Paid Photography is Dead

Jeff hosts with Connor joining him at the roundtable to discuss the state of the photography industry from a career perspective. With smartphones, inexpensive but very good camera equipment, and computers automating post processing how is a young person with a dream to be a professional photography supposed to make it?

Topic 1: Master Photography Podcast Network

  • https://masterphotographypodcast.com/faq
  • Facebook group
    • Search for Improve Photography Podcast to find the group
    • To keep the bots and spammers out of the group you have to answer a question about naming a host on the podcast.  Either of our names, Jeff Harmon or Connor Hibbs, will work but if you don’t answer we won’t accept you to join the group.
  • Remind you that we are returning to the separate feeds for the podcasts on the network.  Photo Taco is out there and you can find everything related to that podcast at the home for the show at https://phototacopodcast.com.  Connor, why don’t you talk for a minute about the show you and Erica do on the network.  Portrait Session can be found at https://portraitsessionpodcast.com
  • We will be re-branding the Improve Photography Podcast to the Master Photography Podcast sometime between now and June.  So don’t worry when the album art and the name changes. Same show, same format, same everything. Just being rebranded.


Topic 2: Paid Photography Is Dead

    • We know with the thousands of photographers listening to this podcast that we have a diverse audience.  As I have been thinking about how to tackle our topic today I thought we could start of by talking about 4 main groups of listeners we know are out there for this podcast
      • Some are seasoned pros who have been making a living doing for photography for their entire lives
      • Some are like you Connor, pros making their living doing photography but didn’t start out that way
      • Some are like me, passionate hobbyists who got bit by the photography bug and have been doing it mostly for fun for a few years but do some paid work.
      • Last, those who just barely got bit by that bug and are just starting into making a decision about a career
    • I want to start out our discussion today with that last group.  The beginning photographer who has absolutely fallen in love with the art and has a dream to have photographer be their career and make a living.  Maybe they are in high-school. Maybe they are just graduating high-school and have to make some life choices about a job or college.


  • Connor, what do you think a person in that situation is likely to hear from friends and family if they asked about pursuing a career as a professional photographer?


  • Let’s have a bit of a debate here Connor.  I am going to argue that paid photography is dead and it isn’t.  So I am going to start off by saying that having photography be the sole source of income, is dead.  Everyone is a photographer these days.
    • You have the cell phone that has not only killed off the compact camera market but it also eliminated photography jobs.  Some a little more trivial, like the photographers you used to see at theme parks. Some more important to society like news media who used to have staff photographers but now give cell phones to the reporters because those are good enough.
    • You also have the problem with the accessibility of really good photography gear these days.  Really that is the reason I am doing a podcast about photography at all. I have talked a lot on the shows on our Podcast Network about how even the most entry level consumer cameras these days are plenty of camera to do some really incredible photography, which I love of course.  This accessibility of really good equipment at a fairly inexpensive price has lowered the barrier to entry to the point that you can’t make a solid living doing portrait work anymore.
    • Connor, let’s limit the discussion right now to just those who are at that first life decision point of deciding on a career and want it to be in photography, what do you say to them about my argument?
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  • Let’s shift the discussion to that next segment of our listeners, the hobbyist who has a day job that is paying the bills, but their heart is really in photography.  Let’s say they haven’t really done much paid work at all, mostly doing portraits of friends and family who gush over their photos. This is the place you and I both were at one point.  I made the decision to keep photography as a passionate hobby and do occasional paid portrait work. You made the decision to quit your day job and be a full time photographer. Connor, you did it a couple of years ago, can it still be done today and if it can be done today how long do you think that will last?
  • Let’s go over one more talking point before we wrap up the show.  I am going to argue that there is another game changer coming on that is threatening a career as a professional photographer – AI.  
    • Artificial Intelligence is threatening a lot of jobs and industries sort of like machinery and robots have done in previous stages of history.  There wasn’t the technology to allow a couple of guys like us to get together and record a podcast about it but I imagine there were a lot of discussions about the jobs that were going to be gone because of that progress and innovation.  We can look back on it now and say that while not entirely positive it has mostly been to our benefit. While it certainly eliminated jobs, others were created.
    • AI is something that I think is going to be just as disruptive to many industries, but we are seeing some incredible things in the photography industry in particular.
      1. There is the Sensei technology Adobe has that can with some photos automatically adjust them and make them incredible.  In other situations it assists the photographer in processing photos.
      2. There is the processing automatically happening on smartphones today with apps that take data from a really tiny sensor and enhance it to be something really, really good.
      3. Then there are some more extreme examples like the NVIDIA technology that recently demonstrated re-creating the portrait of a women who had more than half of her face obstructed, doing like the Photoshop content aware fill on steroids.
    • It may not be fully threatening photography careers today, but the way it is advancing another barrier to entry that exists today with the need for photographers to process their images could be lowered by AI to the point that you can use a phone to take a picture and have the AI process it into really professional quality results before they even put that phone back in their pocket.  Connor, how are photographers going to make a living when that is a reality?


  • Jeff: Kind of a stretch here, but it is slightly photography related.  SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick.  Normally $100 it is on sale on Amazon here in mid-May 2018 for $60 for 128GB.  It looks like a USB flash drive, and you can use it that way to plug into a computer and access the flash memory like you would any USB flash drive.  But it also has WiFi built into it and you can use a SanDisk app on your phone to move files to and from the flash drive that way as well. I am going to use it on a family vacation coming up for my kids to stream movies from it.  You could also use it to backup photos as you are on the go, or a way to get photos from your computer to your phone if you use a PC while on the go.
  • Connor: Diffusion fabric https://www.amazon.com/ALZO-Nylon-Diffusion-Fabric-Inches/dp/B0019HZQSO



  • masterphotographypodcast.com is the new home for the show, you will want to go there and check it out
  • Facebook group is Improve Photography Podcast, can search for it on Facebook or you can go to masterphotographypodcast.com and there are links there.  To keep the bots out you have to answer a question naming a host of a show on the network. Either of our names will work and that is Jeff Harmon and Brent Bergherm.
  • Find Jeff’s work at jsharmonphotos.com, phototacopodcast.com, subscribe to Photo Taco
  • Find Connor’s work at https://www.connorhibbs.photography/, subscribe to the Portrait Session podcast at https://portraitsessionpodcast.com.

3 thoughts on “Paid Photography is Dead”

  1. Dennis Pritchett

    Jeff, I’m a hobbyist like you. I’ve made a couple trips to the Canadian Rockies in the past week, and my iphone could not have filled in for any of the 1000+ photos I took of the wildlife, and a couple of landscapes. for instance, with 300mm on an APS-C body, I’m using 480mm; no smartphone has that capability, and with a sensor of 24mp, I can crop well into the images; can’t do it with a smartphone image. Also, a viewfinder of some sort is essential for this type of photography. I have a Canon 77D, and in any bright conditions forget using the excellent LCD for choosing a focus point, such as an eye. Composition also still needs the photographer’s input. We’ve had excellent “Auto” modes on our cameras for years, but who uses them? I don’t; I’m sure you still choose your camera settings also. The main camera manufacturers need to do some catch-up with smartphones in the software areas, they’re so far behind. I’ve looked, and there is no smartphone on the market yet that even comes close to what entry level DSLRs are capable of. I think smartphones have opened up a whole new world of photography for many people who would never have done any if not for the simple process of using the smartphone. I was an airline pilot for 40 years; started on a Canso waterbomber, and finished on Airbusses, and many in between; they were all airplanes, and they all required trained pilots. News papers, news networks, and some magazines, and also consumers, are willing to accept a much lower quality product as long as the price is lower; the same goes for the travelling public.

    1. @Dennis,

      Could agree with you more. Connor and I were reacting to a lot of reports in other photography media outlets discussing this issue. I was pointing out the arguments that are being made by many that the role of a photographer is being snuffed out by technology. In same ways there is some truth to that. In many ways a human element is always going to produce better technology and the key is for the humans who want to do photography to adapt to the technology and incorporate it into their workflow.

      As an example, it wouldn’t have been very long ago the equipment available to you to do the photography you are would have been out of reach for a hobbyist. It has enabled you to get involved in the art (woohoo!) but has made it less likely you will purchase art from other photographers because you are producing it yourself. The technology has had something of a negative impact on the number of people who would be interested in buying photographers, though if the photographer is good enough at their craft and can get photos a hobbyist with your gear has a tough time reproducing, they have a better chance of getting that sale in spite of the lower barrier to entry.

      Our final position was that paid photography done by humans is going to live a VERY long life regardless of the technology advancements that keep coming. Some are at a more mature point than others today, but it will continue to improve. Photographers can make money doing photography all along the way if they choose to adapt to the changing technology, embrace it, and find a way to incorporate it yet add their value as only a human can on top. Paid photography is dead, long live paid photography 🙂

  2. Great episode. I hear other photographers complaining that there are so many cheap photographers out there. My response is that BMW and Mercedes make expensive cars and people buy them. Be a BMW or Mercedes, not a Toyota or Honda.

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