Old school photographers might have experience, contacts and a bag full of equipment built up over the years, but young photographers now have an important advantage. While shooters who picked up their first camera more than a decade ago may be a dab hand in a darkroom that’s now been turned back into a closet, younger types tend to be more familiar with Photoshop and digital manipulation. When it comes to digitally preparing images for sale, they’re faster, more creative and less sensitive to the pain. Older photographers have had to learn to adapt. The need for Photoshop skills though are now well-known. Less familiar is a host of new techniques that photographers will have to master if they’re to stay on top of their industry and continue to make money out of their images in the future.
1. On-Screen Imaging
Photoshop allows photographers to make corrections to their images and to prepare them for sale. Although the image editing software also allows for complete image manipulation, that sort of work is usually left to the designers. The photographer might clean up the image but the creation is still done in-camera. The degree of image-making photographers will be expected to do on-screen, though, may be about to expand in entirely new directions.
Lytro is a new camera company planning to release the first commercial “light field” camera later this year. The camera contains an array of hundreds of thousands of microlenses placed between a wide-aperture lens and the digital image sensor. Algorithms on the computer’s software then identify the path taken by each ray as it strikes a microlens, determine its direction and calculate how the light would have appeared if the sensor were nearer to or further from the lens. The result is a live image that can be refocused after it’s been taken, changing the depth of field.
For photographers, that won’t change everything, and it won’t change anything at all just yet. At the moment, Lytro’s images are only a grainy 525 x 525 pixels, which makes them useful for the Web but unusable in print. And the power of a great picture will still lie in the composition. But the technology will develop, so that as they line up their shots photographers will no longer have to worry about where to place the focus. That will make for faster shooting and more options after the shutter has been released.
“Light field cameras unleash the power of the light, so you don’t have to go through the pain of taking 50 pictures to get that really great one,” the company says.
When it comes to selling, the question is whether buyers will prefer live images that allow them to choose their own focal point or an image whose center of focus has been set by the photographer. The preference might not be as obvious as it sounds. Some microstock photographers have already found that they can increase sales simply by reversing an image they’re already offering. Editorial photographers might be happy to shoot fast and let the editors decide how to finish the product, but stock photographers might well find themselves shooting once then creating multiple images on the screen from a single, fast shot. They’re going to be spending even more time in front of the monitor and less time behind the lens.
2. Online Networking
Facebook and Twitter have already brought benefits to professional photography. Businesses hoping to advertise can use Facebook’s ads to reach demographics as targeted as engaged women, aged 25-35 within 50 miles of their business. Picture-tagging, too, has helped event photographers push their images to clients’ friends and relatives, a form of automated referrals. Twitter’s improved photo messaging may now make it a more important tool for photographers but its most important use is as a channel that creates professional connections rather than developing leads. Wedding photographers using the site have described how tweeting local designers has helped them to forge agreements for mutual recommendations.
3. Classroom Teaching
One thing that’s unlikely to happen in the future is that the photography business is going to get easier. Cameras like Lytro’s will only make it simpler for non-professionals to shoot great images, which means even more inventory chasing the same demand. To make a living out of photography then will require doing more than taking pictures. A number of professional photographers have already found that teaching workshops can provide a regular stream of additional income and can be an enjoyable way of earning from their photography skills. The need for supplementary income sources is only going to grow, and as more enthusiasts pick up cameras and realize that they can produce great pictures, so the demand for those classes will grow too.
Photographers will always need to take excellent pictures to earn money from their photos, but just as they’ve also needed skills that stretched into the darkroom and beyond, so in the future, photographers are going to need abilities that make use of all the new technologies likely to affect the photography industry.