Wednesday, 28 December 2011


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.


  1. A "sad decline" might overstate the mark Andris. That in no way detracts from the truth of your thoughts.

    I would consider there to be (at least) two groups of "professional" photographers; the first group are the "true" professionals, the experts who specialise in the commercial aspects, of product, advertising, fashion, or personal portraiture; the other (and I in no way demean this group) obtain their images and then find the market to buy them, the art photographers, the part-timers, I know personally at least two whose names have appeared on calenders from time to time.

    I recently read of Stieglitz' thoughts when Eastman brought out their "shoot and print" cameras, followed soon after by Kodak's first Brownie, and how that development would "demean" the professional and particularly the art photographer.

    The same transformation has occurred in the modern landscape as digital cameras have gotten to the point where the image is as good as film and automated to the point where almost anything (including yours truly taking a passable image) is possible.

    As a "qualification" that of "Batchelor of Photography" has as much weight in my mind as "B Pop Music" or "B Rugby" despite the hopes and dreams of so many youngsters. The winners are those who have the talent irrespective of formal qualification.

    Anyone can be a real estate agent; the drop-out rate in good times is about 20% in the first year. When the market goes sour I can imagine that drop-out rate heading toward 50%.

    Much as I might like to be a professional photographer, I am as much one as I am a real estate agent (IOW zero). I will be sticking with the day job for at least this year when I will qualify as a pensioner...

  2. With any such career hard work is the essence and a good dose of ambition to go far with whatever they choose does help! If someone goes half heartedly into something they are unlikely to succeed. Sure, chance in involved too, but the world is always an uncertain place and we make do with what we have.