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The Value of a Photographer


So, you want to be a photographer? And why not, it seems to be a valued and respected profession. Or is it?…

Everywhere we look there is the product of a photographer’s work, from newspapers and magazines to online media, to huge advertising hoardings; an unmissable and vital part of the world today. And while those photographers behind the bulk of such work might remain anonymous to ordinary people, there are still names that become renowned: Annie Leibowitz, Mario Testino, Rankin, etc. With such a backdrop, you’d imagine that the profession would be valued.

Indeed, it’s striking how many times in ‘Holywood movies’ when the hero is a photographer, their work admired by everyone. It seems they have no problem deeming it a worthy profession!

Unfortunately, reality doesn’t seem to be quite so rosy. Most professionals these days will be able to tell of endless requests to work for nothing, oh sorry, for valuable credit, but that won’t pay the bills. Just as many know about the growing opinion that the fee photographers ask for weddings is ‘extortionate’, even when figures of £300 (~$398) for a full day are mentioned.

The halcyon days of the paparazzi have passed too, with few media outlets offering anything more than a couple of pounds for a celebrity shot, unless you miraculously manage to catch Prince William ‘in flagrante’ with Jeremy Corbyn! These days the ubiquitous ‘credit’ is mentioned and mostly the picture editors are happy to accept any passers-by image, shot on their phone, for nothing.

That’s all clearly bad, but just how low has the lot of a photographer become? Well in the last couple of days I think I have been made aware of how far down the league table photography has fallen.

First to appear, innocuous enough and a fairly typical story, was an article highlighting the position of the local bus drivers. They are having a series of strikes to fight for better pay and the figures involved were featured. This indicated an average wage for a bus driver here in Liverpool is approximately £23,000 to £24,000 ($30,500 to $31,800) per annum. I won’t discuss the particular merits of the job itself, but I don’t think it presumptuous to suggest that the requirements to do it are particularly high, nor the skills especially onerous. There is, of course, plenty of scope to argue over whether the reward is sufficient.

But then a day or two later it was all brought into stark reality when an email landed in my inbox.

There was a job available, in Salford, for a photographer! Full time, ‘fashion’, to provide product and promotional shots for a clothing supplier. The requirements are reasonably demanding, as you might expect: a photographic degree, plenty of fashion experience, and fully conversant with Lightroom and Photoshop, amongst other details. And the reward for this highly qualified and experienced photographer? Well here is the advertisement:

So there you have it. Work hard for several years for your degree, put in a lot of graft getting experience and, if you’re really lucky, someone will hire you for the minimum wage. Now doesn’t photography sound like a great career choice? I might just become a bus driver!

P.S. Just in case you need it for reference, here is the direct link to the advert in question.

About the author: Peter Kelly is a full time photographer based in Liverpool, UK. He offers his photography services through his business, Captivating Photography.