Photography, as a way to earn money or as an employment option, may be on the way out. With so many smart phones available which now have camera software and large megapixel capacities, one might be able to make the case for ringing the death knell of photographers. Perhaps hiring a photographer is no longer a requirement for many corporations, wedding couples or newspapers. It may be that this is an era of digital images, but it is still possible to have a career as an image maker.
Photography, in the short span of 50 years, has progressed from requiring film, darkrooms, print processes and those with a specific education and highly technical skills in the art of picture taking to Jane Doe grabbing her iPhone and shooting a track meet winner with excellent results. Combined with the ability to transmit a series of images anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes from a smart phone, it might be close to impossible to argue in favor of hiring a photographer to shoot an event, birthday party, graduation, etc. There may be no prophet anywhere who might have suggested this phenomenon in 1959.
This shift in photography is just on the mechanical end – which in itself is the wrong term – as most Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras, smart phones, and point-and-shoot cameras have very few moving parts, if any, that are mechanical. The difference in equipment is similar to a crank-start car from the early 20th century and a current Toyota Prius hybrid in that the only thing they have in common is the ability to take people somewhere without walking. The same may be said for image recording equipment from 1959 to 2014 – The only thing they have in common is the ability to record an image.
The process and the outcome are far removed from anything remotely resembling similarity between the two methods. Once an image has been recorded in this digital era, the amount of applications available to adjust images is more than one can load on a computer or smart phone all at once. The choices are almost limitless. What once took hours and sometimes days to process, print and display now takes minutes. The need for a photographer appears to have vanished with the darkroom.
Technology is a significant asset, but if the person using these great tools continues to crop the heads off of people in the image or manages to push the record button while the camera is still focusing, the technology is just more sophisticated equipment in the hands of someone with no knowledge of how to use it. There is value still in signing up for a course in picture-taking or being the person teaching the course. Skill with a camera, be it in a smart phone or an actual camera, cannot be replaced with technology. Photography, as a career, is a viable option, even in this digital era.
Every professional photographer earning a living today knows it is not just a simple matter of pointing, focusing and shooting. Experience, a body of knowledge, education and practice go into every professional shot. Courses in photography are available to enlighten persons with an interest on how to compose a shot, why color is important, the value of different lighting, and how to adjust for a well-exposed image, among other skills. Practice is an important effort which can be developed into a skill worth paying someone to accomplish professionally.
Technology has also placed images at the fingertips of everyone with a device able to scan the internet. Many of the images in cyberspace need help. Stock photo agencies, many news sites, and publishers of books, magazines, and websites continue to clamor for better, unique, and interesting images. Everyone who has a need still searches for professional photographers to record quality images for different events. All of the photo applications available cannot serve as a replacement for a quality image or a set of images shot by a professional.
Professional photographers need to use their unique vision to find or create a niche market for their special skill or ability. Perhaps someone who has been shooting professionally for years might benefit from a new course in taking pictures or from signing up for a seminar on a subject not covered before. There are opportunities waiting to be discovered.
Photography is an art form. It is a springboard of opportunity. A person who finds a niche and harnesses the skill or technical know-how they have acquired may become expert in this field and be sought after by others who are willing to pay a premium for it. It is a career available to many and this digital era may be a great place to begin.
Opinion by Andy Towle