The Death of Professional Photography? Not!

April 28, 2010

Photo Tips

A recent article in the New York Times practically proclaimed the death of traditional professional photography. (The New York Times, March 29, 2010, “For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path“, Stephanie Clifford)

First, I felt offended as I scanned the paragraphs. Then, I decided not to participate in that pessimistic frame of thought.

The story said, “There are very few professional photographers who, right now, are not hurting.” And, “Amateurs, happy to accept small checks for snapshots of children and sunsets… are underpricing professional photographers and leaving them with limited career options.”

Hmmm… true, true! Perhaps this is because the amateurs are keeping up with trends and technology better than many stiff-shirt, inflexible professionals. Hellllloooo…. the world is changing, and photography is changing along with most other crafts and arts. We all love iTunes, right? Wrong! The recording companies hated it. They lost money and had to scale back on out-dated, and obsolete methods. They were forced to adapt, and many of the forward-thinking will survive.

Look at other media industries which have gone through fundamental transformations:

  • Book Publishing — books now available as downloads and “print-on-demand”
  • Newspapers and magazines — now competing with free internet news
  • Motion Pictures and Hollywood — now a cheap and fast download
  • Television Networks — who even watches any more? Better content is faster and free on-line.
  • Art — It seems like only yesterday that Andy Warhol was catching hell for painting “Campbell’s Soup Cans” so photo-realistically (1962). Now we can turn a photograph into painter-realistic!

Industries change, and the individuals who are most successful and profitable are those who adapt fastest to current trends and technologies. So as photographers we all have reason to embrace the current trends. The world is at our fingertips! We can now grab a camera and, with some basic computer skills, produce virtually any image that we can imagine in our own mind. We used to be limited by physical characteristics of film and cameras, but this is no longer the case. Our own creativity is the only limit. Today’s modern professional photographer has powerful tools that would boggle the mind just a decade ago.

Ahhh, and so do the amateurs… which is why some pros are feeling threatened.

Today’s professional photographers can continue to pay the bills; feed the family; find internal satisfaction; live an enviable lifestyle, and retire with a smile. Likewise, amateurs can earn extra money; have a blast; and continue to push us pros as they have done for the past few decades. So what is the issue? This is just a normal shake-up in an industry which was thrust completely and quickly into the digital age. Professional photography will not die — we pros will just continue to find new leaders, artists, teachers, and heros, as we keep a close eye on the amateurs who will push us to create new images and greater accomplishments.

Photography has been given a breath of new life — and for this I am thankful.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 13 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Randy is owner of Hawaii’s oldest fine-art photography gallery. He left the world of corporate & medical photography behind 20 years ago to realize his dream of becoming a professional camera artist. He is an avid outdoorsman who proclaims, “My tent is my castle, and my kayak is my limousine.” You can visit Randy’s website at

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11 Responses to “The Death of Professional Photography? Not!”

  1. Josh Says:

    Very, very good points. As a network engineer, I experience the same and it is so true. Keep up w/ the technology or you will be replaced.


  2. Carl Says:

    I think that’s the crux of the problem: change is hard for people to accept (myself included!). Rather than fight it – adapt! Agreed! Indeed I think there are many more opportunities available to photographers and filmmakers than ever before. The gatekeepers of traditional magazines, broadcast stations, and film studios have been overrun. The demand for content on the web and elsewhere will likely continue to skyrocket.


  3. Melissa Says:

    Everything I’ve wanted to say and more. :)


  4. Miriam Says:

    As a very amateur photographer I have to admit that everyone with a digital camera calls themselves a photographer lately. No matter how many great amateur shots I see, I’m still in awe of pictures that come out of the leading edge of the professional pack. The professionals are the ones that push the edge, that create the images that all us Amateurs work to hard to emulate.


  5. widarto adi Says:

    I’m agree with you randy, there are differences between amateur and pro, the work value,
    Tools are tools, and yes keeping up and adapting with them is a basic necessity for me.
    Its not about we are going to left behind if we didn’t adapt,
    But hey, as a proffesional, its very important to master the tool to help our work.

    Imagening the pro will be death, taken by amateur, is a ridicolous idea,
    Its the same ridicolous with an idea with replacing graphic designer and web designer with design templates.

    In my experience people came to the pro, because they can invest their precious time to other stuff,
    Furthermore they love to get our service.
    If we can’t keep up our service personality,
    We’ll be death.
    Afterall at the end of the day bussiness is always a personal matter :)


  6. Bob D. Says:

    A simplistic view at best. Free news?? Think again. Good luck.


  7. rick sammon Says:

    go randy!

    i agree!

    for me, getting into social media was the key. i am now busier than ever.

    thank you for the nice article!


    • Damien Franco Says:


      It’s the pros, like yourself and other notables, who’ve been able to adapt and experiment with technologies outside the craft of photography that are going to continue to excel and pave the paths for those up and coming amateurs (and some of the pros as well)!

      As photographers we have always been on the cutting edge of technology. Photography IS technology.

      Changes like these aren’t new at all. This is simply a newer generation of obstacles to overcome in a highly competitive field.

      “Pros” had to deal with this same type of issue with the emergence of the Kodak Brownie millions of which were sold between 1952 and 1967. “Everyone” had a camera! Some pros adapted, those that didn’t found something else to do for a living, and new pros rose up to meet the next challenge.

      Wedding photographers had to deal with this when an influx of photojournalists crashed the party in the early ’90s then again when digital SLRs become more affordable.

      Stock photographers had to deal with it when micro-stock was actually successful.

      It’ll happen again with some new advancement or improvement in technology or methodology. I just hope I’ll be smart enough to stay ahead of the curve in my respective niche when that time comes for my genre.

      Here’s to the future!


  8. Jon Williams Says:

    It’s inevitable. At some time in your career a customer will say, “you are just too expensive
    and besides –– “My Uncle has a real nice camera, and he said he’d do the pictures for fifty bucks – and he’ll give us the pictures on a CD too–because I’m a scrap-booker.” The professional photographers bad dream? A little frustrating perhaps? We’re hearing this from customers a lot more often these days. The public’s ability to discern high quality photography (and service) is eroding. With all the excitement surrounding the hot new digital cameras, professional photographers are losing both–status and market share–to less skilled amateurs. When a potential customer questions the value of your services, you need to respond with a well-stated and honest answer. You’ll also need to have a little bit of “backbone.”


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