Is photography as a profession dying?

RIP by Anders Östberg, ©2006. All rights reserved.

RIP by Anders Östberg, ©2006. All rights reserved.

I would say so.

Today, I got an email from a photography business newsletter I'm subscribed to. The email featured quotes from an interview with a photograher who's been in the business for over a decade and he had some interesting comments on the state of the industry. It really got me thinking about where things are and where we're headed as an industry. As Dickens put it, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." That sums up my feelings about choosing professional photographer as a career in this day and age. Having put in almost 12 years myself, I can attest firsthand to many of the changes that have occurred from shrinking budgets, clients producing the majority of their work in-house, and the perceived value of what we do as artists quickly diminishing.

For example, when digital first hit critical mass way back when, perceived value was already skewing towards, "anyone can do that" territory. But now its pretty much gone full tilt. With new tech making it easier and easier for people to create "acceptable" imagery and the proliferation of images visible on social media, everyone's in on it. Numerous newbies from all walks of life are picking up digital cameras and trying to get a slice of the pie. Models are even turning photographer creating images that rival those from full-time photographers. Additionally, the veil has been lifted on many photographic techniques allowing almost every facet of creating images to become easier and easier. Just hit up YouTube and peruse the countless videos on everything from lighting to post-production and you're on your way!

But before I go completely off the rails, one aspect that most are overlooking is the business itself. All these new opportunities also cause changes in other areas. Where models used to hire a photographer to shoot professional images, they're foregoing that and doing it themselves. And of course, when it comes to models, you have countless photographers willing to photograph them for free.  Brands such as Amazon and Victoria's Secret are handling things in-house not only to control their image, but also their budget. Other markets have felt the impact as well. Wedding photographers must provide numerous options in packages that no longer have the profit margins they did just five years ago. "We want 3 photographers, a drone, engagement photos, slideshow, and all images with rights for $2500." is essentially what has become of the wedding market. It's an interesting(and some would say scary) time.

Of course, if you're just starting out you may be thinking all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about taking your photography skills and "earning the monies". And if you've been in the game a while you're biting your nails waiting on the next job to fall in your lap, despite your best efforts to "make it happen". Fret not! It's not all gloom and doom, despite the image I've created in the previous paragraphs. As I alluded to with the Dickens' quote, there's good and bad in the current state of the industry. We can't stop the progression of tech and to a greater extent many of the changes in our culture. People once bemoaned watching reality tv, but it's still going strong. People hated on selfie-sticks, they're still being used in abundance. Social media is here to stay, despite numerous services falling out of vogue over the years.

For photographers faced with a rapidly changing industry and the role becoming less and less important, we must do what most species faced with their own demise have done for centuries: evolve. It is imperative we evolve with the times. We must be unafraid to take risks, denounce trends and create our own path. Conventional ways of success as a photographer are drying up, so we must look for a new oasis. Diversifying is one way. Start multiple businesses. Broaden your range of services. Make books, sell prints, maybe put out a YouTube channel. The latter I'm not sure about because I think that's an oversaturated market with every photographer doing reviews and talking about gear. I think in that sense the gravy train is over, but putting out unique content such as vlogging, talking about the actual craft, showing behind the scenes looks at your creative process and so on might provide audiences with entertainment enough for them to invest more in you.

So yes, I would say photography as a profession(in a traditional sense) is, in fact, dying a slow death.  But it's not over yet. We may have about 25 years left before it's a completely ridiculous career choice. As time passes, being a photographer will be more and more niche. Cameras and certain services will be able to create the exact type of images you want automatically. And for many that will be enough. However, there will be people who still seek out those offering something truly unique; maybe a look or an experience. The high-end market should thrive due to this. Unfortunatley, many artists will fall by the wayside as I've noticed from the years of doing this.

For now, if you're going to get into it, do it now. But be warned, it's not an easy climb. You will be broke. It will be unstable. People may not value what you do. But you can make being a successful photographer a reality. It will just be a huge undertaking. You don't have to be the best. Be consistent, persistent, resistant, and most importantly, clever. Godspeed.