The digital age and current media economy are having a significant impact on the working patterns and financial circumstances of photographers and photojournalists.

This is according to a new research report, The State of News Photography 2018, authored by myself and Camilla Barnett and published by the World Press Photo Foundation in Amsterdam today.

Among the stand-out results, we found a significant decline in the number of photographers working full-time in photography from 74% of respondents in the first survey in 2015 to 59% in 2018.

The report is based on four years of surveys with photographers entering the World Press Photo Foundation’s annual photo contest. The data has been analyzed by a team at the University of Stirling in Scotland, one of the UK’s highest ranked journalism departments.

Over the four years of our research, more than 5,000 photographers from over 100 countries and territories participated in the surveys that form the basis of our study.

We found that more photographers are working as stringers and a greater proportion, close to 40%, admit their financial circumstances are “difficult” or “very difficult”.

In an age where nearly everybody has a camera in their smartphones, in which copyright is often not respected, and in which traditional media organizations have been struggling to survive, it seems photographers are finding it increasingly difficult to make a living.

Photographers are having to be more flexible, engaging in different kinds of work from teaching and exhibitions to portraiture and crowdfunding. Respondents in the survey said they were increasingly being required to shoot video even though they far preferred stills photography. Almost 40% of the photographers who participated in the research were required to take video as part of their work. They were also more likely to be part of a multi-media team.

The unauthorized use of work continues to be a problem in the sector, with almost two-thirds of respondents in this year’s survey indicating their work had been used without permission.

The study has had a special focus on gender and ethnicity over the last two years and the results show the photography business has significant distortions in both areas. Over 80% are men, and about two-thirds are aged between 30 and 49 years old. In this year’s cohort, 51% of our respondents classified themselves as Caucasian/White. The next largest groups were Asian (19%) and Latin American (10%). Only 1% of participating photographers identify themselves as Black.

The participants in the study are photographers who have entered the World Press Photo annual contests, so we can’t say these results represent all photographers. However, with more than 5,000 respondents from across the world participating, these results are likely to be felt by many photographers today.

The visual image is a critical element of the online world and there will always be demand for quality visual storytelling. But the digital era has created new challenges for photographers and it’s important we understand how these challenges affect them and their work.

The picture is not all bleak, however. Despite all the challenges and difficulties, the research shows that photographers continue to enjoy their work, with the overwhelming majority (over 62%) either happy or very happy and feeling valued and creative.