Monday, January 15, 2007

Ryan Pyle Blog: The State of the Industry

This is my blog, and sometimes I need to address certain issues that come up from time to time. Today's topic is not a happy one. As we begin 2007, it is difficult to be positive about being a photographer in this day and age, in fact the current state of the photography industry is a mess.

Photography is an art......and that art is getting trashed.

It's pretty sickening what's happen to OUR industry at many levels, below are just a few cases in point:

1) Lower Rates:
Rates continue to drop and this is nothing new. And when I say this I am not talking about some small travel magazine in Singapore, I am talking about TIME, Newsweek, Spiegel. The big ones. Now, I don't blame the magazines for this. In many cases they are being squeezed by advertisers who are diversifying their advertising dollars away from PRINT MEDIA to ONLINE MEDIA, but clearly something needs to be done to stop the bleeding. One of my clients pays less than US$300 per day. For that price, they expect you to fly to another city and work in excess of 12hrs a day and share your copy write with them. Another client is pays less than #Euro 300 per day and expects much of the same, and wants me to pay for my own food while I am working.

To those of you who are new to photography or don't know much about the industry, you may think that these deals are not too bad at all, but I can assure you, this is shocking turn of events. I think many would agree that the 1990s were the heyday of photography. Digital had yet to make it's mark. Magazines would send people on assignments for weeks on end and really take care of them, paying 2 or 3 or 4 times as much as they pay now. Photographers had the incomes to push the envelop on personal projects and really get their teeth stuck in to stories.

These days all anyone wants is fast, which often means cheap. Cheap quality, cheap rates, no paying for film, developing or scanning. There is less planning, less editing, less time. And in many cases a poorer quality final product. I am beginning to feel like corporate America (and Europe) are ganging up on photographers, pushing us to our limits. In many cases being an editorial or documentary photographer, and really making a career out of it, is fast becoming unattainable. The wire services are taking over, and companies like the big stock agencies are making all the rules.

2) Contracts:
Contracts are scary things for photographers. I am a old school photographer. I believe firmly that a photographer should keep the copy write of every editorial image that he/she produces. But that is so far from the case these days. Just a few months ago I had a newspapers in the USA ask me to do a shoot for them in China. They offered me US$200 and they insisted that they keep the copy write, so that they won't have to pay me royalties if the story gets re-sold on their wire press service. Shocking. I declined. Easy enough, they found someone else in Shanghai to shoot the story and that's the end of it. No lesson learned. My moment of protest passed in silence.

The furthering of un-favourable contracts, where the publications keeps the copy write so that they can re-sell the images without paying you royalties, seems to becoming an industry standard in a lot of cases. And the scary thing is that photographers everywhere are accepting this. Giving up an image, for eternity and get 200 bucks.

Contests, and companies/publications that decide to operate like this are really crushing the industry and taking the "professional" right out of Professional Photographer. If this kind of behavior keeps up we'll all be a bunch of poor guy/gals - shooting in our spare time because we have had to take a 2nd job.

If things keep progressing this way photography will become a career only for the wealthy. It would be a real shame to have such an important profession available to only those of a certain income level.

3) Un-professionalism + Supply & Demand:
There is a big supply and demand problem occurring in the photography industry at the moment. If you think I am lying, just go to Perpignan, France in early September. Or sit in a bar in Bangkok and start talking to anyone in the bar, you'll see that just about anyone you run in to is a photographer. I don't begrudge anyone for wanting to become a photographer. In fact, I encourage it. Feeling passionate about documenting something you feel is important is a very satisfying way to live your life. They problem is, it is now just becoming a numbers game. With magazines going out of business, and page numbers shrinking - it is tough to see how the industry can sustain itself as it is, let alone with twice the number of photographers.

Un-professionalism exists at every level, and more so now than just a few years ago. And when I say this I mean both with the photographers and editors. I actually had a magazine editor in Asia ask me a few weeks ago if he could run one of my pictures on the cover of his magazine for free. Imagine that. He said it would give me a lot of exposure and that he didn't have the budget to pay me. I refused. It was a pretty tough deal to swallow. Free pictures. He didn't seem to care at all about my side of the story, and before the end of the conversation he was already looking online to find another email address for another photographer who he would contact next should I decline. A fantastic level of ethics.

And without a doubt, photographers are part of the problem as well. Unprofessionalism is growing. I have, over the years, become good friends with some of my editors at various agencies and magazines, and their horror stories are shocking. In many cases, photographers are taking their work less serious, missing deadlines, writing poorer captions, disappearing, not returning emails and generally going about their work in an inappropriate fashion. This is painful, and only hurting the rest of us who put in a lot of effort and care to each assignment.

4) New Technology:
This is a catch 22. In one sense the internet and web news is creating a new market for photographic products. Websites that have news content are buy pictures at incredible rates, but most of the beneficiaries are wire services and not freelance folks like myself. On the other hand, my website, my ability to advertise on the internet and host my archive online has introduced me to thousands of new people (some clients) whom I would not have otherwise met. I am for new technology. I am just not a huge fan of digital cameras.

5) What needs to be changed moving forward in 2007?
It's a tough question. In most cases I am blessed with editors who are understanding and compassionate to the story. But something is clearly wrong. I think the industry is getting even more difficult for editorial and documentary photographers. Magazine advertising is shifting away from news to celebrity magazines - because that's what people want to know more about these days. Magazines, and the general public are putting up with lower quality writing and imagery in their magazines - in fact fewer people are even reading. What we need is more people reading demanding better imagery. Better professionalism from photographers and editors alike. And we'll need advertisers to grow a conscience, if news magazines die, there will be a significant fallout that will crush many more people than just a few photographers.

As the year progresses I'll be sure to write an end of year summary in Dec.2007 so that I can put this blog entry and that blog entry together and see how poor my judgement was - or whether perhaps I was spot on.

What I don't want is for people to take this as a rant. It's not. It's just the truth. And a believe that a lot of photographers who make 100% of their living shooting, will agree with most of what I have laid out before you. And if you are reading this, and your disagree........please post a response. I would love to hear your comments.

All the best in 2007.

Ryan Pyle
Skype: ryanpyle


  1. Totally agree with you on everything except the bar in Bangkok comment.

    What bars do you go to? mine are full of "tin tong farangs" all moaning about soi cowboy closing early or the Hi-So crowd moaning about Paragons latest sale


  2. Ryan,
    Not sure if you plan on any trips back to Canada or USA in next couple months, but if you do, I'd like to interview you for documentary I'm shooting. See Lightstalkers link below:

    Drop me a line via my flickr site or Lightstalkers -


  3. Dan,

    I viewed your post on Lightstalkers. It seems like you are working on a very interesting documentary.

    I won't be back in NYC until the summer, perhaps August. But I'll stay in touch and we'll see if we can't hook up.


    Ryan Pyle
    Skype: ryanpyle

  4. Hi Ryan!

    I am going to school for photojournalism.

    Yes, you're right, people will settle for mediocre photographs instead of pay the price for good ones. I have seen it with my own eyes, even with various school organizations.

    Most recently, someone emailed me about weddings and asked if I could do it for free. I promptly declined.

    Good luck to you in China! I hope things will change here in Canada too.

  5. Anonymous19:14

    I hear this a 1000 times in the UK. Things have changed, you need to change or you will not survive.

  6. interesting reading about this. i have noticed the quality of photography on the various newspapers/news magazines in decline over the past years as well. thanks for spelling it out for us..and i hope things change for the better. for your career and other dedicated, like-minded photographers such as yourself.

  7. Edmond00:54

    Very well put.

    Unfortunately Anonymous I have to take exception to having to change - I too work in the UK and as you say, things have changed a lot. But cutting one's standard of work to the standard of pay, or doing things cheap or free ends up screwing things up more and more. Its only us who are as a result worst off. Its harder to put up a fight and to turn down silly paying jobs and sitting around doing less work, but its us who must keep up the standards in our industry.



This is Ryan Pyle. I appreciate you adding a comment to my blog and I hope that this space has offered you something useful and interesting. I look forward to staying in touch and I'm glad you took the time to comment.

Ryan Pyle