ChromaticSoul :: The Blog

Is Professional Photography Still a Viable Career?

Posted on: 23 November 2007

Paul Indigo puts himself “on the line” recently with his latest thoughts about professional photography. This is an interesting read and has some good discussion to go with it.

Let’s first look at his title:

How does one define “Professional Photography?” or how do you distinguish a “professional” photographer from an “enthusiast” photographer or a “non-professional” photographer?

Paul says, “The enthusiast takes pictures because they want to and they like it. The pro takes photographs to put food on the table. ” defines a professional as, “following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain.” Sounds a lot like what Paul describes. Also on, an enthusiast is defined as, “a person who is filled with enthusiasm for some principle, pursuit, etc.” Well, that too sounds like Paul’s definition. However, here are a couple of questions to consider:

  1. Is not a professional, first an enthusiast?
  2. Must you lose your enthusiasm for photography to become a professional?
  3. If you make money from your photography, no matter how much or how little, does that make you a professional?
  4. Is there a certain amount or percentage of your income that must be earned through the profession before one can be called a “professional photographer?”

All right then, let’s move on. Looking back at the title we have the phrase “still a viable career.” This implies that at some point professional photography was a viable career and we are now contemplating whether or not things have changed to enough to make a career in professional photography viable. This is a bit more challenging. First, what’s viable? Back to for that definition: “capable of being done with means at hand and circumstances as they are.” Wow, what low standards or so it seems. My understanding then is that a viable career is one in which the individual can simply accomplish the goal–survive. This doesn’t mean can you get rich being a photographer; it just means can you establish an occupation or profession as a photographer.

Ok, so now back to the “still” part of that phrase. I have to admit, this did catch my attention, so for my state (California) I did some research. I wanted to know what the trend for photographers is. That’s just the sociologist in me I guess. From the EDD website for California I found the following:

The following information is from the California Projections of Employment published by the Labor Market Information Division for Photographers.

Estimated number of workers in 1993 9,260
Estimated number of workers in 2005 11,720
Projected Growth 1993-2005 27%
Estimated openings due to separations by 2005 2,600

(These figures do not include self-employment or openings due to turnover.)

This occupation is expected to grow about as fast as the average occupation through 2005. The job market for Photographers is very competitive. About as many openings will arise from the need to replace Photographers who leave the occupation as are created by job creation. There are, however,more qualified Photographers than there are job openings.

That was 1998 but the rest of the article is certainly worth a read. It includes information like working conditions, entrance requirements, training, advancement, and more. For more recent data (again for California only) check out this link. It shows that the profession is expected to grow by 8.5% between 2004 and 2014.

So where does this leave us?

Well, I think it’s important to read the article (or any blog for that matter) with an open mind. Paul presents some good ideas and if you don’t read it with your own prejudices firmly in place you may see it for what it is–his opinion on how the market/profession is changing or has changed in his neck of the woods (the UK).

I have to say there were some very good comments to this post. A sampling of my favorite include:

“…The thing I’ve learned from these experiences is that every career is subject to a shake-up from advances in technology that lower the bar for entry. Those who embrace it, and push the limits – specializing as they go – often ride out the storm and go on to maintain successful careers. Sure it sucks for a while, but in the end, the wheat will be separated from the chafe and the profession will experience a rebound.”

“…I must point out that the portrait studios that churn out generic portraits have been around for a VERY long time. This is nothing new, and has next to nothing to do with the digital revolution….”

“…the real problem I have with comments like this is causes people who you label “enthusiasts” to continually apologize for their mere existence.”

“…If you are passionate about something, take pride in it! Who cares if it accounts for only 50% (or 10%, or 0%) of your income….”


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