Being a photographer in the 21st century
How has the photographer's business changed today compared to when you started?
I have been working as a photographer for 17 years, and although this is a short time span, many things have changed.
I started working a few years after the advent of digital photography, and I still remember my older photo-journalist colleagues who, up to two / three years earlier, took photos, printed them in the agency and ran to newspaper offices to sell them. They told me that when they followed an event outside Milan, in Sicily (1200 kilometers away), for example, they went to the airport in the evening and gave a passenger on the flight to Milan the rolls to be delivered to some colleague who was waiting for them on arrival.
With digital, we started to send photos to editorial boards directly via ftp. At the time (early 2000s) a single photo in a newspaper was paid € 46 and € 110 in a weekly. It was a job that, if done full-time, also gave economic satisfaction.
With the growing success of the web, newspapers went online, starting a race to the bottom on the purchase price of the photos. At first, on paper, they kept the prices in place and started paying less only for publishing online. If your photo was chosen for the internet, they gave you only €10 but, given that online publication was usually made of galleries with dozens of shots, the situation seemed good. In reality, there was a general and progressive decline in prices from which there would be no turning back.
When I wrote to you for the first time (editor's note: message quoted in episode 15 of the podcast "Sell Your Photos and Videos Online") I told you that I was one of those photographers who, given his job position, would never have agreed to sell a photo for $ 0.10, but in reality, in a decade of crisis, we have increasingly moved towards a radical cut in sales prices.
At the same time, the importance of social media such as Instagram has grown, flooding the world with photographs. Bloggers have begun to be more attractive than professional photographers to clients. Everyone shoots, and it is easier to find pictures for free. Competence and professionalism count less and less.
A few years earlier, I could photograph Flavio Briatore and his then girlfriend who gave the news of the sweet expectation by doing a posed photo shoot on a yacht in Monte Carlo (I took the backstage image that day). Now, the newspaper that previously paid to create that type of service could still use the same kind of photos, but taken for free from the protagonists' Instagram profile. In today’s magazines, there are many photos with Instagram credit on display, while photos purchased from a professional usually do not even mention the photographer’s name.
Before that, you could work with a show business VIP and earn money. Below is a report I made for an Italian journal with photos of Elisabetta Gregoraci (Briatore’s then girlfriend) in a shop where she buys a bed for her baby.
If you knew a famous person, it was possible to organize a service that could be easily sold (Elisabetta and I had decided together to do a semi-stolen shoot of her shopping).
Now the VIP takes the same photo with the phone, they post it on their Instagram, and the newspaper downloads it for free. Once VIPs needed photographers to get the news out. Then they started doing everything themselves or through their press offices without the need for us.
In many businesses, not only in photography, cost cutting has become an imperative, and you have to stay on the market if you want to keep on being a professional photographer. Adapting produces a change, which is not something bad. It means accepting new challenges, starting new projects, studying something you never thought you had to study. For this reason, a negative event can be the beginning of something new and positive.
Without this industry crisis, which was followed by the pandemic, I would have continued to take the same photos for years to come. Adapting to change has meant learning how to make videos, fly a drone, use new software and approach work in a totally different way—a nice boost of enthusiasm for those who want to grow and learn as much as possible.