The photojournalism industry has undergone seismic shifts over the past couple of decades with photography’s move to digital and the rise of the smartphone camera. The business intelligence firm L2 recently sat down with veteran photojournalist Rick Smolan to chat about how tech has disrupted photography.
Rick Smolan is one of the most seasoned photographers alive, having served as a photographer for TIME, LIFE, and National Geographic. He’s perhaps best known for his bestselling book series, “Day in the Life,” which features photos shot by a large number of photographers in one country over the course of 24 hours.
Smolan’s latest project is the book The Good Fight: America’s Ongoing Struggle for Justice.
Multi-megapixel, Internet-connected smartphone cameras have caused to become commoditized, Smolan says.
“Even though I still think there are only two or three hundred men and women in the world that do the quality of photography that I want to feature in my books, there’s a lot of 23-year-old picture buyers out there working at magazines now that are paying $50 for something someone would have paid me $5,000 for 20 years ago.”
“It’s really upended the whole industry […] It’s actually probably about a third of what you were being paid thirty or forty years ago, so for a journalist it’s awful.”
Smolan shares that he was paid $300 a day in 1983, while photojournalists today often make $200 a day. If adjusted for inflation, $300 in 1983 has the equivalent buying power as about $765 in today’s money — that’s like an hourly rate of close to $100.