Full-time photography is an endangered species, but so what?

Alex Hare blog Pic 300x200 The Photography Blog: Full time photography is an endangered species, but so what?The British Journal of Photography carried an interesting piece about the photographer that has just won the prestigious World Press Photographer award.

It reported that the photographer in question, Samuel Aranda, was staring at his finances wondering how he was going to pay the next month’s rent when he received the call confirming his win. On one level I find this slightly reassuring but, on another, very depressing.

Reassuring in that it means I’m not alone in wondering where the next pay cheque will come from, but depressing that even someone contributing regularly to major publications and providing us with important photo journalism of world events is under the financial cosh from doing so.

This anecdote is indicative of the experience of many of us in full-time photography. No one can recall a time when there was less money available for photography whilst a demand to fill all the pages in our papers, magazines, websites or PR and advertising campaigns remains so strong.

Now, I’m not saying the industry deserves to be awash with cash simply because ‘hey, we’re artists, man’. Neither am I expecting sympathy from people for the plight of the full-time photographer – it’s tough for everyone right now. What I’m really concerned about is the fall in the quality of the photography we will experience as a result of undervaluing this commodity. As I see it, the quality of images that we are presented with from advertising to editorial is now under threat.

I remember standing on the platform of the London Bridge tube station on my way home from work one day (back when I had a ‘proper job’…) and being confronted by a poster campaign encouraging me to visit Turkey.

They’d used some very poor quality images that were crudely composited together to create a fantasy land; a seascape, with a waterfall flowing into it (in the Med?!), with a Disney style castle on the shore. It looked awful.

I found this cheap-skate, corner cutting photography insulted my intelligence and it seemed to me that if they couldn’t be bothered to show the country at its best in their advertising, then I couldn’t be bothered to go there. It obviously costs less than commissioning some quality photography of what is undoubtedly a stunning country but, and I kid you not, it made me decide to got to Greece instead that summer in protest!

The bottom line is, I think we are at risk of losing something here. I don’t mean some fancy, creative career for people like me that do photography full-time, rather a stream of quality photography that can only be produced by someone putting in the (full) time and dedication required to do it.

This has nothing to do with the amateur Vs. pro debate, by the way. There are stacks of great photographers in the amateur category but they have other jobs and their work is therefore sporadic and limited in volume. The issue is that without photography being valued enough to make it pay a full-time job, how can we have the flow of good photography the market is capable of carrying if the majority of the image suppliers are just dabbling, albeit to a high standard, during their weekends and summer holidays?

I accept that market forces are at play here and with tighter budgets these days the full-timer must either hang in there and offer something the part timer can’t, or get another job.

So when are we going to notice this slow erosion of the quality of our photography in the media we consume?

Maybe not until we look back in a few years time to an era when our front covers still carried startling photographs, from war zones to natural phenomena, when holiday brochures had really enticing landscape and travel images and when the ad campaigns we are bombarded with used quality imagery to engage us rather than bland mediocrity. My experience on the London Underground with the Turkish tourism advert is not isolated and I would argue that we have already passed this point of initial decline and the slide has begun.

So, if the quality drops, will we expect to pay less for the media we consume and the products we buy in response to inferior photography used in the ads? If our newspaper or restaurant meal was badly written or poorly cooked we wouldn’t expect to pay so much for it. Why should we pay full whack if the photography is sub-standard? Market forces can work both ways after all. If the media we consume can’t be bothered to entice us with quality images, why should we hand over top prices for their products? Just ask the Turkish tourist board who, no doubt, felt the pinch at my volta face!

New Smart Phone Photo Competition:

From the 2nd July HTC will launch a new photo competition, ‘My Life: from Dusk Until Dawn’. The aim is to uncover the often unseen side of the UK at these times. Using your smartphone to capture and share photos via Twitter, weekly winners will be in the running to win a holiday to shoot the Northern Lights.

I’ve spoken to the organizers about the sticky issue of rights usage of your submitted material and, whilst the T&C’s aren’t available for me to check, they say that this isn’t a back door way of stockpiling your work for their own use. Please do check the T&C’s if you’re concerned though before entering.

To enter, upload your ‘dusk until dawn’ images via Twitter alongside a short description and share with the @HTC_UK, using the #DuskUntilDawn.

Have your say:

Do you place any premium on the quality of the photography you expect from the newspapers, magazines and websites you view? Is it on a par with what you expect from the design/layout and the written content?

Does poor photography turn you off or do you press ahead and invest your cash on the basis that the it’s ‘OK’ and the rest of the read will, hopefully, compensate for it?

Are you fed up with seeing bland or poor stock images used in the media and advertising you see?

Are you surprised that rates for quality photography have sunk so low that, for many, it’s no longer viable as a full time job?

Maybe you think that’s just market forces and it’s either adapt or die?

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