Michael Freeman “photography as a profession”

Michael Freeman, author of the best seller The Photographer’s Eye, talks about photography as a profession. Michael probably knows better than most what it means to be a professional photographer, that is, making a living at it. It’s less than three minutes in length and worth your time if you’re considering it as a profession.

thank you for this gem of a post / http://www.photofidelity.com/blog/michael-freeman-on-photography-as-a-profession.html

Here is a great Blog Post written by MR Michael Freeman originally for http://www.pixiq.com/article/five-questions

I get a lot of questions through the mail, and I dutifully try to reply to all. But the enthusiasm wanes when the questions tend to be pretty similar, and that’s usually the case. Occasionally, however, I get asked some questions that either hit a nerve that’s tingling at the moment anyway, or intrigue me to find out more. That was the case the other day when a photographer, Patrick Tay from Singapore, wrote with five thoughtful ones. They ticked the two boxes just mentioned. I was going to run them all here today, but the answers were getting a bit long, so here are the first two, and they’re about the ‘profession’ (Ed: surely not?)

1. With the lines blurring between photographers, photojournalists and picture editors, what do you foresee will happen in the near future with regard to these professions?

I take it ‘photographers’ means photographers in general. The lines have indeed blurred, with the (positive) assumption that we can all now do a bit of everything and take more control over our images, but the killer part of your question is the word ‘professions’. They are all at risk as full-time professional activities, and you can take comfort or despair from this as you wish. Take the last first: picture editors, who traditionally have been associated mainly with magazines and newspapers. The great names, from Wilson Hicks at Life to M. F. Agha at Vogue (well, all right, he was art director) were highly influential in forming the look and content of their magazines, but they were able to do this only by being part of an organizational hierarchy and by having large circulations that generated advertising revenue. Magazines are on the downslope now, so the influence and importance of picture editors is fast declining, and that means fewer good new ones taking it up.

Next, photojournalists. According to some, there are very few still in existence. Former Magnum bureau chief Neil Burgess voiced this view in 2010 when he wrote, “Today I look at the world of magazine and newspaper publishing and I see no photojournalism being produced. There are some things which look very like photojournalism, but scratch the surface and you’ll find they were produced with the aid of a grant, were commissioned by an NGO, or that they were a self-financed project, a book extract, or a preview of an exhibition. Magazines and newspapers are no longer putting any money into photojournalism. They will commission a portrait or two. They might send a photographer off with a writer to illustrate the writer’s story, but they no longer fund photojournalism. They no longer fund photo-reportage. They only fund photo illustration.”

And photographers in general? The wonderful thing is that now photography has become truly democratic, popular and absorbing. But for these very reasons, only a very few people will make it as a well-paid profession. Read on for the unpalatable truth.

2. For a commercial photographer, what are the upcoming markets for photographers? Will it be stock photography, nature photography, portrait/studio photography, fine arts or something else?

This continues from your first question, and you’ll pardon me if I question ‘upcoming’. The real issue is which will survive at all. Being a professional photographer means earning a full and useful income from it – paying the mortgage and putting the kids through school and so on – as well as any creative pleasure you may get from it.

So, the answer is not pretty, and goes like this: the professional future is for pictures that ordinary people can’t take. In other words pictures that:

  • need permission
  • need organization


  • are to an unusually specific brief

And here are my unappetizing predictions:


Fashion (has to be current and creatively very good indeed)

Art-directed advertising (that is, set up specially as opposed to the art director trawling Flickr for something unexpected)



Hotels, resorts, food, hospitality


Sports (increasingly needs permissions, BUT teams and sports organizations increasingly grabbing rights)

News (I’m not even going to discuss the term citizen journalist)

War (not only incredibly dangerous, but too many beginning photographers prepared to put themselves in danger to get a start)


Travel (everyone does it)

Nature and wildlife (more people love shooting than the market can buy from)

Stock (plummeting, obviously – market awash with images, price-cutting at ridiculous levels, and yet there are still people writing – even on this blog site – that it’s a way of making a living)

Lifestyle (anyone can and does do it)


Fine art (the market’s good for the market, but for individual photographers it’s a very broad-based pyramid indeed)

And by the way, writing about photography is NOT professional photography. I do it because I enjoy it and there’s a demand for my books, but I’m under no illusions that it’s my primary profession. In fact, it eats into the time I should be spending shooting!