Monday, February 23, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: The Recession Photographer


For a moment I would like to stop and reflect back to last year at this time, spirits were high and I was running like a mad man around China on assignment for various magazines and newspapers. Which is to say that I was kept busy by other people, it was a wonderful time.

Today I am chillin' out in front of my computer in jogging pants and sipping my tea wondering where it all went wrong. So far this year I've had just a handful of assignments, and almost no corporate work to speak of. With budgets being slashed and staff employees being made redunent, the publishing industry is in a real tailspin at the moment.

Surely the situation is not helped by the fact that the advertising industry is also in a bit of a bind, huge spenders like General Motors and Nike have made significant cutbacks to their spending budgets - affecting magazine and newspapers revenues; hence the chopping of employees and reductions in the use of freelancers.

While I pray that this kind of industry gloom doesn't last too much longer, the long term prospects for magazines and newspapers still seem bleak. But without getting too far ahead of myself, how does a freelance photographer make it through a recession?

First off, I don't pretend to be in possession of an expert opinion; but a few observations I have might be of interest. While assignments may be in a bit of a lull at the moment with budget restraints, magazines and newspapers still need to publish; so my guess is they are buying a boat load of stock. In my business my stock sales have increased significantly over last year at this time, partially because I have more images but also perhaps because of these restricted budgets. A magazine can put together a feature for a couple hundred dollars worth of stock pictures, where assigning a photographer for original images might cost thousands. It's true the impact of the stock images might not be as powerful as original images but during a belt tightening time, belts need to be tightened and money needs to be saved.

So what can freelance photographs do to ride out the storm? Well, the same as most companies - use the cash you've saved up to continue doing business. I have a small savings account I keep just for freelancing assignments on my own, which I then turn around and pitch to magazines and newspapers as work I've done on spec. At the end of the day a strong picture is a strong picture is a strong picture, and whether you take that image on an assignment on street shooting on your own time - it'll still have a chance at publication. When it is all said and done we are image makers, and if too many days go by without making images then it'll negatively affect us. Now of course I don't mean just running around with your head cut off and shooting anything you see, but taking the time and organizing a well thought out story or feature on your own can be a incredibly rewarding experience; and if it has a chance at being published than that's all the better. If not then those same images can be used as entries for competitions or part of a larger portfolio of work.

Getting out and shooting is never a waste of time, sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring is. There are a billion stories out there to be told, I say keep shooting no matter what. Well that's my two cents.

If anyone has an interesting story or observation about how the economic slowdown might be affecting their business I would love to hear it, either privately or publicly in the comments of this blog. I just read recently that even some of the photographers winning major awards this year haven't had a 2009 assignment. Difficult times indeed.


Ryan Pyle

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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