THE DECLINE OF PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY
In 1990 Jay Maisel, a famous New York photographer wrote
" I wouldn't want to be starting out today. The average photographer I know who has a studio will be paying anywhere from $2,500-00 to $4,500-00 a month rent. That's just rent. When I moved into a studio I paid $125-00 a month. Today the the rents are so astronomically high - everything is - compared to when I started, and the fees are not much higher."
Forward 20 years and and the decline continues, the gap between costs and fees continues to widen.
To compound the problem, the success of movie films made in New Zealand has made property owners aware that the film ( Photography ) industry is a multi-million dollar business with huge budgets for film extras and location payments from a seemingly bottomless wallet.
The film industry and a landscape photographer such as myself have nothing in common other than we produce images for public consumption, The film being shot in New Zealand may have a budget of $10,000,000-00 or more, a landscape photographer will be in an old 4 WD and prospecting for images that may sell as calendar pages or as background images in advertising. But we get lumped together as far as the general public are concerned and sometimes when asking permission to access private property we are asked to pay.
The last time I looked at census figures for New Zealand I noticed that the average annual income for those who choose to describe themselves as professional photographers was less than $17,000-00. That income in any ones eyes is at poverty level. The truth is that most photographers need to have a partner working full time to bring in a supplementary income. There are very few photographers who earn a decent income. Those that do are specialists known for their outstanding skill and they can command respectful fees but they account for probably 10% of the industry.
Every year there is a fresh batch of bright eyed photographers graduating from our schools of photography. Many expect to make photography their profession and it is sad to see so many of them fail. At least once a week I am asked by a budding photographer how to become a professional. All I can tell them is that they need to specialise, they need to produce outstanding images, they need to charge fees that are not degrading to the industry, they need to have a strong code of ethics and they need to realise that it may take them ten years to establish themselves. But I also remind them that there is hope, the cream will always rise to the surface, there are some photographers making good incomes. Hard work and skill will win through.