Photographer Union

Posted on 8/10/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Some European photographers, particularly in France, think many of our industry’s problems could be solved with a Photographer’s Union. Unfortunately, a Union of Professional Photographers would probably only make the situation worse for most union members.

If photographers want to blame someone for today’s over supply and low prices blame the Internet. The Internet has made it possible for every amateur to easily make their images available to the public for purchase. That can’t be stopped or turned around. The fact that a lot of amateur produced images aren’t very good doesn’t mean they are all bad. A lot of amateur produced images are equal in quality to those produced by professionals.

For the most part amateurs don’t care how much they earn from their images as long as someone likes what they are doing.

Given the huge over supply of imagery customers can purchase what they need for less and less.

Suppose you could force newspapers and magazines of a certain size to only use images created by union members and pay union rates. These image users would simply be forced to use fewer pictures. For the most part the revenue of these organizations is declining. ?They simply don’t have the resources they used to have to pay for pictures.

Maybe a publication with a budget of $10,000 a month for images could be required to pay pay $300 for each images used. They will be able to buy 33 image a month. If they can get the images they need for $30 each they will be able to use a lot more pictures. In addition, if they use fewer pictures readership and revenue will probably decline and next month or next year their overall budget for pictures will be even less.

In the long run if prices are forced higher fewer union members will be employed.

What About Advertising

Maybe professionals might get higher rates for uses in print advertising, but there are fewer and fewer images being used in such products. More and more of the advertising is moving to the Internet. On the Internet the advertiser will probably use a lot more pictures over a period of time. However, it has become less and less important for them to have the “best” picture, or the “right” picture because they are going to change the advertising message daily, if not hourly. They put something up and if it doesn’t work they try something different. They may not even be able to measure what works and what doesn’t. The attitude is:  if they try a lot of different things something ought to work.

They also tend to target smaller groups of consumers with different ads. If each ad is aimed at a small group and only online for a short period of time they will need lots of pictures and they won’t be able to pay much for any one of them.

I can’t see how there would be any way to prevent these customers from using images created by amateurs who are willing to accept low rates. There doesn’t seem to be any way to force commercial users to pay some minimum rate for each image they use.

Sure professionals can’t afford to produce high quality, high production value images if they can’t recover their costs, but customers are also looking at their bottom line. They won’t pay more for images than they can recover in selling their product or service. The cost of a picture may only be a small fraction of the total cost of the product or service, but as with any other business expense, if they can get an image at a much lower price that fulfills their need almost as well they will certainly take it.

Changing World

The world has changed. It will not get better for those hoping to earn their living taking pictures. Unions will not make the difference.

Photographer’s who have been earning their living taking pictures must find ways to adapt. That may mean developing additional skill, not directly related to photography. It may mean finding another way to earn the bulk of the revenue needed to survive. It may mean allowing photography to become a hobby or, at best, a sideline business.

Those considering entering the photography business with the dream of eventually earning their entire living taking pictures should carefully examine their other options. Just being able to consistently produce exciting, interesting images of very high quality isn’t enough.

Photographers need to accept the realities of a changing world.

Copyright © 2016 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

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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