Thanks, Steve, for the question and the link! I am in broad general agreement with all the answers. Professional photography is a very
rapidly changing occupation. But my personal experience is that this is not new, or news. I came out of school in 1973 with a degree in commercial photography. Somewhere along the line I had managed to totally overlook the fact that there were no jobs in commercial photography in 1973.
It struck me as almost funny that Lewis Lorton wrote,
... the public and the market is constantly devaluing the worth of photography as a skill set, witness all the organizations that are firing their in-house staff and buying from stock houses.
I nearly laughed because my first thought was, Really? There were organizations hiring in-house staff?
In 1973 I discovered to my horror that all
the big outfits that might once have hired me at least as a lab tech had long since downsized their in-house departments to zero, sold the equipment and laid off the staff, and then cleverly farmed out the work to their now-forced-to-freelance-former-staffers.
For the corporations it was totally a win-win. They got the high quality pro services without having to pay things like benefits! Wow! Who knew?
But there I wuz, brand new degree clutched hopefully in hand, no job prospects. (Oh and BTW thanks to the school that drained my GI Bill + much of Daphne's income to sell me a degree they already knew was useless!)
I found low-paying work in a camera store and hung out my shingle as a freelance. If I wanted to work as a pro I would simply have to be self-employed like it or not. In 1978 we found an established portrait and wedding studio for sale and, very foolishly as it turned out, went for broke, which ended 16 years later with us actually broke and the studio going to the bottom taking everything, all hope of retirements with it. (BTW, it wasn't lack of talent or work ethic; it was lack of business acumen.)
There is no doubt in my mind that digital plus the proliferation of more and more sophisticated cell cameras has forced a paradigm shift. I think it will be harder and harder, worse than in my day, for a working pro to earn all their money from photography alone. Since I've been out of the game since 1994 the impression I have is that virtually all photographers working now are self-employed, many part time and keeping their day jobs. The storefront studio like I had is now vanishingly rare. Every single outfit I competed with
through the eighties is now shuttered, the owners retiring and their heirs uninterested.
The upside, though, is that I could if I chose start up a business right this minute with no location necessary and minimal gear. Rolando Gomez points out what I have felt about digital since I got into in in 2007: modern digital is leaps and bounds technologically ahead of how I learned photography. Mirrorless is the future. You no longer need lots of big lights. I have been doing volunteer work free for years using basically a mirrorless and nothing but the light available. I think I could charge for it if I wanted, but the greater question is, if I charged, would anyone pay it? I think sometimes that by doing free work for nonprofits I may be taking bread from the mouths of the children of working pros, but my counter to that is that the outfits I work for would never pay for photography. They would either do without or use a staffer with a cell phone. Most of them already do. "Good enough" is good enough.