Future Income For Photographers

Posted on 6/1/2020 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Photographers hoping to earn enough producing images to support themselves need to look for another line of work; one that has a better guarantee of income for time invested.

The business of photographing meetings and events is unlikely to ever come back to where it was before Covid 19. As the world works its way out of this crisis, there will be fewer small or large group events and more Zoom meetings that are not conducive to photography.

There may be some continued demand for still photographs of sporting events, but media users who are struggling anyway and trying to do everything they can to cut costs may find it easier to grab what they need in terms of still frames from video clips of the events. In addition, more and more media companies are telling their writers to also produce the images they need to illustrate their stories. That way, they can get right of many photographers.

There may be some increased demand for video relative to stills, but the video needed is unlikely to be of travel locations. There will be much less travel and thus much less need for video, or stills, of locations for marketing. New location images will be much less appealing than those that already exist because they won’t include large crowds enjoying the location. On the other hand, existing images and clips will be increasingly useless because they show lots of people enjoying the location, not what people will find if they visit such places in the future. Existing stock images will be a gross misrepresentation of what future travelers might find if they still choose to visit many locations.

Speaking of misrepresentation, a few decades ago one of the important reasons for having a still photograph of an event, rather than just an oral or written report, was that the photograph was a record of something that actually happened. Now, it is so easy to manipulate photographs, or create visual representations of things that appear to be “real events” but are actually fakes, that no one can trust anything they see in a photograph. In general photographs no longer have any more validity than what an inveterate liar has to say.

Since photographs can’t be trusted and illustrations can be created at much lower cost by people sitting alone in self-imposed isolation, it seems likely that an expanded use of illustrations will replace photographs when visual representations are needed.

Accurate figures are not published, but it is believed that currently about one-third of all the images licensed from microstock agencies are illustrations, not photographs. And that percentage is growing.

Some Positive News

Leading stock photographers have told me that they have seen little of no decline in stock photo sales in the last two months, despite declines in almost every other type of business. Shutterstocks first quarter sales only declined 1.9% compared to the previous quarter and were flat compared to Q1 2019. This surprised many contributors.

The numbers may be worse when Q2 results are reported since they will be dominated by April and May sales. But, in general stock sales compared to assignments are probably in the winners in this new environment. Customers still needed to market their products. For the last two months it has been extremely difficult to shoot assignments. Thus, the only way to get visual content for their projects has been to rely more heavily on stock.

However, stock prices are so low and royalty rates have declined (See here) to the point that it just doesn’t make economic sense to produce new stock images. If you already have images in stock collections leave them there. They might produce some revenue. But, it doesn’t make much economic sense to spend time trying to determine what customers need, going out to capture such images, and then spending countless additional hours in post-production cleaning-up, color correcting the raw scans, captioning and keywording the images, and fighting with the stock agencies to get them to accept what you have to offer. Photographers could earn more money doing almost anything else.

Those who love photography should continue to produce images for their personal pleasure, and for friends and family. But, don’t think for a minute that the business will get better, or through practices, study and hard work you will one day be able to earn enough to pay your bills.

There has been a steady decline in the business in the last decade to the point that many leading photographers only earn 5% to 10% annually of what they earned a decade ago. (See here) And the decline will continue.

Young People

What bothers me most is that there are still people who enjoy taking pictures. They see glamour in being self-employed and doing what they love. They hear stories about older photographers with successful careers and believe that if they work hard enough, they will be able to achieve the similar success someday. In some cases, they are paying universities and trade schools tens of thousands of dollars to teach them unmarketable skills. Only after they have incurred huge debt will they discover that they can’t get a job that will pay them enough to support themselves.

If you know such a person do everything you can to discourage them from seeking a career as a photographer. Encourage them to find a better way to earn a living – not because it will reduce competition for you, but because it will be better the their long term happiness.

So What Might Those Better Ways Be?

If they want to stay in the visual arts field and have the proper skills it will probably be better to concentrate on graphic design and illustration. These skills require less equipment and can be preformed from one safe location. It is not necessary to get out and come in contact with a lot of new people in order to perform the work.

Look for a field where the jobs pay a regular salary for hours worked, rather than being self-employed. Being self-employed offers great freedom, but it also means that they must constantly be marketing their business and looking for new work. In the next few years, particularly, it will probably be better working for someone else rather than being on your own.

In theory there are still some salaried photographer jobs. But, there are very few staff photographer jobs and the numbers have been steadily declining for several years. More and more of the people who need photographs related to their work end up taking what they need as a sideline to their regular work rather than doing photography full time. Improvements in technology have made it much easier for virtually anyone to produce the quality images they need for their own work rather hiring a professional to produce the images for them.

Look for work in a field that people cannot get along without, even when many other activities stop. Forget about retail, forget about setting up a small specialty shop. In the middle of covid 19 isolation we needed a plumber, and wearing a mask he was willing to come. Another growth business will be delivery services. Work for Amazon. Some of these jobs may not be as exciting as photography, but they can provide a guaranteed salary and you can enjoy photography (which you will probably give away for free) on your days off.

Copyright © 2020 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


Be the first to comment below.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff