A Reality Check about Photo Jobs
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Need a…reality check? Skywriting over the Loop left an ambiguous message earlier this year.
For Tuesday Tips, I’ve written a lot to inform and encourage those pursuing photography and, more specifically, photojournalism. I’ve also written about the awesomeness of the job. If you want to be the next James Nachtwey or Margaret Bourke-White, I’m all for it. You may be the next legend. Pursue your dream and your calling. I’ve never wanted to be one of the many “nabobs of negativity” who say that photojournalism is dead.
But now it’s time for a reality check courtesy the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in their Occupational Outlook Handbook:
“Employment of news photographers in newspaper publishing is expected to decline by 30 percent from 2010 to 2020.”
Decline… 30%. That should shock any staff photographer or any student looking to plunk down $100,000 at a college with the goal of shooting for a newspaper staff.
Perhaps this won’t come as much surprise to recent photojournalism graduates, who probably have done their own informal headcount of those who have actually found work at a news organization.
The good news is that photography jobs will increase as a whole, just not in publishing. Employment for photographers is anticipated to grow by 13 percent, in part because of population growth. So presumably if photojournalism doesn’t work out, a degree or years of experience will translate to other industries. The University of Chicago, for example, just hired a staff photographer. Other businesses are expected to follow suit in the years ahead, including perhaps architectural or advertising agencies.
As more and more businesses establish themselves on the internet, they will need photography of their personnel and their products. The internet requires rich media that needs to be refreshed, including photography.
Frankly, I’ve been surprised to hear of all the companies and organizations that employ staff photographers; airlines, hedge funds, museums, stadiums, legislators, megachurches and zoos. Photojournalists who can shoot, light and find emotional moments are well positioned for those jobs. (Other skills are welcome as well) But they first have to get known by those who would hire them.
The problem for the profession are the barriers to entry that are constantly lowering because of technology. Because more people want to be photographers at a rate higher than other professions, getting photo jobs will be more increasingly difficult. The supply of photographes will suppress any growth in salaries and pay.
Speaking of pay, what was the median salary for a photographer in 2010?
You might ask, then, is it worth it? Likely, no discussion of money or salaries will get in the way of a person pursuing their passion. I was rather stupid about money early in my career, even telling a boss that I didn’t really care about whether I got a raise. I agreed with the seemingly noble thought, “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.” At the time, it was all about creative fulfillment.
Now I would say, choose wisely and know the consequences. You can’t just hope that things will magically change in a future that you can’t imagine .
Even at salaries twice the average salary of photographer, you won’t likely prosper a family while saving for college and retirement. If you stay single or childless, that is one thing.
But if you’re thinking to marry and to have kids, you’ll both likely have to work. With both of you working, who will watch the kids? In that world, grandparents can be golden. But with no extended family, or with family that doesn’t want to be your nanny in their golden years, the cost of child rearing will eat up one of your incomes. Expect a lot of strain on your time and finances, along with missed special days.
And in case you missed it… a College Board report is circulating that says in 15 years the cost of a 4-yr private college will approach $400K.
Over the past couple years I’ve talked to a lot of photographers at conventions, conferences and on the street. Almost invariably, when we talk about raising a family on a photographers’ income, the photographer will say, “Well, to be honest, it helps that my spouse makes more than I do.” So in many households, it appears that photography is a second income. I’d be happy to be proven wrong on this.
My best advice, then, is to pursue your passion but expand your skill set. Thinking about a master’s degree? Don’t delay if you have the time and money. It can only help down the road when you might have neither.
The labor report also makes this strong suggestion which you will hear again and again: “Job prospects will be best for candidates who are multitalented and possess related skills such as picture editing and capturing digital video.”
You’ve also probably heard older photographers say, “Take business classes”. Consider it a warning from people who have hiked further up the trail.
If you fail to plan, you will plan to fail. That has happened to too many photographers.
Don’t let it happen to you. You don’t want to be another nattering nabob of negativism.
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