Why There Will Always be a Need for a Professional Photographer

People have been predicting the end of things since the beginning of time. Millenia ago people have been planning for the destruction of Earth or even the universe as we know it. Television was supposed to kill the radio, and internet is being touted as the harbinger of death for print. 

And with the smart phone, everyone is now a photographer.

Firstly I would contend that actually all of us have the makings of a photographer, because photography captures life, and everyone experiences life through our eyes and heart. This gives us the sense of what looks pleasing, and thus an idea of good photography composition.  

Secondly the smart phone is a tool that makes photography more accessible. Is that good? Definitely. Now people have the means to record daily their children growing up, or to capture a live event of which they may not have a means of remembering before. There’s another factor here that hasn’t received as much attention - artificial intelligence. 

It’s predicted (again) that artificial intelligence will render a good proportion of current jobs obsolete by 2030. Automatic procedures, and jobs wired deep with facts and processes are supposedly those most susceptible to influence from artificial intelligence. 

Can AI and the spread of smartphone cameras affect the livelihood of a professional photographer? Yes and no. Here’s why not:

1. Photography Still Needs to be Original.

If you were managing an advertising campaign that had to stand out beyond everything else, creating unique visuals would be a must. Otherwise why not just go to stock agencies and get images that many other companies are using? Artificial Intelligence can do that well. Input some parameters and keywords of what you’re looking for, and it will find great, beautiful photos for you to use. 

However creativity requires thinking outside of the box. Until we reach the singularity, AI cannot achieve that. Creative endeavours will continue to be safe from automation for at least a while longer.

2. Photography Requires Human Empathy

When photographing a person, you just can’t get a machine to do it. Well, actually there are already machines doing that, they’re called instant passport photo booths. Have you seen the expressions that come from those photos? 

Working with models and talent is not just about direction. If they can’t feel or imagine what you are telling them, then they’re not going to be able to perform to their highest standard. Can you imagine a photo booth machine directing a film set or photo production? No one would listen to it. 

3. Smartphones Will Always Have More Limitations than Professional Cameras

Technology improves at an exponential rate. Just 15 years ago a 128MB (yes megabyte) thumb drive was cutting edge and cost over $100. Today a 4GB capacity drive is considered too small. The same goes for smartphone cameras. Megapixel counts are going up, with dual cameras and large apertures being used. I’ve read reviews of the iPhone X and Google Pixel 2, and they are really impressive. 

But in that same time frame, professional cameras and lighting have improved tremendously. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are spitting highly detailed and crisp 50 megapixel images, and shooting 4K video as an afterthought. No night scene is impossible now, with ISO usable up to 25600. 15 years ago professionals would not dare go beyond ISO 800. 

———————

Now here’s what I start to worry, because some predictions do come true. Can a professional photographer become obsolete? Here’s how it might happen:

1. AI Grows Beyond our Imagination

So many top corporations are developing AI, and there are already useful applications in photography. For example in editing, AI can auto-correct not just exposure, but perhaps even cropping and colour toning. AI can remove watermarks and knows what to smoothen and what not to on a person’s face. If you think about it, technology is amazing but scary. It’s not inconceivable that AI can one day take a great photo (by itself) without instruction or parameters. 

I just read this article about AI merging photos into composites, and the results are amazing. Such a thing would be unheard of just two years ago, so you can already imagine what will become reality in the coming years.

2. Perceived Value of Photography Becomes Too Low

A professional photographer needs to make enough money to earn a living. However with the widespread penetration of smartphone cameras and AI, the public may start to perceive photography as a cheap skill without much value. 

Photographers would then be unable to earn enough because clients are unwilling to match the price needed to stay profitable. When that happens, there’ll be a market correction - either professional photographers stop existing as a vocation, or there’d be such a small number left who can take on the few clients that are willing to pay. 

——————–

It’s an exciting time for photography, but it’s also tumultuous for us professionals. I’ve been shooting for 8 years now and there hasn’t been a time when my business felt safe in the long term. No matter where it will lead, I hope we will press on and stay optimistic.