Photojournalism, Permission Rights and The Social Web: A Combination That Works Least for the Photographer

While there are loads of award winning photographers in the best agencies, newspapers, and wires the future of photojournalism seems to be changing more and more to where quite honestly, the photographer has the least amount of importance in most of history. Just recently, a photo of a woman in a dress being arrested by well armed police men made the rounds like wildfire online. Part of getting this shot involved access that working with those big companies can get you. It also comes with publication after publication using the image without permission or licensing for their own reasons. It’s theft–and part of this has to do with how the social web works.

But is this the future of photojournalism as we know it? This has been asked before, but is it really, truly the future of the format?

Let’s look at the more critical facts here and how news often breaks out:

  • A big event occurs
  • People start telling news agencies
  • People start tweeting and sharing images to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Vine, Twitter, etc.
  • By uploading those images and sharing with the world what’s happening (because this is just our normal behavior now) we also give away our permissions and rights to these social networks to allow others the share what we’ve posted.
  • Publications, Facebook pages trying to be publications, Instagram accounts trying to branch into something legitimate, etc start taking these shared moments and aggregating them to create their own news timeline in an effort to outdo one another.

The result: the photographer becomes completely cut out for the most part because they’ve surrendered their rights. If the photographer chooses to not surrender their rights, then why should the publication pay the photographer when so many other options are out there for free?

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 21mm f2.8 Canon EF mount review images street and landscape (21 of 29)ISO 1600

This is the problem with the social web, permissions/rights and the photographer. Combine this with a hard emphasis on speed that the social web provides, and you’ve got something majorly different.

The answer to this question then becomes about quality. If the photographer’s images don’t immediately stand out from all the rest, then it’s business as it has always been. Later on, a publication may do a more complete and thorough story involving more professional photography, but most people (and by that I mean the general public) find that the images taken on a phone are more than good enough.

So the key is to distinguish yourself as a photographer with your work–and to make that work look much different from all the rest out there. To that end though, becoming a working photojournalist is harder than it’s ever been before when you can potentially get paid more for working the Food section of the NYTimes. Those trying to get into the craft can try doing actual documentary projects–and the importance of those are very high as it shows your ability to be able to create stories, be a self-starter and go after them. This is valuable to editors.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm X70 sample photos (11 of 33)ISO 20001-60 sec at f - 2.8

When you combine all of these ideas and statements together, it’s very probable that the photojournalist will need to be better and better with each generation to the point where the cream of the crop is incredibly small. The rest will all just go to the side.

Now apply this statement to everything else that photojournalism is involved with: food, weddings, Real Estate, documentaries, etc. Then think about what you’re going to do. With so many free photos out there, why should someone hire you? This is the biggest question I think that every photographer needs to start asking themselves moving forward in life.