Is Professional Photography Dead?
Let’s travel back in time to find out. On a small farm in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Mississippi, I remember my parents’ old Dell desktop computer. For years, it sat in the family room collecting dust in the house where I grew up, and it probably hasn’t moved to this very day. We lived so far from civilization, that computer was literally never able to connect to the Internet…
When I was around twelve years old, I sat down at that computer and opened my mom’s copy of Adobe Photoshop CS4. I think that was when I fell in love with art. Before that day, I had only ever used ‘Paint.’ For endless hours I would click around on each program mindlessly trying to figure out what each thing did, not actually trying to learn anything. I did this year after year, just in my free time, and I got better and better. The next thing I knew, I was graduating college with a degree in Media Production and my own startup Photography business.
So is professional photography dead? Let’s take a look.
When it comes to photography we live in an over-saturated world. With everyone having top-of-the-line smartphones that take increasingly high-quality photographs, it looks as if the PROS are getting pushed out of the field. Facebook alone uploads over a million pictures each day, making it a major cause of the attitude towards professional photography. Easy to apply photo effects, like the ones offered by Instagram and Snapchat, can be applied in a matter of seconds, making a mundane snapshot look like well-shot vintage art.
However, that should not deter anyone who is looking to step into the field of professional photography. Even if the reasons might at first glance seem like they are pushing you away from the industry, reality is that they are creating a fast-growing market for you to grab hold and hang on for dear life.
Why are PROS more relevant now than ever before?
With businesses quickly moving into the online world, the demand for high-quality photographs is growing with each passing day. And… because potential clients are at the top of their game with their own photographs. Whereas before you could get away with semi-amateur pictures, you now need to make sure that even your practice shots are JUST AS GOOD if not BETTER than the ones you throw on your Facebook feed. With so many new businesses starting every day, the demand for PROS is only going to continue to grow.
In recent years, camera technology has improved so much, and so fast, those professional-level cameras are now widely available to be purchased by anyone at their local shopping mall. But as we all know, having a good camera makes you no more of a PRO photographer than a kid with a smartphone.
So what does?
This is a short and somewhat obvious answer – if you are taking pictures and earning enough money to make and sustain a living out of it, congratulations! You are a professional photographer and have absolutely no reason to be reading this blog. In fact, you probably already have a blog, and it’s probably much cooler than mine…. However! If your buddy gave you a few bucks for some picture you took of them at some party one weekend, I’d say that there is still quite a long journey ahead of you before you can consider yourself a true professional.
Of course, that is just the simple way of putting it. In truth, to become a professional, it takes time. A lot of it. Not to mention blood, sweat, and tears. There is more involved than you could possibly imagine… From trade rules such as apertures, shutter speeds, composition techniques, lighting techniques, post-production editing, to the legal and business side, which involves contracts, copyrights, taxes, and tons of other kick-your-teeth-out fine details.
How to begin the journey towards professional photography?
Simply purchasing a tool, which in our case happens to be a camera, does not give you all the skills needed to use it by default. You have to spend a lot of time researching, and then even more time trying to put everything into practice. From my experience, perseverance is the most important tool. And it’s not that expensive considering you already have it – within yourself. If you spend enough time taking pictures and playing with them in Photoshop and Lightroom, you may notice that they start to look quite good after some time.
But consider what one of the greatest candid photographers ever once said. “The first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” (Henri Cartier-Bresson)
For every 10,000 photos, there’s likely only 100 good photos, but probably only one really great photo. Like National Geographic great. And that’s if you’re lucky. In Henri’s time, though, things were a little different. This was said in the days of film photography. That is, when you had to pay, not only for each photograph printed, but also for EACH SHOT TAKEN.
So, if the average film had 24 shots, you would have to shoot, then develop over 400 rolls of film. That, my friend, is a very long, and VERY expensive process. Luckily, today we are only limited by the size of our memory card. I think it would be fair to say that the number of “worst pictures” would be astronomically higher, due to digital cameras.
When the number of times you press the shutter release on your camera doesn’t matter that much. I would probably paraphrase Mr Cartier-Bresson and say that “the first 50,000 photographs are your worst”. But that also means there’s a lot more wiggle room for good photos, wouldn’t you agree? Who knows, maybe your PRO photo will be the next magazine cover everyone’s talking about. Not super likely, but maybe!
Do you have a chance of becoming a professional photographer?
Every professional starts out as an amateur. You can have all the idea in your head, but that only makes you knowledgeable – not skilled. Only after spending countless hours taking shot after shot on a vast variety of subjects, do you begin to hone in on the skill itself. That’s when you start seeing your own mistakes, and most importantly, start learning from them.
You start developing a field of interest. Be it landscapes, portraiture, or any other genre in photography. The next step is learning everything there is to know about that genre and starting to contributing your own work. Sharing work with your peers opens up another level of self-criticism and allows others to give you advice. You soon go from taking 200 pictures per shoot and hoping for the best, to taking 20 quality pictures and picking the best.
Final piece of advice…
As you probably know by now, professional photographers are as relevant as ever. The biggest problem is that many modern professionals are still stuck in the mindset of working in the old-school photography industry. Never be afraid of trying out new things, guys and gals, and most importantly – don’t be afraid of failure. You have to fail ALOT and you have to fail EARLY. So that you can hasten the journey to the point where you can make a living out of a simple love for photography.
Try your hand at MANUAL MODE!