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News & Insight

An In-Depth Look at Pro Photographers | Who They Are, Where & How They Work

By Kishore Sawh on September 24th 2015

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It’s 2015, and photography as we have come to know it, in many ways, is an entirely different beast than it was ten years ago. The photographer is a different species, often struggling to adapt to a new climate – the digital climate.

The image is a central and vital component in modern communication. Yet, the photographers who are responsible for making, processing, and disseminating professional pictures on a daily basis have rarely been studied. Who are they, where and how do they work, what rewards do they receive, and what problems and risks do they face?

That’s the opener from the piece in World Press Photo, cutting to the heart of what many of us want to know, but don’t really take the time to look into, probably because it’s a daunting task. However, World Press Photo and Oxford University’s Reuters Institute For The Study Of Journalism have put together the first publication that’s an annual report on the state of photojournalism as a global profession.

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The report delves into the characters, practices, technology in use, working conditions, and ethics of photojournalists dotted around the globe. Much of the information was derived from a 63 question survey of 1,556 photographers from more than 100 countries, and this is hoped to grow and be repeated yearly.

The full 76-page document is actually a brilliantly in-depth and interesting read, applicable not solely to photojournalists. I’ve read through it in its entirety, and if you have time to spare on a commute or something, I’d recommend it – especially if you’re a photographer or considering becoming one. You’ll see a macro view of the photographic field on a whole, how it’s broken up, what role gender seems to play, where has the most growth, where’s stagnant, rate of employment in various countries, where the jobs are going, how many of us use supplemental income and so forth.

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Then there are more details such as what format is used most, who prefers what, and what age are using what tools, which branches off into social media and which seems to be preferred and why. 

Even if you don’t make it all the way through, as it’s a bit lengthy, here are 20 prime takeaways and talking points:

  1. Professional news photography is dominated by men, with 85% of the respondents male.
  2. The majority of photographers (60%) who responded to the survey were self-employed.
  3. Three-quarters of the respondents work full-time as photographers.
  4. When asked to specify their role, 40% called themselves 
photojournalists, 30% said documentary photographers, and 14% said 
news photographers.
  5. News photography was the largest category of photography (named 
by 19% of respondents), followed by personal projects (18%), 
portraiture (14%), and sport (10%).
  6. Photographers largely work alone (80% of respondents).
  7. While more than half (54%) of the photographers who took part in this 
study concentrate on stills photography, the overwhelming majority (93%) indicated that, given the choice, they would prefer to do still photography only. One-third work with video, either through choice or necessity.
  8. Photographers are generally highly educated; more than two-thirds of our sample have university-level qualifications, although one-quarter have no specific photography training.
  9. Photographers’ earnings are very low, with three-quarters making less than US$40,000 per year from photography, and one-third making $10,000 per year or less. Despite this, most say they are managing financially or are feeling good about their financial situation.journalism-photo-oxford-survey-jobs-market-research-trends-photography-slrlounge-weddings
  10. The unauthorized use of photographs without payment is widespread. An overwhelming majority of photographers in this study have been affected by this, with most receiving no compensation.
  11. Photography is a potentially dangerous occupation, with more than 90% reporting they felt vulnerable to the threat of physical risk or injury at some point during their normal duties. According to the views of respondents, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean are the most dangerous regions of the world to work in, while Europe and North America are the safest.
  12. Responses confirm that the digital era has added new complexity and uncertainty to the professional ethics of photojournalism, and almost all the photographers in this survey feel that understanding ethics is important. However, some of the practices reported by photographers suggest current ethical guidelines are not adhered to in some circumstances.
  13. There is an industry consensus that rejects the manipulation of photographs by adding or removing content, and 76% of photographers regard manipulation as a serious problem. Of those identified as mainly news photographers or photojournalists, 75% said they never alter a picture, with the remaining 25% saying they alter the content of images (other than by cropping) at least sometimes.journalism-photo-oxford-survey-jobs-market-research-trends-photography-slrlounge-weddings-5
  14. When asked if they stage images (i.e. ask subjects to pose, repeat actions, or wait while the photographer gets ready), 36% said ‘never’ but 52% said ‘sometimes’ (with a further 12% saying they did so at least half the time).
  15. Only 10% of photographers never enhance the in-camera or RAW files by altering contrast, hue, tone, or saturation, with 51% saying they do so often or always.
  16. While some feel that amateur or citizen photographers constitute a risk to their livelihoods, most photographers feel either neutral about it or see it as a positive development.
  17. When it comes to working online, 63% of respondents say a personal website is important or very important to their work, while more than half say they often or always use social media as part of their work, with only 11% never using it.journalism-photo-oxford-survey-jobs-market-research-trends-photography-slrlounge-weddings-2
  18. Facebook is overwhelmingly the favored social media platform for photographers in this study, with 62% of those surveyed ranking it first, and another 26% making it second or third. Instagram and Twitter follow along behind.
  19. Three-quarters of the photographers surveyed say they have received benefits from social media, with 40% saying the benefits are non-financial, and 23% saying they have been financial.
  20. Notwithstanding the low financial rewards, industry challenges, and physical risks, the survey evidence suggests that there is a high degree of job satisfaction, creative expression and personal reward among professional photographers. Two-thirds of the respondents said they were happy with their choice of livelihood, and 55% feel mostly or always positive about the future

[REWIND: MAGNUM PHOTOS DARKROOM MAGIC | THE GENESIS OF PHOTOSHOP & LIGHTROOM]

There’s really so much to take away from all of this, and hopefully this bounty of information will aid in wise choices. If you’d like the ‘whole hog’, so-to-speak, you can read the entire document hereThe State of News Photography

Source: World Press Photo

About

Kishore is, among other things, the Editor-In-Chief at SLR Lounge. A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Robert Pichler

    Being a full time wedding photographer, I find my self very vulnerable to injuries since a broken arm could ruin my entire wedding season. It is vital to have all kind of insurances and to plan your finances very carefully, making sure you have something “on the side” in case anything happens.

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  2. Steven Pellegrino

    I read the report about the state of news photography and in my case it’s unfortunately accurate. Over the past few months I was hired by an internationally known newspaper for an assignment and they never paid me. Just last month another very well known magazine used one of my photos and they too haven’t paid. I found they were using my photo because they posted a link to the article it appeared in on Twitter and there was my photo. So it appeared online and in print. So I wonder how many other photos of mine are being used without my knowledge.

    Number 11 is also true, that “Photography is a potentially dangerous occupation, with more than 90% reporting they felt vulnerable to the threat of physical risk or injury at some point during their normal duties.”

    Might be time to start thinking about doing head shots and portraits.

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