Is professional photography as we know it dead?

For many photographers, the last few weeks were pretty intense. Adobe announced that they are moving all their products to the cloud while Marissa Mayer declared that ‘there’s really no such thing as professional photographers.’  Both events really upset many, however it begs the question – Is professional photography as we know it dead?

My answer – yes

It was 2005 and the rise of a new school of photographer

Although I’ve been a photographer since the 90′s I’ve only been shooting professionally for little over 8 years. I was one of those guys that left corporate America to jump into the world of professional photography when the introduction of digital cameras promised new opportunities for those willing to take it on.

I thought that I would be welcomed with open arms by established professional photographers, but I found that I was shunned by many . I remember my first ASMP meeting…There I was with a big smile on my face ready to rub elbows with the best shooters in town. As I started to mingle with the pros, I met one photographer who looked like he had been shooting for years. I could tell he was not a happy person and when I asked him what he specialized in he grumpily told me “survival” which for a moment I thought he was photographing survivalists in the bush.  :-o

He was not the only pro to have that attitude, many new pros had the same objections to digital technology and I can understand why. In the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s, the entry to the world of professional photography was high. One needed to study in detail how to light and photograph so that the exposure was perfect in camera. Getting the shot right in camera took a great deal of skill. If a photographer could make a beautiful image they were often looked at as someone with a sage-like skill and with good reason.  Shooting right in camera takes a great deal of skill.

With the advent of digital cameras, the entry point of creating a professional level of photography was attainable to just about anyone. The playing field was somewhat leveled and this excited me. I was able to shoot, see instantly what I captured on the cameras LCD and if I didn’t like it I could make the necessary changes and shoot again. Of course just owning a digital camera did not make me a “pro” but it did give me the confidence I personally needed to grow my hobby into a business.

I struggled for a couple years but I did make it and since have been able to adapt and grow my business in part because I never forgot that meeting. I could not understand why pros would not want to adapt to new tools that would make their business grow in profit and give them new creative options.

Sadly, as I grew my new and exciting business many of the photographers I met at that ASMP meeting that did not adapt went out of business. This had a ripple effect in my local market (Phoenix at the time). Many of the retailers who would not carry digital photography equipment closed. Many labs that did not offer digital services to the new school of photographers closed as well. There was a lot of anger at people like me from the photographers and retailers that did not support the “new way” of capturing and post.

Clients that were using film photographers unwilling to shoot digitally were now coming to people like me for work. I could do the same job for less money and provide a more convenient, fast and robust set of services than any film shooter could. My clients could see the shot develop instantly on a tethered laptop and often times got a CD-ROM (remember those?) before they left the shoot.

As I grew my business, more and more photographers were making the move from enthusiast to pro. It seemed like everyday I met someone who was a photographer. I needed to adapt, so I spent hundreds of hours developing my visual style into something what was uniquely mine. When I was asked to bid, I knew that I had a unique look and would charge a premium for it too. 

When a client told me that I was priced like NYC based photographer I smiled because I knew I was worth it.

The dawning of a new breed professional photographer

There’s been so much change happening in the world of photography, but I’m not sure most photographers are picking up on this change. With change comes opportunity but if you are not seeing this change the opportunity of continuing your photography will close and another door in another industry will open. If this happens to you I hope you see the opportunities in your new career.

Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer’s statement about pros (see video below around 45 minute mark) may be right on the money. If you were to start a basic business, say a yogurt shop, you would need at least $250,000 of capital to start. With photography one can go to their local retailer (or Amazon) and pick up a DSLR thats “good enough” for professional level of quality and spend less than $800. That’s quite a low financial entry point for business don’t you think?

Of course this does not mean that the photography is good but we are in a world where “good enough” works and customers want work for less $$$.

So how does a real pro separate themselves from the wannabes? Try adding a bit of motion to every shoot you capture and start offering hybrid eproducts to your list of services offered. Shooting motion fluently with confidence is not as easy for most as it is to capture a still image. The majority of cameras do not have RAW video and are not going to for years, if ever. This means that for a professional photographer, the level of technical abilities required to be proficient in capturing is higher than what it used to be. While anyone with an iPhone can take a decent photo, not anyone can make a killer still and motion photograph. Add to that the required ability to incorporate the use of sound and the bar rises yet again.

By 2017 there will be over 1.6 billion smartphones in the marketplace and tablets will have overtaken traditional laptop and desktop PC’s as the consumers choice for their computing needs. – source Business Insider and Gartner

So yes, the traditional professional photographers that only offer a print might be done for but a pro that offeres a hybrid of still + motion & sound? They’ll have over a billion potential opportunities to sell their work.

In the very near future pros will be capturing stills + motion & sound with ease, leaving the still-only photographer to fight with the hords of enthusiasts that are quite good at making beautiful photography. Don’t believe me? Just look at any of our Flickr Friday posts which BTW is starting to show signs that the enthusiast can make a beautiful hybrid project as well, see below.

The push to move to the new, new school

If the the big push to move from digital to film was brought on by the the DSLR what is pushing the the move from still to hybrid? The move to a hybrid capture and workflow is brought about by many factors:

Smartphones and tablets - everyone and their mother has a smartphone and or table. This means that everyone has the ability to display still + motion and broadcast sound. The majority of consumers are consuming their media on these devices. It makes sense that with the move from a print only medium (such as paper) to screens professional image makers create media for those screens.

Consumers have been making hybrid creations with their smart devices and chances you have been too. Ever shoot some video with your iPhone then quickly shoot a video clip? Chances are you have already been capturing still + motion & sound media and not even realized it.

Screens are everywhere - visit any major city and you’ll be surrounded by screens. There are screens in taxi cabs, screens in bathrooms, screens in elevators, screens at the gas pump…screens everywhere!

Your DSLR shoots video - have a DSLR? Chances are it shoots video. But…

If you have a hybrid camera - like the Lumix GH3 that’s designed for hybrid capture shooting you’re shooting hybrid easily. Leading tech companies like Sony, Olympus and Panasonic are already designing the next gen of camera and guess what? They work similar to an iphone capturing stills + motion & sound with ease.

LED lighting is here to stay - If you are looking at lights you need to be looking at LED’s. The are color adjustable, lightweight, near indestructible and can be used to capture still + motion. Flash will not work with video. If you want to up to speed fast check out Will Crockett’s video, The ABC’s of LED’s.

55% of pro photographers are women - to me this is most exciting factor. When I was speaking at WPPI’s On the Road in Chicago last week, the women in my seminars understood the concepts of hybrid capture far more easily than the men. The women in my classes were shooting with their DSLR’s, iPads and small pocket cameras. While the majority of guys did give it a go there were some that refused to shoot. Bizarre, but true!

When I started shooting pro in 2005, there was so many men who were secretive about what info they shared. Then, as people like me became fluent in digital technology, those same pros came to us asking for help.

Technology in cameras today can to the heavy tech lifting that the old schoolers of the past kept to themselves. Since the cameras are doing the heavy lifting, this allows the 21st century photographer to be more creative in their work. Women, who typically are less tech oriented are able to be self expressed with photography faster than ever. Women don’t care about the tech; ask my wife about sensor size and she couldn’t care less.  Hand her a mirrorless camera and she’s capturing a mix of still + motion & sound with ease.

The 21st century photographer

The 21st century photographer is one that captures a hybrid of still + motion & sound with ease. Professionals need to be thinking about multimedia, cloud computing and creating their looks in camera. This new breed of pro is creating content for screens regardless if they are located in one’s pocket, inside a taxi or on the wall of a gallery. We’ll be delivering our work right from our tablets or smart phones and  eventually right from our cameras.

Technology is further removing technical barriers that in the past kept people from creating that vision in their heads and sharing it with others.

Like the move from film to digital, the move from still photography to a hybrid of still + motion & sound is one that is happening with or without you. Some pros will make the move with ease and grow their careers into new exciting ways while others will fight change and move into other careers. Either way you go is up to you and both options are honorable, however the fact remains that as a industry we are moving from print media to multimedia. Photographers that are working pros and those that want to become working pros need to recognize this transition and adapt.

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About Giulio Sciorio

Since 2009, Hybrid Photography pioneer Giulio Sciorio has been blending still + motion & sound with his photography. Giulio is a Lumix Luminary, commercial photographer and founder of SmallCameraBigPicture.com - the resource for everything Hybrid. A portfolio of Giulio’s hybrid work can be found at GiulioSciorio.com.

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7 Responses to Is professional photography as we know it dead?

  1. Crabby Umbo May 24, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    As a photographer who’s trying to hold on until I retire, and someone who went into creative department management as well, to try and meet that goal, I have to say that photography in many cities around the U.S. IS dead as we once knew it. And it has no modern permutation for survival! It’s easy to say that all you need in is 800 bucks to get a camera to be a photographer, but in reality, this is a red herring: what you need is the best of technology to sell your client the best result possible (and that needs to change every 3 or 4 years), as well as about 5 grand minimum of lighting equipment, liability insurance in case someone gets hurt on a job you’re shooting, enough constantly updated computer equipment to do what you need to do, space if you need to shoot studio, etc., etc. Not to mention your personal paycheck, health insurance, retirement, etc.

    I’ve fought for client “education” for years, and apparently, I was the only one doing it, or at least trying to. When the advertising production business changed from agencies getting a percentage of gross fees, to “fee for service”, the money dried up, and the Las Vegas styled negotiations started. The average photographic buyer today has no concept of what it costs for you to be in business (and really doesn’t care), and so when their clients tell them their photography budget is a laughable figure for what they need to do, they have no concept of what that is, and go out and find a person to do it for that money. When my day rate in the 80′s was 800-1000 dollars a day, and I had camera equipment I could use for decades, I was making an OK lower-middle-class living. How someone today could throw day rates out there in the neighborhood of 300-500 dollars, and keep a straight face, is not just ridiculous, it’s a step into the Twilight Zone.

    The idea that someone could throw a figure out there, that is less than the secretary at their company makes with benefits included, and think it’s reasonable for the job, just shows that they don’t have any concept of business, or even what exactly they or their other employees make. I know of no one in this business today that isn’t riding the coat-tails of a “significant other”, who is bringing in the benefits, health care, and financing the home front, unless they are located in a very large city and have a long history of working with large dollar clients. What usually happens is the client throws the agency a bottom dollar figure to get the job done, the agency takes what they need to pay their people properly and cover their benefits, and then what’s left is what they shop the production around for, an amount you cannot live on or run a business with.

    When will it stop? Not in my life-time, unless no one is willing to work for the money. The “pro-ams” out there aren’t helping anything either. What other industry do you know of where people are perfectly happy to work at it for nothing, after they’ve made their money with their “day” job? How many people say, “I’ve spent my day working and making my daily bread, but I love plumbing so much, now I’m going to go over to Fred’s house and buy the pipe, and the tools I need, and redo all his bathrooms for nothing!”

    The “professional cycle” in my area now is: Get out of college with the latest generation of knowledge and equipment, work at little money for 3-5 years, not being able to replace anything or earn an actual living. Keep at it until your significant other threatens to divorce you if you keep it up. Go out of business. Have people the same as you, doing the same thing you did, every year you were in business. And the volume of people willing to do this in every area of the country is monumental.

    I could go on and on, but save yourself while you can!

    • Giulio Sciorio May 28, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

      Thanks for reading for the in depth comment Crabby. I think you hit at some excellent points regarding agency work and the business in general. Unless one is shooting at the high-end of the spectrum it can be a challenge to make a profit in todays market.

      Rosh Sillars says to make it in todays market we need to be “photographer and …” which could be anything from photographer AND writer to photographer AND educator.

      Anyone who is getting into the business today or wants to be around in 5 years needs to consider multiple income streams to be successful as a photographer. I do think eventually we’ll see a demand for a pro with real pro skills but until things get a bit more balanced out online we’re going to be living in a “good enough” economy.

      I have been able to separate myself from others by capturing stills + motion & sound quickly with high quality. Being able to offer more then just still photography has helped me grow the photography side of my business.

      If I were working in an ad agency I’d be worried about now especially considering how little most agencies know about social media and content marketing. Photographers thinking as a 21st century photographer should (still + motion & sound, social media) will be ok if they can deliver content fast enough.

  2. Seamus Warren May 25, 2013 at 4:19 am #

    Hello SCBP, Was Marissa Mayer’s comment about pro shooters at the fifty five minute mark removed? Thank you. :)

    …and which mirrorless should I get instead of upgrading to a Nikon D600?

    • Giulio Sciorio May 26, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

      It should still be there around the 45 minute mark.

  3. John Griggs May 30, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    Giulio, you are righter than perhaps anyone thought: even press photographers are losing their jobs in part over not shooting video. This article (link below) over at DPReview says that the Chicago Sun Times is laying off its entire staff of photographers in part because their subscribers want more video content which I presume the photographers have not been providing.

    http://www.dpreview.com/news/2013/05/30/chicago-sun-times-lays-off-photo-staff

    • Giulio Sciorio May 30, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

      Thanks John. Although I’m not surprised by the layoff I am surprised at how fast the transition is happening.

      For a profession that is paid to “see” I don’t understand why, as an industry, we’re not embracing motion when it should be quite obvious to anyone with a smartphone where their photographic future lives.

  4. A Miller Foto-Photography May 30, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    This was a great post! :)

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