Scott Pugh, Ted Stevens International Airport, Anchorage, Alaska (This is a location scouting photo featuring my assistant and produced for a client who will need to approve the location for an image to be produced at a future date. For this image, we used a Vivitar 283 inside a small Chimera soft box and a 24-105 mm lens)
From the New York Times:
For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path
By STEPHANIE CLIFFORD
By the time Matt Eich entered photojournalism school in 2004, the magazine and newspaper business was already declining.
But Mr. Eich had been shooting photographs since he was a child, and when he married and had a baby during college, he stuck with photography as a career.
“I had to hit the ground running and try to make enough money to keep a roof over our heads,” he said.
Since graduation in 2008, Mr. Eich, 23, has gotten magazine assignments here and there, but “industrywide, the sentiment now, at least among my peers, is that this is not a sustainable thing,” he said. He has been supplementing magazine work with advertising and art projects, in a pastiche of ways to earn a living. “There was a path, and there isn’t anymore.”
Then there is D. Sharon Pruitt, a 40-year-old mother of six who lives on Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Ms. Pruitt’s husband is in the military, and their frequent moves meant a full-time job was not practical. But after a vacation to Hawaii in 2006, Ms. Pruitt uploaded some photos — taken with a $99 Kodak digital camera — to the site Flickr.
Since then, through her Flickr photos, she has received a contract with the stock-photography company Getty Images that gives her a monthly income when publishers or advertisers license the images. The checks are sometimes enough to take the family out to dinner, sometimes almost enough for a mortgage payment. “At the moment, it’s just great to have extra money,” she said.
Mr. Eich and Ms. Pruitt illustrate the huge shake-up in photography during the last decade. Amateurs, happy to accept small checks for snapshots of children and sunsets, have increasing opportunities to make money on photos but are underpricing professional photographers and leaving them with limited career options. Professionals are also being hurt because magazines and newspapers are cutting pages or shutting altogether.
“There are very few professional photographers who, right now, are not hurting,” said Holly Stuart Hughes, editor of the magazine Photo District News.
That has left professional photographers with a bit of an identity crisis. Nine years ago, when Livia Corona was fresh out of art school, she got assignments from magazines like Travel and Leisure and Time. Then, she said, “three forces coincided.”
They were the advertising downturn, the popularity and accessibility of digital photography, and changes in the stock-photo market.
Magazines’ editorial pages tend to rise or fall depending on how many ad pages they have. In 2000, the magazines measured by Publishers Information Bureau, a trade group, had 286,932 ad pages. In 2009, there were 169,218 — a decline of 41 percent. That means less physical space in which to print photographs.
“Pages are at a premium, and there’s more competition to get anything into a magazine now, and the bar is just higher for excellent work,” said Bill Shapiro, the editor of Life.com, who ran the print revival of Life before Time Inc. shut it in 2007. And that is for the publications that survived — 428 magazines closed in 2009 alone, according to the publication database MediaFinder.com, including ones that regularly assigned original photography, like Gourmet, Portfolio and National Geographic Adventure.
And while magazines once sniffed at stock photographs, which are existing images, not original assignments, shrinking editorial budgets made them reconsider.
“When we began, stock photography or licensed images, preshot images being licensed, was perceived as the armpit of the photo industry,” said Jonathan Klein, the chief executive of Getty Images who helped found the agency in 1995. “No self-respecting art director or creative director would use a preshot image, because it wasn’t original, it hadn’t been commissioned by them, it wasn’t their creativity.”
At the same time, the Internet has made it easier for editors to find and license stock photos — they can do it in seconds with a search term and a few clicks, rather than spending seven weeks mailing film transparencies back and forth.
Concurrently, digital photography took off. “It used to be you really needed to know how to use a camera,” said Keith Marlowe, a photographer who has worked for Spin and Rolling Stone. “If you messed up a roll, you couldn’t redo the concert.” Now, though, any photographer can instantly see if a shot is good, or whether the light balances or other technical aspects need to be adjusted.
That meant a flood of pretty decent photographs, and that changed the stock-photography industry. In the last few years, stock agencies have created or acquired so-called microstock divisions. They charge $1 to $100, in most cases, for publishers or others to rerun a photo, often supplied by an amateur. And Getty made a deal with Flickr in 2008, permitting Getty’s photo editors to comb through customers’ images and strike license agreements with the amateur photographers.
“The quality of licensed imagery is virtually indistinguishable now from the quality of images they might commission,” Mr. Klein said. Yet “the price point that the client, or customer, is charged is a fraction of the price point which they would pay for a professional image.”
In 2005, Getty Images licensed 1.4 million preshot commercial photos. Last year, it licensed 22 million — and “all of the growth was through our user-generated business,” Mr. Klein said.
That is because amateurs are largely happy to be paid anything for their photos. “People that don’t have to make a living from photography and do it as a hobby don’t feel the need to charge a reasonable rate,” Mr. Eich said.
With stock-photography payments declining and magazines pulling back on original assignments, some Web sites like Life.com and BurnMagazine.org have popped up as homes for original photography. Life commissions about two projects a month — it sent Mr. Marlowe to Haiti after the earthquake, for instance, and the entertainment photographer Jeff Vespa to cover the European news media tour by the “Avatar” cast.
There seems to be an audience for professional photography on these sites. The average number of photos each visitor viewed for “Michael Jackson: The Memorial” at Life.com was 41, for example, and for “Oscars 2010: The Best Dresses,” it was 38 images.
Still, the pay, compared with print, is “less, for sure,” Mr. Shapiro of Life.com said, since some professional photographers “are really more excited for the exposure than they are to drive a hard bargain.”
But it is hard to live on exposure alone. And some professionals worry that with ways to make a salary in photography disappearing, the impact will be severe.
“The important thing that a photojournalist does is they know how to tell the story — they know they’re not there to skew, interpret or bias,” said Katrin Eismann, chairwoman of the Masters in Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. “A photographer can go to a rally or demonstration, and they can make it look as though 10 people showed up, or 1,000 people showed up, and that’s a big difference. I’m not sure I’m going to trust an amateur to understand how important that visual communication is.”
“Can an amateur take a picture as good as a professional? Sure,” Ms. Eismann said. “Can they do it on demand? Can they do it again? Can they do it over and over? Can they do it when a scene isn’t that interesting?”
But amateurs like Ms. Pruitt do not particularly care.
“I never followed any traditional photography rules only because I didn’t know of any — I never went to photography school, never took any classes,” she said. “People don’t know the rules, so they just shoot what they like — and other people like it, too.”
Here is yet another premature obituary for professional photographers. There have been many such reports since the invention of the Kodak camera in the early 1900’s and each time professional image makers have not only survived but thrived. The key here is the fact that professional photographers can produce on demand and repeat the process. No one would question the need for marketing and photography is one of the major tools of marketing. Whether it be traditional print or electronic marketing, original photography will continue to play an important roll in attracting and retaining customers. If anything, there seems to be a lag in the marketplace as those who are selling products and services attempt to sort out the new media. Everyone is scrambling to come up to speed on the fundamental changes taking place in all areas of marketing and , indeed, communications. As this process advances, there will be new and exciting platforms for photographers at all levels. I am convinced that there are not enough professional image producers to meet the needs of those who understand and appreciate what a great image can do for their business. Mark my words, professional photographers have a great future. -Clark James Mishler
Ella at Senator Begich’s birthday party (Photographed with available window light and a 105 mm lens)
Young skateboarders, Kris and William, downtown Anchorage (Photographed using a Vivitar 283 inside a Chimera soft box and a 24 mm lens)
Jake and Princess, Tanana Valley Kennel Club dog show, Egan Convention Center, Anchorage, Alaska (Photographed with available light and a 24 mm lens)
Emily (Photographed with available light and a 105 mm lens)
Randall Craig Fleischer, Anchorage Symphony Orchestra (Photographed in the studio with a large soft box @ front/right and an umbrella @ behind/left with a 105 mm lens)
Senior Policy Adviser, Larry Baker, Office of the Mayor, Municipality of Anchorage (Photographed with a single umbrella and a 105 mm lens)
Bicycler, Joan Cullinane, Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Westchester Lagoon, Anchorage, Alaska (Photographed with a Vivitar 283 inside a small softbox and a 24-105 mm lens)
Baristas, Delaney and Harrison, City Market, Anchorage (Photographed with available light and a 90 mm PC lens)
Skateboarder, Town Square, downtown Anchorage (Photographed with a 283 Vivitar inside a small soft box and a 24 mm PC lens)
Jonathan, Loan Specialist II, Northrim Bank, Anchorage, Alaska (photographed with available light and a 24-105 lens)
Attorney, Aaron Sperbeck, Birch, Horton, Bittner, Anchorage, Alaska (photographed in the studio with a large softbox @ in front/right and an umbrella @ behind/left on a medium gray backdrop)
Marian Call performs at the KNBA Art Auction at the Dena’ina Convention Center, Anchorage, Alaska (Photographed with available light and a 70-200 mm lens)
Car washer, Johnson’s Car Wash, Anchorage, Alaska (Photographed with available light and a 24-105 lens)
Father Micheal Knellinger, street minister, Bean’s Cafe, Anchorage, Alaska (Photographed with a 105 mm lens, two translucent white umbrellas @ left, right, and behind the subject, and one small softbox in front and slightly above the subject. The umbrellas illuminate the subject as well as the background.)
Artist and print maker, Katie Sevigny, Anchorage, Alaska (photographed with available light and a 24-105 mm lens at Norstar Color)
The Pebble Mine project may be the single biggest environmental issue to ever confront our state. The Nushagak River is at ground zero of those who would like to extract gold, copper and other minerals in an area that may dramatically and adversely impact the Nushagak and Bristol Bay fisheries. This short slide show, produced by the Nature Conservancy, tells one photographer’s story about this important waterway and the people who live, work and subsist along its shores.
Alutiq Mask by Andrew Abyo (photographed in the studio with a 105 mm lens and a softbox to the right of the mask. The mask is hung about 5 feet from a medium gray backdrop lighted with a grid spot covered with a full CTO gel)
Beauty Queens, Anchorage, Alaska. (photographed with available light and a 24-105 mm lens)
Romney Dodd photographed in the studio with a large soft box and a 105 mm lens
Mother Nature at the Wearable Art Show at the Sheraton Hotel, Anchorage, Alaska. (photographed with a single small umbrella and a 24-105 lens.) For a complete gallery of images from this event, go here.
Neighbor, Marie Dochnahl and her dog Katie, Anchorage, Alaska (produced with a Dynalite Uni 400 strobe, with a Jackrabbit battery, inside a small Chimera softbox, and a 24-105 mm lens set at 1/200 sec. @ f9)
Emily’s Birthday (photographed with incandescent and candle light with a 24-105 mm lens)
University of Michigan pharmacy students: Dave Hensler, Arturo Dominguez, Tim Baccus, and Philip Williams. (photographed in the studio with a 70-200 mm lens and a single large soft box)