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Photo imaging

The photo imaging industry includes: image producers (including laboratories and minilabs); photo retail; picture libraries and agencies; manufacturers; and support services (such as equipment hire and repair).

The rapid pace of technological change means that businesses and individuals in the industry must develop strong market awareness and demonstrate flexibility to adapt rapidly to new business opportunities. Wider internet access and the opportunity for image sharing across a number of platforms, makes an understanding of intellectual property rights and how to protect them increasingly important. Job vacancies are generally not hard-to-fill as there is no shortage of people wanting to work in most areas of the industry.

Key statistics:

  • Around 44,000 people work in the industry.
  • Just under half of the workforce is based in the South of England.
  • There are nearly 14,000 companies in the industry, of which:
    • 58% are photography
    • 35% are retail, laboratories or image production companies
    • 5% are picture libraries and agencies
    • 3% are manufacturers or support services companies
  • Almost half of companies are sole traders or freelance photographers.
  • 93% of companies employ 5 people or less.
  • Only a third of the overall workforce is female.
  • The industry has a relatively low proportion of people from minority ethnic groups.
  • The average age of the workforce is 42 years.
  • A higher than average proportion of the workforce consider themselves to be disabled, almost twice that of the economy as a whole.
  • 43% of the workforce has a degree in, for example, media and communication, and crafts, creative arts and design
  • 21% of the workforce has a technical qualification.
  • 22% of the workforce does not hold any qualification.

Many photographers start out by assisting an established photographer and learn on-the-job. There is no set route into photographic laboratories/image producers, although gaining experience in a photo retail environment can be beneficial. On the job training on equipment (e.g. inkjet and large format printers) will usually be provided in-house at the laboratory or with the supplier. Picture libraries and picture agencies often specify the need for prior experience in the industry, so it is common for new entrants often undertake unpaid work.

There are entry-level jobs in the photo retail sector (such as Sales Assistants), where applicants can work their way to a supervisory position, or management, or train as a Minilab Operator. This in turn can lead to work as a Digital Imaging Specialist. To work in manufacturing, such as a Field Service Technician, applicants need four or five good GCSE or Standard Grade passes, preferably in science-based subjects. Apprenticeships in electronic/electrical engineering or information technology can be a good way in the industry for Field Service Technicians.

The photo imaging industry increasingly requires a workforce with a wide ranging skill set, combining technical proficiency with creativity, visual awareness and business acumen. For freelancers in particular, an absolute drive to succeed is essential, along with the understanding that first and foremost, they are running a business. Across the industry, the most significant specialist skills gaps are:

  • the use of digital technology
  • knowledge of digital workflow
  • management of digital assets

The most significant non-specialist skills gaps have been identified as: a lack of expertise in the areas of marketing, finance and general management.

With such a large proportion of the sector made up of freelancers/sole traders, micro businesses and small, medium enterprises, basic business skills are essential, such as managing the different stages of growth of a business and being aware of how best to exploit opportunities as they arise.

The total workforce comprises around 44,000 people. The largest photo imaging workforce is located in: London; the South East; the North West; and the South West.


Source: Skillset AACS LMI report 2010 and Photo Imaging Labour Market Intelligence Digest 2009


Occupational profile of photo imaging workforce, 2007

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Source: Interactive Media Labour Market Intelligence Digest 2009, Figure 2. Data from the Skillset 2007 Photo Imaging Workforce Survey.