Are smartphones rendering professional photographers jobless?

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By: Hezron Ochiel

When I was a little kid, we had one photo man in my village.  

Armed with a small bag draped around his neck—carrying his tools of the trade—a camera, reels of film, and uncollected photos, the photo man would preserve our childhood memories on paper.

Back then, there weren’t memory cards, the images had to be stored on a “negative” which would later be taken to a studio to be “washed”.

Today, I see many such photographers, thanks to the advent of digital cameras and smartphones.

My friend, a photographer for years, says the future looks bleak as smartphones continue to destroy careers for professional photographers (if they still exist) and render them jobless.

He says, in those yesteryears, he would take home Kshs 100,000 (US$1,000) on a good weekend, but that is no more lately where he barely takes home even a quarter of that.

I partly agree with him that the profession is under siege.

I was a print journalist for close to six years, and I witnessed how the rise of such smartphones was giving photojournalists sleepless nights.

Way before phone technology flooded the African markets, professional photographers, and by extension, photojournalists were in high demand. 

They say a picture is worth 1000 words.

Well-composed and compelling photos accompanying an article would grab readers’ attention.

The day I acquired a smartphone was a turning point in my career as I was able to gather stories alongside taking pictures.

I henceforth stopped tagging along with photojournalists when I was out in the field gathering stories.

It didn’t make any sense as involving a photojournalist as my smartphone would produce equally professional photos.  

Revolution

As smartphones transition into highly-capable image-capturing devices, it is easy to believe that proliferation of camera phone technology could be the death knell of professional photographers.

Some latest models of smartphone cameras are outperforming top-of-the-line compact cameras.

iPhone 7 Plus, for instance, is coming up with new features – dual lenses (one standard wide-angle lens and one telephoto lens to capture portraits).

Other smartphone manufacturers are similarly developing larger sensors to appeal to the photography market.

With improved image quality and numerous options to capture complex scenes using HDR, some photographers might think that a smartphone is all they need to get professional results.

Lately, it is no big deal to see people whipping their smartphones to capture memorable events like weddings, workshops, or even company retreats.

To me, there is a seismic shift in the photography business. The industry is amid a major shakeup.

Given this dire situation, I believe professional photographers should not feel threatened. 

In those early days, photographers were obsessed with high resolution and the number of pixels.

Today, people are more interested in art – the ability to tell a story using photos. 

Does the image work for you? 

Everyone is asking this question.

Bear in mind that you’re a storyteller in your well-composed stunning images. Any Dick and Hurry can’t do this.

Work on picture quality

Even though smartphones perform well outdoors, they still have teething problems in low-lit indoor setups.

According to the latest reviews, iPhone tends to grab more information about the background than a DSLR Canon, and as such, the background is a lot darker and has more definition in the trees than the DSLR shots, which blow out the light between the trees for a more stylized effect.

But since good photos are captured in natural light, that means that one has to turn off the artificial light in a room.

This, however, can prove a challenge for even highly sophisticated smartphones like iPhone 7 plus because they lack manual control settings. 

If the review is anything to go by, DSLRs are still superior to iPhones when taking pictures.

This consequently means that professional cameras will still be needed in the market for some time. 

With diminishing demand for photography, one important question clients will be asking is: What can you give them that they can’t get with their smartphones? 

Most new or aspiring photographers are inconsistent and have no business experience. When you hire them, they will undercharge you to beat the competition.

According to some experts, successful photographers will be the photographers who adapt to the changing marketplace, who specialize, who stand apart, and who put in lots of hard work adapting to technological changes, marketing their business, and attracting their ideal client. 

Note to readers: This article was originally published by this author on epicentermedia in 2016.  

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