Will Camera Phones Destroy Professional Photography?

To be sure, during any people based “photo op” moment today, be it a wedding or graduation, it is impossible to miss the invasion of the camera phones.  In the past we only had to deal with the few people who lugged their point and shoot camera to an event, now everyone has a cell phone and virtually anyone with a phone is a photographer.  Even at occasions that were virtually controlled by the professional, such as weddings or retirement parties, we now see dozens of hands going up, hijacking your poses with ever present camera phones.


It goes without saying that true professional photography is a highly developed art form and respectable profession.  The capability of the equipment is essential, but even more important is the visual and technical ability of the photographer to envision and deliver a high quality product to the customer. We all know that these skills are the result of decades of attention to detail and careful evolution of the craft.  There is a lot more to good photography than a half decent camera and for some time it has been possible for almost anyone to snap an acceptable shot with a point and shoot camera, but what if it is taken with that tiny cell phone in their pocket or purse…you know, the one that they never leave home without! Simply stated, are we really threatened by all of this evolving technology or just irritated by all those amateurs with cameras, standing behind us and taking their own versions of our carefully arranged poses. Clearly the question deserves serious thought, but there are somewhat separate considerations for each of three distinct audiences. 

For those of us who are professional photographers, the question is really quite simple.  Do SmartPhones mean the end of the profession?  Will ever more capable digital phones virtually wipe out the current customer base and make us obsolete in the world of photography? 

The issue for those aspiring “professional” photographers is close but slightly different. They need to consider whether there is enough of a future in photography to be worth aspiring to? Should they invest the time and money to learn to use sophisticated equipment and the all important craft that makes professional photography superior and value generating?  Why waste the time if camera phones and the photographic quality standards that they will foster are going to make it all obsolete? 

Finally there is the customer who will begin to wonder if they need the quality results that only a professional can produce, or maybe they learn to accept photographs taken with ever improving camera phones and shared electronically and stored “forever” in the cloud, along with their music and email.

These are all valid questions.  It is common when a new and transformational technology begins to make inroads into an existing marketplace for the existing stakeholders or the “old guard” of a profession to feel threatened.  When television came along many called it the death of radio.  It just happens every time. Talkies were going to eliminate many actors in the silent movie industry. Then there was Technicolor, then Panavision and Todd AO and finally, today, many say that 3D will make all that obsolete…again! At each step there were dire predictions for existing stakeholders, but in fact, generally the opposite actually took place and the industry and the public adjusted and the medium itself just got better and prospered all the more. Remember TV was going to kill the movies, computer displays were going to eliminate paper. In the final analysis, it just never turns out that way. It’s not about the technology…it’s about the content and content is what professional photography is all about

There are many good reasons that camera phones (and the people holding them) aren’t going to destroy professional photography. Sure, no business will forever remain the same, but the challenge won’t come from the cameraphone. Here are just a couple of reasons.

  • Camera phones cannot achieve the same levels of quality and performance as dedicated cameras. Sure that can occasionally take an excellent image, but there will always be good reasons for professionals to invest in highly sophisticated equipment, both in the studio as well as in the field.  It has taken years of research and development to eliminate most of the quality and convenience problems that primitive equipment could not deal with.  Modern photographic equipment has precise instrumentation and programming to handle lighting and sensor issues in order to produce that professional quality outcome that customers want from a wedding, portrait session or any other professional photo shoot.  You can bet that forensic, fashion and commercial publication customers will never be willing to accept the lower standards of quality from camera phone pictures. In fact, bringing the camera phone and leaving the point and shoot or DSLR home actually gives us a sustainable advantage.
  • It’s an amateur game.  When you see kids holding up their camera phones at a concert to steal a picture, you know that the device is never going to result in a professional quality shot.  Sort of like all the flashes going off from the stands at the Super Bowl! This is especially true in live setting like a concert or sporting event, where there are myriads of issues such as lighting, visual noise and other problems that have to be overcome with sophisticated capabilities just not available on a camera phone or in the experience range of the professional.  Camera phones are inherently amateur photographic devices, and they will always occupy somewhat of a niche.
  • The quality of the final product from these devices will always be seriously compromised, and high standards of quality and composition are what make professional photography a value to the customer.

Now, I don’t want to portray camera phones in a negative way. They are truly miraculous devices and have a place in the consumer’s lifestyle and can be great fun.  Their biggest advantage is that they are ever present and no event will generally go without being photographed. However, we in the professional photography game have little to fear from the growth of this technology.

Besides, imagine what a professional can do with a decent SmartPhone by leveraging his or her knowledge of light and composition with a thorough understanding of the device’s technical limitations and weaknesses, but that is the subject for another day…

As an author, speaker, trainer and social media and photography evangelist, Georgia McCabe’s perspectives entitled “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Friends…or Enemies” appear in print in the book entitled The Relationship Age, with social media guru Mari Smith. Georgia is a frequent guest blogger for our photo lab

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