There was a time when being a professional photographer meant you were just that, a photographer. But is this still the case today and does this profession still exist? If not, does that mean anyone taking photos can call themselves a professional photographer?
The photography industry as a whole has changed more in the last 20 years than in the previous 100. First, there was the digital revolution when those of us who learned the art of photography from film suddenly became archaic. It was a matter of adapting or being left behind. The next big change was smartphones, which meant that everyone in the world with one could take pictures.
The combination of this accessibility and photography in general becoming more affordable (anyone who has ever shot with film will remember all too well the costs involved) has resulted in an explosion in the number of photographers and stills. And like any commodity, the more of something there is, the greater the competition and the lower the price becomes.
These factors have eroded the fees imposed by photographers and photos. So much so that very few photographers these days can make a living from their photography alone. Many have turned to teaching, whether online, through e-books or even on workshops. Some photographers now also write in their respective fields and don’t even provide photos for the articles they write. And there are even some who combine photography with other jobs such as videography, design and public speaking.
So the question is, if a photographer doesn’t make most of their income from photography, are they still a professional photographer?
For example, I’ve made more money writing assignments – most of which are travel articles – over the past 5 years than actually selling photos or paying photography commissions. So should I now call myself a writer rather than a photographer?
I have debated this topic many times with others and the only thing I have concluded is that I still don’t have an answer. But more importantly, does it matter if someone is a professional photographer or just a good photographer? Does adding the word “professional” to your job title automatically make you more qualified than someone who is not a professional?
There’s no doubt that there are incredibly talented photographers in every genre these days. Some of the creativity I see is really inspiring. But some of these photographers have never sold a photo or received commissions. I know a photographer friend whose primary photography income comes from photography-related affiliate links on her blog. She earns way more than me.
I guess what I’m trying to figure out in my mind is if the job title of a professional photographer still exists in today’s multimedia world. Or should we, as photographers, seek to reinvent ourselves and our genre as creatives? These days on a set, my work can include photography, writing, video and even recently social media content. Actual photography is therefore only a small part of my overall workload. So am I still a photographer?
I have spoken to many professional photographers and the overriding feedback is that none of them can rely on their photography alone to make a living. There are of course a select few who may be lucky enough to still do so, but I think they may be the last of a dying breed. I believe that more and more clients are going to want us photographers to provide the whole package and thus, in the purest sense, do away with the notion of “professional photographer”.
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