I’m participating in a 2 day phone seminar with photography consultant Selina Maitreya starting tomorrow (professionalphotographytelesummit.com). I think one of the questions she asked me is really interesting so I thought I’d write about it a bit here first. She wants to know if editorial photography is dead, alive or just on life-support?

Editorial photography is alive and kicking, growing even, what’s dead is the idea that editorial anything only lives under the aegis of benevolent newspaper and magazine owners. We’re all familiar with the idea that the cost of printing and distributing content is nearly zero and with the aid of email, facebook, twitter and blogging the reach far exceeds what can be done with delivery trucks and newsstands. When true editorial ceased to exist because the financial crisis gave advertisers the upper hand in making sure the content didn’t come at odds with the advertising message, desperate magazines decided the best way to to keep advertisers happy was to make their content more commercial. The readers current apathy with editorial offerings is evidence that this was counter productive.

So, what happened to editorial content then? Consumers took it upon themselves to produce it. Blogs, forums, product reviews and social networking is filled with editorial content. The rise of social media in general is simply editorial content making a comeback. With true editorial product reviews long gone from most magazines, because of pressure from advertisers the social content cloud is bursting with opinions about products and services.

So, what about professionally produced editorial content, the kind we care about, the kind that gives photographers jobs and livelihoods. Here’s where it gets interesting. A few visionaries have taken it upon themselves to create their own profitable editorial niches. People like Scott Schuman, AKA The Satorialist, who defied the glossy fashion industry by shooting simplistic street fashion pictures. And, The Selby, a blog founded by photographer Todd Selby where he documents the interiors of creative persons homes. Both have not only seen the traffic to their blogs soar but their careers have as well because of it. The photography on both is very editorial in voice.

Here’s what’s about to happen next. Savvy companies are realizing they can attract consumers solely with editorial content. As documented this week in an article by David Walker on PDNOnline, cycling clothing manufacturer Rapha “runs almost no print advertising, and has few retail dealers. Instead, it mostly sells direct through the Web, and has built its brand by sponsoring events and by producing documentary stories and other editorial-style content for its Web site to stir the longings of desk-bound he-man riders of means.” The story talks about hiring Oregon photographer Benji Wagner who spent the last year producing editorial content for them. And for larger companies it’s going to be about producing two streams of content, advertising and editorial. Those companies will be looking for savvy photographers who have the voice and the ethics to produce content that will attract consumers.

So, yes, editorial as defined as something that appears in Magazines and Newspapers is dead, but editorial as a style of photography is on the rise.

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  1. Rob,

    Wow – Interesting take on what’s happening in the realm of “editorial” photography. I look forward to both joining you as a fellow participant on Selina’s teleseminar and also listening in to your words of wisdom.

    Gail Mooney

  2. Perfect way to begin our conversation Rob. Thanks for starting the conversation here on your blog.I look forward to continuing it during our conversation on Clarion Call which begins tomorrow at 9 am. A I know photographers are keenly interested in the magazine “as assignment piece” of the editorial market, I’ll look forward to discussing that as well with you. Photographers are all invited to join us for free during the 2 day, 14 hour event BUT you must register first:


  3. The Rapha point is a good one & it’s a message I’ve been trying to get my clients to buy into for a couple of years now. Over the last couple of seasons, I’ve been able to make some headway with one client in particular – the Dallas Stars (of the NHL).

    They’ve been running images I shoot of moments happening away from the puck (mostly) online & in the broadcasts. But, the huge step forward came last month during a road trip to W. Canada. We were able to give the fans an inside look at what happens with the team on the road:


    It ended up being one of the most successful pieces of content they’ve run on their website. Editorial is certainly not dead – if anything people seem more hungry for it than ever.

    • @Trey,

      Being from Edmonton, I have to tell you, you really captured the spirit of the thing. Dickie Dunn would be proud. Made me a little homesick.

      (That’s a compliment-not a backhanded stab at you either. If you’ve seen Slapshot, you know it could go both ways.)

      • @Silver, well thanks man. As an 8th generation Texan, I felt right at home in Alberta & Edmonton was a great town. Loved the place.

        • @Trey, These are amazing shots, they do a great job of capturing the emotion behind the scenes of an NHL game.

    • @Trey, Jesus Christ dude that’s a lot of content. Nice work. Love that teams south of the border give such access. Coming from Toronto I can’t see that happening here. Keep it up. You are proving that it works online.

      Rob, I gotta agree with you 100% here. Coming from a background of editing in the print world the traditional companies I worked for are in dire terms now. They fell for the trick of blurring the lines and the audience didn’t bite as Rob mentioned. The ones that were successful under that publisher? A gossip rag and a magazine that is essentially custom publishing for one of the country’s largest drug stores aka an advertising vehicle.

  4. I think the assessment it spot on. I’ll add that I think the line between advertising and editorial will continue to get very blurry. Those creatives that have a strong web presence and a following of their own will be called upon to produce content in large part based upon their popularity, loyal fans and web celebrity status. Take the Jarvis character and his Sandisk campaigns for instance. He already has a large demo that fits perfectly for a commercial entity to tap.

  5. It might be more accurate to say that the editorial style is still alive – as a form of soft-sell advertising. Blurring the lines between editorial work, where a journalist is obligated to tell the whole truth, the good and the bad, may be a way for photographers to find badly needed work, but what happens to the credibility factor when everything is some form of advertising? There is already a huge problem with being able to discern quality sources of information online and this trend is only going to make it worse. The problem I have with blogs and consumer-produced content is that a lot of it has little basis in reality – it’s the opinion page everywhere, not real journalism which is becoming a lost profession at many levels.

  6. Right on Rob! Great insights and will the new editorial era have the fixed boundries of it’s grandfather? I don’t imagine so. Being a photographer is not what it was back in the day, at least to me. The challenge is to step outside yourself to see the new era. There are those who are creating the course material for others to follow.

    • @Ed, i like your enthusiasm there is loads of opportunity to “see anew era”.

      And to that point I want to facilitate a conversation about what editorial could look like on the iPad and online. So I developed this prototype. The prototype “It’s a Man’s World” is an editorial still life translated into motion. This prototype explores new ways to connect objects with visually-driven storytelling and engage viewers in a complete cinematic experience. Here is the link I look forward to any feedback. Enjoy


      • @Scott Meadows, I think it’s part of the new era. Just as agencies want motion with the stills why isn’t there a blending. There is so much to explore. I like what you did and I think it is a great way to create for content for the Ipad. It will be interesting to see how long it takes Dell, and others to catch up to Apple. I imagine it wont take long. We can look at this way, the world is expanding not contracting.

        • @Ed, even beyond the tablets there are those media that will become moving visuals as flat screen monitors proliferate and replace still visuals. I am interested to see how out-of-home and in-store visuals evolve.

          As for editorial, original exclusive content is what saved HBO from being replaced by netflix. My hope is that a piece like “It’s a Man’s World” will give magazines exclusive content to differentiate themselves.

          Like you said it’s part of an expanding new era

  7. Interesting take Rob, but it does seem more like ‘advertorial’ than true editorial, which is ok, to an extent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to do some advertorial, for the right price, and i’d be happy to shoot the Dallas Stars too on a road trip too, could be a fun, visual piece. But really editorial at it’s core is about freedom of the press…… freedom to communicate ( visually, or with words) with a fair, un- biased, objective eye.

    • @robert gallagher,
      True editorial can only exist without advertising.

      • @A Photo Editor, if true editorial can only exist “without advertising” how does the Rapha example fit? It’s just a different twist on selling the brand – which is advertising. And anything shot for any magazine in the history of ever was created with a mind to what would attract eyeballs, which attracts advertisers. The two worlds don’t seem mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite really.

        • @Trey,
          Yeah, I’m saying that editorial independence is a myth except in a few rare cases so advertisers commissioning editorial work is not necessarily a bad thing.

      • @A Photo Editor, “True editorial can only exist without advertising.”

        With all due respect, why is this a true statement?
        Sure advertising clients may occasionally exert some influence over editorial content, or at the very least the relationship may cause the publisher to consider certain stories, but is this statement always true?

    • @robert gallagher, for the record, I had complete freedom shooting the Dallas Stars thing. In fact, they’re known for not censoring their content providers… which has proven very interesting with the current ownership situation.

      • @Trey, hey trey, I’m sure your Dallas Stars piece looked great, and i’m not criticising your work at all. But rather making the point that anytime the body that’s hiring you is also the same body being photographed, there’s always gonna be a certain amount of ‘controlling the message’ so to speak. Therefore by definition, not independent and not editorial. There’s a place for it, and it may look great, and it may look like editorial, but it’s not. It’s hired to portray a specific point or message.

        • @robert gallagher, no, I didn’t think you were being critical. But, see my questing to Rob above. If a photographer is being ‘hired’ & the client exerts some level of message control, how does the Rapha example Rob used fit into this discussion?

          • @Trey,
            I’d say that Rob’s point is right on. Trey may have had perfect freedom and somehow not been influenced in any way by the team or its sponsors….and good for him if that’s the case. It does happen that way.

            Problem is, there’s no way for the average viewer to know, one way or the other, if that was the case. That’s why you really can’t trust editorial content unless it’s produced outside the realm of advertisor-funded content.

        • @robert gallagher, also (and please forgive my ignorance on the subject), but i always thought ‘editorial’ implied a style and end use – not the genesis and funding of a project.

          by your definition, anything that’s not done on spec can’t be considered editorial work? what of all those photographers that are hired to shoot editorial?

          • @Trey,

            Actually, the definition of editorial is “too express an opinion”.
            I assume that what Rob was really talking about was journalism.
            That’s at least what I assumed in my response and failed to point
            out or rather correct him on. To shoot editorial is to use
            your images to express a particular view point. If for example
            you did a show called “People On The Street” and only shot
            poor homeless people you’ve either made an editorial decision
            or used an inappropriate title. If you shot all walks of life
            from Wall Street, upper west side and homeless as a simple
            example then the title is correct because the images aren’t
            limited to but one perspective rather inclusive of all walks of life you encounter in the public.

  8. Wonderful addition to the blog.

    Everything about the death of editorial is true and for all the reasons stated.
    I’d go easy however on the visionary comments only because it’s more a case of
    right place, right time, that someone picked up on the site and it made it’s way
    through the digital grapevine to find the right audience who promoted it.
    Maybe, it’s a what’s old is new again scenario? The old Life magazines are a
    perfect example of those shots only in B&W.

    Yes, the public has grown tired of being treated like they have the intelligence of
    a frog and traditional content providers as well as their advertisers are feeling
    the pinch. They should. Nothing builds a loyal audience more than truth in
    advertising, content or both. I’d challenge anyone promoting South Africa travel to
    include the luggage theft problems at Johannesburg airport or the crime and threats on the streets of Cape Town if you’re not in a travel group for example.

    Standing out is not only a challenge for photographers but editors, content providers
    and those at corporate making advertising decisions. It’s easy to jump on the
    latest band wagon because it’s safe. It’s an entirely different thing to stand outside
    the group, argue your position and it’s validity.

    What I would like to see is that the editors, advertisers, publications take a
    look at the summit and see what the possibilities are if they’re willing.

    I was taught a long time ago that it doesn’t make sense to stand in a pack of
    photographers at an event and offer the same image everyone else does.
    The shot the others missed is the one that stands on it’s own and separates
    one publications content apart from the other.

    Again, great post Rob and keep up the good work.

    • @Kevin Warren, Excellent reply man. Looking for the like button.

  9. Hi Rob,

    I’m curious what you mean when you say the cost of producing [editorial/content] is nearly zero…

    I would agree with you that there are new ways to get content out there (i.e., ‘distributing’ it) that cost nearly nothing. But as for the creation of content, those costs do still exist — from the cost of gear and other equipment (cameras, lenses, lighting equipment [if/when applicable], film and film processing [if/when applicable], or hard drives on which to store images, computers and software applications to view and process images), to the cost of hiring/paying assistants and other production crew members, to travel costs, etc. To say nothing of ‘paying oneself’ any kind of salary.

    If no one is paying for content, or willing to pay for content, are photographers and other creative people like really able to produce content at ‘no cost’ (or even just low cost) and with no [foreseeable] earned income from it? Will they be able to continue to to do so, to dedicate themselves to this pursuit? I’m not sure I see how this is possible… Not without a giant nest egg from some former life pursuit, or a trust fund, or a partner who’s bringing in a solid regular salary, or VC seed money, or something! At some point someone/something has to cover the costs of production — and then some.

    • @Cynthia Wood,
      Sorry, I meant printing.

      • @A Photo Editor,
        Aha. Essential difference! Thank you for clarifying.

  10. I work on Bizarre magazine and editorial is fair from dead where I’m standing. We’re commissioning more and more these days. I agree that the market has changed ( as it always has). As long as photographers offer a product which very few can deliver, there’s always going to be work for them.

  11. Thanks for citing my work with Rapha in the article. I appreciate it!
    I put up a post about this article on my blog, if interested: http://www.benjiwagner.net

    In all of the talk about editorial/advertorial/brand content etc.. one of the points that I feel is often overlooked is how few brands are actually doing editorial right, the way that Rapha does. Rapha has been able to produce stories that people actually care about within the context of their website and it has been very successful for them.

    I have seen so many examples of brands taking an advertisement and then trying to present it as content, which simply does not work. It has to be the other way around. The editorial content has to be strong enough in and of itself, so that when it is presented by the brand, it resonates with people thereby strengthening the brand.

    • @Benji Wagner,
      Just had a look – love your Rapha portfolio!

      And I agree with what you’re saying about the difference between advertising and editorial; most of the ‘brand editorial’ I’ve seen is transparent and should probably be classified as “advertorial.” It does seem possible for a brand to produce real, strong editorial content…but I think it takes a special brand with a very special vision/commitment, which [sadly] so many (most?) businesses don’t have, as they are all about the bottom line.

      • @Cynthia Wood, Thanks for the compliment.
        I don’t think a brand having a ‘very special vision/commitment is mutually exclusive from being about the bottom line. I think more brands are going to have to have a unique vision/commitment in order to build any kind of lasting connection and loyalty with consumers, don’t you think?

  12. Editorial is totally alive and well, you just need to learn to change with the times, look at this amazing video I saw today that gives a whole new life to product, so much fun. I think exciting times are ahead we all just need to start being more creative and give magazines a reason to hire us and create original content


    • @VIDEO MAN,

      I am not sure that you understand what “editorial” means, and this video is not amazing.

      • @Victor John Penner, my point was not that it was an editorial, if you had half a brain you would have read my post more closely and realized I never mentioned it was editorial. I was only trying to be positive and say that with the new tools out there for photographers we have the chance to do something new or at least a little different. The video is pretty awesome, sorry you don’t appreciate it. You are a sad man but everyone in Vancouver already knows that. I do know what editorial means and I work a hell of a lot more than you and do because I’m not a prick. Don’t cross me, you’ll regret it.

        • @VIDEO MAN,

          “Don’t cross me, you’ll regret it.” Haha! Archie, or Jughead?

          You said, “Editorial is alive and well….look at this amazing video I saw today…so much fun.”

          So yeah, you may not have meant it, but that absolutely implies you think that’s an editorial video. It ain’t, and it was pretty awful, to boot. Maybe it got better after the first 15 seconds, that’s as long as I lasted.

          • @Scott Hargis, Go fuck yourself scott, now I know where you’ll be this month. Bring that shit to my home town, we’ll see who’s tough. While your not taking shitty photos, look up the word absolute. Again I didn’t say it was an editorial video. You are just too dam ignorant to understand the english language. You wouldn’t understand the video, it’s above your pay grade douche. Have fun taking photos of shit houses, what a fucking joke that you are going to charge to teach photographers how to take shitty photos just like you. So big deal morons like you can’t get away with the crazy prices you charged in the 80’s for your yellow light, dutch angle bull shit photography. Times are changing fuck face, be a part of the change or shut the fuck up. I’m sick of you fucking asshole dinosaurs, bring it on fuck face, you’re in my town now.

            • @VIDEO MAN,

              Grow a pair, and post a real name.

              At the risk of being at the receiving end of more of your vitriol; I’ll offer my own commentary & feedback of the aforementioned ‘amazing video’ you point all of the readers of this blog to.

              ‘Stop action’ photography (what it seems to be) of a bunch of iPhone cases, synced to an equally bad sound track . . . qualifies as ‘amazing’? Well, okay, if you say so.

              However, the more salient point is that if you choose to make posts hiding behind a pseudonym, and have the gall to criticize well established photographers who’ve been in business most likely longer than you’ve been out of high school you’ve VERY clearly revealed your overtly bitter nature.

              I’m willing to bet that A) you made said ‘amazing video’ B) you’re not working much (if at all, NOT that I personally care one way or another about that) C) you most likely missed at least one, if not many remedial English classes.
              -‘Would you kiss your Mother’ with that mouth’? I’d substitute significant othe,r for Mother, however given your apparent stridently negative attitude it’s my guess that you’re not in a relationship-that’d certainly be no small surprise.

              Also, when you criticize people for being ‘too dam (SP) ignorant to understand the English language’, really, you might want to spell check . . . as a DAM is a physical structure to contain something. I believe you meant ‘Damn’?

              ‘Don’t understand the video, it’s above your pay grade’ . . . please- it’s a couple of phone cases. Effective images, whether moving OR still are about ideas, coupled with lighting and effective composition. The video (yours?) had none of that.

              ‘Big deal morons, crazy prices, shitty photos . . . dinosaurs’.

              Video Man, I’d seriously suggest a career change, as NO ONE likes to (or these days HAS to) work with someone with such an obvious chip on their shoulder.

              It’s NEVER about the tools, they’re ALWAYS changing, it’s about the idea.

              Oh, one last thing- IF you have the balls to actually name yourself . . . well, I’d be careful what you ask for. You might just find yourself lying face down in a pile of cold Canadian snow, with any number of irritated (and apparently aged) photographers laughing at you.

              Best of luck. No, really. You’ll need.

              Robb Scharetg

              • @Robb Scharetg,

                To everyone regarding this thread. Stay away.

                Video Man has crossed a legal line that would warrant
                contacting the police, FBI since he’s claiming to be from Canada. Threats against individuals in such a manner as
                to cause bodily harm are illegal.

                He can be tracked, identity given, since this is the internet.

                Had Rob stepped in I wouldn’t have posted this.

                • @KSW, Relax all, I mean no actual threats. Just was trying to be positive in my initial message and had only negativity thrown back at me. No I did not create the video, although I wish I did, because I like it. I don’t know why people have to try and be so negative. All I said in my original comment is that I liked the video and see it a way to the future of editorial. Perhaps this blog will server as a record. When all of you are having to learn video when magazines go more web based and video is how money is made. Sheeesh, whats wrong with all of you??? Does being more established mean you can be mean

  13. I’d say it’s far from dead and just evolving.
    Seems like it’s been non lucrative for emerging photographers for a few years but I still think its a good way to get exposure, especially if the work will be shown in both print and web (better yet iPad) form.

    • @Mark likosky,

      “Get exposure” to what end goal? For the opportunity to shoot more cheap to (less than) zero jobs? In 1998 editorial jobs were still paying rates from 1984. This isn’t some new occurrence, it’s practically an institution at this point.

      All along image makers have used the pie in the sky theory that shooting editorial would give them more exposure, so they were willing to shoot for low to minus fees. In fashion that could include spending $5K-$20K of the image makers own cash on one story. Often the story wouldn’t even be run.

      The problem with this dream theory is supply and demand. The market is glutted with image makers (and existing images) that will also shoot for low to minus fees.

      Advertising (the cherry) is experiencing the same market phenomena: oversupply, lowballing, crowd sourcing, cheap stock, digital composites, etc., etc.

      These theories and plans may make sense in text, or coming from some coach or consultant. But they don’t include or represent the whole picture. Without a true understanding of reality a plan will rarely work. While a very few may breakthrough (often for only a season or five), the majority don’t. Is this a career or a hobby? What is the return on investment over the life (25-40 years) of the career?

      • @Bob, I meant that editorial is evolving in the form of blogs and other inventive apsectd as mentioned.
        I remember only too well getting paid $125/day on editorial shoots with photographers who got the ‘cherry’ gigs because they knew they had to stay on the radar by shooting for magazines. This got them ad gigs from the exposure just like blogs and whatnot are a free way to create and showcase forward thinking work.
        I concentrate on blogs because it’s free and get decent feedback but I would not turn down an editorial shoot if I thought it was interesting and give me some exposure.

        • @Mark, How is your time, opportunity costs, real costs, and equipment free?

          Online ads don’t pay the same as print ads, and print ads are declining.

          Again: Return on Investment (time is an investment).

  14. What about editorial as a way to earn a living? I don’t care the estetic or style part. Anyone have real data about the increasing or not of the amount of money that editorial business put on the table of photographers?

  15. Herman hits on something here: editorial photography used to provide a living or most of a living to some photographers (and still does for most full time staff newspaper photographers.) Hell, photographers used to be hired to be “staff” for some magazines.

    That’s gone. Editorial is reduced to a way to become better known and get more jobs and have people more fascinated with your work. And that’s OK if you have the dollars to go out and shoot amazing stuff for Flaunt or Blackbook or any number of other magazines and produce what amounts to an amazing promo, while spending your own money. So I think the question of, “Is making a LIVING as an Editorial Photographer Dead?” a really interesting question.

    I think Rob has also hit on something, that the editorial photographer that is more of an entrepreneur, has ideas for new media, if they are lucky and have the right work, can find outlets or post their work to such outlets and have it gain the right notoriety and attention to get them work. Maybe even that notoriety can lead to a successful website or business.

    BUT, Cynthia is also so correct, this does take production money. Camera, computer, lighting etc., etc. The gear kit is getting smaller, but we aren’t making images out of thin air. However, this has always been the case: photographers aren’t broke people from the lower classes of society. There are very few photographers throughout the history of photography who are broke, and going to the soup kitchen. Poets, yes. Photographers, no. Photographers just couldn’t afford the film, developing, paper, lights etc., whereas all poets need is paper and pen and a reputation. Theses days, its digital cameras, hard drives, computers, lights: and upgrade it all at least every 5 years.

    Stieglitz came from money. His Dad bankrolled him for quite a while. Arbus’s father owned a large department store in NYC and her then husband Alan got his first fashion photography assignments from his Father-in-Law, Meatyard was a Doctor. And the list goes on and on. Sure, some photographers came from meager means and captured a large market share of work, but most photographers had money from their families or had another job to support themselves or a spouse to support them. Even Terry Richardson’s Dad was a well known fashion photographer before his problems ran him out of the industry.

  16. Your thoughts on blogs being editorial has given me a new awareness in terms of re-contextualizing the meaning of my blogs. I also feel that as you make mention of the social media forces that are driving most industries these days, editorial spreads still exists. Advertising a business on the web is not very different than a magazine; the only major difference being that the web is not a physical object where a publication once was. As a younger photographer, looking back on the years of fashion, newspapers, and sports having been such an immense success, I have come to realize that the bulk of my career that lay ahead of me will most likely not involve so much work in terms of print. Most of what I am picking up is in fact for web based advertising, marketing, and for social media. Slightly off topic, but along the lines of industry shift, I am seeing a huge upsurge in model portfolios being all digital and less print based. The changes we are seeing a great, not so great, and provide new resources to bring the industry to a new level. A great case in point, look at what this one photographer has done:

    Not only is there an advancement in technology, industry, but a radical shift in studio practice.

  17. As are many of the threads on this blog (with all due respect) and others, this thread seems to be trying to support the idea that there is an opportunity for a healthy career in creating images professionally. These threads also supports a small group of people who make their living as consultants and vendors to those image makers (apparently) trying to create a professional career.

    My experience and observation leads me to be very skeptical that there now exists a good return on investment in this industry. The overwhelming majority of image makers will not get a healthy return on investment over their careers (25-40 years). They would do better investing their time and resources in another profession. Just as in sports, music, or acting, there will be the rare and occasional success story (often featured in blogs like this one), but the vast majority will just get by, if that. Should I be just starting out now I would not seek a career in image making – though I would still create personal imagery.

    Having said that, I’ll add an interesting note about “editorial” journalism which may be applicable to this thread.

    I have a professor friend teaching business strategy in China. Many of his students dream of attending the Columbia School of Journalism, then returning to China to start careers. These students are career oriented! They seek professions with the primary goal of success. (American image makers seem to work in an opposite manner: I love creating images, so there must be a way to a career in image making. Emotional thinking).

    When I first heard of these students goal, I laughed. “Columbia School of Journalism”, “Journalism in China” , do the Chinese know how difficult journalists have it in America today? I had trouble understanding why young Chinese students see journalism as a good career. ??? How much freedom do journalists have in China I asked. He explained that going to this prestigious American school would give the student’s careers a huge boost in credentials. The “journalism” career was not for use in news reporting, but instead to be used in the commercial marketplace, including PR, internal corporate positions, spokespersons, tourism, etc.

    • @Bob, I agree that a career in photography is a real long shot. But it doesn’t seem to stop students from attending art school. (It also doesn’t seem to stop people from going to school for acting or painting or poetry, and those students have even less of a chance of getting a job.)

      I also agree that consultants are always positive (that’s how they make money,) and they usually will never give you a reality check on the industry.

      Fifteen years ago, I was at a party and Jim Salzano told me I was crazy to go into photography and he sure was glad that he wasn’t starting out commercially like I was. I’m glad I did. It has been a wild ride, but a fun one. I would hate to have left that party and started selling insurance. But my gut check on the industry is that times are really tough: everyone from food stylist friends, other photographers (who call me asking for teaching jobs) studio rental houses, and stylists say that business is way down. That isn’t to say that some aren’t making a living, but others are leaving the business entirely.

      I teach at the college level. And currently my most successful students and I’m talking about the ones who are able to make a living, (after 3 1/2 years of teaching) are wedding photographers and retouchers. There are a few former students making a living as assistants out there doing well too. Now in 10 years time, will they be able to make a decent living and will they call themselves photographers? That remains to be seen.

      • @greg ceo, Hey Greg, thanks for the note.

        Yeah, I agree with much of your response. Many of the younger students use emotional reasoning to determine their choices.

        If consultants took an honest study, it might not support their own businesses. Brooks Institute of Photography was actually sued about 5 years ago:

        The questions that keeps coming up (for a dozen years) are ROI (return on investment) and opportunity costs.

        We have to look at it (though many can’t or won’t) for longer than 10 years. If an image maker takes all the time, money, energy, resources, and “opportunity costs” and puts them into another endeavor is the return better (healthier, functional)? The guy on the corner with his falafel stand might do better than most image makers will over the long term.

        Now some will say, “but I really love creating images, so I’m willing to make less for that opportunity”. I ask, “Is this a business or a hobby?” Unless an image maker is at the very top (say top 3% of image makers), this profession is primarily a job like any other. Most of our time spent in this business is not shooting or creating images, but managing the business. Only those at the very tippy top are shooting more than the other work involved in managing this business.

        So if one is going to be doing that much work (which is comparable to many other careers), why not choose a business which produces a better ROI? This would allow more time and resources to create personal images.

        I don’t know much about the retouching market, but can only imagine the demand is relatively limited. The problem with the public market (portraits, weddings, family, etc.) is the problem with both the middle class economy at large and the collapse of the other photo marketplaces. The later has created a lot of flight from commercial, corporate, journalism, etc. into weddings etc. This has produced a glut of supply (including all the digital newbs) and less demand. Along with our declined economy this creates a tough market with low fees.

        The huge underlying problem is the fractured economy, low employment, and low quality of jobs in general. Came across this statistic recently: The top 1% of Americans now own more than the bottom 90% of Americans. The top 20% of Americans own 85% of the wealth in America. Apparently average real wages in America have not increased in the last 50 years.

        • @Bob, I bet the guy on the corner with the Falafel stand DREAMS of being a photographer! LOL. –Greg

          • @Bob. You make some good points. I just would note that for some people, making a living and earning 25k as a photographer makes them a lot happier than selling insurance and making 50k. America is an aspirational country and some people want to try to be the next famous fashion photographer and try they do. ROI or not, I don’t think photography as a profession is going away, despite your logical argument.

            Some really hard working photographers are making a living. Not what they used to make, but doing alright. Perhaps if the economy turns up, and people feel like spending money again, perhaps everyone will loosen the purse strings a bit.

            As for retouching jobs, there seems to be an upswing in e commerce fashion houses needing retouchers. Just google “jobs and photo retouching” and there are a number of them.

            • @greg ceo, Ha! It’s much easier for Joe Falafel to dream about being a photographer. He has his house paid off, car paid off, health insurance for his family, the best gear falafel money can buy and a successful business to support his photography habit, LOL :)

              The economy is based to a great deal on employment. There has been a shift underway for decades with regard to employment and productivity. Productivity has gone up, while wages have remained flat or declined. A significant amount of blue and white collar jobs have gone overseas. The paradigm has also shifted with regard to how people spend their time. Time spent can be when money is spent. But today a great deal of time is spent in the cyber world which is relatively low cost entertainment. Another paradigm shift has been the centralization of many things. Big box stores, consumption patterns (brands, less diversity), larger (and less) financial institutions, etc. The middle areas of our culture have been in decline. The top is doing very well, and the bottom is growing.

              All of this affects the total. It is synergistic. Third quarter earnings last year were at record levels – a part of the economy is doing VERY well. Even if the middle class does come back, it may take a generation or two. That’s a lot of time to be living, working, waiting for a healthy career.

              The here and now. As I said, for most photographers making a living in this profession consists of the same daily drudge and chores of working in many other businesses. The time spent making images is only a small fraction of the time spent on the business. If a person is young, single, idealistic, and not looking too far ahead, photography as a career might make sense. Add a marriage, a house, children, illness or accidents, aging parents, aging self, retirement, changes to the economy, changes to social policy, or other unforeseen changes, and perception may change. $25K (even in middle America) doesn’t go very far today. Many may not even net that much, especially after health insurance, business insurance, cost of living, equipment, etc., etc.

              When these things happen (children’s needs, personal needs, spousal needs, parents needs, health care costs, rising cost of living index, illness x1/2/3/4/5…, later seasons of life, and more) living in a van down by the river to afford a photography business -habit- might not seem like such a good plan anymore.

              The profession of typesetter has not completely gone away either, nor blacksmith, nor painted portraits. Those that work in these very niche industries can do quite well. Even the website designer from a dozen years ago would have trouble competing with all the programs and pre-made template sites today. Back in the day there were scholars that would write letters for the public (for a fee), which were sent through the mail to others. If the receiver was not literate, they would seek a scholar (for a fee) to read the letter.

              Thanks for the info on retouchers (I do most of it myself). This still is a very niche industry. Most of the hundreds of millions of camera owners won’t pay the retoucher enough for them to earn a ROI.

              • @Bob, I agree in a way. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. Meaning: if you are competing for $75 headshots don’t have kids. Let the death panels take care of your aging parents, whatever. No artist is a U Chicago “rational self interested actor” or a “self maximizing” individual. If people actually consider ROI when they start embark on a photo career they will never make it. Those guys/gals go to B-School or some other professional school. It is part of the deal. The closest I came to considering ROI was switching from photojournalism to commercial work in the early 90’s, and then from stills to film about three years ago.

                Retouching is a profit center, by the way. Those millions of amateurs who own cameras don’t pay retouchers, but Conde Nast and Hachette will for editorial, and retouching and compositing is the norm for most commercial images.

                • @Donnar Party,

                  I disagree. Why does an artist have to starve? (Especially one who is working in applied arts). We see artists all the time with day jobs. Why can’t an artist have a more significant career and still create art as a separate endeavor? While some of the (financially) successful artists may not manage their businesses well – many do. I have also known a few photographers in the past with advanced degrees in law, engineering, and other sciences. They became photographers in the middle of other successful careers. Some have now moved out of this industry – but they still shoot.

                  Do artists go to art school with it in mind that their career will be competing for $75. head shots? This awareness (or lack of perspective) is the essence of our discussion. What is so significant about this art created or this life lived as a struggle that it is worthy of the experience?

                  Are fashion designers not applied artists, just as advertising photographers? Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Laurent, Tommy Hilfiger, they’ve all done well financially, no? Do you think they entered this industry with the idea of living in a basement in Queens for their entire career?

                  It’s a matter of insight and perspective. However good an artist with a narrow perspective may be, I believe one with a broader perspective may be that much better. But wisdom and perspective can take time. Things change. The artist who has decided to live alone, starve for their art, and depend on the welfare of society may have second thoughts down the road. At 45-50 years of age going back to school for 6-8+ years might not work out either.

                  I’ve had experiences with Conde Nast. Again for the most part, editorial is not a very sustainable career on it’s own. Even if there is another line on the invoice for retouching.

                  btw – Your comment about parents and death panels, says much. Even if your aging parents may have health insurance, they still may need help in their daily, weekly, or monthly lives. If a person is a starving artist it may be difficult to have this time, or the resources to travel regularly.

    • @Bob, I do think healthy careers as an image maker still exist, its just not available to EVERYONE that likes pictures. Too many students were told growing up that as long as they work hard and want something REALLY REALLY bad, they can have it. This myth is the American ethos. What it leaves out is something that is not well liked in America, and that is the fact that not everyone is created equel and you can’t control everything. In short, not only do you have to work hard, stay focused and be persistent, you have to have inborn talent and luck. No school that depends on $30k a year in tuition is going to tell a student that they don’t have what it takes to be Solve Sundsbo, but they do have what it takes to do pak shots for Charmin, maybe.

      Other areas of image making are doing well. The film industry is healthy, even if we shoot New Orleans and Paris exteriors in Montreal. Retouching is an art in itself, and I can tell you that retouchers in New York, if they are good, make more than the photographers on fashion/beauty editorial shoots. Set designers, art directors, creative directors do very well. Graphic designers, not so well because they are working slave hours for slave wages hoping to be a CD/AD one day.

      • @Donnar Party, lol. I agree. There may be a few healthy careers as poker player too. Yes, there is a lot of wishful thinking, and dreaming going on today which may be producing a level of self deception.

        How much do photographers (in general) make on “fashion/beauty editorial shoots”? Is it more than (less than) zero? How many careers do those other areas support? How much control does one have over the number of projects in those fields.

        If one is in the top few percent in their field, of course they are doing well.
        Annie Lebovitz, The Coen Brothers, Gwyneth Paltrow , LeBron James, Lady Gaga… Yes, there will be some not quite at this level of success that still have good careers. But the marketplace has changed. Supply is glutted, and demand for the better projects is less and may be more focused.

        There are a number of distortions in reasoning commonly used by people trying to advance in these very risky businesses:

        – I create images better than anything else – therefore I must be successful as an image maker. I don’t know how to do anything else – therefore I must be successful as an image maker.
        *This is emotional thinking, without taking account of the reality of the marketplace. This is the farmer tilling his fields in the middle of a draught, because he hopes his crops will grow as they did in the past.

        – If I just work harder than everyone else I’ll be successful.
        *Again, emotional thinking, without taking account of the reality of the marketplace. In some cases this obsessiveness is almost a form of self flagellation.

        – Joe Photographer has a great (write up, campaign, year, portfolio) so that must mean he will be successful. Therefore if I just do what he did, I will be successful too.
        * A job, a profile article, a portfolio, a great year – does not a career make.

        – I have gone to four years of art school – therefore I will be successful in this business.

        – Everyone loves my images – therefore I will be successful in this business.

        – I’m different than everyone else – therefore I will be successful in this business.

        – My consultant says – therefore I will be successful in this business.
        – My consultant’s other clients had a good (write up, campaign, year, portfolio) – therefore I will be successful in this business.

        What we have here too often is the participant making choices based on what they want as opposed to how the marketplace actually exists. The photography marketplace is incredibly fractured today and those clear paths to success in the 90’s no longer work. Success today may cost more than the limited returns. Risk in this business is extremely high. Failure in this business is extremely high. Luck in this business is rare, and fortuity may be a significant contributing factor to success in this business.

  18. Yes, it is. Editorial photography is dead. WPP awards confirm that trend: no ideas, same thing, continued the exploitation of people wounded in body and mind by sheer voyeuristic use, without adding anything to information.

  19. I live in an area where 5 newspaper photographers were laid of two years ago. Only one of them is making a living at photography right now by teaching. There are two wedding photographers that are making 6 figure-a-year incomes while others compete against Craiglist photographers who will do weddings for $100. I know a photographer who went down to $75 for one hour of photography plus prints and didn’t get the job because the price was too high.

    For the majority of photographers in the US it isn’t editorial photography that is dead, it IS photography that is dead.

    My friends and I read this blog and laugh.

    • @Brian V., I don’t think photography as a career is dead. It is however a different job than it was 15 years ago. It’s only dead for those who have given into their competition. The question is, what are the photographers making six figures doing that the other’s are not?

      • @Chris, They are convincing people to spend three times more money on wedding photography than they planned or telling people that if their wedding is in a particular church he won’t shoot the wedding because the lighting is bad. These two guys were business men first and didn’t really start to learn photography until after they started their photo biz.

        Tell me, how can one compete with $100 for a wedding? How can you compete if $75 is too much money?

        • @Brian V., Some markets are just dead. Others are not. If someone is paying $75 they probably would never pay $500 for the same job. If the markey you are in doesn’t value photography, its time to find another market. People in certain cities value images and design. Most of country doesn’t. Utilitarian and commodity based consumption of images is for the Craigslist guys. Leave it to them.

          • @Donnar Party, And just how am I to find another market? Relocate? I’ve been unemployed for two years I have no money with which to relocate. I’m not going to pull my kids out of school and away from their friends. The only calls I’ve gotten in two years are for appraising some Ansel Adams photos. Something I’m not qualified to do. To develop some film. Something I’m not able to do as I’ve gone digital. And last, to copy the work of a living photographer for home decor. Something I won’t do.

            What I hear you saying is I need to live in New York or L.A.

            • @Brian V., I feel you. And yes, I am saying NYC, LA, San Fran, Chicago.

            • @Brian V., L.A. & NYC are extremely saturated and competitive in all segments of the imaging industry. Both also have very high costs of living, and both source some of their imaging needs from areas that are less expensive to live and work.

              • @Bob, you said NYC and LA “both source some of their imaging needs from areas that are less expensive to live and work”.

                I’ve never seen this happen, unless it is pak shots and furniture, which is all shot in China as far as I can tell.

                • @Donnar Party,

                  Have you never seen images sourced from stock?. Not all of that stock originates from image makers who reside in either of these two cities. Same with assignments. Editorial and advertising assignments are sourced through photographers who don’t live in either of these two cities as well. There are also agents and reps that do not live in L.A. or NYC. Some do not even live in the USA.

                  • @Bob, I’m talking about commissioned photography, but people are welcome to try and make a living from stock.

                    • @Donnar Party, I’m taking about commissioned photography as well (advertising, editorial, corporate). There are plenty of photographers that do not reside in LA or NYC. The majority of jobs arising from a single city is more than likely NYC. But there are very good ad agencies outside of NYC, and LA has never been a big ad agency city – outside of the auto industry.

                • @Donnar Party, There are a lot of photographers who do not live in NYC or LA who make a good living. The cost of living is WAY lower and it is much easier to shoot many jobs. Check out Sandro in Little Rock, AR. He’s doing well. He’s even shot some high end advertising campaigns where agencies came to him to shoot in LR. Bob is also right about stock. I’ve got over 2000 images on Getty and almost all of them were shot in the midwest: again, easier to shoot and much cheaper.

                  • @greg ceo, I agree, about cost of living etc. I know people in Austin, Portland, etc. who do well. None of my clients in NY or LA go other places (that I know of) for talent, unless its to London. I’m also talking about commissioned photogreaphy, not stock. But that really wasn’t by point. My point was (and is) that if you live in a market where you are competing with $500 weddings and $75 headshots, you should move. Maybe NYC is too expensive, so go to Little Rock. Go to Austin. And if you can’t move for other reasons such as kids or ageing parents, sell insurance. Work at a bank. Become a cop. We all make choices, and maybe circumstances and our choices conspire to keep some people from being “professional photographers”. The world will go on.

                    • @Donnar Party, There are photographers in NYC and LA who will shoot your headshots for $50. and your wedding for $500. There are cheap photographers everywhere. But I think if you do not know how to market your work and how to prove your are worth a lot more and get the clients that pay a lot more, then you better pay someone to do that for you or find another career. I don’t think location has a lot to do with it, unless everyone is broke where the photographer chooses to live.

                    • @Donnar Party, The reason this conversation holds water is because ALL levels and markets of the industry (save for the very few percent at the top) have been hit. There is a glut of supply and the demands have changed as well (quantity and quality).

                      If this issue was not hitting everyone, it wouldn’t be an issue.
                      See my comment below to Greg.

                  • @greg ceo,

                    I gave Getty the finger after our second contract expired. I didn’t like where they were going, and didn’t want to have to watch my back (trust).

                    Don’t know how long you’ve been with them.
                    However back in the day – mid 90’s – 2001 a photographer @ Getty’s most elite agency (TSI) with a quarter the images you have could bring in six figures a year. With less than a 1000 images I knew a few that were bringing in over $500K a year. Imagine that, making a few thousand a night in residual income from licensing.

                    Now that was back when they were considerably tighter with accepting and marketing images (all due respect). That was also a 50/50 split. I don’t know how they are now with regard to accepting images, but can only image they are looser with what they accept and license. I’m sure Getty is doing ok next to the photographer today. At the same time this was happening all the other markets were robust (editorial was still crap, but more of it to keep some busy).

                    The contrast between then and now speaks strongly about how far this industry has fallen. A career today is not the same career for most.

                    • @Bob, Yes, agreed, people (including myself) were doing very well with Tony Stone from 2000 to 2007,after Tony Stone was bought by Getty. Many photographers have left the business of stock altogether. But the reasons for the decline of the stock photography business cannot be attributed solely to Getty’s business practices. It is an across the board decline in stock due to the glut of images being created by digital cameras, and a zillion stock companies opening up shop on the internet. Once photographers found out what other shooters were making shooting stock, photographers couldn’t wait to join the party.

                      It’s an interesting parallel in the music business. Could one say that Apple’s i-tunes killed the music business and the great decline in CD sales, or would it have happened anyway?

                    • @greg ceo,

                      Greg, Stone sold his agency to Getty in the mid 90’s. It went downhill from about 2002 due to the hideous contract – which I did not sign – as well as fall out from 9/11. I also was not one of the 600 photographers that hired an attorney to fight the contract. I was pretty sure most photographers would cave in – they did. After that royalties were less and Getty was hiring students for all day shoots at $800. a day and putting the resulting images ahead of the ones their contracted photographers created. It just got worse from there.
                      ($800./day sounded great to the students, but then Getty got 90% of sales for 5 years, and one sale could easily equal that whole day fee).

                      I wonder what the marketplace would have looked like had Getty and Corbis not bought all the other stock houses up – effectively monopolizing the industry. There would have been a lot more competition which may have faired better as digital came in. Apple’s iTunes is not the only place to buy music. People were sharing long before that. But now streaming is replacing a lot of sales. I have no idea what royalties are paid for the streams.

                      Here’s an interesting piece from 2009:

                      “A study last year conducted by members of PRS for Music, a nonprofit royalty collection agency, found that of the 13 million songs for sale online last year, 10 million never got a single buyer and 80 percent of all revenue came from about 52,000 songs. That’s less than one percent of the songs.”

                      I believe what is happening to the photo industry is also hitting many other industries.The hit is not just one thing. However the paradigm shift in how people spend their time (and money) has changed. There are more feeds of media, entertainment and distractions than ever before. Many of these feeds are almost free. Meanwhile we see the middle class of America in great decline. Jobs have declined in quality and availability. Productivity is up (automation too) while real wages have not increased in 50 years.

                    • @Bob, You made your choice to leave Getty and I made my choice to sign the new contract and stay. Getty Images made my career what it is today. Do I like all of their business practices, “No.” But do I think that someone else would have looked at the stock industry and said, “Gosh this is ripe for consoidation.” Yes I do. I sincerely believe that right now we’d be bitching about Photonica taking over the stock image world, or the damn “Google Stock” company. I don’t think we all could have stopped: Microstock, DSLR cameras, the Great Recession, and Declining Print and Media outlets and the downward pressure on pricing of stock images. Maybe we all could have slowed it, but not stopped it. But, this is probably a discussion for another thread.

                    • @greg ceo, Well except Photonica was a boutique agency that never had any past corporate behavior to indicate they wished to monopolize the industry. Whereas the Getty group are sharks, and came into the industry as outsiders. I’m not bitching, more explaining.

                      Has any one company said, gosh the software industry is ripe for consolidation? Or the music industry is ripe for consolidation?
                      If this consolidation had happened in say the energy industry (see: ‘Standard Oil’) or communications (see: ‘The 1984 Bell System divestiture’) there may have been consequences. As it is now, we are dealing with (over) supply and demand in a world economy as a whole that requires less workers to be productive.

                      My decision to leave was based on my own career doing well in commissioned projects. Getty provided a side stream of income, but stock photography has usually been looked down on by those commissioning work. I kept all my assignment and stock images separate. There was also one large sale Getty made in which they left a significant amount of money on the table(I was able to get the details on the sale through the head of my local office). That along with all the other declining terms in our agreement made me realize I no longer wished to work with that organization. In the heyday though, I loved the company TSI was a wonderful group.
                      The meetings, the events, dinners, Christmas gifts , TSI were the best!

                    • @Bob, I don’t think the oversupply of stock images can be pinned to Getty Images buying up small stock agencies. I think it would have happened in some manner of fashion, somehow some way.

                      My experience and my career was the complete opposite of yours: The money I made from the sale of my stock images provided the spring board for the rest of my career. The same images that I shot for stock (since they were really unusual) were the same images I used in my book and the same images that got me a rep and the same work that got me big advertising gigs. And although my stock photography licenses have declined greatly from their peek (as has everyones) I still make a nice sum each year from my stock sales I have had images at many other agencies, and I never make the returns I make at Getty. See my latest blog post where a photo editor states that the reason Getty succeeds is that their website kicks the competition’s butt: http://gregceoblog.com/according-to-a-photo-editor-gettys-search-engine-is-head-shoulders-above-their-competition.

      • @Chris, A big question is one of risk and ‘return on investment’. See my comments in the thread above for more details. At what point is one’s time and resources better allocated to something outside of the very high risk photography industry?

    • @Brian V., Re: Successful Wedding Photographers

      You’ve heard it a million times. It’s not how good your photography is, it’s how good your marketing is. If you have a website that no one ever sees, no one knows about you.

      One huge key to being successful shooting weddings is being first in the search order for wherever you live and shoot. And I can tell you, the difference between being on the first page of a google search (or being first) is a lot of $$$ if you do any kind of retail photography at all.

  20. I think much of this is about simple Supply and Demand, (and also the internet/technology). I’d try to Google rob’s interview with Clint Clemens on this very blog, and look for the passage about “barrier to entry”. The barrier to entry with photography is now very low. Buy a 5D, take a class or two, and you can hang out a shingle. (Whether you’re ready or not, to actually do business).

    I’d compare this to the Retouching profession. The barrier to entry for retouchers is still very high. How many “Retouching Universities” do you really see out there? There’s still a bit of Black Magic about high-end retouching, thus they can command high fees. How long will that last? Introduce some fancy software, or offer up classes at every community college, and all of a sudden, retouchers are a dime a dozen.

    If I had a child/teenager, and they came to me and said they wanted to go to college (with student loans) for a four year program in photography, how would I respond? Imagine how many kids today are at Art Center, running up sizable balances, and then they walk out into this New Reality.

  21. A living is now made in photography by having multiple income streams or a really successful specialization in photography.

    I see a few photographers who are constantly shooting/specialize in editorial, but I do know some of them have rich parents supporting them. Others constantly travel, and have not relationships to speak of and work all the time. My assumption is that they make a living, but if they get sick, or need to slow down at all or fall out of favor, then what?

    • @greg ceo,
      One problem w/ the photog business model is that most lack the ability to get long-term contracts for their work. This is unlike other industries – say architecture, or an ad agency – where they have year and multi-year projects that they can count on. It makes the multiple revenue stream essential.

  22. I was commissioned to shoot editorial content for an advertising agency. The client was an international pharmaceutical company.
    A new drug had just come out that gave patients with terminal cancer a better quality of life in their last few months. A range of scenarios were presented and it was my job to capture images that would tell the story. For example, one scenario was playing golf and another was having a barbecue in a park. This was all very editorial in style and the client wanted the images for brochures and their website. It perfectly describes how companies want to attract consumers with editorial style content as you mention. The demand for such content can only increase.

  23. Very interesting point of view. But will this leave room for photographers to make what is familiar, unfamiliar, ostranenie, to increase the length of perception thus availing the image of increased meaning. Or will this new editorialization just produce the same familiar language of consumerism we are helplessly mired in?

  24. […] blog, but I am disappointed in your reader’s comments. Specifically on the article “Is editorial photography dead?“. Most of the photographers that comment fiercely oppose anyone trying to become a […]

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