australian Institute of Professional Photography, “An accredited professional combines a love and passion for their craft with a dedication to running their business in an ethical and professional manner and a desire to give you the ultimate customer experience.”[9]

To become an AIPP accredited professional one must have a minimum of 2 years’ experience with on the job training, or have completed an approved photographic program with a Registered Training Organization.  A lot of amateur and hobbyist photographers are self-taught and lack this knowledge and experience. Why should someone who hasn’t done the training or had the experience be getting work when there are many who have put in the hard yards to get there?

The ‘art’ of being a pro

So how can we become and stay a successful professional in this market?

The biggest mistake I think you can make is believing in the old saying ‘Build it and they will come’ this is no longer applicable in today’s highly competitive market areas, where there are literally hundreds of small photography studios. The photographers that succeed in this industry are the masters of marketing and promotion, and not necessarily masters of photography.

It can be very challenging in this time to run a small photography business, from everything I have read it is most important to have a strong business plan and know what you want to achieve and just don’t give up from minor setbacks.

There is also this idea of specialising in certain areas as opposed to being a general practice. It gives you the opportunity to achieve higher standards of excellence, identify with a particular ‘world’, having a type of images makes you more recognisable as a business. “In our fast changing society the chance of keeping to any one category of professional photography throughout an entire career is not only remote, but positively dangerous.” [10]

It is important to become yourself as your ‘own’ photographer, to separate yourself from the crowds and distinguish yourself as a professional photographer. I will be applying this to my own practise and hopefully others will also.

Another piece of advice I have found is the importance of a good website (marketing and promotion) when you run a photography business and to established your online presence.

The photographer Ben Kopilow (from a business – Fusion Photography) notes that “the website becomes the virtual shopfront”[11]. What does this mean? And how will online portfolios and websites compare and stand against businesses with lack of online networking. Having your website as your virtual shopfront means it is the first thing people see when they Google you, or ‘walk into your shop’, as we all know first impressions do count so you want to have all your work upfront and contact details on every page. Your online portfolio is probably one of the most important things to maintain as a photographer. It is your image, who you are on a platform for the world to see.

I have looked at different issues and how to make it as a professional photographer, but what are the professionals who are already out there thinking?

Well-known photographer Annie Leibovitz believes photography is stronger and better than ever before. She states that “Those of us who are photographers, the difference between us and everyone else is that we take what we do very seriously.”[12]

“In this day and age of things moving so, so fast, we still long for things to stop, and we as a society love the still image. Every time there is some terrible or great moment, we remember the stills.”[13]

Kirk Tuck (who has been a professional photographer for a few decades and author of the blog Visual Science Lab) said, “I think we’re just about there.  The point where photography, for the most part, becomes so ubiquitous, surrounds us so completely and, through its own total familiarity, loses all of its power to surprise and delight.”[14]

He states that it’s not that cameras have gotten better, easier or more accessible which makes this inevitable, it’s the unceasing exposure to everyone’s photographs, via the web that is “sucking the life out of the medium”.[15]

This provides a very different, very real, yet pessimistic view and this is very important to take into account. These are two very different professionals with very different opinions on the matter.

Well, ‘What is the future of the professional photographer?’  My answer is: unknown. There are so many possibilities and it will differ person to person.

Photographers who wish to be successful will focus on areas where they can differentiate themselves from amateur photographers, such as superior shooting and image editing skills, or through providing services such as school portraits or wedding photography, where professionals are considered necessary or worth the expense on an important day. They will have a business plan.

In my experience through my internship small photography businesses can still thrive in this market, with a good website and social networking skills and keeping up to date with all your clients and having products and prices that will get your targeted market in the door and keep your head above water.

As a photographer entering the world as a graduate, I am very cautious of the future of photography. I will apply all the advice I have read to my own practice.

Photography is my passion and will always be. I’m a big believer in defining and refining and redefining your dreams, constantly polishing and changing your plan adapting to the changing world and being realistic and inspired by your hopes and dreams – not giving up until you get there.


Footnotes.

[1] Mike Browne, “DSLR Camera Sales up – More than 28 per Cent of People Own DSLR.” Photography Courses, 4 June 2010. Accessed 1 November, 2013. http://www.photographycourses.biz/dslr_camera_sales.html

[2] Leslie Horn, “43 Percent of People Use Their Cell Phone As Their Primary Camera, Poll Finds.” PC Mag, 27 June 2011. Accessed online 1 November, 2013. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2387677,00.asp

 [3] Leslie Horn, “43 Percent of People Use Their Cell Phone As Their Primary Camera, Poll Finds.” PC Mag, 27 June 2011. Accessed online 1 November, 2013. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2387677,00.asp

 [4] Ibis World. “Professional Photographic services in Australia: Market research report” Published October 2013. Accessed 29October, 2013. http://www.ibisworld.com.au/industry/default.aspx?indid=674

 [5] Open Universities Australia. “Photographers.” Accessed online 1 November, 2013. http://www.open.edu.au/careers/arts-recreation/photographers.

 [6] Veronica Fuleova, “Photos make up 93% of the most engaging posts on facebook!” Social Bakers, August 2013. Accessed 6 November, 2013. http://www.socialbakers.com/blog/1749-photos-make-up-93-of-the-most-engaging-posts-on-facebook

 [7] Rebecca English, “Here’s one grandpa took!” Mail Online, August 19 2013. Accessed August 23, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2397595/First-official-royal-baby-portrait-Prince-George-Duke-Duchess-Cambridge-taken-Kates-dad.html

 [8] Rebecca English, “Here’s one grandpa took!” Mail Online, August 19 2013. Accessed August 23, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2397595/First-official-royal-baby-portrait-Prince-George-Duke-Duchess-Cambridge-taken-Kates-dad.html

  [9] AIPP. “Why use an accredited professional” Accessed 17 October, 2013. http://www.aipp.com.au/AIPP/Find_a_Pro/AIPP_live/Find.aspx

 [10] Langford, Michael John.  Professional photography : principles in practice / Michael J. Langford  Focal Press London ; New York  1974

 [11] Digital Business. “Fusion Photography” Accessed 23 August, 2013. http://www.digitalbusiness.gov.au/your-story/fusion-photography/ 

 [12] Raie Ann Fera, “Annie Leibovitz on getting the shot and the future of photography” Fast Company, 28 June 2013. Accessed 23 August, 2013 http://www.fastcocreate.com/1683295/annie-leibovitz-on-getting-the-shot-and-the-future-of-photography#1

 [13] Raie Ann Fera, “Annie Leibovitz on getting the shot and the future of photography” Fast Company, 28 June 2013. Accessed 23 August, 2013 http://www.fastcocreate.com/1683295/annie-leibovitz-on-getting-the-shot-and-the-future-of-photography#1

 [14] Kirk Tuck, “Some predictions about the future of photography” Visual Science Lab, 25 January, 2012 Accessed 23 August, 2013. http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/some-predictions-about-future-of.html

[15] Kirk Tuck, “Some predictions about the future of photography” Visual Science Lab, 25 January, 2012 Accessed 23 August, 2013. http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/some-predictions-about-future-of.html