In 2014, there were 121,900 professional photographers in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2024, this number will grow to 128,800, the BLS projects. The rise of amateur freelancers, the decline of the print newspaper industry and availability of stock photographs will all contribute to the slow growth outlook for the photography profession.
Another factor that will disrupt the industry is the emergence of automation. For those working in photography and graphic design, this raises the question of whether photography automation will soon make professional photographers outdated.
The Smartphone Camera Revolution
The increasing sophistication of smartphone cameras has put technology in the hands of amateurs. The Samsung Galaxy S7 along with its S7 edge counterpart, represents the current cutting edge of smartphone cameras, includes features that enable amateurs to create professional-quality pictures.
A digital grid view lets users easily apply the rule of thirds when selecting composition. Dual-pixel autofocus empowers rapid automated focusing, and point of focus can be selected by simply touching the viewing screen. HDR and flash options allow automated adjustment of lighting conditions even for low-light shoots. Timer and voice-activated features serve to trigger shots. Built-in filters allow for easy editing of shots for enhanced effects. Case accessories turn the S7 into a wide-angle or zoom lens camera.
These are just a few of the photography tools smartphones — including the iPhone 7 and Google Pixel — are starting to incorporate. With all this available for the price of a smartphone, it has become difficult to distinguish amateur from professional equipment.
The Rise of the Professional Amateur
Affordable access to this type of equipment has given rise to the “professional amateur photographer.” Portrait photography and commercial photography will drive demand. Job seekers will increasingly face competition from skilled amateurs and freelancers.
Meanwhile, robot cameras will also begin to perform more tasks traditionally handled by humans, predicts photography teacher Jeffrey Opp. The ability of smartphone cameras to automate exposure illustrates how professional photography tasks can be mechanized. Toll booth robots that photograph license plates demonstrate that robot photographers are already here. The Sony Party Shot is an accessory that provides a base that can work with a camera to pan, tilt, detect faces, take a picture when a subject smiles, and compose a picture following the principles of the rule of thirds.
All this points toward professional photography going away. Amateurs with professional equipment will take jobs and clients away from professionals, as employers turn toward freelancers and robots.
The Changing Role of Professional Photographers
This doesn’t mean professionals will become obsolete; Opp foresees the role changing. Professional photographers will stand out from amateurs not so much for the cameras they use but for their skill in handling high-tech photography equipment and software, just as a professional accountant can make better use of QuickBooks than the average business owner even though both have access to the same software.
A wedding photographer could use Sony’s Party Shot to shoot pictures of guests and then use software to edit the photos. Other automated tools can serve to collect shots throughout the wedding from multiple angles, providing the photographer with material to edit and shape into a professional scrapbook. Professional photographers can employ automated equipment and robots to work for them and make their job easier, freeing them to focus on the creative side of their craft.
The best candidates for future photography jobs will be photographers who supplement their camera skills with other skills, such as editing photos and capturing digital videos. As in other professions, the ability to upgrade your skill set will make you more competitive in the emerging future marketplace.