The date is 2040, just 20 years from now. I am long gone, but many in my audience are still actively pursuing their careers in photography or other visual media.
Most are struggling to keep afloat. Many have left the profession. Economies of scale along with rampant dis-intermediation have eliminated most jobs in the visual creative field.
But there is a group of photographers, videographers, filmmakers, photojournalists and like-minded creatives who still thrive. In the year 2040 there is one thing that will not be a commodity. One thing that cannot be dis-intermediated. If only those other visual creatives had known about this upcoming trend when they still had a chance they would still be in business.
What is this magic bullet that saves these jobs in 2040?
In today’s world, full of YouTube experts (who have never made a single, salable photograph) and camera forum trolls who would rather attack other photographers because their sensor is too small, than actually go make pictures; where the only thing that seems to matter to some is how creamy is your bokeh, how big is your sensor, and how low can you go when it comes to low light, there are a few brave souls who understand that the really important thing is not the amount of megapixels you bring to the table but rather, how well and how passionately you use these visual tools to tell real, compelling, relevant, edifying, electrifying, important, world-changing, stories.
I’ve chased light and shadow for all of my adult life. But during the last half of my career, I’ve come to understand the true value of being a storyteller. When I point my camera at a bird, it’s not just to make a pretty picture, it’s to share my passion for these creatures who live their lives in beauty and freedom, right in front of us, yet oblivious to our daily cares and concerns. I tell stories with my camera to further the lives of birds. I try to speak for them because they have no voice. It’s not just pixels on paper for me. Nor should it be for you.
If you think artificial intelligence has become important to visual media today, well you ain’t seen nothing yet. AI is a great tool and I use it daily right now. But what will it look like in the future? Will it replace me?
Here’s what I think is coming.
In 10, 15, 20 years from now, AI will make all the things we see discussed in the camera forums of today, utterly irrelevant. The AI combined with certain advancements in hardware, will bring a newfound level of parity to the visual creatives in 2020. In short, EVERYONE who has $500 or $1000 will be able to buy a piece of gear that absolutely, 100% guarantees PERFECT QUALITY photos and videos. It will be possible to press a button with the device pointed in one direction and instantly capture EVERYTHING in the scene for 100 yards, in perfect focus, in NO light, etc.
Since EVERYONE will have PERFECT pictures and videos, NOBODY will be interested in seeing what’s being shared UNLESS there is a compelling story behind the imagery.
Those of you young enough to just be in the place where you are starting your careers now, should be mindful of that future and spend less time debating stuff like sensor size and low-light capability, and more time on how to find something you actually care about to document and moreover, how to accurately, compellingly, carefully, tell that story with your imagery. That is the only way to really differentiate yourself, even now, let alone 20 years from now.
If you can do that…I.e., if you can become a STORYTELLER, your business will survive the AI world. While the scientists will even try to dis-intermediate the storytellers, they won’t be successful. Because if you find something you are TRULY passionate about, something that you believe in, something so powerful inside you that you just HAVE to share that story, no computer AI will be able to match that level of commitment and intensity and people will be transformed by your work in a way that allows you to thrive, not just survive.
Like I said, I won’t be here, but I can see the future. I hope that you all thrive in it. Tell stories with your cameras NOW in order to get ready for what comes next.
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