The Decline of Pro Photography?

The New York Times has an interesting article up on the diminishing prospects of professional photographers. They suggest that the downturn in newspaper and magazines has combined with a rise in semi-pro stock photography to thwart those who make a daily living taking photographs.

“Mr. Eich and Ms. Pruitt illustrate the huge shake-up in photography during the last decade. Amateurs, happy to accept small checks for snapshots of children and sunsets, have increasing opportunities to make money on photos but are underpricing professional photographers and leaving them with limited career options. Professionals are also being hurt because magazines and newspapers are cutting pages or shutting altogether.”

For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path
Stephanie Clifford, New York Times

If that’s the case then it’s okay and not okay. It’s okay because this change is coming from a general expansion in quality and quantity of photography. Omelettes and eggs, as they say. It’s not okay because losing a career is a nasty thing. I suspect that career turnover is going to be something that people are increasingly going to have to deal with as both business innovation and environmental change speeds up. We probably need to get better in general at losing jobs and transitioning to new ones without so much stigma or financial distress, especially for the 40+ crowd. For now, professional photographers may have some real angst.

That said, my guess is that we won’t see professional photography decline in profile, even if the ranks are thinned. There may be more weddings shot by family friends, newspapers (or whatever replaces them) may rely more on bystander-cell-phone photography, and regional nature and travel magazines might include more submission from readers. But aspirant semi-pros are going to find that really eye-buggingly good photography still requires a depth of technical know-how that goes beyond artistic sensibilities, as well as a methodically induced luck that requires 40 hours a week to acquire. Just because you buy a sweet DSLR with a wicked Auto setting doesn’t mean that a giant leopard seal is going to try and feed you, nor that you will have the reflexes to compose, meter and shoot should it do so.

As more amateur and semi-pro photographers get their hands on the means of quality photo production, the standards for great photography will increase. But if you as a high-end photographer can consistently meet those rising standards on demand, some rich entity is likely going to be willing to pay you for that. What’s more, I’ve heard photographers liken their condition post-wedding-shoot to “being kicked to death in a pub brawl”. So there’s probably still going to be some non-zero demand for pro wedding photography, which is the bread and butter of the industry.

I’m guessing we’re going to see the long-tail of photography get longer, but I bet the head will get taller, even if there is a painful down-curving of the middle.

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