Can I make a living in photography?
Anything is possible. If you are driven and persistent, there is a place for you.
Being a photographer has never been easy, and making a living the traditional way—working for magazines—is getting more difficult each year.
Why the change? First, technology has made it easy to take a decent picture, so there are more images and photographers in the marketplace. Second, the web is full of free or very low-cost pictures from all around the world, including some places that are difficult (translation: expensive) to get to. The photos are good enough that they’re being published in books and magazines that used to hire photographers or pay licensing fees for photos.
Third, publishing itself has changed dramatically, shifting away from ink-and-paper publications to online delivery. Since consumers expect online content to be free, the traditional subscription-based model won’t work. Advertisers generally pay less for web-based media, so publishing budgets—and therefore, photography budgets—have fallen.
An over-saturated marketplace combined with a recession and shrinking budgets have really put the squeeze on a lot of photographers. Some fields like portrait and wedding photography are still doing well compared with the rest of the industry, but for most photographers, simply taking pictures doesn’t pay the bills anymore.
Many photographers are branching out into video as well. Why? Attention is a precious commodity in today’s world, and short clips of tightly edited video are great at drawing viewers. Stills, while graceful, beautiful, and iconic, are often quiet and thoughtful, and as a result, many times they can’t compete in our increasingly noisy and attention-bereft world. It’s got to walk and talk.
To be successful in photography in the current market, you must be the very best at what you do. Be passionate about every project you become involved in. Deliver the goods on time and on budget, every time. Shoot the best photos anyone has ever seen of your subject. Make sure people know how to find them. Provide excellent customer service. Be creative about solutions to your clients’ problems.
If you want to work harder than you’ve ever worked before doing all of the above, and don’t mind being responsible for your own paychecks, then you’ve got a shot at making a living in photography.
If you want to travel the world, meet new people, and see amazing places but aren’t quite sure about the long hours, financial uncertainty and unrelenting pressure, photography will make a more enjoyable hobby than career.
Photojournalist Al Diaz recently gave 10 very helpful tips for those thinking about photojournalism as a career.