Photography Is Dead...

Photography Is Dead...

I hear that a lot.

It shoots out of the mouths and into my ears from bellyaching photographers and it clutters the mind while reading an on-line post somewhere.

If photography is dead, why do publications like Sports Illustrated, National Geographic and Wired magazine produce amazing images each and every month? Why do companies spend thousands and thousands of dollars to create images of their products?

If photography is dead why is it that an estimated 200,000+ photos are uploaded to Facebook per minute (that’s 6 BILLION a month) and over 16 billion photos resided on Instagram? I understand that a large amount of the photos are pre-consumed food shots with a crummy filter slapped onto them, but step back and think about those staggering numbers and imagine how many pixels are being pushed across the Internet on any given day. Think about that and tell me again that photography is kicking the bucket.

Photography is not dead, photography has never been more important than it is today. The value of photography has dispersed and the game has changed, if you are not keeping up with the shift, that blame falls onto you.

This post wasn’t created to give you ideas on how to change your business structure or fix any of the underlying issues. This post was created to inspire those negative voices to stop complaining and do something about it. Gain some gumption and make it better for you, leave the whiners in your dust.

Shooting for free

Another cringing statement I hear spew out of the mouths of camera operators is how shooting for free is ruining our industry. If you are complaining about people shooting an assignment for free or for next to nothing, it sounds like it is time to move on. Pick up your gear and work into a new subject, hone your craft and elevate your own value. If your primary objective is to grow a business, don’t wallow in a pool of talent that you are above. Elevate and raise your own worth.

It’s going to happen, over and over again no matter how many times you frump your brow, write a disgruntled blog post or take to Facebook. It will never change. It is time to pick up your camera and move into something else to create a living from. If you don’t like the fact that people will shoot a concert for free, time to move onto something else. Wondering why a local coffee shop won’t pay thousands of dollars for your work? Time to market elsewhere. Free is never going to change, don’t fight it, better yourself and look for greater opportunities.

Low hanging fruit

If your business model is aiming at low hanging fruit, why would you be surprised to find out someone out there will be willing to do it for less. Why are you surprised when the client chooses the free competition over you? You cannot make a living on low hanging fruit, it will never pay the bills. If you are aiming at trying to raise a mortgage from a few local boutique shops, you are sorely mistaken. Aim your sights higher; take down a large client you never thought you could, raise your own bar up above the rest so that the low hanging fruit becomes scraps that other less talented photographers fight over.

The rules have changes and value has been dispersed. The fact is photography has never been more important than now. Learning to make a living with a camera has changed, the industry has changed, bellyachers have not…

I look forward to your responses.

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Best comment ever, and should win the internet: You cannot make a living on low hanging fruit, it will never pay the bills.

Rebecca Britt's picture

I'll admit this is something I don't agree with...

"If you don’t like the fact that people will shoot a concert for free, time to move onto something else. "

Why should I move on. Instead I find it more beneficial to educate my clients on why I should be paid.

Aaron Lindberg's picture

Rebecca, I was using that as an example of how things will not change with free shooting, it seems to be a hot button topic with concert/music photography. Do you feel that your clients are coughing up enough funding to keep your business afloat? Id like to see a post about your experiences in dealing with concert clients. Might make for a good write up!

Rebecca Britt's picture

I personally only shoot concerts for one promoter, and do it for the love of it, but there are a ton of photogs that do this full-time for a living. I've had a post ready to go, but am waiting for a few photo permissions to be granted. are you saying you just did it for free?

Tom Lew's picture

I've noticed this. At Electric Zoo, every photographer was blasting away with kit lenses and pop up flashes. Mind = blown. Then I danced.

I think when people say "photography is dead" they are not referring to casual facebook photography. Of course that's not dead. People love taking pictures of stuff. No, I believe they are talking about pro photography and while it's not 100% true, things are looking more bleak by the week/day/hour.

And I'm sorry, but this line kinda says nothing.....

"If photography is dead, why do publications like Sports Illustrated, National Geographic and Wired magazine produce amazing images each and every month? Why do companies spend thousands and thousands of dollars to create images of their products?"

Just because some people are still doing it, doesn't mean it's not dying. Print news is dying. It is. We still got "thousands and thousands" (actually millions and probably billions) spent on newspapers by various companies around the states, but it IS dying.

Pro photography is at a crossroads. Sure, there are some things you just can't do with a iPhone, there are some things where you need a giant lens and a high res fast camera or whatever, but the number of things where that is true seems to be getting smaller and smaller by the day.

It sucks, but the old mentality has to change. I don't know what the answer is yet and maybe there isn't one, but the days of owning a SLR and knowing which settings to use meaning you can make a living are quite numbered.

David Vaughn's picture

I don't know anyone who makes a living by "owning a SLR and knowing which settings to use." That's not even very feasible in today's market, and it never really has been.

Please don't oversimplify such a complex situation with an unsubstantiated blanket statement.

Really? Oddly enough, I've seen quite a few. Hell, one visit to a wedding trade show should give you a pretty decent sampling or honestly, most any portrait studio down at your local clothing and eatery franchise cluster dome.

People still go to these places, sure, and there are still people still who may hire a local gun to shoot their engagement photos and christmas cards, but the numbers are shrinking my good man... Especially when there's an app for all this & then some (and often that app does a much better and more creative job). Ain't that a kick in the nuts!

Yes, I may speak in exaggerated oversimplifications, but the heat of the meat of what I'm saying is the truth.

Wrote a blog post on this very subject. I feel the same way. Times have changed in the digital world. Adapt, or piss off. But stop moaning about it!!!


Also Pro Photography is not at a crossroads, anymore than the music and movie business is. Real photographers with REAL talent will make as much money as they should. Photographers with REAL passion for photography, and a creative edge will always make money. What's happening now, is the same thing that happened with napster for musicians. The real good photographers will still be paid by the people who value good photography. The real market value is being applied to a business that is no-longer monopolized by people with "Pro Gear" and a subpar portfolio.

Aaron Lindberg's picture

When putting this post together I thought about intertwining the music industry within it and show just how similar they fields are. It is crazy how similar the dynamics changed with both industries at the same time.

Honestly I heavily disagree with the statement that "Real" photographers with "Real" talent will make as much money as they should.

In my experience, talent is definitely a great thing to have, but in many cases it isn't photographic talent that determines your earning potential in this industry, it is business prowess.

If you go spend 5min on a site like 500px you will notice a huge breadth of insanely talented photographers. (Most of whom probably aren't earning a living with it) Yet, if I look around at my local photo industry most of the most successful pros have portfolio work that pales in comparison to the sort of imagery being posted on 500px.

Even looking at the "top" of the industry, for example, Joe McNally is one of the most talented photographers in the world. His work is amazing. And he has done "ok" for himself. He lives comfortably and is able to make a living. He is not rich. Then contrast to Scott Bourne, who is a very capable photographer but I have never really seen any images by him that are impressive but Scott knows business and is naturally skilled at it. Thus Scott owns a fleet of sports cars and is one of the wealthiest photographers in history.

The reality we face is no different than any other industry. Getting into an industry has a barrier to entry but to dominate and become extremely successful in that industry you must also be a master of capitalism.

(And your example of the music industry is no different, unless, of course, your think Justin Bieber is leaps and bounds more talented of a musician than any other in history. Personally, all my favourite musicians barely can stay afloat)

When talking about the business of photography, I thought it was assumed that we were talking about talent and business prowess. I personally am just starting to learn the ins and outs of business. And the money is flowing in quite nicely. As I apply the talent that I'm comfortable saying I have, to great marketing and business ideas, I can rest comfortably knowing that I'm headed in the right direction.

Of course, and the makes sense, but I just think it is very important to remember that so long as your photography talent meets a fairly low barrier to entry you can find success with business prowess, however, if you have extremely high photographic talent but no business acumen you will likely struggle indefinitely.

I think the problem that people with average talent and business acumen is that they're losing all the business to people with talent and no business acumen. That's sort of the point right? My point is that I don't think you should be able to get by in photography with just business skills. Photography is an art, if you're doing it JUST for the money, then start a photographer agency, and with you amazing business sense, make money of real talent. Because that's where the business is going. People are to smart now to be giving up money for prints. We all know it can easily be burned to a DVD and given to the client. I just think the people that do photography to charge through the roof are in it for the wrong reason. Don't get me wrong, I want to make money at this, but from commissioned shoots for big companies (much like any other artist these days). Not wedding clients or family photos.

Interesting, though, I would argue that with the exception at the very top of the industry this isn't true. For example if I look at the city I am in the majority of the "successful" photographers are very mediocre at best. Meanwhile the really skilled ones are working day jobs because they can't bring in enough business to make rent.

Commercial photography I would say may be an exception as big budget companies are willing to pay for "talent" but from what I see of many of the other ones (wedding, product, event, family, headshots, local media, etc) it is the guys or gals who are best at "selling" and invest the most time in selling/marketing that seem to make the most money.

For example (and i'm not going to name names) there is this local headshot photographer I know of. She used to be a model but when she hit that age where modelling tends to go away she decided to start shooting headshots as her new career. She started leveraging all her marketing talents (and her modelling career) to draw in business. She quickly became one of the most sought after headshot photographers in the city. Except there was one problem, she had little to know photo skill, half her shots were weird exposures and the eyes were never in focus, yet she still rocketed past experienced pros who had been doing it for decades. She has now over the course of several years brought her technique more up to snuff but it wasn't photo talent that gave her her place in the industry.

I have so many case studies I have seen where a photographer with baseline or marginal talent/experience manages to climb to being successful by leveraging business skill to build the market.

As I see it:

A great business person with mediocre photo skill can build an acceptably successful business

A great photographer with no business skill can build an acceptably successful hobby.

A great photographer with great business skill can rise to the top of the industry.

(and of course there are always outlying exceptions)

(and ultimately while i do find it a little frustrating I never got into the arts for the money, being able to make a living and survive is really all I ever hoped for fiscally)

I think you have to raise the bar by doing what others can't or won't . I think you need to develop a unique style. I think we all need to look at different business models. Large entities ie. companies and organizations are in need of a constant stream of images to supply the nonstop social and conventional marketing needs. They are now discovering that this is a difficult thing to accomplish. They also need help with digital asset management. We are pitching monthly retainer fees for providing a variety of services.

A lot of my business is shooting concerts and "bellyaching" has helped
to educate a lot of new photographers that they should value their work
and not give it away. That's a temporary measure at best.

as a business isn't dead, but it's coughing up blood. Magazines are
dying off, or going strictly online -- which means they are more and
more using video instead of stills. There will all ways be a market for
very good still photography but that market is shrinking.

has never been more important than now? Nonsense. That's not even
true of free hobbiest photography. A year or two ago everyone was
uploading iphone photos, now they are moving on to iphone videos.

love what I do and will keep doing it. But I'm not going to pretend
that everything is peachy. Still photography as a business will
transition to digital video. The days of just being able to hammer out a
decent living doing good work are coming to an end.

Cant say I agree with this, Video has been around for many years, theres no reason for it to suddenly replace still photography. Who wants to watch a 30 minute video of a wedding when they could flick through the album in 5. Who is going to put a digital photo frame on the wall to play a video on loop when they could hang a picture there.... Two different mediums and one will never replace the other.

It never will entirely, but they aren't going to flick through an album or look at the wall. They are going to view 15 second clips on their iPhone. My 75 year old mother has a iPad to look at video of her great granddaughter -- and the great granddaughter is two years old and has her own ipad (and can use it) . Still photos are less important to the younger crowd and the instagram ones that the couples friends took with their phone are fine with them. I don't do weddings, but it's a the way the wind is blowing.

Adapt or die, I'd be working the video angle if I was a wedding shooter. Most of my work is print publication, but that's coming to an end so I've got to work on my video skills as well.

When I look at my facebook feed, I see the odd video here and there but mostly I see phone camera pictures. People will use video to record things like people doing stupid things, stuff that has music etc but photos will always be the first thing people go for. Back to weddings, I still rarely see videographers, most people still go for photographer first, videographer second and I dont see that changing any time soon.

Christopher Hoffmann's picture

Video will only be able to replace the still image when stills from video are as good and easily accessible as a still. People love to freeze time.

True...and that (snagging high-quality stills from video) will likely happen in the next 3-5 years.

It's already happening.

I've written out several estimates where the client (ad agency) wanted stills and video inclusive by the photographer (not a video team).

EVERY industry falls victim to people that will undercut their price. Photography is no different. Artistry, quality and superior service always beats them at their game.

Film and darkroom work is dying. Photography itself is not dying. What used to be a rather specialized talent for developing and printing work, is no longer a domain that takes rent and initial capital for specialized equipment. Is that a camera in your pocket or are you just paying your phone bill?
It used to be that a photographer had to be in the right place at the right time to reap the benefit of a unique capture. Now there are at least fifty or a hundred cameras within a city block, and several thousand at an event. It's a hard sell when there are dozens if not hundreds of "photographers" and angles to choose from. This has brought about what was initially unimagined competition. Even the special access pass that lets a photographer follow a rock star to the bathroom stall is no a guarantee of a unique capture.
there's still something to be said for a talent in knowing when to snap that shutter, but the means necessary to be the only one is no longer so (see above). This excess of material to choose from has bastardized the concept of paying for good work.
Yeah, that's a good picture, but that pimple face with the baggy pants that walked past you offered the similar moment for 30 bucks and a promo copy.

JOE DDD (Daniel Dalin Drechsler)'s picture

photography aint dead.
Using a professional photographer, however, is becoming rarer as time goes by.
it's a declining industry for pros.

this is fact. no getting around it.