So Everyone’s a Professional now?

 
There’s a theory floating around these days, that in the near future, every tom-dick-harry and their driver could be a professional photographer or shoot like one. Frankly, I couldn’t disagree more ! But this post is specifically to understand and discuss this theory a little more. And I encourage you to freely voice (blog) your opinions after reading this as well.
 
The Theory – Instance 1: Making the switch from a stable-income corporate career to a state of self-employment driven by hardly anything more than a passion for an art, can’t be an easy decision for anyone to make. In my case however, the struggle has been nothing short of epic (and continues to be). You see, I come from a family of corporate service professionals and business people. No artists here ! So every decision needs to be backed up by a business case and hard numbers. There’s no room for uncertainty here. And so I toiled over a week and made out a business case to pursuing a career in photography (yeah, you better believe it!). When I presented my case, one question that has constantly come up is “ what impact will technology advancements have on the photography ‘business’? won’t everyone be able to take amazing photographs and hence make professional photography redundant? ”
 
The Theory – Instance 2: There’s a news bit doing the rounds about an upcoming revolutionary technology in photography by a tech startup named Lytro. The claim is that Lytro is on the verge of developing a camera that will not need to focus at all. Instead the necessary focusing of the subjects in the pictures would be doable using a PC, post the actual photography. This would give photographers the power to shoot at high speeds and achieve selective focus / creative effects in their work later. Read more about that technology here. Anyway, like all news these days this too spread like wildfire thanks to the social community and people were quick to go all gaga over the probable new tech wizardry.  One noteworthy comment I read by a friend was “great, now everyone will be a professional photographer”
 
Both the above instances have got me believing that there is still a serious lack of understanding and respect for ‘photography’ as an art, outside the photographers community. Sure, the way photography evolved over the past few decades may have been one of the probable causes of this (Read my previous post). But its still quite unfortunate that photography is probably one of those rare arts where a majority of people don’t see it as ‘art’ at all. Instead it is seen as the output from a tool or machine… the camera!  The photographer is still seen simply as a workman who operates this machine to give you the output.. a mere service provider. And hence the perception that, better the camera, better the photographer; until finally everyone has a great camera and everyone is a great photographer.
 
So how and why do we question this perception? Let’s take a parallel example of another art… Painting! We know that not everyone can be a great painter today. In fact a few of us can hardly hold a brush, let aside painting. But suppose there are certain breakthrough technological advancements in painting tools tomorrow.. paints that could be whatever colour you think of or something like that. Or paintbrushes that could automatically read your mind and paint whatever you’re thinking, or something like that. Wow, everyone could then paint masterpieces, right ! Or could they?
 
Now ask yourselves another question.. when you see a picture that makes you go “wow”, what is it really about that picture that you like? Is it the fact that the light in the picture is perfect? Is it the colours? Is it the clarity, sharpness & size of the picture? Almost all cameras these days are capable of giving you all of the above… even the tiny pocket cameras. To an un-trained eye, those pictures are just as sharp & clear, the colours are just as vivid and those tiny cameras can pack as many as 14 megapixels these days for huge images. Then are you too able to take shot after shot that makes people go “wow”? Unless you’re a professional or a serious enthusiast, the answer is probably not.
 
So far whatever I mentioned involved facts. However what I am about to say is my opinion.. and as always, completely open to debate. Photography like all arts, relies less on the tools and more on the vision of the artist. A photographer without a vision, couldn’t produce good work even if he was equipped with the latest, most expensive and advanced camera in the world. What brings the ‘wow’ factor to a photograph is not the camera itself but where, when and how it was used by the photographer to bring his vision to life. For example, modern day cameras can calculate light levels required for ‘correctly’ lit shots and adjust settings automatically to get that ‘technically correct’ exposure. But how many of us even consider that there are alternate ways to shoot an image than getting a brightly lit photograph? Heard of silhouettes? Heard of low key lighting? Heard of sun-beams? Having the imagination to see beyond what the eye sees, to realize the alternate potential in a scene even before putting the camera to the eye, is the value that an artist / professional brings to an image. Anyone can do what the camera tells them to. And advancements in technology will only mean that your camera will be able to take more and more of those decisions. But a real photographer possesses the artistic capability to be able to envision a picture first and then tell the camera how to get there.
 
It is the photographers vision that dictates technical factors such as whether a particular shot should be taken from a lower or higher angle. Whether it should be shot from position A in relation to the subject or position B. Whether it calls for exaggeration of perspective by using a wide angle lens or whether a telephoto should be used to compress depth. Should artificial light be used? If yes from where and how much? Tens of such questions need to be answered, often within a few seconds to get that ‘wow’ shot. But the starting point is always to have the creative ‘vision’. Without it all the technical know-how that you could acquire from books and more would fail to serve you.
 
So unless your definition of a ‘professional’ is just about anyone who makes a living from his / her camera, ask yourself; can technology really make everyone an artist? And if a professional photographer is an artist then can everyone indeed be a professional photographer?