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.

Log in or register to post comments

70 Comments

Mark Englund's picture

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.

Mike Brooks's picture

hahahaha...so 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.

Aaron Tsuru's picture

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.

Aaron Tsuru's picture

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.

Paul Steward's picture

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!!!

http://paulsteward.com/blog/2013/8/8/top-7-reasons-to-shoot-for-free

stevenmcconnell's picture

Word.

Paul Steward's picture

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.

Ryan Cooper's picture

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)

Paul Steward's picture

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.

Ryan Cooper's picture

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.

Paul Steward's picture

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.

Ryan Cooper's picture

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)

Weegees's picture

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.

watkinssr's picture

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.

Photography
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.

Photography
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.

I
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.

Richard Neal's picture

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.

watkinssr's picture

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.

Richard Neal's picture

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.

Rebecca Neff's picture

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

minotaur's picture

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).

Linda Taylor's picture

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.

WordAndReason's picture

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.

RUSS T.'s picture

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

Edd Taylor's picture

this is fact. no getting around it.

Ron's picture

I started making money with photography when i stopped shooting concerts... So basically i don't miss the pit at all!

Lorenzo P's picture

Great read!!! It's is nothing but a wake up call to be inspired!!!

Anthony Woodruffe's picture

People need to work out what photography means to them and where they want to take it. Some people will be happy taking photos and giving them for free. They feel that because they got free entry to a concert or snap someone's wedding. that is reward enough in itself.
Now I don't know when all this "We'll let you shoot for a ticket started" it's a chicken and the egg scenario, however it is here now and unfortunately it's hear to stay.
If you're running a business by offering a service than your service has a value. That value has to be seen by your client. Coming from a DJ background it's very difficult to show potential clients my worth. I can't just throw a set down and expect them to start jumping around.
With photography on the other hand you can show clients the type of work you produce. If they like what you have to offer, then they will pay your price. Some may still want a deal because although they like what they see they either cannot afford your services, just want a discount for the sake of it, or may know someone who can produce the same, almost the same or something similar at a cheaper price.
It's up to you to negotiate and sell you service at a price that both you and your client can agree on. It's up to you to be prepared to end the negotiation if you are not prepared to work for the sum the client is asking. It's up to you to sell your worth. it's up to you the make the client understand why your service is that price.
They need to fully understand what you will deliver and most important, the benefit that is to your client. In selling a service it's important to remember that it's all about the client. It's always about the client and not you. It's about what they are getting out of it. Your priority is to satisfy their needs, once you've negotiated that, then you can negotiate their wants. The extra things they would like but are not necessarily paramount to signing the deal.

Sorry for the long winded comment.

Andrew Griswold's picture

Absolutely amazing Aaron, I am not full time..yet but this just motivated me even more to raise the bar and continue to shoot for larger clients and bigger projects. Yes I am pretty new to it all and yes I have shot a few things for 'free' if you want to call it that but in the end I was building a name for myself and adding to my portfolio so shooting for some of my favorite brands that I have followed for years for free was totally worth getting a box of goodies from a brand I never thought I would shoot for. In the end I am working my way up and never leveling out I have always wanted to shoot for higher and create better work each time I go out there. Thanks for the encouragement and appreciate this article more than you know.

sikdave's picture

Great work. I found Michael Port's 'Book Yourself Solid' book very helpful and you may want to check out Duct Tape Marketing as well by John Jantsch - all on Amazon, and Kindle. Good luck with your career! Marketing, marketing, marketing, and then some shooting ;)

Juan Cobo Escorial's picture

I agree with almost everything.
I´m from Spain and the industry here is not very strong. We dont have a big audiovisual culture respect. I think is not the "industry" is changing faster than us, is also an Educational issue.

Raymond Andrews's picture

Photography isn't dead, it's just overwhelmed by "picture takers". The ratio of photographs to snapshots used to be much more skewed toward photographs than it is these days.

You could have a patch of prize winning yellow mums growing in your yard, but if the rest of the yard is filled with dandelions it's much harder to notice or enjoy

minotaur's picture

I think you're on the right track. I've been a professional photographer for about 20 years and getting a one on one meeting with an art buyer was easier and produced better results because the value of photographers was high.

It's a lot like population saturation. If there is little food and more and more people needing to eat, most people will starve and some people will feast. The most clever minded business types, with a knack of good networking, not being a douche bag with a big ego, and good personality have the best chance to make it professionally.

The concept of setting your work apart, or making it stand out is ludicrous. There are way too many photos, photographers, and snap shot armies out there. The best thing you can do to set yourself apart is to be a better person, make a good network and be human and treat others likewise. Art buyers are people, not contacts to spam emails.

Peter House's picture

I could speculate that with enough time and advances in technology artificial intelligence will completely replace the need for a photographer. Computers will be able to judge the lighting requirements of a scene and fully automate the process in mere seconds.

Until then, all we have is lower barriers to entry. The music industry went through this as well. Just like images, everyone and their mother's can create music at home now. It's not hard to call yourself a "professional" producer.

But with every change comes possibility. Look how ingenious and innovative the music industry is becoming. It is going more grassroots with a focus on indie material. Musicians are being empowered to ditch their labels. Distribution channels are so open now that it is all a very real possibility for them.

Where there is a will, there is a way. Photographers need to become more entrepreneurial and find ways to monetize the changes that are happening within our industry. Photography is indeed far from dead. The demand for photography is still there, and still quite strong. Maybe the venues are not the same as they used to be, but that's just business. You can't ever get too comfortable with your income stream. If you lost some customers because they are now using stock images, get them back by becoming a stock photographer. Don't want to do stock? Change your target market. There are always new and emerging markets. Always.

Anyways, great post Aaron.

Ryan Cooper's picture

A computer may be able to perfectly balance lighting and exposure for you. It won't be able to make creative decisions and create style. The technical side of photography is the easy part. What sets the elite apart from the common is vision.

minotaur's picture

Partly. You also have to have the ability to carry out an art directors vision as well.

Gus Martinez's picture

So, any tips for the ones that are starting a Business?. I'm having a little trouble finding new clients, and it is what I'm working on right now, and I'm trying to build up some experience in the real world more than the free assignments we all do when we are starting. I'm having my first magazine cover in a small magazine in my country, and I'm definitely thrilled about it. Any advice?

JC Ruiz's picture

The best quote from the articles was, "Elevate and raise your own worth" I could not agree more with that statement. Great article all around and photography is not dead, it's just finding new ways to re-invent itself

BBphoto's picture

Thank you! Very well said. The field is evolving and nope, it's not easy, but the only way to succeed to evolve as photographers and raise ourselves up.

Roberto Mettifogo's picture

I think professional photography is dead in some markets, and still good and growing in some others. Some examples, events photography is almost dead, small companies products photography's dead, wedding photography going to die soon (friend's friend will do it for free), while big companies still invest money for good pictures (and also for good 3d renders). We professional have to aim to different markets and raise our quality level.

bayek's picture

So many comments here prove that photography is far from dead, otherwise you'd all be out there bowling or something, rather then wasting your time here.

alreadyupsidedown's picture

Well said haha

Walton Ciferri's picture

Shoot for free? Mind you... you get what you pay for.
Sure an app can make a photo more than what it was, but your cousins-friend-uncle who just bought a new DLSR and cant seem to take it out of auto mode while shooting your wedding may not rear the same results as a professional who knows composition, lighting, exposure and a plethora of other skills that'll take simple snapshots to a higher level. Again, you get what you pay for. So I agree with Rebecca Britt, educate the client on why you should be paid.

Nicolene Ndelu's picture

I don't feel photography is dead, I feel that many people aren't willing to work at it anymore. People just assume now that if you have a camera you are set; there are many people with camera out there but not all of them will ever photograph the cover of harpers bazaar or vogue etc... print might might be dying but the art of reading isnt - it's just morphing into digital - like ebooks (the kindle). there is a need for good photographers and you can make a living as a photographer. you have to be willing to invest the time, aim high and you have to remember that you have to start small.

A shift in thinking is required - more people are taking up photography but not all of them are good and can cope in 'the big leagues'.

the industry is evolving and you have to be willing to evolve with it.

Marius Budu's picture

Photography is FAR from dead... anyone claiming this doesn't know and understand the market. It is the over-saturation of amateur and casual photographers that tends to make it difficult for the truly skilled ones to stand out. I see it as a positive thing. Technology changes everything and photography is no exception. The fact that a 14 year-old photographer live Zev http://www.demilked.com/.../ can take images that blow away "professional photographers" with years and years of experience speaks strongly to this fact. The availability of technology doesn't drown out talent, it in fact fosters it from a younger age. Gear will become more ubiquitous and easily available and those that can use it to tell stories and create stunning images will thrive and those who bitch and moan will wither away. It's as it's always been: talent and skill will triumph.

More comments