Hudson Brown looks at recent photography industry shifts and what that means for photographers looking to earn a living from their camera.
In a 2015 Time article, it was argued: “It’s not that photography is dead as many have claimed, but it’s gone.” And sometimes it’s hard to argue with that fact. Photography has undoubtedly undergone some major upheaval over the previous 20 years. Whether it was the onset of digital photography, the demise of film or the emergence of social media, nowadays it seems that a career in photography is anything but stable. But despite a plethora of reasons that should lead creative types elsewhere, countless people continue to study and pursue photography as a profession.
As many seasoned photographers have struggled to navigate the new realities of the industry, many have looked inwards to figure out where things turned south. It’s hard to look beyond the arrival of digital photography, which broke down many of the foundations holding up the industry. In the past, most professional photographers needed to have a learned understanding of dynamic range, colour temperature and lighting, plus a mastery of the darkroom. That’s not to say that the new wave of photographers isn’t talented, but that their focus is freed up for other considerations as DSLRs handle many of these tasks, while software can be used for most others.
“As these changes have occurred fresh opportunities have appeared and photographers have needed to adapt to make the most of these new realities.”
This unprecedented access to the photographic industry has brought about a rapid influx of talented photographers like never seen before. And in most areas, this increased competition has led to a shrinking effect on the market as newcomers have lowered prices to lure in less discerning clients. But it’s not all doom and gloom; as these changes have occurred fresh opportunities have appeared and photographers have needed to adapt to make the most of these new realities.
One example is Adelaide-based travel and lifestyle photographer Jack Brookes. Graduating from university four years ago, Brookes’ reputation has continued to grow as he has embedded himself within the industry. Starting out freelancing in-between photography classes, over the last two years, he’s found a steady stream of work as an assistant and a photographer. “I was pretty naive to how challenging [photography] is to begin with,” says Brookes on his early-career experience. “But I found my start by saying yes to as many opportunities as I could. I tried to gather a few clients while also assisting on local shoots as I studied.”
But these ad-hoc gigs weren’t exactly financially satisfying with Brooks realising that if he was going to make it as a professional he’d need to soak up more experience. “I took up assisting a photographer who had been in the industry for more than 25 years,” explains Brookes. “I guess I’m still in the middle of making my way into the industry. But like starting any business, it’s definitely challenging, and as fun as it is, you’ve still got bills to pay.”
While Brookes remains relatively new to the industry, the role that Instagram and social media has had on the industry has been felt clearly in his own work, as well as the broader photographic landscape. “Social media has encouraged so many to pick up photography, and some have become uber-successful by building an audience on those platforms as a result,” describes Brookes.
Yet it’s not uncommon to hear groans from seasoned professionals about this change in particular. But for emerging photographers such as Brookes, he believes that the benefits are there for all to see.
“I think for photography as a medium [social media] has definitely been a positive. People are getting to document things more than ever before but without such a hassle and learning curve. It means more people are being creative, which is only a good thing,” says Brookes.
“As new photography trends emerge and others fade away, photography as a creative medium isn’t dead or gone, it’s simply changing again.”
However, he also understands where these murmurs of discontent come from having experienced, and spoken to others, about the ‘lack of education’ that some newcomers have shown when working in the industry.
“It’s something I’ve chatted about with senior photographers who have seen the same trends. Unfortunately, social media can devalue photography, but some of these trends aren’t all negative,” says Brookes. “With social media, there are companies looking to do all sorts of different things to stand out – and they need photographers to help them do so.”
As new photography trends emerge and others fade away, photography as a creative medium isn’t dead or gone, it’s simply changing again. And as Brookes suggests, photographers need to update their skills and find ways to separate themselves from the crowd if they want to stay relevant. Recently, Brookes has been exploring how drone photography might provide a powerful new perspective within his creative process.
“My approach has been always trying to learn more. Whether it’s creative or technical skills, post-processing or business approaches,” says Brookes. “Particularly at this starting point of a career where I am, I think you really need to hone in on those things that show people that your work has value.”
Just being a talented photographer is no longer enough to stand out from the crowd. But while it’s true there are perhaps more photographers than ever to compete with, those that test the boundaries of the industry and find new ways to innovate set themselves up for success. Whether it’s keeping up with lifestyle and cultural trends or making the most of new technology, discovering your own voice and a fresh perspective is key to finding relevance in the ever-evolving landscape of photography.