The Future of Photography

Here’s some food for thought: random quotes on the future of photography, collected from the Net. The future of photography is certainly more software-based. As technology marches on, some of the romance in photography dies. We’re still playing with film metaphors, not yet fully aware of the capabilities of these optical computers and sensor arrays in our hands.

We all know that nothing stays the same, and this photography industry is no different. We’re thinking of the perfect camera. Faster, self-focusing, extremely high ISO range… I think the 1930s to 1970s was a more exciting and revolutionary time in photography.

It was a breakthrough time of camera technology, allowing photographers freedom of express, but still a connection to the artistic process of photography’s first century. Digital and convergence, the great equalizers?

It may not be a great time to be in the business of photography, but it’s a tremendously exciting time to be taking photographs. Here are some takes on the different levels of the photography of tomorrow:

The tidal wave of outlaw photographers with mediocre photos will eventually die out and even though compact cameras are evolving every day in quality and performance, they will never be able to replace our senses, and we need those to tell the story. To be able to create an image that tells a story one needs to be a storyteller using a camera. Give it a few more years and you will see the demand for high standard pictures take back a prominent place in our communication practice. Long will live photography. (Christie Goodwin)

For the first time I saw a photographer as no more than a paid researcher looking for images for someone else to represent… In the days of film one would have had to be physically on site to be able to micromanage the photographer; the photographer’s autonomy was somewhat more impervious… Increasingly, much of the photographic process will occur after the shutter is released. The photograph becomes the initial research, an image draft, as vulnerable to modification as it has always been to recontextualization. (Fred Ritchin)

Think about it — while the manufacturers launch new cameras every couple of months, there hasn’t been a single fundamental change in the art of photography since the mid-1960s when through-the-lens lightmetering on SLR cameras meant that you didn’t have to have a separate light meter anymore. The only genuinely new addition to photography itself is strictly part of post-production. Perhaps we don’t actually need any new technology. Is it time that we started getting more creative with the tech we already have available to us? (Everything2)

Interestingly enough, every year I’m asked to bid on a still photography assignment for a tourism client. Yesterday, I received the bid packet and there was a profound change. They were not asking for a quote for still photography. They were asking for a quote for video — and not just video — but video shot on a RED camera so that they could pull frame grabs from the footage and use those “still images” in their ads. Now, that’s a game changer. (Kelley Mooney)

The Internet and improved data management programs should make it easier for freelancers to market directly to their customers, increasing opportunities for self-employment and decreasing reliance on stock photo agencies. Job growth, however, will be constrained somewhat by the widespread use of digital photography and the falling price of digital equipment. Improvements in digital technology reduce barriers of entry into this profession and allow more individual consumers and businesses to produce, store and access photographic images on their own. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

I think photography is stronger and better than ever before. Those of us who are photographers, the difference between us and everyone else is that we take what we do very seriously. There was a wonderful article in the New Republic that said photography came along long before there were cameras. We were always trying to capture the fleeting image. Photography came along long before we had the equipment. What is going to happen now is that we are the sensitive matter. You, the photographer, are the sensitive matter. What makes an impression on you is what will been seen. In this day and age of things moving so, so fast, we still long for things to stop, and we as a society love the still image. Every time there is some terrible or great moment, we remember the stills. (Annie Leibovitz)

Compositional Aids — There are numerous cameras available now with G.P.S built in. Virtually all cameras on the market have face recognition, a database of scenes to determine exposure and some pretty powerful processor power. Taking this forward a few years, 4G phones may now be 5G, cameras will have a constant connection to the Internet, not only to upload but to download information that can be collated together with the GPS data to determine exactly what you are looking at, virtually anywhere in the world. By cross referencing all of this data, the camera could, quite possibly, tell you the best positions for shooting. Yes I know this will always be subjective, but what it does mean is that the average, non-photographer will not have to think about their composition in the same way that today they don’t need to think about exposure or focus. (Jason Row)

Anyone who understands the difference between good photography and great photography knows that the value of the latter cannot be diminished just because it is saturated. Anyone can play baseball, many can excel, but only few make money off of it, and those few are giants in American culture. Pro photography won’t disappear, it will just become more exclusive. I don’t pity the great pros, I pity the good ones who will fade in with the rest of the competent masses who don’t care to market their skill. (Jake)

Certainly progress in photography is not going to stop. Faster material and lenses, more automatic cameras, finer-grained sensitive compounds to allow an extension of the mini-camera idea, are all imminent. (Vannevar Bush, 1945)

My overriding prediction? That in the next ten years photography will slide into the warm goo of modern culture and have no more relevance than the background music in the fast food restaurant in which you are having lunch. A small number of professionals will be shooting the images of crispy tacos for Taco Bell, the burgers for McDonald’s and the power tools for the online catalog of your favorite manufacturer. The fashion magazines will be full of stock or “volunteer” photography, if the magazines still exist. And every workplace in the world will buy a photo booth for executive and employee photographs. Select your background and it will be seamlessly applied…

What’s my strategy? Sell stuff other people aren’t. Black-and-white portraits done on MF film. Technical work for the tech clients. Executive portraits for people who aren’t yet ready to make the march of shame into the photobooth. Shoots that require really good lighting and really good technique. And, of course, books that talk about the same. Or, maybe I’ll chuck it all and move the family to a little fishing village on the coast of Belize… (Kirk Tuck)

Think big. The challenge is to find a way to continue to produce quality original content, and to connect with your audience — not to hold on to the old, traditional way of doing things. So while the cloud may be falling, there’s plenty of blue sky above — and the possibilities are endless. Good luck. (Vincent Laforet)

  • Andy Umbo

    Found this of profound interest…my photographic career is coming to close, even tho I’m only 59. Always worked secondary markets, and those are the markets that have been devastated by digital and amateur shooters. These markets have poorly trained and educated clients to which working with properly stocked and trained professionals does NOT supersede price. I moved into management years ago, but even now, my market has virtually no fully employed people over 50, and no fully employed photographic managers over 50 either. In-house studios and creative departments are looking for people that are just out of college, and a person 5 years older than them to manage them. That’s why a lot of internal departments in my area are in chaos and have poor productivity.

    The paydays in this field, and in this market, can no longer support the digital equipment upgrades and replacements, and many have gone out of business after years of struggling.

    Back in the 70’s my area (1 million metro), had 4 large, multiple photographer studios, and about 25-30 “boutique” one-to-three person operations, and probably close to 6 to 8 internal corporate studios. Now it has one medium sized studio, with a few employees that hires day-rate pick-up (for $40.00 and hour) when it needs help, a couple of times a month; and virtually few other photographers, mostly working when they can, out of backpacks, maybe a few days a month, for half the day rate of the 1980’s, and being supported by their spouses. Only a few big corporate studios exist, and half their staffs are seasonal and “as-needed” freelance day-rate pick-up, no benefits or retirement.

    I agree with Kirk Tuck (shooting portraits on MF black & white film is what I do in my market as well), but you have to be in the correct market to sell that service to people with the personal education to understand it. You’re not going to be successful selling high end portraits (in a big enough clip to support you) in a dying midwestern blue collar town where even the college grads have no asthetic values! Being highly equipt for lighting doesn’t supersede people wanting to pay for it, either, or small agencies having a PhotoShop kid on site that’s just using your work as a skeleton to do a lot of lighting correction and “fixes” on. The agencies here don’t care if they get a “prosumer” shooter to do something for a hundred bucks, as long as their “kid” can fix or improve it in PhotoShop. They don’t care how beautiful your lighting is if they have to pay modern day-rates!

    Hate to say it, but the marketing statistics show that 30 years ago, photography had about 10% of the market making a high end income in rarified markets, about 20% of the people making nothing to poverty wages, and about 70% of the people making a strong middle-class income. Now 12% of the people are making big bucks, and the rest are making very low income to poverty! It certainly is NOT a field one goes into any more thinking that they can get themselves a nice middle class job and have a nice life…

  • Andy Umbo

    BTW, In America, it was reported a few weeks ago by the trade press, that since 2000, 48% of photojournalists lost their jobs, and where do they go? They start freelancing and stinking up your local photography market by desperately undercharging, driving more out of work…

  • With the exception of some sectors in finance and government everyone seems to have to work much harder today for less money. It’s no longer good enough to be a good photographer, you have to master editing and everything, you need video with all the extra gear involved, etc. etc.

    Back in the easier days a photo lab was printing film, that was it.