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A Realistic Look at The State of Photography Today

The dawn of the digital photography has brought about huge changes recently, and those changes have been growing faster and faster over the past few years as digital SLR cameras are becoming cheaper, better, and making photography much more accessible. This changes the state of photography. Is this a bad thing, a good thing, or just a natural progression? Well, let’s see…

The Situation

Cheap cameras has made photography accessable to many more people, which has encouraged younger people to become much more involved in a previously very expensive (or at least expensive to learn) hobby. Just have a look at the ExpertPhotography top 20 young photographers for example. On the other end of the scale, you have what is commonly referred to as ‘momtographers’: stay at home moms who have taken up photography as a hobby and a way to earn extra money. But what has this done to the industry?
Digital photography hasn’t just made photography cheaper though, it’s made it easier to learn, and easier to manipulate. I would hazard a guess that about 75% of the people reading this have a camera within three feet of them. I’m talking about your phone. Apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram (don’t get my started…) have made it even easier for people to edit their photos into what they deem to be artistic, which has blurred the lines of this artform. What is art? (Again, don’t get me started).
So photography is becoming easier to learn, and more and more people are choosing it as a career, with positive and negative consequences.

Who’s Becoming Photographers?

These days, I start to see a lot more of the younger generation trying their hand at it, and a lot of the older ‘moms’ too. How many of you have been invited to like a photography page of your friends such as ‘Jack Smith Photography’? A few photos are put on there from their latest walk to the beach, and it’s been forgotten about ever since. I’m actually referring to a particular page I’ve been invited to, but it would be mean to share it on here.
This sort of page does not belong to a photographer, it belongs to someone who’s hobby has been forgotten about, and someone would probably never make it as a pro. For every 100 people trying their photography, it seems to me in my experience, that 99 of them end up like this.
The truth of the matter is that it takes time, skill, and commitment to become a good photographer; it doesn’t just happen over night. We pretend that the gear we use isn’t that important, but there’s times where it really is, and amateur pros just aren’t investing the money where they need to. Why? Because they’re not making the money. This is where you start to see a divide.

How Are They Operating?

Yellow Pages ads aren’t really the place to advertise your photography these days, and photography studio with white backgrounds churn out rubbish non stop. I have a friend who works in one of those boring white background photography studios who earns minimum wage, and the studio charge and arm and a leg for the photos. These niches are the areas that amateurs are moving into to start a career. Don’t believe me? Check out YouAreNotAPhotographer.
The things I see on there are a little absurd, but entirely true. I’ve had people tweet me (@PhotoJosh) their portfolios, and I honestly am lost for words with some of them.
The most important part of how they’re operating is not the quality though, it’s how much they charge and whether they actually get the work.

‘Wow, awesome offer, get photos of your new born baby for just $50!!! One time offer, book now!!!!!’

Give me a break.
Then there’s photographers who don’t charge anything at all, and are doing it for the sake of experience. You can’t really blame them if they’re trying to learn, but it is a hinderance to other photographers. Kind of.
So to summarise, they’re running things on the cheap, using inexpensive gear, producing less than average results, and getting away with it. They’re also never going to make a living out of doing it this way.

The Problem

People don’t recognise bad photography. This is without a doubt, the biggest problem I see.
If you’ve read this whole article, then you’re probably thinking that I was going to say something along the lines of ‘they’re taking away all the work’, and even though that’s part of the problem, it’s not the main problem.
Note: High-end professional photographers are not being as easily effected because they work with a very different market. Commercial, not consumer.
The problem isn’t people recognising good photography, because I believe that will always stand out; it’s that they mistake bad photography for good photography. You might say that I’m just being bias, and I should open up my eyes to different styles, but I’m sorry, that’s wrong. Take some rubbish photos on your iPhone, whack some cheesy old filter on it, stick it on Facebook, and you’re bound to get a bunch of meaningless likes from people.
If people recognised bad photography, the industry wouldn’t be changing in a bad way at all.
Another problem is that the market is being flooded with photographers, all vying for work which is starting to diminish. For every 99 bad photographers, there’s bound to be one good one who can start to compete.
With the economy being how it is, or at least how it has been recently, people don’t want to spend unnecessary money on photographers, but in the world of Facebook that we live in, people want photos more than ever. SHARE EVERYTHING and whatnot. I’m just as bad, I’ve got about 100 albums on my personal Facebook.
The other side of the same coin of the downturned economy is that people see photography as a way to make extra money in tough times, no matter how little this may be. So you see the vicious cycle.
Moving on from this, we have ways for your regular Joe to make money with photography, through sites like Mr Paparazzi, where they can submit photos of celebrities they’ve captured. And then there’s a slightly more serious profession which is starting to get the axe; the newspaper photographer. Recently in the UK, programs such as iwitness24 are being used to replace professional photographers, purely because they’re cheaper, and it’s more a case of who can get there first (to stay relevant), rather then who got the best photo, when it comes to press photography.
Bad photography is being confused for good photography.
People don’t have as much money to spend on photography as they used to, so they’re opting for cheaper options.
Photographers are seeing this and trying to fill the gap in the market.
Older jobs are starting to become obsolete as everyone has a camera these days.

The Good Part

If you really want to be successful, and not have to look for your work, then it’s not enough to just be good anymore; you have to be great. A competitive market is a good thing because it forces the average standard of photography up to higher than it used to be, in order to remain competitive. This is not only good for the consumer, but the photographer too. Young photographers, such as the ones listed here, are giving older professionals a run for their money as they’re new to the industry, with fresh ideas.
There is more work to be had. Sure, it’s a more competitive market, but if you’re good, then that’s not going to be so much of a problem.
So long as you’re not settling for average or even good photography, then you’ve got nothing to be worried about.
Photography has become more widely regarded as an artform, which is clear when you consider that someone paid $4.3 million for a print of Rhein II, by Andreas Gursky. This opens up other avenues for photographers to make money.
Film photography is also starting to see a new lease of life. I get a roll of film developed at least once a week at the moment, and the man who runs my local lab says that Kodak can’t believe how much film he’s selling. I swear by film photography, so I’m personally very happy to see this make a comeback.

The Fix

There’s not really a fix, per se, but there are ways to adapt to a changing industry. Industries change all the time, it’s just a natural progression. Look at the robots in the autocar industry for example, that used to be people doing those jobs. There’s no going back to how things were, but there are ways that you can adapt to put yourself in a better position.
Think about your pricepoint, do you really want to bother wasting your time on people who only want to pay you $20 an hour for 3 hours work? No. Start going after clients that you can charge real money from. Get experience as a second-shooter with someone if you have to. People who pay a lot, usually know what they want, and that should be quality photography.
FADs will die. Hopefully. I’m looking at you Instagram. Before long, people will see through this rubbish form of photography, and start focusing on taking better photos.
Sites like YouAreNotAPhotographer are doing the industry a service as they’re pointing out bad photography, and helping to educate the public about what it takes to be a true photographer. There will always be a market for bad photography, for people with poor taste, but I predict that this market will shrink.
Want to know if you’re a good photographer? Ask another photographer, someone who’s work you respect, to come and take a look at your photography. You’ll probably find that as soon as they pick out the flaws, you’ll wonder why you never saw them before. To paraphrase a friend’s quote of a photographer looking at his portfolio:

“Erm… all your photos are over saturated HDR’s…”

Finally, it’s not all niches of photography which seem to be dying, only the low end ones. If you’re a fully fledged fashion photographer, than you better know what you’re doing. You want to be taken on by National Geographic? Not without a good portfolio you’re not. Fancy a press pass to the opening event at the Olympics? Well, you’d better have friends in high places.

Summary

My personal opinion is that people have gotten lazy. You want to buy something, but don’t want to leave your chair? One-click buying and it’s here in the morning. Want to know more about a subject? Google, and it saves you a trip to the library. Want to take better photos? Full auto mode does the exposure for you, who would you want to use any other mode? (Note: Sarcasm.)
People seem to have stopped thinking about about photography, and just started taking photos, neglecting to see the difference. The technical side is handled by the camera, so they don’t have to worry about exposure (they should), thinking that this is all it takes. Sure, the camera might help you out with the exposure, but it’s never going to be able to compose the photo for you, it’s not going to tell you where to stand, how to frame, or when to take the photo. That is the difference between a person with a camera and a photographer. 

Who’s Next?

Videographers, watch out. That Canon 550D is producing some very nice HD footage, and I can’t help but notice that the price of the Canon 5D MkII has come down recently…
A Realistic Look at The State of Photography Today

7 comments
  1. Great article.
    I am a 43 year old woman who has just figured out what I want to do for a living and that is photography. I am learning my skill by taking every course and class I can and working towards my certificate at our local college.
    I have always loved photography and the more I dive into it the more I love it. I save for good equipment and glass and practice everything I learn.
    I agree with most of your points but also struggle with what to charge once I start advertising and launch my website. Have to have a portfolio to present new clients.. I am working on the portfolio with friends as models and their children… but you have to start somewhere. I have a lot of money invested in good cameras and lens and education – but I do not have word of mouth yet.
    What are your thoughts?

  2. Hi Josh
    I regularly read your articles with great interest and this one really got me thinking!
    I totally agree with all that you have said and sadly it’s true that people don’t always recognise good photography when they see it and I do blame the rise in digital photography becoming more accessible to the general public. There is definitely no substitution for skill and creativity in photography & that’s what film was all about!
    Fads such as Instagram seem interesting and cool for the masses but I guess you’re also right that it’s just poor photography and has saturated the market.
    What tips would you recommend for getting out of this mess?

  3. There’s nothing to do as there is no mess … the sad thing is the public is also our client. It is their “taste” that drives the market. If someone wants a picture of their pregnant stomach with “heart hands” and their sono supered in, someone will do it. Either Josh, you , me, or some other guy with a camera. We each have our niche.

  4. ummm…some good points but what makes you think you are the modern photography guru?
    Self taught – commendable but possibly insular… Self professed comments on a changing industry but with little experience of the industry? Lots of followers so maybe better at marketing than taking pictures…a great authority but to whom? those who are changing the industry as we speak? We are all photographers now and those who continue to declare it as a specialist art are in danger of becoming dinosaurs. It has changed and will change again but a picture is a picture. Most would not know a picture;most would not know a photograph; most would not know how to read a picture and most would not know what a photograph is.
    Photography is not digital – that is something different; that is image making. Photography is the art of using chemicals to make images. The art of light. Digital is the art of using electronics to create an image. The two are totally different practices and photography is not just about composition, it is about content displayed within geometry.Photography does not exist as it once used to and we need to get used to that.

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