Will There Be A Future Need For Professional Photographers?

Posted on 4/2/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Young people (those in their 20s and 30s) interested in a career as a photographer should think hard about that decision. Yes, there will always be a demand for photographs, but will those who want photographs be willing to pay enough to make it a business for image creators?

It is becoming easier and easier for anyone, with no experience, and only a phone, to create all the quality still imagery or video they need without the help of a professional. Most people don’t want prints anymore. They just want to post something digital online.

In some cases, they want to store the images so they can find them later. But the storage is online, or on some type of digital device, not in any printed form.

My parents handed down a lot of prints as memories of their life. Most families today still have boxes of prints of their children and grand children engaged in various activities. Now, they are digitizing the ones they want to keep. Eventually, all their prints – those digitized and the rest – will be trashed.

Will we need professionals to produce news pictures? More and more events are being photographed extensively by amateur observers. If an event has any kind of significance the image is immediately shared online with the world. Increasingly, news organizations reporting on an event get the images they need from bystanders rather than from a professional assigned to cover the event.

Reporters sent out to cover specific events are increasingly expected to supply their own photographs rather than sending a second person specifically for the purpose of taking pictures.

More and more remote cameras are being set up in all kinds of locations to automatically record everything that happens. The primary purpose is for security and safety, but if anything worth talking about happens, it will have been automatically recorded. All that is necessary to get a usable image is to retrieve it from the recording device.

There will be jobs for people who can operate professional video production equipment. There will probably be jobs for those who can operate drones and capture images from positions that were previously impossible. But these jobs will few and far between compared to the number of people pursuing them.

Prices for photographs have dropped through the floor in the last decade because of so much choice. The type of picture that would have commanded prices of $100 or more ten or more years ago can now be licensed for use for $10, or $5 or in some cases even $1.00. It is not going to get better.

For professionals the process of getting a good picture has not become easier, or less expensive. Equipment costs are not cheaper, but the big cost is in the photographer’s time. It is not the time it takes to snap a picture once the subject is in front of the photographer. It is all the time it takes to get the job if you’re taking the picture for someone else or to decide what to photograph, getting to the right location, waiting for the right moment if necessary and then snapping the shutter. No matter how skilled the photographer is at that last step, the professional photographer always has to deal with all those other time wasters to get the shot.

The professional has to string enough of these time consuming situations together to earn enough to support him or herself.

For the amateur the time spent is insignificant because he or she would almost always be engaged in exactly the same activity for their own work or enjoyment. The money earned is insignificant because it is not needed for their basic support.

Some like to argue that a “professionally produced” image will be better than that of the “amateur.” Often that is not the case. But, even if true the price variation is so great that virtually all image buyers will go with the cheaper option produced by the amateur.

Some of today's photographers seem to think they can solve the low price problem with volume. So when they find something to photograph instead of trying to find the one or two perfect angles they produce 20, 50 or 100 shots of basically the same situation. They post them all online thinking, “I’m not sure what customers will want, but certainly they will find something they want to use.” The strategy doesn’t work.

Businesses have a lifespan. Times change. Needs change.

Think of Eastman Kodak. If was a great business in the 90’s when there was huge, growing demand for film and photo paper. Digital changed all that. Think of Kodak today. There won’t be revival in the need for film and paper. The need for professional still photographers is on the same track.

Copyright © 2019 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Macintosh Smith Posted Apr 6, 2019
    This is a really good article!

    I can remember back in the eighties while working for Authenticolor in Manhattan as a Darkroom Technician we received the first computer rendered photograph. It was imaged to an 8x10 transparency film, which we processed and made prints from. The room full of techs scoffed when told that this would be the future of photo technology. Now look at us! I’ve also read the F-Stoppers article on CGI as well. I do recall seeing a few of those CGI fashion images posted on Facebook too. I can certainly see how CGI could cut the cost of producing exotic, remote location fashion photo images. So for fashion photographers, learning CGI is definitely a game changer. CGI is an awesome tool for rendering images that will support a theme or story.

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