Pexels-photo_banner(C) Dylan Luder

Working in photo imaging

About the industry

The UK has always had a strong photo imaging sector. From fashion to journalism, fine art to retouching, the industry is wide and most often works in tangent with the other creative industries.

The photo imaging workforce is overwhelmingly concentrated in associate professional and technical roles, making up 73% of the workforce. A further 7% work as managers and senior officials followed by administrative, secretarial and sales and customer services. This pattern is similar to the wider Creative Media Industries, albeit with a significantly higher proportion of associate professional and technical roles in the Photo Imaging industry. This stems from the majority of photographers running their own businesses as well as producing the creative output.

Two-thirds of the photo imaging workforce are freelance, compared to a quarter of those working or available for work in the creative industries are freelance. If you’re planning on pursuing a career in photo imaging, entrepreneurial skills are a requirement.

The five most common areas of work are weddings and other private commissions, business/corporate, news, stock photography and family and school photography, undertaken by between 20% and 40% of photographers. Areas where photographers were more likely to specialise include paparazzi, wildlife and sport. In addition, photographers work for a wide range of clients, the most common being private individuals/general public, corporate/business, magazines and newspapers.

Develop your skills

In addition to academic qualifications and training, employers are looking for skills and experience; they will want to see what you can do. Don’t wait until you are qualified to begin building your portfolio. Find like-minded peers to collaborate with and create work for your showreel, gaining practical experience and attracting interest in your work online.  You could also build an interactive community as a swarm on Hiive, the professional networking site for creative people.

Think outside the box – gaining relevant experience in another sector can be a sound alternative. There is no set way to forging a stable career in film and taking a different tack may serve some people better than those looking to climb the traditional ladders available to them.

Be aware of laws – copyright legislation is frequently misunderstood and abused with severe consequences for photographers’ earnings. In general under UK copyright legislation, any freelance photographer is the default copyright owner of any photograph they take. However, many of those who commission photographers assume that they automatically own copyright through the act of commissioning a photographer.

Recent evidence produced by the British Photographic Council reports that 59% of photographers are aware of copyright infringement of their work in the last three years at an average market value cost of £3,605 per photographer. Failure of photographers to protect their copyright can have a significant effect on an individuals earning power, meaning that on average they earn a third less than photographers that do protect their copyright.

Even so, 70% of photographers did not pursue copyright infringements with the difficulty of the legal process cited as the main reason. This was supported by 82% of photographers who stated that quicker and easier copyright would benefit their business.

Facts and Figures

Most companies and workers fall into one of four categories, photographers, photo retailers, picture libraries and agencies manufacturing and support services. These industries accounted for 0.3% of the UK’s GVA in 2008, a massive amount considering there are only almost 9000 companies registered to provide these services. Although mostly based in England, there is a significant base in Scotland, with Wales and Northern Ireland trailing.

Portrait photography is the largest segment, taking 35% of the market. Services like photographic development, medical photography and other specialist activities have historically held less of the market, and it’s safe to assume that portraiture will remain the primary function of the industry.

In comparison to the other sectors, photo imaging companies tend to be extremely small, with 91% having 4 employees or fewer. For comparison, across the rest of the creative industries 84% of business state that they have 10 employees or fewer.

Under half of the photo imaging workforce are graduates, compared to 57% of the wider creative industries.


Sign up to our email newsletter for all the latest news and updates from across the screen-based creative industries to help your career, project or company.

Sign up