I was working with a photographer yesterday. Like all professional photographers I am in awe of his talent, the ability to see light and shadow, understand exposure and perfect framing just by looking at something always impresses me.
On the drive out to the shoot our conversation turned to the problems we were each facing and he made what I thought was a very surprising comment; in a few years time there won’t be a need for any professional photographers.
Obviously I disagreed, its an insane stance of course we’ll still need professional photographers, 99% of amateur photography is terrible and could never be used professionally. However he went on to explain that the changes he’s seen in the last 15 years have convinced him it is a dying trade, Photoshop in particular is altering what we can all do.
Well we’ve always been able to touch up photographs I countered, i remember being astonished when attending a Cartier-Bresson retrospective and seeing his original prints and his published prints and realising how much work had been done to them. Yes, he agreed, but the person who did that had real talent, skills most of us could never equal even if we spent every day of our lives trying, with Photoshop you can correct exposure, shadow, and lighting pretty easily with only a little experience and with a lot of experience you can make a photograph look entirely different. One of the reasons we now have models stretching their careers into their late 30s is because of the ease you can ‘improve’ a photograph in post production. Even today many inexpensive digital cameras have built in red-eye correction and offer the option of adjusting the lighting and exposure on your pictures, some even do this without your knowledge. Also, he argued, everyone now has a camera, children have them from a very young age, they are in your phone, you get disposable ones, kids upload photos to the web, share them, comment on them and discard them just as quickly. Basically little value is put on them now, the actual tangible image is rarely even produced and when it is it’s from a cheap printer or an unmanned booth in a convenience store. Modern photography could be compared to writing in many ways, at one time only a select and revered group of monks could write, dedicating their lives to producing tomes of such stunning beauty people still pay money to view them today. Eventually the skill spread through society and as the printing process advanced and paper became affordable the the number of people writing increased so that less thought was given to the aesthetic and more to the content. This continued until we get to the point today where anyone can start a blog and impart their thoughts on any subject to the entire world with no qualifications, experience or authority; a bit like I’m doing just now actually.
I had this thought in my mind when I read that the Sun newspapaer, still the biggest daily in the UK, is starting an online radio station. Digital is such a cross media platform that a website for a newspaper really doesn’t resemble a newspaper in any way so a move into ‘radio’ isn’t actually what they’re doing, they’re taking their content and offering it to you in a different format, but from the same source. We’re calling it radio because we need to put it into a context we are familiar with but in reality it’s the Sun newspaper editorial line in a spoken format, something you’ll hear for real in canteens, white vans and factories the length of the UK everyday anyway. Will it work though. Well if they think all they have to do is have someone speak their words it won’t. If they employ the best producers, technicians, audio equipment and presenters, give real thought to the content, how it differs when read compared to being spoken, how it scans, the tone of voice used, the accent even then it might work, but only if they use and listen to professionals.
It’s for that reason I don’t think professional photography will die, it will simply evolve, the smart ones will see that and adjust their offering to suit but the skills they have, the skills that set them apart from us amateurs, are the skills that will ensure they remain in demand for a long time to come. The demand for beautiful photography won’t change, it’s simply how we want to appreciate it that will and that sounds like an opportunity to me.