The following aren’t myths, unfortunately. According to 2008 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), there are an estimated 152,000 professionally employed photographers in the U.S., with projected employment reaching close to 170,000 by the year 2018. The median annual wage of salaried photographers was close to $30,000, with the middle 50% earning between $20,000 and $45,000, in general. As noted in the earnings section: “Because most freelance and portrait photographers purchase their own equipment, they incur considerable expense acquiring and maintaining cameras and accessories.”
Myth: Making A Good Living As A Photographer Is Hopeles
In a somewhat dismal economy for the rest of the country, photographers have been hit exceptionally hard by a seismic shift in the way that we do business. Film photographers who have been in the industry for decades have seen their work severely undercut by stock sales at the same time that clients are demanding more than ever before while offering less money in a climate that’s overcrowded with anyone who can pick up a digital camera and open a free Flickr account. Photographers also are facing unfettered access to their imagery by anyone with a computer, as well as outdated copyright laws and a general confusion about publication rights online and elsewhere.
While all of this may seem to spell doom and gloom, what we’re facing is an industry that’s going through a revolution. Is it true that it’s difficult to make a living as a photographer? Sure, and it shouldn’t be any other way. Just as always, those with talent and an exceptional work ethic will succeed while others will fail, and often attitude can matter far more than any technological breakthrough.
Many of the photographers who we cover are progressives in this respect and have found unique ways in which to embrace the digital business model. Check out our recent Emerging Pro competitions for a variety of up-and-coming photographers like August Bradley who are actively forging a path for others to follow. On the community front, some, realizing there’s strength in numbers, have grouped together to form unique alliances, such as Justin Fantl who teamed up with the progressive Black Harbor collective, or high-profile cooperatives like the VII Photo Agency, which is partly owned by noted photojournalists like Ed Kashi. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and even Flickr, give photographers a free resource for uploading photos (and now video!) to share with a select few or an entire population. Blogging possibilities are endless, providing photographers with open and immediate communication with their fan base, as well as a way to show their work, whether polished or in the raw, through words or solely images via Tumblr-style sites.
In other words, our sole source of income is no longer dictated by commercial clients, publishers or event photography. The Internet gives photographers an instant way to share images, and it gives them instant access to an entire population for crowd-sourcing via sales. What’s more, with sites like AsukaBook, Blurb, Lulu, Mpix, MyPublisher, Shutterfly and others, you can self-publish your work and sell the books, or use them as templates to garner the interest of established publishing houses. Stock sites may be stealing photographers’ thunder at this stage of the game, but with image-management capabilities getting better and more thorough at the same time that information online is maturing, these middlemen may soon be rendered obsolete when clients can go directly to the source. That translates to direct revenue. And, of course, with HD capabilities in still cameras, photographers who take the time to learn video can offer clients complex multimedia packages.
These are just a few of the many possibilities that the digital business model and the Internet provide photographers, and at the same time that photographers are lamenting the inundation of point-and-shoot digital images and single-button image publication, they should be paying more attention to the fact that with so many outlets for information, high-impact visual communication has become more important. In short, just as ever, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work is going to be the answer.