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In this video with Patrick and Lee from Fstoppers, we discuss the current state of the photography industry in regards to trends, etc., and we share our thoughts on where we think it’s going. Disclaimer: This video was filmed and edited prior to the declaration of the global pandemic, COVID-19. Patrick and Lee are well known for their work in education, but they’ve also owned and operated successful photography studios and they know what it takes to be successful in this industry. Our goal through this discussion is to look at how the photography industry is changing to help you protect your job as a professional photographer in the years to come.

Please Note: We filmed this episode before the COVID-19 virus reached pandemic levels. While the trajectory has shifted for professional photographers as a result of the pandemic, you will still find useful information in the discussion, especially related to market trends and how photographers approach photography. Toward the end of the article, we have included links to recent articles specifically regarding the impact on photographers as well as sources for helping photographers through this turbulent time. 

Here are some of the key takeaways from the video, broken down under three general topics:

Don’t Rely on Quality Alone to Differentiate Your Work

  • Photography Gear Vs. Photographer Skill: Cameras and editing software have seen massive improvements, which puts into question the photographer’s role in producing great imagery, especially in terms of shooting in natural light. Many pros are shooting with natural light and achieving incredible results that would’ve only been possible previously using state of the art lighting equipment along with good old-fashioned know-how. The dynamic range in RAW files shot on the latest cameras, along with advancements in editing applications like Lightroom, make it easier than ever to take a photo from ordinary to extraordinary, and more photographers are putting out high-quality photos.
  • Process Vs. Results: Despite whether you capture photos the old-fashioned way, setting up lights and making adjustments to get everything right in-camera, or use the latest tools to perfect an image in post, clients just want great images. The shift in what it takes to achieve great images (see the point above) may fundamentally change how photographers approach a shoot. Will photographers continue to learn and apply lighting techniques using expensive lighting gear if they can quickly fire a snapshot and beautify it in post? That may depend on how much time they want to spend doing post-production work.
  • Access to Education: Compared to ten years ago, photographers have access to a lot more educational resources. In the past, photographers kept their secrets to themselves, leaving hard-to-get apprenticeships or college courses as the only avenues to learn advanced techniques. Nowadays, aspiring photographers have a world of affordable, high-quality education at their fingertips. While not everyone will take advantage, more photographers have easy access to improve their technique, which is another way the market will remain competitive.
  • DSLR Vs. Mirrorless Vs. Smartphones: In addition to how it affects the way a photographer shoots, advancements in camera technology may also affect which cameras photographers turn to in the first place. We’ve already seen mirrorless cameras disrupt the DSLR market, and smartphones have made a splash on the professional scene as well (if only in certain genres and campaigns). However, as the tech continues to improve, the core piece of equipment in a photographer’s bag, the camera, may not look anything like it has in the past. This is true for both photographers and cinematographers.

Your Product Is the Client Experience

  • Quality Images Vs. Quality Experience: Given the leveled playing field, gear wise, those who pin their careers on producing quality images without seriously considering the value of quality customer interaction will likely find themselves in trouble. Achieving incredible results with finished photos (whether through in-camera techniques or post-processing trickery) may become easier to do, but giving clients the experience they want to associate with the images will remain an art worth practicing and may ultimately decide which photographers find greater success. This will prove true in some genres more than others, such as wedding photography, where client experience is an especially strong differentiator between photographers.

Be Ready to Adopt New Skills

  • Photographers Vs. Influencers: More and more, successful photographers are equal parts photographer, editor, and creative marketer. In today’s market, whether for wedding or commercial photographers, one key to success rests in photographers’ ability to share their content with a wide audience, particularly across social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and others. Even with amazing content, talented photographers may get lost in the noise without building a following on these platforms. At the end of the day, a sizable following adds credibility and an avenue for exposure, and clients value being part of a larger community.
  • Traditional Marketing Vs. Social Media Marketing: Social media platforms have created a pathway for photographers that never existed before. Previously, photographers needed agents to get commercial jobs, or they’d attend bridal shows to get wedding clients and so on. Now, social media allows photographers to get work based on the following they’ve built while sharing personal, un-commissioned projects.
  • Professional Photographer Vs. Photo Enthusiast: If you’re trying to decide whether or not to make a career in photography, consider the changes above, as well as the inevitable changes to come, and weigh those realities against your personal interests. Becoming a professional photographer is no longer solely based on how well you use your gear to capture amazing images. Are you willing to wear multiple professional hats and adapt to a quickly evolving photography industry? As Lee states, “If you want it to be a job, then treat it like a job. A lot of doing a job is doing things you don’t want to do.”

Related Reading for Current Photography Industry Trends

Like so many industries, professional photography has been hit hard in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic. We’ve put together a list of articles from our site that address the impact of COVID-19 on the photography industry and offer guidance to photographers for navigating this turbulent time.

In the next month, SLR Lounge is going to launch a series of 100% free business resources and education on our website, so keep an eye out for that.