A number of recent studies have highlighted the challenges faced by professional photographers. Here, we examine the main issues and what can be done

The photography industry was undoubtedly hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown restrictions brought a reduction in income for a large proportion of self-employed photographers around the world. But how has the industry recovered? And what can we expect from the future?

We take a closer look at two recent surveys that aim to provide an insight into the state of the photography industry in 2022.

A positive start

In April this year, the 2022 State of the Photography Industry Report was released. Conducted by photography web platform providers Format and Zenfolio, this report collates data obtained from a survey of 3,398 photographers from around the world.  

Of those surveyed, 71% were full- or part-time, self-employed photographers, while the remaining 29% consisted of hobbyists, students, and full-time employees.

The survey confirmed the huge impact the pandemic had on business, with 63.8% of surveyed photographers experiencing a drop in activity. Alarmingly, this was a drop of more than 40% for 43.6% of respondents, illustrating the scale of the problem.

It’s easy to see why the effects were so profound, with 59.5% of respondents saying they generate revenue from photo shoots, which rely on face-to-face contact.

However, despite such gloomy results in 2021, the outlook for 2022 was positive, with 32.2% of photographers thinking that business will remain steady and 56.5% expecting things to get busier.

This outlook aligns with the more general expectation that there will be a surge in group events such as parties, weddings, commercial events, and trade shows after such a long period of isolation.

A profession in crisis

While the above report paints a hopeful picture for the industry in 2022, the State of Photography 2022 report, which arrived a month later, provides an altogether less positive assessment.

The report, which was compiled by researchers Tara Pixley, Martin Smith-Rodden, David Campbell, and Adrian Hadland, in collaboration with CatchLight and Knight Foundation, aims to provide an insight into how a photographer’s ethnicity, gender, disability, and nationality affect their chances of success in the industry.

The study focused on 1,325 photographers from 87 countries, with 49.46% of respondents identifying as female, 46.23% as male, and 1.97% as non-binary.

The results suggest that the pandemic had a long-lasting impact, with 54% reporting a “great deal” or “moderate” level of personal debt. In fact, 46% of women said they were considering leaving the profession altogether due to financial insecurity.

There was also found to be an overall disparity in pay for historically marginalized groups, specifically defined in the report as women, those identifying as non-binary, and people of color (POC), who reported a median income of $20,000-$29,999 per year, compared to $40,000-$49,999 for those who did not identify as being in any of these three groups.

This adds further negativity to an already discouraging finding that over half of respondents earn less than $40,000 a year after tax, and as much as 30% earn less than $20,000.

Furthermore, over half of respondents claimed to supplement their income with other work, suggesting that the photography industry alone is unable to support the lives of many of its members.

A challenging future

While the first of these studies offers a more hopeful outlook than the second, both point toward an industry that is currently facing challenges.

But while it has certainly had a significant impact in recent years, industry problems ar