Professional Photographer Shares Uncomfortable Truths About the Industry

Professional Photographer Shares Uncomfortable Truths About the Industry

A professional photographer came forward on Reddit with a real rant about the photography industry. It's causing a stir amongst photographers everywhere - perhaps because he makes some great points! When I read this post I found that I was agreeing with a great deal of what he had to say. The industry definitely is not as much about talent anymore as it is about affording the kit and being good with photo editing software. A few weeks ago we posted an article on The Hard Truth Why No One Will Hire You As A Photographer and I found myself agreeing with a great deal of what was said in the video. Whether you are just starting out in the industry or you're well established in the photography world... you will enjoy this read.

1. It's more about equipment than we'd like to admit.

Years ago, I started with a shit film camera. The PJ playing field was divided between those who could afford fast lenses and bodies that allowed quick film loading and those who could not. Talent meant not just knowing how to compose and expose a frame correctly, but also knowing how to trick your goddamn shitty equipment into doing what you want it to do.

Nowadays, especially those of you in college, the playing field is divided between those who can buy adequate equipment to get the job done, and those who can afford fucking MAGIC. Let's face it: the asshole kid whose dad bought him a D3 and a 400mm f/2.8 is going to have a better sports portfolio than you when you apply to our paper. You're both talented but we're too fucking cheap to provide equipment and so was your school. As a consequence, he got all the primary shots he needed for an assignment in the first five plays and spent the next half-hour experimenting with cool angle choices and different techniques while you were still trying to get your 60D to lock focus quickly enough.

True, you can't pick up a pro camera, set it to P mode and instantly turn into Ansel Adams, but if you're learning on the same pace as everyone else and you are trying to keep up because your equipment can't hack it, the difference will be stark, and frustrating.

2. People are doing some unethical shit with RAW and nobody really understands or cares.

Photoshopping the hell out of photos is a nono in photojournalism, we all know this. And yet I see portfolios and award compilations come to our desk with heavy artificial vignetting, damn-near HDR exposure masking and contrasts with blacks so deep you could hide a body inside them.

When I question anybody about this they say "oh yeah, well I didn't do anything in CS5, just the raw editor in Lightroom real quick so it's okay, it's not destructive editing, the original is still there."

It's not okay.

But it doesn't seem like anybody cares. Some of the shit on the wire services looks exactly the same so they got jobssomewhere.

That dude that got canned from The Blade for photoshopping basketballs where there were none? He's found redemption- I remember reading an article where some editor says "oh he sends us the raw files so we know its kosher now."

Fucking storm chasers are the worst offenders at this shit. Guess what he does now.

3. Many times, sadly, it doesn't even matter if your photos are all that good or not.

We are in the age of the Facebook Wedding Album. I've shot weddings pretty much every Saturday for a decade and if there is one thing I've learned it is the bride paradox: people hate photos of themselves even if they are good, people love photos of themselves with people they love even if they are bad.

And that's totally fine.

Now that everyone has a phone with a decent camera or a little money for a DSLR with a pop-up flash, there exist an entirely new and growing population of couples who are perfectly happy employing their wedding guests as proxy paparazzi for everything from prep to ceremony to formals to cake to dance. They will like their photos better than ours. They won't last, they won't be able to put together a quality album, and they really don't mind.

Consequently, there also exists a class of photographers that saw how happy their friend was with the photos they snapped at their wedding in this manner and read an article on Forbes that said they could make $1500 a week doing it again and again if they wanted. They make no attempt to get better, they spam the bridal shows with booths that are alarmingly tacky and worse yet they learn they don't actually have to shoot the thing themselves with they can pay somebody else to shoot the wedding at a third of the cost and pass it along.

And nobody cares.

My buddy, an excellent photographer that chooses to shoot mediocre but proven poses for senior portraits, yearbooks, weddings, school sports, etc.,.. makes something like $70k/year in Midwest money. He's a really great photographer, but you'll never see the good stuff he shoots because it doesn't sell. You shoot what the clients want.

More and more, you won't like what the clients want.

And that goes for news outlets, too. "User submitted photo" is becoming the number one photo credit, it seems.

Nobody cares about recording history. Nobody cares about documenting the events of our time for the future. Just send us a low resolution .jpeg still frame from a movie you shot with your phone and that'll work if we get it by deadline because all the photographers are laid off. Nobody seems to care.

I wish I could tell you I haven't seen it happen myself.

4. Photography is easier than we'd like to admit.

Here's something for you: I've been doing this for a long time. I am an excellent photographer. Give me an assignment and tell me what you want and I assure you, I'll come pretty fucking close to the picture you had inside your head. I am very, very good at what I do.

You know what? You could learn everything I know in a few months.

Maybe less if you really focus on it.

That's it.

My knowledge, my experiences, all of it- from professional sports to weddings to news to feature to product to portraits.. A few goddamn months.

In college, I studied alongside classical artists like we were equals.

We were not.

5. We need to stop being goddamn snobs and accept the coming of The Golden Age

Remember that asshole kid with the $5k Nikon D3 whose portfolio was better than yours? Guess how much that camera is going to sell for in say.. five years.

Would you believe $300? $500, maybe? That's all that body will be worth, if it's in good condition. And that's if Nikon decides to keep repairing the shutters that will inevitably die by then.

Have you played with a D3? That is a sweet goddamn camera. That can do everything you need to do, right now. Even ISO 6400 is beautiful. A lot of cameras are like that.

Right now.

Imagine what will be $300 in ten years.

Everything is getting better. Sony, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, everything is fantastic. All of the future's crappy old stuff will be today's awesome new stuff. And that means more people are going to be able to afford really great cameras that can do amazing things and we are going to see some amazing photography come from surprising places.

It's going to be awesome.

It may also be the death of our profession.

Of my profession.

If you want to be a photographer- wonderful, good, yes, do that, I can't recommend it enough.

But I do not think we will last.

Is this a bad thing for the industry? If you look at the quality of the photos that you can get on a smartphone now and the level of editing you can apply to those shots... it is truly amazing.  

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70 Comments

Sadly, you are spot on...

What a whiney, annoying effing post....just stfu and make better images than everyone else, and your stuff WILL rise above the rest...who cares what anyone else is doing....smh

Aaron Bratkovics's picture

My thoughts exactly.

Adding the F bomb as liberally as he did says something all by its self.

Jason Children's picture

Yeah I have to agree. I don't like whinging very much. Just shut up and get on with it. Stop seeing photography through romantic eyes and realize that your ability to create an online presence is just as important, these days, as your ability to create good images. Be better than the next guy and change with the times.

Most of this is pretty spot on. the learning curve is not as steep anymore. Plenty of free training online. easy to practice with digital. uncle bob will shoot your wedding. billy joe will shoot your product images. (or you will). moms will start shooting senior photos. It is a tough business to sell, but it's SELLING still.

Good work prevails. As Nathan mentioned below, your best now has to be better. Just have to push harder to make better images that sell.

Chip Kalback's picture

Great points and I agreed with most of it. I would argue that the experiences would take longer than 'a few goddamn months' to learn haha, but that's endlessly debatable and I get where the writer is coming from.

The real takeaway for me was the fact that vision and voice were never addressed. Buy all of the best gear in the world, but if someone isn't consistently tweaking/trying to improve their way of communicating ideas along with how they're approaching their business, will gear alone keep their career going?!

This was posted more than 3 years ago - and he was spot on at that time!

Martin Van Londen's picture

Everything he said it right. But the truth is the low end is pushing the high end to get better. The media industry is becoming a lot more independent. The need for content is only going to increase 10 fold. The future will be different then we are use to but pro photography won't go away. With a flooded market creativity is/will be a premium.

that reddit post is 3 years old.

Jon Sharman's picture

This kind of attitude really annoys me.

He's right in that it's easier than ever now for people to get into photography - but that's a good thing. 30 years ago you had to have money to get into something like wedding/fashion photography. 30 years ago the great photographers became great photographers slowly, with experience, over years and years.

Now we're seeing photographers like Rosie Hardy, Dani Diamond, Olivia Bee, Petra Collins, Ann He - all young and ridiculously talented and inspirational, and that's a damn good thing for our industry.

Photography didn't die with digital, it didn't die with cheaper equipment and advanced technology, it didn't die when Lightroom presets became popular. It changed. As much as it changed for the worse, it also changed for the better - anyone who doesn't realize that has completely taken their eye off the ball.

Joshua Boldt's picture

Cars have gotten better, easier to drive, safer, and more affordable over the years. That didn't turn everyone into race car drivers or city planning engineers who design roads. Saying that technology getting better will hurt an industry is the opposite of what usually happens.

Anonymous's picture

I visit FS just about every day, have for the last few years... but this is the first time that I've posted. The reason I qualify this post is that this article struck a nerve. Not that what was said in the article was wrong, but that the article kinda lends itself to defeatism. Yes, I agree, pretty much, with everything stated, but, and it's a very large but.... BERTHA large, the idea that professional photography is dying is just wrong! A photographer has been and always will be an entrepreneur. As such, entrepreneurs are notorious for finding solutions. Yes, problems will present themselves in the future for the pro photographer. They have since the birth of professional photography. But the successful photographer entrepreneur will find a way to still be successful, doing what they love to do! Those that will be successful in the future will find solutions. That's what we (true entrepreneurs) do.

"A professional photographer came forward on Reddit with a real rant about the photography industry. It's causing a stir amongst photographers everywhere - perhaps because he makes some great points!"

Talk about misleading... that comment is 3 YEARS OLD!! Are you suggesting it's still causing a stir 3 years after posting? Can't be, the newest post was made 2 years ago!!!

Worst case of content filling I've seen here in a long time...

Patrick Hall's picture

In all due respect, the stir it is causing on here has made it one the most talked about posts on FS. I think it still has legs :/

Marco Fiorini's picture

It's easy to say that we are doing bad business because of others, and I think that's why it's so talked. Whiners sell. You know what sell also? Porn. Will you start to post porn? No, right? Porn doesn't help photography, same for this rant.

jeff calbom's picture

Wow, that really tells a lot. Seriously Patrick you're going come on here with the entire argument that "the stir it is causing on here has made it one of [sic] the most talked about posts on FS." Well of course you'd love that regardless of topic - this is your bread and butter after all (not that that's at issue but I'm beside myself that you would leave that comment). This is truly nothing more than Canon sucks and Nikon rules or vise versa diatribe. But hey, it generates heated dialogue and that's all you're basically after in this tired and exhausted SEO game isn't it?

#3 is the top reason I don't earn my entire living as a photographer. Aside from making very good money doing what I already do, I don't want to be bored and have to do 400 senior shoots a year of the same shit over and over. I get to pick and choose what I want. I'm never bored or boring.

There is a very good point to #1. When I was in college... back in the film days when we shot dinosaurs... I had a very low end film camera and lenses. When college costs $25k a year, you're kind of limited. I found myself shooting in such a way that hid the low end qualities of my gear. My lenses weren't sharp and I didn't have a super wide f-stop. Sit through a critique and let my teacher and classmates trash my work because of the limitations of my gear? No thanks. I'll shoot something different.

#4 is spot on. While photography can be learned, someone with a good eye can pick up the technical aspects faster than someone who struggles with basic composition. I won 3 major art awards for high school students with the first roll of film I shot in my entire life. I struggle with the business part of it, but actually taking pictures? Nah, that's easy.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

What a whiner... Show me your port and I will decide if I want to listen to you...
There are many photogs who are doing very well producing incredible work.
"According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself." - Leon C. Megginson

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

.

Don't be so damned pessimistic!

Okay, I am a photography enthusiast and not a professional, but when I took my camera out of an extended hiatus, I joined a local camera club.
The club did sponsor a photojournalism contest where multiple photos (up to 7) with a cover produced a story. Until the final contestant entry, there was a three-way tie for first. I won the three-way tie for second place for the 2012 contest.
The camera that I used? It was a Canon A-1 that I bought new in 1980, In 2012, I shot B&W film exclusively; it was a year of experimenting with different B&W films and different B&W contrast filters. Kodak BW400CN, a C-41 B&W film, was my general purpose film of choice for the convenience of getting it developed locally as opposed to sending traditional B&W film out of state for developing. However, BW400CN has a sepia cast to the photos, so I decrease the saturation to make it look like traditional B&W using Lightroom. I also used Ilford XP2, another C-41 film, that has a cyan tint to the photos. I don't have a darkroom at home, so I have to depend upon labs for developing and use LightRoom to adjust for the B&W look.

Anonymous's picture

Couldn't disagree more.

Chris Adval's picture

Yea, and I cannot compete with that because of my style, unless I compete as a specialist that is a minimalist in digital editing that would be wonderful! ;-)

A.B Watson's picture

So true, I believe photographers now need to offer more than just photos, video is the future. It's not how good you are or what you know. But sadly it has always been who you know, your contacts and relationships.

The problem I have with this article is that he talks about the profession of photography in the narrow confine of photojournalism and wedding and portrait photography. The decline in those fields is precisely because there is no barrier to entry in those genres and consequently a profound over-supply of the product.

"You can learn everything you need to know in a few months" Yes you can if you are shooting sports and weddings. No you can't if you are shooting food or commercial projects.
I note that every dipshit wants to shoot sports yet almost no one purchases sports photography and has not for years yet they still rush headlong into the field and whine that the fish ain't biting. Same for fashion. It seems all you see is TFP. No one makes a living that way.
There is money to be made and good money too. However it isn't gained overnight but throughout he cultivation of clients who value what you do and NEED what do on a regular basis. In other words a client base that you do not need to be constantly replenishing.

As for the complaint that you have to shoot what the client wants… WTF? Shoot what the client wants and then add a few of your dope shots to bowl them over but don't sulk if they don't buy. They hired you to give them what they want not what you want.

Be an artist by all means but don't confuse art with attitude. If you want to make just what you want and get paid the art fairs are for you. Bring sunscreen.

David Vaughn's picture

But...who is this guy? He doesn't seem to have a link to any of his stuff.

What gives this guy credibility? For all we know, he could be one of those guys who tried shooting for a few years, couldn't get a foothold in the industry, and then became jaded and quit.

I think there is some truth in a few of his points (especially about the rising unethical use of photo editing), but...Damn it, this just feels like perpetuation of the victim attitude that seems to be in vogue right now.

"If I just accept that there's something wrong with the industry, then that relieves me of my personal responsibility. I'm a great photographer with great business sense, so it's obviously the fault of industry and the damn Twitterbooks and Facespace that I'm not as successful as I want to be."

Marco Fiorini's picture

Pointless. Photography is easy, everybody can do it, clients ask for shitty snapshot and don't want my wonderful photos, the kid with the money will always be better the me beacuse of the gear.
I guess photographer rant about this shit form the coming of "portable" 6x7 camera in the early 20th century.
We, as photographers, should start to see the possibilities involved with the changing of time.

1) False. This is true only if you do something that involve long fast tele or high fps. No pj, no wedding, no architecture, no portrait, no comercial...
2) Unethical post. Come on, be serious. WTF is unethical post? Is it the kind of post you don't want to learn to do? Come on.
3) Yeah right, even my client don't care if I give them shitty photos. Sometimes clents are not the best educated persons, but then the job become easy cause you do not have to pre-planning, invent magic tricks, stay awake at night to get some awesome ideas..Give them what they want and what they're willing to pay and be thankful for that. Also, when you deal with un-educated people you can try to spread some culture. If your photos are good enough you can show them what they could have if they pay a little extra. You can show them the benefit in investing money in a solid media marketing team and sell them more products. Come on.
4) This outline the fact that there are not many photographer out there. Everybody can take a good shot. Not everybody can be solid on a long term project. Not everybody know how to tell storie stories with the photos. Everybody can be good in taking a single shot but not everybody can enforce the brand they're working for with a photo. That's why there are so many good landscape and portrait ph. Very few in street, for example.
5) Yes, photographers won't last because old tech will get cheap.

We don't need this.
I guess being a photographer today is not the same thing as it was 10 or 20 years ago. People need to evolve and stop ranting, this kind of articles do not help anyone and spread bad mood in the industry.
Photography is a creative job, so be creative and stay updated. If you're not creative enough there are plenty of works that don't require creativity. Just move away and stop annoying the creatives community.

Dani Riot's picture

i have been saying a lot of this all along. but theres a lot of bits missing from the reality. sure, its easy to be a photographer, same as its easy to drive… but that doesn't mean you would get a seat in Formula 1.

J.R. Clubb's picture

Digging deep for posts 3 years old on reddit however still relevant as ever.

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