Week 3: the Professions of Photography

Among the many questions asked this week were how non-photographers and the general public view the “professions of photography”.

We are a long way from Rear Window and Blow Up these days. It’s not an easy question to answer because I suspect that society is now so split into tribes and specialisations, exacerbated by pre-digital versus digital, that there is no overall view other than that “professionals” earn their living from what they do.

Few probably like paparazzi, but few probably see a wedding or corporate events photographer in the same way or even associate them with paparazzi. Similarly, a cadre of YouTube and Instagram photography stars make a handsome living from their video reviews and other work, but these trendy social influencers are probably not greatly associated with gritty war photography or sweaty sports togs wrestling in the pit. And even quite mainstream landscape and fine arts photographers may make more of their income from tutorials and workshops than from traditional print sales.

So the message is stay nimble and be prepared to adapt. Photography may be seen in a fairly utilitarian way today, simply as a way to get your message out there, promote the business (or yourself), sell your stuff whether by video or by still image. And when allied to numerous apps which help with presentation (filters, merging, cropping, airbrushing, etc.) and establishing a presence online then photography as a sales and marketing tool becomes accessible to the many not the few. This is the democratising influence of the smartphone at work. Arguably, it has started to erase photography as a distinct discipline or set of disciplines at all. A smartphone can open a shop on Etsy but a camera can’t.

Crowd-sourcing is another development from the smartphone and social media. If everyone pools their images of an event or say of a wedding in a space online, then the case for involving a seasoned pro becomes even weaker. There are just no easy answers here.

I don’t think any of this has had much influence on how I go about my practice. I do what I do, largely because it’s for pleasure not for a living. However, of course I have been influenced by the huge quantity of ideas, styles and articles available on the Internet. Instagram turned me on to some very fine wildlife photographers and wildlife photography is something I aspire to do more of. Instagram also turned me on to some fine smartphone photographers among them the writer William Dalrymple and Dimpy Bhalotia. Theirs too is work I would like to emulate.

I don’t personally find change or technical innovation a problem. I welcome them, in fact. I like the WYSIWYG electronic viewfinders on modern mirrorless cameras, for example. I love the new ideas and experimentation which emerge from smartphone photography. Problem versus opportunity is a choice.

Dimpy Bhalotia is on Instagram as @dimpy.bhalotia

Dalrymple, William (2016). The writer’s eye. London: HarperCollins