The Changing World of Photography … and How to Survive It

I’ve always admired the resilience of professional photographers. But that resilience is really being put to the test now; few industries have changed so much in such a short space of time. A great picture might still be a great picture — that will always be true — but the technology used to take that image has changed, as has the means of returning it to photo editors, the photography market that can buy it… and just about everything else too.

None of those changes has made life easier for people who take pictures for a living. In fact, when I look back over the 40-odd years that I’ve been in this industry, I don’t believe there’s ever been a harder time for professional photographers.

The ability to send images back from the field immediately, for example, has increased reliance on tightened deadlines. When film needed to be processed, the turnaround time after receipt by the agency was 24 hours to out-of-town clients. Today if the images are not being sent electronically, the discs are expected to be FEDEX’d immediately after completion of the assignment on a same-day turnaround.

The presence of camera phones all over the world now means that editors can get the news pictures they need at low cost and through sheer luck. Sure, being in the right place at the right time has always been a basic requirement for photographers. But today, professional photographers are competing with large numbers of images of an event — and all sent in to photo editors free by members of the public.

For photographers who have been around for a while, the ability to adapt is as important as the ability to take a great picture… then process it on a computer, clean it up in Photoshop and send it in. The photographer, in addition to his or her photographic skills, now must absorb the electronic lab skills that used to handled by professional film labs.

Black Star photographer (and Black Star Rising contributor) Michael Coyne, for example, is now traveling to small villages around the world with his laptop as he collects pictures for his next book. He’s been creating beautiful photographs for about 40 years, and he takes the changes to the industry in his stride, filing faster to meet deadlines and enjoying the ability to choose the pictures he submits.

But that is because Michael, like other top photographers, has something that does not come with a digital camera, a camera phone or editing software. He has a photographer’s eye.

Ultimately, for all the changes around us, quality still counts in photography. In fact, with fewer freelance assignments to go around, it matters more than ever. That is why photographers must not allow change to distract them from where their focus should be: on honing their “eye” and producing quality work.

Combine that focus with flexibility, and professional photographers can still have success.

[tags]photography, advice, photography business, Michael Coyne, Ben Chapnick[/tags]

One Response to “The Changing World of Photography … and How to Survive It”

  1. The digital revolution has produce a boom of people who, after receiving their Canon Rebel for Christmas and using one of the thousands of free instant web site templates, are now calling themselves photographers. The truth is, if you want to survive as a photographer, it needs more than just a photographer's eye. 90% of the solution is not the craft itself but the marketing and business sense that is required to make any business work.

    No doubt, it's ugly out there. But photographers need to educate the public why owning a camera doesn't make one a photographer any more than owning a chisel makes you a sculptor. I addressed this issue in my editorial "Would You Let Your Mate Cut Your Hair?" and can be readt at

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