There was a time when being a professional photographer meant that you were just that, a photographer. But is that still the case today and does this profession still exist? If it doesn’t, does that mean that anyone who takes photos can call themselves a professional photographer?
The whole photography industry has changed more in the last 20 years than arguably in the previous 100. First, there was the digital revolution when those of us who learned the art of photography using film were suddenly archaic. It was a case of adapting or getting left behind. The next big change was smartphones, which meant every person in the world with one could take photos.
The combination of this accessibility and photography in general, becoming more affordable (anyone who ever shot with film will remember too well the costs involved) meant there was an explosion in the number of photographers and photos. And like any commodity, the more there is of something and the greater the competition and the lower the price becomes.
These factors have eroded the fees that photographers and photos command. So much so, that very few photographers these days can just live off their photography alone. Many have turned to teaching whether that is online, via eBooks or even on workshops. Some photographers now also write in their respective fields and don’t even supply photos for the articles they write. And there are even some that combine photography with other jobs like for example videography, design, and public speaking.
So the question is, if a photographer doesn’t earn most of their income from photography, are they still a professional photographer?
For example, I have earned more money from writing assignments – most of which are travel articles – in the last 5 years than I have from actually selling photos or paid photography commissions. So should I now be calling myself a writer rather than a photographer?
I have debated this topic many times with others and the only thing that I have concluded is that I still have no 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 make you automatically more qualified than someone who isn’t a pro?
There is no doubt that these days there are some incredibly talented photographers in all genres. Some of the creativity I see is truly inspirational. But some of these photographers have never sold a photo or had any paid commissions. I know of one photographer friend of mine whose main photography income is through photography-related affiliate links on her blog. She earns far more than I do.
I guess what I am trying to define in my mind is if the job title of a professional photographer still exists in today’s multimedia world. Or should we as photographers be looking to reinvent ourselves and our genre as creatives? These days, on a shoot, my work might include photography, writing, videos and even recently social media content. So actual photography only forms 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 solely on their photography to earn a living. There are of course a very select few out there who may be lucky enough to still do so, but I do feel that they are possibly 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, end the notion of a “professional photographer”.