Why Are Professional Photographers Becoming Useless?

The more I think about it – the more I think I’m on to something with this.

Technology has killed the professional photographer’s novelty and usefulness. Virtually anyway.

There was a time when photographers were able to command disgustingly high fees for taking photos. I know, I worked in New York City for a number of professional photographers in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was true back then that even a nimrod that could hold his pointy-finger on the shutter button in brief 8-second bursts and produce photos that were bought by nationwide catalogs.


One particularly successful photographer I worked for whose name I’ll limit to “Tony L.” was a coke head and couldn’t go more than an hour without a darkroom break with the art directors and models on the shoot. They’d come out blitzed on coke and Tony would continue the shoot laughing like a jackass, hardly able to find the camera on the tripod in front of him and continue on as if nothing happened. Nothing needed to be different. I had already set up the lighting, the cameras, everything. He held his finger on the trigger and did an Austin Powers… Yes, yes… ok, good. Yes, good. Great, that’s great. Ok. Yes… He could be annihilated on coke and still shoot photos good enough to print worldwide.

I worked with Tony for about 6 months before I got accepted to be an assistant with up and coming professional advertising photographer, Steven Wilkes who was a nephew of the ‘great’ Jay Maisel. Jay was or is worldwide famous for his photos but you know what? He had a fishbowl – very large just full of 100,000 slides that weren’t good enough to sell or do anything with. They were junk. He shot 100,000 slides of junk.

What does that tell you?

It tells me something. It tells me that someone considered at the top of his field as an advertising photographer isn’t skillful enough to shoot just a few photos and call it a day, secure in the knowlege that he is skillful enough to have got the shots he needed.

Professional photographers in NYC typically shot 12 to 30 rolls of Hasselblad film for one shoot consisting of maybe 4 changes of clothes. I was loading film so fast for Tony that it was like a joke. Was this guy really making $2400 for each day of this circus? It was ludicrous. Maybe it still is. I’ve been out of that scene for many years now.

Now the world has changed. Anyone and a spider monkey can pick up a new Nikon D300 or better and produce some wicked cool photos. Put that person in a paradise like Hawaii or Thailand and you’d have to almost try NOT to take a good photo. I’ve seen children produce amazing photography over the last couple years. You know why?

It’s kind of like – if you had every monkey on the face of the planet tapping on a keyboard from the time they were born until they died eventually it is said that one monkey would produce the works of Shakespeare, perfectly written.

Is that a possibility? Nah, not in my lifetime.

You know what is possible though? A six year old child can point a good camera at a scene in Thailand and take as good or better a photo than any one that calls him or herself a professional photographer. It’s possible.

Good writers aren’t born of luck. You can’t possibly luck out and write 1000 words that changes the world. You could take a ‘great’ photo that does that by pointing your camera out the window at Rodney King receiving an unjustified beating in the streets of LA at the hand of the police.

Photographers are quick becoming a useless commodity. Technology has given us the capability to see in real time whether we got the shot. No more shooting polaroids and guessing whether the lighting was perfect.

Metering capabilities on today’s new digital cameras is astounding. It’s getting hard to beat them even using all manual settings and bracketing. The camera will bracket for you too.

Technology has given us complete control over the lighting so that even if we shoot a bad digital image – underexposing a bit, we can still create an amazing shot in Photoshop or other graphics program.

In the past a photographer could shoot 30 rolls of film in a day and the charge to develop all that film into slides would be hundreds of dollars. Today – memory sticks give us the freedom to shoot ten times that amount if we wanted. One needn’t be skilled much at all to produce outstanding photographs.

I hate to see it happening, but you know what? I’m not fighting it. What’s the point? Taking one look at the extent of Flickr’s library of photgraphs from everywhere on the planet is really humbling. There are many OUTSTANDING photographs there that are licensed under creative commons and available to use. Dreamstime.com has over 4,000,000 high quality images taken by almost 50,000 photographers. Fotolia, IStock, Getty, and other stock agencies are bringing professional level photos to anyone that wants them for hundreds less than what photographers used to get for them. Is this a good thing? For me it is. For the photographers that want to make a living? Yes and no.

The world is changing. It’s not changing in favor of being a pro digital photographer. Wedding photographers are invited TO the wedding to watch it – not photograph it. A friend of the bride with a couple years experience shooting for free is doing the wedding now, and is entirely capable at it. Who is going to pay a wedding photographer a couple hundred dollars to do it?

Newspapers are hiring journalists that can also take photos. It isn’t brain surgery. One manipulates a few settings, frames the shot and takes it. Then takes 1,000 more if it’s important to get a good one to publish. Why pay a photographer’s day rate to get a photo that’s only marginally better?

I don’t know if anyone’s noticed but the market is wide open for anyone with a digital camera and a few thousand bucks to spend on creating photo calendars, books, coffee cups, t-shirts, stickers, and other fluff that they’ll never make bank with. Photographers used to have skills that nobody else did. That edge is becoming soft. In 2 months someone serious about photography can learn the basics enough to shoot what a professional is shooting and almost as good. If the difference is between $3 and $300 guess what the person needing the photo is going to pay? Don’t kid yourself to believe there’s a $300 difference between the photos you take and the ones that are available on stock agencies shot by some of the greatest photographers on the planet.

It’s time for digital photographers to go out and get themselves some real skills. Digital video is one such area that they should be pursuing. It takes a lot of skill to shoot digital videos well. The market for digital videos that are of high quality will be around a lot longer than the market for outrageously priced photos. The photographer’s market is going away. The world is welcoming $2-4 dollar stock photos and free creative commons licensed photos.

Professional photographers, if they haven’t already shouldn’t be afraid to go out and get themselves some real skills that will set them apart from the monkeys hitting the shutter. The days are over when I could shoot a photo of Woody Allen in the window of his apartment watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and get $1000 for a 1/4 page in People Magazine. The days are gone when a 2 photo set of John F Kennedy, Jr. losing his bike lock key at lunch brought me $3750. Now – everyone has a camera and the variety of photos is getting much better.

My next post will compare the vast difference in skill levels necessary between being a good writer and a good photographer. Let’s put a camera in everyone’s hands, but not a keyboard… Am I making any sense to you people?

Cheers.

Author: Vern

I'm an American expat living in Thailand. I like to write informative pieces about life in, living in Thailand, including topics like: Thai People, Thai Culture, Nightlife, Technology, and I have published a lot of photographs, videos, and even books on Thailand that you can find at ThailandeBooks.com. There are many photographs of Thailand here - feel free to share with attribution (a link back to the home page). All written content on this site by Vern Lovic. Contact me at Google+.