Editorial Photography Future

Posted on 4/25/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

A few months ago in an interview promoting his new book The Good Fight: America’s Ongoing Struggle for Justice, Rick Smolan was asked “How has technology disrupted photography.” Rick has been an editorial photographer since the 1980s, shot for Time, Life and National Geographic and may be best known for his “Day in the Life Of” series of books. The first six minutes of the interview is worth a listen.

Rick said, “The downside is that every person in the world is walking around with a multi-megapixel camera on their waste or in their purse and suddenly photography has become comoditized. While I think there are only 200 or 300 people in the world who do the quality of photography I want to feature in my books, there are a lot of 23-year-old picture buyers out there who are paying $50 for something that someone would have paid me $5000 for 20 years ago. It has upended the whole industry.”

When asked whose been hurt the hardest Commercial photographer, Sports Photographer, Editorial Photographer Rick pointed out that he has always been a journalist (editorial photographer). He went on, “I was being paid $300 a day in 1983. Today you get $200 a day and you give up all rights. Back then (in 1983) the publication could only use 3 pictures for every day I shot. They had to pay me more for every additional picture used. Now, they get all rights to all your pictures for the Internet, web, print, everything – forever. It is actually about 1/3 of what you were being paid 40 years ago. For journalist it is awful.”

Interviewer Scott Galloway then asked what advise Rick would give to someone who wants to be an image-based professional today.

Rick pointed to Josh Haner, a former assistant who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014. He is not just a still photographer, but he also does drone photography, writes stories and shoots video. He said, “you can’t just be a still photographer. (You must) be a storyteller and be able to tell that story in several different ways. You have more control in a way if you have all those skills.”

Winning A Pulitzer

While winning a Pulitzer used to be a career maker for photographers like Horst Fass, Eddie Adams, David Hume Kennerly, Barbara Davidson, Nick Ut, Carol Guzy, Max Desfor, Joe Rosenthal and David Leeson among many others, it is not so true today.

Ryan Kelly won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for his photo of the moment of impact when a car was used to attack a crowd at a racially charged protesters in Charlottesville, Va. on August 12, 2017. The picture was published in The Daily Progress in Charlottesville where he was a staff photographer, and around the world.

However, the day he shot the picture was his last day at the paper. He had already given notice and accepted a digital marketing job at a brewery in Richmond, VA. According to Newsweek,“his reasons for accepting a job outside of journalism (were)… ‘Bad pay, bad hours, high stress, lots of nights and weekends, (and) I wasn't seeing a lot of my wife. And I just burnt out.’ (His editor at The Daily Progress, Wes Hester, has also since left the newspaper for a job in university communications.)” Almost half the reporters and editors who were at The Daily Progress last August are no longer there.

Ryan says he still loves journalism and the newspaper. He is freelancing pretty regularly and covered the fall and winter athletic seasons at the University of Virginia for Getty Images. However, when an editorial photographer shoots on assignment for Getty Images the company, not the photographer, owns the copyright. There are no residuals if a picture gets used extensively over time.

In the U.S. in 2001 there were 411,800 newspaper jobs in the U.S. In 2016 there were only 173,709 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (We have no breakdown as to how many of these were photography jobs.) In contrast, employment in Internet publishing and at web search portals increased from 67,000 jobs in January 2007 to 206,000 jobs in September 2016. But, from a photographer’s point of view, these new online sources pay even less for the photos they use than newspapers.

Copyright © 2018 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.  


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