Photography as a sector has been affected by shifting technology as much as – if not more than – any other industry. The biggest change is undoubtedly the availability of cameras compared to 50 years ago, with almost every human in the Western world having a camera within arm’s reach every waking second. This is met with nothing but doom and gloom by the commentators on the professional photography industry, but is all that negativity justified?
Year on year, more photographs are taken than the year before. Flickr’s top five most popular cameras as mined by EXIF data is a list populated entirely by phone cameras. With everyone being a “photographer,” is the requirement for a professional photographer narrowing? It seems a popular opinion that it is narrowing and that a career as a professional photographer is getting more and more difficult as companies, publications and individuals opt to resolve their photographic needs themselves. Well, I don’t subscribe to that view.
The digital age heralded a society visually recorded more comprehensively than ever before. But with this rise in the digital format and the creation of the "selfie" along with its immediate installation as a staple of teenage life, came a rise in demand. A photographer’s stock in tabloid newspapers may have dropped with everyone and their Grandma being able to pap’ the sought after harlots and gigolos while they shuffle about daily life. However, the breadth of demand for imagery has expanded as fast as the accessibility to cameras has. Speaking of stock, stock photography has morphed in to a micro-transaction market worth billions and if anything, it is a flashing neon arrow pointing towards the very point I’m making: an increase in demand.
Long gone are the days where block colours and visit counters set the benchmark of a modern website; now everything is embellished with graphics, animations and most importantly, images. Brands who once required photography of their product once or twice a year for a look-book or a magazine advert suddenly need an image a day for Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, ad campaigns for sponsored posts, myriad images for their website, shop and blog and that’s without the tangible prints still required. Further still, we live in a time where both Annie Leibovitz and Big Dave from the local pub can get their photographs in front of millions of eyes, as well as the right eyes. Yes, as a result, the standard of photography has to rise to accommodate the padding of the middle, but I struggle to see that as a bad thing.
Regardless, I concede that I might just be very fortunate in my career so far and that my opinion is naive and misguided. In fact, I wasn’t going to write this article at all until an email from Rainer Usselmann dropped in to my inbox. Rainer is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Higher Education Academy and is firmly ingrained in the creative industry, specialising in photography in particular. His current research project is one I would be very keen to see the results of and I implore you to aid his study. The survey linked below is aiming to get a snapshot of the photography sector, its changes, challenges and the general state of its working occupants. If you can spare the time, please fill in the questions and truthfully and fully as you can and the outcome will be made public (although your answers will remain anonymous). Do you think it's harder to be a professional photographer now than in the past?