Thursday, August 08, 2013

Will the Camera Phone Condemn the Professional Photographer to Extinction?

We see pictures everywhere, on posters, on sidewalks and in the sides of trucks and buses. They are so ubiquitous that we hardly take any notice of them. It is the very success of photography that leads it to be largely ignored and definitely undervalued. Yet every one of those images has been conceived, shot and then placed with care and attention. Whether it is a soap powder commercial or a shot of last night's football game, every picture is designed to tell a story. The fact that we don't need to read the copy, or in some cases even know the context, just shows how tuned into images we really are.

Yet with the advent of the camera phone and cheap digital photography, it seems that anyone can take a fabulous picture. These amateur photos flood social media sites, are loaded onto millions of emails and help define peoples' public personas. Any public event is festooned with iPhone, iPad and camera phone coverage. No website or Facebook page is complete without these grainy, mal-focussed, out of context pictures. The simple truth is that basic photography is now more accessible than it has ever been - and cheaper. The camera-phones that are available now could compete comfortably with the professional digital cameras from a decade ago and are a lot more forgiving. So does is all this picture-taking technology and these budding photo-journalists really spell the end of professional photography?

The phrase "Got an iPhone - now I am a photographer" strikes despair throughout the photo industry, as professional photographers see their incomes drop and their commission rates slashed. It might be hard to think that professional photography has any future at all.

But it must be remembered that the Facebook photographers are mainly recording events, rather than creating images. Their grainy, out of focus pictures represent their memories of the event itself and are just as short-lived. If they want an image to last for years and still make them smile, or they need a picture to engage with people outside of their immediate circle of friends, they will need an image that was designed, considered and shot with the highest quality in mind.

So is the profession of photographer doomed? You might think so if you read their forums. Editorial photographers in particular have taken a beating as media try to cut costs and rely more heavily on user-generated content.

Newspapers and magazines can now access any number of picture sources online and download exactly what they want immediately. The need to hire a professional to photograph a stock image, or to send a photographer to an event just in case has all but gone.

Advertising and PR photography are also suffering as companies tighten their belts and are able to access stock images from all around the world. However there are niches which, whilst suffering from the economic downturn, are otherwise steady. Wedding and family photography, special event photography and even animal photography still have offer the potential to earn a living - because people will always want quality when it involves something that really matters to them.

Is is ironic to see that many editorial photographers still look down on this kind of photography. These are the guys who have been the most adaptable over the years - not just in terms of their commissions, but also in adapting the new technology and practices. They flipped from film to digital from dark rooms to Photoshop and from wire machines to laptops in what seemed to be a blink of an eye. Now they need to summon their energies once more to find - and in some cases create - new demand for their skills.

They may need to spread their expertise across stills and video, photograph weddings and puppies, and provide CDs or web downloads, to keep up with what is expected, but there are photographers out there who are offering these services and they are prospering.

The Profession of the photographer is not dying, it is evolving and the fittest will survive.

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