Tomorrow is a special day in my career. September 1st 2010 will be the second anniversary of my becoming "unexpectedly freelance" after fourteen and a half years as a staff photographer. This isn't my first spell as a freelance - I was self-employed between January 1987 and January 1994 but that was a very different era in editorial photography.


Back then there was pretty much enough work to go around and newspapers and magazines generally paid enough that you could make a good living - certainly good enough to get a mortgage to buy a home.

How different things are now:

  • So many talented photographers chasing such a small pool of work with fees barely greater than they were fourteen and a half years ago.
  • An industry where photography and photographers seem to be the first casualties in every round of budget cuts.
  • A very unrealistic attitude amongst the general public that somehow digital photography is easy and that anyone with enough megapixels can shoot pictures.
  • The depressing notion that Adobe's wonderful product Photoshop allows the worst pictures to be made great with a few clicks of a mouse.
  • The disproportionate rise in the cost of gear - in 1987 a couple of days work on a decent magazine would pretty much cover the cost of a new pro camera body. Now you need nearer two weeks.

Yet, despite everything, I still love the job. I love the work and it almost doesn't matter what I'm shooting. I am just about to leave the house, drive well over a hundred miles and then shoot some pictures of one celebrity interviewing another... and I'm psyched about it. I'm already playing lighting options, shooting angles and editing strategies in my mind. Never mind the fact that after the shoot I'll probably spend a good three hours staring at the images on screen. Never mind that it is a beautiful day and the beach is only a five minute drive away. Never mind that the fee for the job is no higher than if I'd done it sixteen years ago. Never mind, never mind, never mind.

I remember photographing a guy in 2002 who had what he described as a "portfolio career" where he had a series of consultancies, part-time posts and wrote for a series of trade journals and thinking that his working life sounded like the next best thing to being a professional photographer. The truth is that my career has started to take on a similar feel. I'm still a photographer but I also teach photography, write about photography, blog about photography and I have an interesting role with the BPPA helping to work for photographers.

Studying Sociology in the early 1980s I had an inspirational teacher who predicted the idea that very few of us would have jobs by the year 2000. He had a theory that some would work in service roles but that the rest of "us" (and by "us he meant those with higher levels of education) would dip in and out of contracts and make our living in a piecemeal and essentially part-time fashion. He never mentioned portfolio careers but he was thinking along the right lines - even if, for me, he was eight or ten years out in his guesstimate of dates.

Celebrating anniversaries usually ends with some crystal ball gazing. Where am I going to be in two years time? Ten years time? The answer is that changes in technology will have far more of an influence that any planning that I might be doing. I've done my video editing course and I've done my sound recording and editing course. My cameras all shoot HD video and I've dabbled with the medium but in all honesty it's a separate but connected profession and I'm not in any hurry to make the leap. So many of my peers are enjoying making films and I'm really happy for them. The process doesn't grab me in the same way that shooting stills did when I first owned a camera back in the 1970s and little has changed.

The changing technologies that I'm interested in are more to do with how the viewer gets to look at the images I shoot. I like slide shows and I love the way good pictures appear on the iPad. If you haven't seen it, the iPad edition of The Times is beautifully constructed and the "space" that it gives photography could only have been dreamed about ten years ago. I will only miss smudged ink and recycled paper in nostalgic ways - much the same feeling that I have about darkrooms and making black and white prints under murky orange lamps. I'm glad that I did it but I wouldn't want it back! I truly hope that I get enough work to allow me to keep shooting pictures for a living for as long as I continue to get the buzz that I'm feeling right now. The car is packed, my job has been confirmed and I'm off...


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