Going Pro: Rise Of The Amateur

Posted on 9/28/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Many professional photographers are disturbed by the changes taking place in their careers. Photographers who dream of earning their living taking pictures will, at the very least, find that goal much harder to achieve than it was for their predecessors. Amateurs have taken over an increasing share of the business. And their share will continue to grow.

A professional photographer is someone who earns his or her full time livelihood from the pictures he or she produces. An amateur engages in photography part time, either for fun or profit, and has some other primary source of revenue for support.

It is not a requirement, nor a necessity, to take pictures full time in order to produce quality images that customers will want to buy. The fact that amateurs only take pictures part-time is not a reflection on the quality of their work. Some amateurs take bad pictures some of the time and occasionally take great pictures. Most professional occasionally take bad pictures. They may do it less frequently than amateurs and they may have a better track record of completing jobs to the customer’s satisfaction, but just because a professional is trying to earn his or her living from photography doesn’t mean he or she never blows a job.

However, if the amateur has chosen to license rights to his images as stock the whole idea of “not being able to complete a job to the customers satisfaction” disappears because customers only pays for those images that meet their requirements, and do so better than any other image they can find. On top of this, a steadily increasing number of those who need photographs are discovering that they can find most of what they need from stock sources and that it is not necessary to hire a photographer to take pictures specifically for their purposes. It is the picture that is important, not who made it. This creates an uneasy feeling for pros who find themselves shoulder to shoulder with those who have just entered the market.

Amateurs have always been involved in the photography business, particularly on the stock photo side, but also on the assignment side. They often concentrate on photographing subjects in their general area of expertise about which they have a special interest and unique knowledge. As a result the pictures they produce are often better than those taken by a professional who doesn’t understand the subject as well.

In addition, amateurs sometimes have special relationships with certain customers. Such relationships may enable the amateur to do the job better than a professional who doesn’t understand the customer’s needs as well as the amateur might. For many amateurs money is not a primary motivating factor. The amateur may be perfectly happy with a little extra money from an activity they enjoy rather than looking at the work from a “profit for time invested” point of view. Consequently, amateurs often under price their services based on what it would cost a professional to do the job.

Advancements in technology have provided amateurs with equipment that when used properly makes it easier for them to take good pictures than was the case a decade or more ago. While it may be harder to learn to use some of the new features on the latest equipment than it was with the cameras of old, once the features are fully understood today’s photographers have much more control over the final image than their predecessors. In addition there is less chance they will make an unrecoverable mistake.

The Internet has made it easy for amateurs to communicate with one another and give and receive advice that helps them learn how to take better pictures and solve technical problems that might arise. The Internet has also made it easier than was the case in the past for amateurs to market their work. I estimate that over 300,000 photographers have posted some images on microstock sites. The vast majority of these have no hope or desire to ever earn a living from photography. They have separate jobs where they earn the money they need to support themselves and their families. Photography is a hobby, an enjoyable avocation and a distraction from their regular profession. Much of the money they earn they plow back into new and better photography equipment, or use it for other activities that they can easily forgo.

The worldwide economic slowdown has also encouraged many amateurs to try to sell their work. In the U.S. alone there are 14.9 million who can’t find full time work. Many own cameras, like to take pictures, have access to the Internet, have time on their hands and have decided to see if they can earn a little money from photography while they look for a full time job. They don’t expect to replace the salary they earned before they were laid off from their old job, but any little bit will help. The vast majority will not earn much, but the images they try to sell will capture some share of the market that might have otherwise gone to professionals.

The "Going Pro" series
Photography as a Career

The Print Market
The Internet Market
Image Oversupply
Demand by the Numbers
Of Doom and Gloom: Accepting Averages

Rise of the Amateur
The Freelance Challenge
Are Great Images Enough?
Selling Fine Art
The Wedding Option
Top Pros Stop Shooting
Pros Stop Shooting: Point/Counterpoint
This flood of amateurs cannot help but take some market share away from professionals. Overall, demand is not growing fast enough (and for certain kinds of imagery not growing at all) to absorb all the images that are being produced.

Many professional photographers who used to depend on stock licensing, or assignment work are now discovering that they need to find other non-photography sources of income to supplement what they can still earn from photography

The shift from professional control of the market to significant amateur involvement is irreversible and will accelerate. That doesn’t mean that no one will be able to earn a living as a still photographer. But many fewer will do it successfully than was the case in the past. There is no way to predict the amount of the market amateurs will finally control, but it will be significant.

Copyright © 2010 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Shannon Fagan Posted Sep 28, 2010
    covers the same conclusions from my recent review of the Canon Expo in New York, NY :


    -Shannon Fagan

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Sep 28, 2010
    Amateurs have always been welcome in our business. But they need to learn to NOT give work away. You always make it sound like "The Sky Is Falling... The Sky Is Falling!!" Just educate them not to give it all away as Microstock, Jim, and you will be doing the profession (for pros & amateurs alike) will do much better! I am on assignment in Europe, so there still are good clients...


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