The Future of Photography is NOT Mirrorless

The photography industry is in turmoil. The age of the professional photographer is coming to an end while the rise of the smartphone is bringing the art of photography into the hands of millions. Strange days indeed. Amidst all this change both Canon and Nikon have announced mirrorless cameras that are poised to breathe new life into both vendor’s dedicated camera lines. Will they? I don’t believe they will and in the end, mirrorless cameras are simply a incremental improvement on the road to the true next-generation photography tool; the smartphone.

What IS a mirrorless camera?

Simply put, a mirrorless camera is a camera that, unlike a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, lacks a mirror that typically allows the photographer to view the scene through the lens using an optical viewfinder. When developed, the mirror approach was a great way to frame your photos before you pressed the shutter button. Now, using digital viewfinders found in mirrorless camera systems you no longer need the mirror apparatus to frame your photos. You can just view the scene directly off the camera’s sensor. This is a fantastic improvement over that standard DSLR approach for several reasons; no mirror means the camera can be smaller, using a digital viewfinder means what you see is much closer to how the final photo will look when taken. Both are really good improvements, and are clearly better than the classic DSLR, but all is not well in mirrorless camera land.

Mirrorless is incremental improvement, smartphones are a revolution.

So let’s get down to the heart of the matter. At the end of the day, mirrorless cameras are just an incremental improvement over what came before in DSLRs. There I said it. Nothing so far seen in the mirrorless world is what I would call revolutionary. Lots of small improvement have been made in the latest models from Nikon and Cannon but neither has produced something that truly changes how we take photos. Are mirrorless cameras smaller? Sometimes, but the smaller they get the more compromises you end up with.

No dedicated camera system, mirrorless or otherwise, available today has anywhere near the flexibility of a smartphone.

All hail the smartphone!

What if I were to tell you that a camera vendor had convinced all of it’s customers to upgrade their camera once a year? Even better, what if that same vendor was able to also “upgrade” the quality of the photos taken by those cameras using just software for free? Obviously there is no dedicated camera vendor willing to operate on that type of upgrade schedule and none of the traditional camera vendors seem willing to give out major feature-inclusive software upgrades for free. They just cannot compete. I’m completely convinced that smartphones and the camera hardware they are rapidly iterating on a annual basis will dominate the photography world going forward. The harsh reality for the camera vendors is that the smartphone is rapidly gaining in both image quality and feature set over traditional “dedicated” cameras. Let me be clear, this is not a bad thing for photographers, but it’s really bad news for camera vendors. I foresee a future where virtually all photography is done using various types of smartphone-style devices. Today’s iPhone and Samsung Galaxy already can produce amazing image quality and include features that are simply not feasible using traditional dedicated camera systems. Upstart vendors such as Light (with their L16 camera) are attempting to bottle some of this lightning into unconventional form factors but it’s not likely to gain any significant market share as Apple and Samsung rapidly continue to create better and better hardware and accompanying software. Just look at how far things have come in the last ten years and then imagine what the next ten will bring!

What’s a photographer to do?

My advice is simple but might not be for everyone. If you consider yourself a professional photographer you are likely going to spend money on whatever you think might be useful regardless if it only gives you an incremental improvement. For those semi-pro folks already using a DSLR, don’t invest in a mirrorless system unless you know exactly what you need and the system clearly offers up an awesome step up that really improves on the quality of the work you create. Prices on DSLR pro-level lenses are crashing (finally) which makes getting the high quality glass you need to produce amazing images far more accessible. If you are looking to get into photography and are not coming from a DSLR then my advice is to get yourself a high-end smartphone along with a cheap, second-hand pro-level DSLR with some good quality lenses if you feel the need to “look professional”. The money saved over a state-of-the-art mirrorless system will get you several smartphone upgrades and likely some awesome glass for your DSLR. When the time comes, you can place that DSLR on the shelf for your kids to ask about when they grow up.

Ultimately, the camera market will still exist in the future, abet in niche market form only, while the art of photography itself will grow and expand in new areas thanks to the innovation we are seeing now.

Agree? Disagree? Give a shout out in the comments below!

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Making Money From Photography is Really Hard, But It Can Be Done

There are simply no shortcuts to building a career as a freelance photographer. Making money out of something you love is really hard, but it absolutely can be done. But before we get into how let’s just acknowledge that we photographers have had it a little rough in recent years. Newspapers and other publications have been laying off entire teams of staff photographers. Camera phones and cheap digital cameras have turned pretty much everyone into a photographer. And huge numbers of businesses seem to be under the impression that anything published on the Internet is fair game to be stolen and used for free.

With all this happening, in such a short period of time, it is easy to see why photographers new to the industry might be feeling jaded about their prospects of turning their passion into a profession. And yet, despite all the above, I believe it has never been a better time to become a professional photographer. Thanks to the Internet and social media, there is such a huge interest in the visual arts it can be hard to keep up. Millions of people around the world are viewing and interacting with photographs in such volume, there is an almost insatiable demand for new work. All of this opens up so many opportunities for those brave enough to try.  But where to start?

Find Your Niche

Presumably, the best place to start when attempting to make money out of photography is deciding what you want to sell. As with any business activity, the laws of supply and demand very rarely fail. Where supply outweighs demand, prices will fall. That is a fact. And with so many hobby photographers prepared to allow their work to be used for free, in exchange for seeing their name in print, we have that oversupply in droves.

Inevitably, the only way to counter this is to offer products and services which are in demand, but under-supplied. In the world of photography, that means finding a niche, something to allow you to stand out from the crowd. It doesn’t much matter whether that niche is something very specific, such as exclusively photographing diamonds for the jewelry industry, or a specialty within a wider genre, such as a portrait photographer concentrating on head shots. The key is to provide a unique selling point, a service that very few others offer.

Of course, finding that niche is easier said than done, and individual style will only develop over time. But the very first step to making money from photography is to choose a specialty that customers are actually prepared to pay for, one without a large pool of competitors willing to undercut your prices.

Be Really Good

So if step one is offering a service customers are prepared to pay for, surely step two is being really good at that service. How to define “good” in photography terms is a whole other conversation, but for the purposes of this discussion, the only definition which matters is that of your customers. Those customers will only pay for your services if they see value in the work which you do, and believe they will achieve a return on the investment they make.

As with most skills, some aspects of your photography will come naturally to you, others you will need to work at, but either way, you need to be sure you feel sufficiently competent as a photographer to deliver upon the assignments you win. Developing those skills will take time and commitment. In my own case, as a travel and documentary photographer, I have to spend long periods of time on the road, as I travel between assignments. Being away from home can be difficult, but this is the commitment I have had to make to in order to succeed in my chosen niche.

Promote Yourself

Perhaps the most import skill to develop, besides photography, is effective marketing. If your customers don’t know you are there, they won’t buy from you. Without a doubt, social media is one of the most important means by which photographers can market themselves, but certainly not the only means. Email newsletters, blog posts, exhibitions, and events will all play a part in getting the words out that you are open for business.

When marketing yourself, don’t be afraid to communicate your strengths. Your customers want to know you have the ability to produce the goods for them, and your confidence will help convince them of this. Some might see this as showing off, but sometimes there is a need to blow your own trumpet. Effective self-promotion is a skill every photographer needs to develop in order to new business.

Don’t Undervalue Yourself

As any freelancer will tell you, pricing the projects you pitch for will be one of the most challenging aspects of your work. Charge too much and you will put customers off, charge too little and you will sell yourself short. But of these two challenges, underpricing is by far the more difficult issue to rectify. As with any other premium product or service, your customers will infer value based on price. If your pricing doesn’t accurately reflect the work you do, it will be far more difficult to build a client group willing to pay the rates you need in order to sustain your business.

The solution is to create a sensible pricing structure, which adequately takes into account the unique selling points of your work, and then finding the discipline to stick it while you build your client base. Of course, that is far easier said than done and turning down a paid assignment, even a low paid one, is difficult to do when you have bills to pay. But you must find that discipline.

Ultimately the success or failure of your business will be based on more factors than price alone. Providing your pricing is realistic, to begin with, offering constant discounts will probably not give you a better chance of success and may even harm your future growth. Instead, value your work enough to demand the price you deserve.

Up Your Game

As obvious as it may seem, in order to stand out from the crowd, you actually need to stand out from the crowd. Simply declaring yourself a professional photographer is not enough, you need to demonstrate you can behave professionally. That means staying on top of your email, following up on inquiries, keeping your website up to date, working your social media networks, preparing your service brochures, and much more besides.

So many photographers neglect these essential aspects of running a business, claiming not to have the time. And yet those same photographers will moan that they never seem to be able to secure paying assignments. How can a photographer expect customers to book new customers if they don’t reply to emails, or maintain their portfolio? Successful, fee-generating photographers will find the time because that is exactly what it takes in order to succeed.

The bottom line is business will very rarely just fall into your lap, you will need to actively go out and look for it. Claiming not to have the time is simply declaring you don’t have the time to make money. So up your game, and get it done!

Final Thoughts

Growing and maintaining a photography business is no different from any other business, the same tried and tested principles apply. Develop a clearly defined service, for which there is a market. Price that service correctly and deliver it in a professional manner. Nobody, not least other professional photographers, will ever claim any of this is easy. It really isn’t. But if a photographer is to succeed in making money from their craft, these are the steps they will need to take.