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Photography Will Never Be the Same: Content Creators Are Replacing Photographers

Photography Will Never Be the Same: Content Creators Are Replacing Photographers

Are you a photographer or a content creator? More and more photographers take on several roles and end up being content creators rather than traditional photographers. The industry is changing every year, and as it looks now, you have to learn content creation to stay in business. Photography is not enough.

The term "content creator" only became popular in the past five years or so. Before that, it was not a thing. In fact, the broader skill set that was needed to be a photographer has changed a lot in the past 20 years. Up until the '90s, all you had to know was how to expose the frame. The entry point into photography was very high, as it was considered an elite hobby and job.

In the past, knowing how to set up a light was pretty much all you needed to know. In this day and age, everyone can learn to do this. What is more, the skills you needed to be a photographer in the '90s can be easily automated to some degree. These days it is all about the aesthetic. The difficulty now is to come up with a visual language that is authentic and true to you, while also modern and reflective of the trends. On top of all this, you need to be more of a content creator rather than a photographer.

The Rise of Content Creation

The term is more of a buzzword in the Gen Z-dominated space. In its most simple terms, the word describes someone who makes content for the digital world. This content can be everything from images to videos to drawings. Writing is also part of being a content creator. The bar to becoming a content creator is practically non-existent. As long as you own a smartphone, you can become a content creator.

Creating meaningful content for online spaces can't be done without excellent photography. This is why a lot of photographers are hired to produce content for social media. The content is largely still images. This is still not too different from what photography used to be. However, the future is bringing change.

Why You Should Become a Content Creator?

Being a content creator rather than a photographer has a lot of benefits and ensures the survivability of your business in the future. With the rise of so-called Instagram brands, influencers are able to offer a full-scale fashion production involving nothing more than themselves and perhaps a second person to take pictures. They simply get the items, photograph them, and then market them to their audience. This cuts down on spending, increases the return on investment, and also increases profits for the person creating the content.

Photographers should not strive to become influencers. Instead, they should adapt their business models to get this segment of the market as their clients. For example, I have spent time learning to make both photo and video content for Instagram and have done paid work on an iPhone for an influencer who needed pictures. This didn’t feel like photography, this felt like content creation. In doing this, I saw a couple of benefits to learning content creation as a professional photographer.

It will enable you to capture a larger client base and diversify your income streams. If you are someone who is just starting out, content creation can be your bread and butter, as there is a lot of demand for it. Traditional photography jobs are much harder to get than content creation work. The amount of investment needed to be a content creator behind the camera is also much less. Often, a smartphone and a ring light is enough.

Another benefit is that you will inevitably learn and become familiar with the modern digital workspace. Later on, when doing social media campaigns for major brands, this will be of immense help, as you will have a good understanding of what is needed for such a campaign. Let me tell you that when doing work for social media, the requirements are vastly different from a job for a billboard or point-of-sale poster.

Risks of Being a Content Creator

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Being a content creator can be difficult and often is. You have to invest a lot of time into learning things you might not necessarily be interested in, and it will certainly take away time you would otherwise spend on becoming a better photographer. Spending a lot of time on social media can also have negative psychological consequences. I find myself feeling incredibly anxious or drained after spending too much time interacting online. I know for sure that another drawback is the algorithm itself, which is changing to supposedly provide a better user experience, but in reality, it is simply keeping advertisers happy since users spend more time online. Initially a photo platform, Instagram now favors Reels. You need to constantly keep up and monitor what’s trendy. This can leave the creative voice inside you suffocated by the demands of the online media landscape. All of this can leave many of us burned out. Even as someone who doesn’t really care about the number of likes under a particular image, I still experience burnout or frustration if an image doesn't do well on the like counts.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, being a content creator has its benefits in helping you stay in touch with the times and make extra income. It will also help many creatives do their job better and more efficiently. At the same time, being a content creator can cause anxiety, constant stress, and creative burnout. It is not uncommon for content creators to face these issues after their content doesn't perform well. After all, content creation is only one form of photography among dozens of others. This is not to say that you must be a content creator to create a modern and up-to-date portfolio and service for your clients. As long as you approach your craft with creativity and don't lose track of your goals, being a content creator can be a fun side activity that will help you keep in touch with modern demands.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Illya Ovchar is a fashion photographer based in Europe. In his work, Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.

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15 Comments

I went to school for photography and worked for years in film. In 1998, I became a content creator and did that for the next 10-12 years. I saw most all of the prosperous commercial photographers slowly get run out of business in my market. Fortunately, I was young and ahead of the game back then and made a business for myself early. But from1998 until today, I have seen nothing but a relentless rise of content creators coinciding with the relentless demise of commercial photography.

The simple way to think about it is like this...

Content creation is based on speculation because creators invest resources up front with the hope that their content will pay off "passively" over time. Commercial photography is the exact opposite because it requires clients to speculate by paying a photographer up front "actively" for a shoot. In commercial, the client is the speculator. In content creation, the photographer is the speculator. This single difference between the role of the speculator is what separates the commercial photography world from the content creator world.

The problem with the word "professional" when applied to photography is that it doesn't make a distinction when it comes to speculation. So a lot of youtubers, workshop teachers, self published book makers, bloggers, and vloggers etc call themselves professional photographers even if they've never done a commercial shoot before. There's nothing wrong with that, but really they are professional content creators instead of professional commercial photographers. It's NOT an insult to be a content creator because up until recently that's been the newest thing. Commercial photography is mostly just a sidegig now for people that might also be content creators but very few photographers are working 100% for clients.

Web3 and AI are coming for content creators the way that web2 and cheap dslrs came for the commercial shooters. I mean this in the nicest possible way, but both commercial photography and content creation are kind of yesterday's news although it will still take a decade or two to see the full decline.

BTW DPReview was shut down by Amazon today (RIP web2)

Thanks for the heads up. Sometimes I spend a lot of time on DPReview and sometimes I don't go for a few weeks. Shocking.

Sorry to post again, but the early adopters have been called content producers since at least the turn of the century. Content creator is just another term for the same thing and it's not a new phenomenon.

I'm not affraid at all.

The phenomenon has always existed.
The first untrained designer downloaded pirated versions of adobe software and sold their services at 30% of the normal price.
That was 16-18 years ago.
At that time digital photography was starting to become accessible to the general public. It spawned new low-cost photogrpahs.

And you know what? The same goes for bakers, new concept foods, brewery, farming, etc...

Why is this important but not disturbing?

Firstly, it creates passion for some and opportunities by rejuvenating the market for the big players.

Secondly, a quality creative is unlikely to be impacted if they stay updated, because that's the way the market is: small businesses need to start with low cost services before investing in premium creatives.

Thirdly, not everyone can be a good business manager.

Fourth, with the AI changes, it is the content creators who will have a hard time surviving in the next few years. Not the professional artists.
These content creators will become content generators using AI.

Are Content Creators replacing Photographer? Nor designer and copyrighter. Well. Nope.
It helps to start small business, it helps to focus on business. But they are complementary.
As Art Director, I see a huge gap between high end content creators vs formed Photograohers/designer/copyrighter. And I'm talkin about high end CC, approx 20% of the content creator market.

Isn't this a way to get burned down quick and move on to something else? I mean it's a lot to learn with little to be perfect at nearly every aspect. Plus there is cost, lights, camera or phone, dedicated room... and keeping up all day with what the competitors do and creation time including searching for new ideas. I mean what does it really pay per hour worked? Let's talk $ and consistency. How long does the average content creator truly last vs specialized photographers. Let's talk real world. I suggest you elaborate on stats with real numbers if we are talking income.
And then there are contents that get published, then removed because too many replies are correcting fundamental details the content creator overlooked. That's a total wash of time, work for free and not even showing it in the end, not even credit earned.

I’m not disagreeing with your assessment of the situation, but I do think that content creators have replaced specialist commercial photographers.

The saddest proof that a change has occurred is the fact that most photographers today have learned photography from content creators. It’s the content creators, not the commercial photographers, that have popularized photo instruction. It’s common for photographers to brag about being “self taught” but what they really mean is that they learned photography from watching a bunch of how-to instruction videos made by you-tubers.

I was there in the early days when bloggers like the strobist and zarias brought the ideas of “professional” photography techniques to the masses. But what the masses didn’t know was that those one light down and dirty ways of shooting were devalued versions from the commercial world that we called “guerilla style.” That kind of shooting was for low budget editorial photographers barely making a living at the bottom of the print world. They were the bottom feeders of the industry. Those techniques were NEVER intended to represent the epitome of the world of professional photography, but they were the easiest for the masses to integrate and digest on their own terms. The masses adopted them well and now guerilla style shooting is basically the low budget way most content creators survive. I think this is a good thing for content creation, but it's the death of commercial photography for me.

At this point, almost all photography looks like it was learned from a blogger that learned from blogger that learned from a blogger. I don’t see really good commercial photography being produced anywhere anymore.

I liked the Strobist and I think he gave up only a couple years ago. He did real good, but his techniques and tools were definitely not practical to be productive on a daily basis. Blogs and videos are made for you to visit over and over not to really tell a full story. I see some pro photographers turned content creators for extra income who can create regularly, yet, never really divulge what makes them earn their income from photography. I get a kick out of that.
I was an avid amateur photographer who decided to go back to school and spend two years at an art school enrolled in their photography classes back in the early 90's. Some photo schools have been advertising lately and I think it's a good thing.
It's possible that the real issue is not just those Youtube self taught people, but more the clientele that assume that these do it all specialists(!?) are the norm.

I don't really blame the art buyers but the business side of things is really working against good commercial photographers. Advertising clients want to make the most money possible with the smallest investment so they rarely want to argue about art and only care about accounting. Consequently, art directors and editors have a very hard time explaining the cost for good photography when it's based on subtle differences in aesthetics. On the other hand, it's really easy to sell a content creator with a large fan base to an advertising client. The number of subscribers or followers the creator has is a hard number (like 500k subscribers) that isn't open to interpretation and is easy for the bean counters to understand.

I agree with you that a lot of content creators aren't fully honest about how they really make a living. I think most of them are just faking it until they make it when it comes to commercial photography. A genuinely good commercial photographer lives in perpetual fear of being lowballed when bidding jobs, so he can't afford to share techniques that he's invented for a personal aesthetic. On the other hand, content producers aren't worried at all about bidding jobs and are happy to share techniques that can be easily emulated by a large audience. The audience that they create then becomes a hard number to sell to clients and this is how they can eventually get some commercial shoots while still taking pictures that look the same as everbody else. There's really no economic incentive to experiment and invent something new anymore, the incentive is to copy and share as much as possible.

Photography has turned into quantity over quality unfortunately. The more photos you can pump out in as little time as possible to keep the eyeballs glued to a screen, keeping fingers swiping, and tapping the better for advertisers. Now that the photography industry is inundated with photographers no one wants to pay what quality photography is worth.

I would suggest the voluminous threat to photography and content providers is: AI. Now it is in the birth pangs of usage, will have a major impact in the art of photography, video and digital creators.

I've noticed that all the latest updates to Photoshop appear to be aimed at Content Providers.

So my 39 years of experience is worth diddly? I beg to differ.

No. Quality work lasts longer than a low quality fast paced work that is forgotten about in 2 seconds.