Photographer market trends

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the photography sector

Commercial photography

For much of the 2000s demand for commercial and advertising photography was strong due to the stable economy, although the sector had even then become competitive. The economic uncertainty during the late 2000s and early 2010s had a significant impact on the sector as many corporate clients significantly reduced their advertising budgets and in some cases used the services of keen amateur photographers from within their organisations rather than engaging a professional. As a result of the fall in demand that this caused, many commercial photographers were forced to move into other areas of the market. The recovery in the economy which began in the second half of 2013 eased the pressure on the commercial photography sector. However, the economic recovery slowed in the second half of 2015 and the slowdown continued throughout 2016 and 2017 and into 2018 because of the uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote and the difficult negotiations for leaving the EU. Little change is forecast for the foreseeable future. Corporate spending weakened because of the economic uncertainty with the result that the commercial photography sector is likely to be less buoyant as businesses once again cut back expenditure.

Weddings and portrait

The number of weddings taking place each year had previously been in long term decline and although there has been something of a recovery in numbers in the 2010s, the total remains significantly lower than it was in the late 1980s. Despite this decline, the average spend on weddings increased dramatically during the 2000s - including expenditure on wedding photography - and as a result the sector as a whole was largely unaffected by the drop in the number of weddings. Even during the economic downturn of the late 2000s and early 2010s, the amount typically spent on a wedding remained high, and currently stands at over £30,000 according to many estimates. Although the weddings market is comparatively recession-proof competition has intensified with many hobbyists operating in the market, usually for significantly lower fees than those charged by professionals. Wedding specialists also faced competition in the late 2000s/early 2010s from primarily commercial photographers who moved into shooting weddings as the demand in their core market stagnated.

Demand for portrait photography remained steady for much of the 2000s but it was also affected by the challenging economic conditions in the late 2000s/early 2010s. In late 2008, the studio chain Olan Mills fell victim to the recession and ceased trading and there were also losses in the independent sector. Portrait photographers are likely to have benefited from the improvement in the economy and the real-terms wages and disposable income increases in 2014 and 2015 but the economic recovery slowed in the last half of 2015. The slowdown continued throughout 2016 and 2017 and into 2018. Rising inflation began to squeeze household budgets and led to people cutting back on non-essentials such as professional photography. Little change is forecast for the foreseeable future.

Recent developments

The 2010s have seen a huge explosion in the popularity of social media websites, with younger people in particular spending significant amounts of time on them. Although the 'selfie' (self-taken portrait) has become synonymous with social media, some users also commission professional shots so that they look their best in their profile shots. The growing use of dating websites has also created new demand for this type of work.

March 2014 saw the first same-sex marriages take place in England and Wales, with Scotland following suit from the start of 2015. This resulted in a surge in the number of same-sex couples getting married with a spike in demand for photographers' services.

The emergence of stock and micro-stock websites has provided the possibility of an extra income stream for photographers, some of whom generate a large proportion of their income from selling their images through these sites.

You will have to decide whether:

  • there is sufficient demand in your area to support your proposed business
  • you will be able to weather any further weakening in the economy

Keep up to date with developments

The photography sector is well represented by the following trade associations:

  • The Association of Photographers (AOP)
  • The British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP)
  • The Master Photographers Association (MPA)

Visit their websites for more information.

The online British Journal of Photography contains a great deal of useful information on the sector.

Trade shows

You will be able to obtain a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show for the photographic sector. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers and keep abreast of new camera and other equipment developments. The Exhibitions website has more information of forthcoming exhibitions and the BIPP website includes an event calendar.

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