Who needs professional photographers?

Tony Sleep, freelance photographer and a moderator of Editorial Photographers UK, discusses whether replacing the darkroom with digital has removed the idea that training, equipment and experience are needed to do the job professionally

Pro photographers have an image problem, they seldom appear in the media as thoughtful, skilled professionals, most often as uncouth aggressive chancers and invaders of privacy.

Marketing of all digital cameras, software and computers majors on how easy it is to produce “professional” results, this has also had a profound effect on our art by telling the public that it is the product that solves the problem. Technique has been displaced by automation.

I know 10 or so amateurs who have good incomes and jobs and have better kit than most struggling pros. Always the latest, the most recent software upgrades, printers etc.

It would be a mistake to think all of them have no idea what to do with this stuff, a couple are exceptional photographers. Most sell on Alamy, carry out occasional assignments for friends or employers, sell prints, or teach.

They don’t do it to make money so much as give them purpose, kudos and a sense of achievement and identity. They pitch pricing at achieving those aims, rather than the higher amounts they would need to live on. If the kit pays for itself and helps them buy the next upgrade, they’re happy.

At the low end, the only requirement of photographs is that they be recyclable clip art. Photoshop guarantees almost anything is suitable raw material. Little is required in terms of world-view, thought, or ideas, to realise any of the above, just mess about with layers and filters for a while. The professional skill of producing a communicative image is of little relevance for much of the market.

Good, interesting and thoughtful work is still being done in spades but the economic basis that once supported it has been cut away. Good photography is simply beyond economic sense now for a majority of clients.

If it’s sharp, colourful, waved in approximately the right direction and cheap or free it’s fit for the purpose and the financial director will love it. Digital delivers that. Who needs pros?

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The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policy of the SJA