Why Hire A Professional When Anyone Can Point And Click? Photographers' Income Dropping

Image via Wikipedia

Times are getting tougher for professional photographers,  reports The New York Times.

“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.

I’m writing a story this week for a national magazine — and the editor told me they will be using stock to illustrate it, because it’s cheaper than hiring someone. As amateurs pick up light, easy-to-use digital cameras, competition is increasing. In the old days, you had to have a good understanding, both journalistically and technically, of what makes a compelling image because, shooting film, especially far away on assignment, you had to be sure you had something usable — now, just look at your image and re-shoot, if you can.

The unresolved question, and it’s showing up even in work submitted by professionals, is the boundaries of what’s acceptable when it comes to manipulating digital images, easy to do in Photoshop and other programs — and therefore unusable, if so, by many news photo editors.