by Lee Mandrell
Camera’s, lenses, filters, light meters, flashes, tripods, backpacks, bags, studio space, studio equipment, lighting, stands, (gasp! pause for air) backdrops, props, software, computers, travel, fuel, lodging, assistants, and the list goes on. These are just some of the expenses photographers are faced with in order to carve out a meager existence and living. What is not generally realized is that every single shot that a photographer takes or creates costs them money to produce in some shape or form. Sometimes there are literally hours spent getting a shot, whether it’s in the studio, traveling, or out in the field somewhere. Then in some cases, depending on the shot, there are more hours spent in post editing, just to make sure it’s pixel perfection. Most photographers I know of personally average 60 or more hours a week doing what they do, and yet of these photographers, I never once hear any of them complaining about the hours or the actual work. I certainly never complain when I am doing what it is I love to do. So why is that most people think we should work for next to nothing or give our work away for free? It certainly isn’t cheap for us to produce a photo, nor is it always easy. How many people would you guess are willing to drive to work, and then spend 40 plus hours a week doing what they do and then tell their employer, “Don’t pay me for this week’s work. I would love to donate all my time this week for free.” I can feel the silence. Really, I can. No one is going to do that. In fact I would counter that most people feel they are under paid and under appreciated. Just think, bills wouldn’t get paid, family and pets would go hungry in no time, not to mention the rent or mortgage people and car loan people would start calling. Utilities would be cut off. So, I ask again, why do people think photographers should just give their work away for little or nothing? Our expenses are the same as anyone else. We live the same way as everyone and from the income we make. Photography is a means to our livelihood, but the general expectation is for us to charge next to nothing or just give it away. Why is that?
Can I use Your Photo For Free?
I hear quite often, “Hey, I’d like a copy of that shot”, which usually translates to: ‘Can I have that shot for free?’ Another thing that astonishes me is when I am marketing myself, very often I am told by magazines, ad agencies, whoever, “We simply have no budget or funding for photography, are you willing to donate your photo?” Now, if I can get seen on a broader scale and to a large amount of people, it might be a worthwhile trade off and it might lead to bigger and better things down the road. It then becomes a mutual advantage to the photographer and the agency to donate the image for free. Most of the times, this really isn’t the case though. The reality is that a credit line doesn’t pay your bills, and rarely generates any new traffic to your site. Unless the shot is something that’s jaw dropping, and that differs from person to person, most people won’t take the time to look you up. Occasionally good things can and do happen and the right person might catch sight of you. Trust your instincts on this one and feel the situation out. If it seems like a dead end, it probably is so move on and don’t regret your decision.
Depending on the service or license a person is inquiring about, sometimes I am told, “Wow, your prices seem a little high to me, brand-x photographer has a similar photo but cheaper.” I’ve come to realize that this is a bargaining tactic on their part. I don’t let it bother me as I believe it’s not meant to be taken personally, and brand-x persons photo isn’t my photo, otherwise they would be bargaining with that person, not me. So my response to that sort of quip is generally something like, “Well, brand-x photo knows what their work is worth and they have priced it accordingly. I invite you to shop around and you’ll see that isn’t the case at all. While I’m certainly not the cheapest, I’m nowhere near the most expensive either. Not even close. I believe my prices are very competitive and I stand by them, and I stand by my work. I value quality, experience, know-how and providing a top notch image.” I know all too well what it takes to produce a quality photo. Now having said all this, don’t be so rigid as not to be flexible or just plain difficult to work with and close a door of opportunity. Many times in the case of image licensing for example, there is simply a fixed budget and it comes down to take it or leave it. Again, feel the situation out. I have found that the serious people have no problem either buying an existing shot from me, and at the prices I have listed, or working with me on a project. If they do indeed have a fixed budget, I listen to the offer then decide if I should accept it or pass on it, simple as that. Be sure to listen though and analyze the pros and cons. Generally, we both walk away enriched from having met one another, and often time’s good working relationships are established for future projects. This in itself is always rewarding to me.
There usually is a budget!
I fail to understand or believe that there is no budget set aside for photography in most cases. I mean, there are budgets for editors, art directors, writers, copy writers, proofers, layout artists, pre-press personnel, artists, computer technicians, various staff, printing, and the list goes on. These people are getting paid. Yet no money for photographers or photos, even though photos are a staple of everyday life, and often times photos are what help to generate sales and increase revenues? No Budget, seriously? C’mon! Photos are usually a critical element to any ad, design, or page layout and are the primary element to draw a viewer or buyer in. But sadly, there are all too many ‘budding’ photographers out there willing to give their work away for free, with dreams of someday ‘making it big’, in whatever way they happen to think ‘big’ is. I believe this to be a “use and abuse” system with most rookies only being taken advantage of due to their naivety. Photo editors / buyers know that someone else will come along to fill whatever particular need they have at the moment, and will likely be willing to give it to them for free, so why pay for it? Keep this little tidbit in mind, when you give your product away for free, no matter what the product may be, you are sending a message that your work has no value, so why should anyone else value it, let alone be willing to pay for it? Most of the times you can expect to never hear from these places again, and if you do, it’s probably for another donation. It’s the sad reality of how it works in the real world.
This is a business!
I realize that in today’s day and age cameras are everywhere and almost everyone today owns one. However, owning a camera makes a person no more of a photographer than owning a hammer makes any of us a carpenter. It still requires a degree of skill, study, practice and effort to be proficient at it. Photography requires dedication and hard work. Yes, I said hard work because that’s what photography really is. If you don’t think so, you have never spent any time in the inner workings of running a photography business, or spent time with a full time photographer. It seems to me the mass opinion is that photography is easy and that anyone can do it, and all cameras are created equal and those photographers live a glamorous lifestyle and has it made traveling here and there to exotic locations or working with beautiful models or what have you. Nothing could be further from the truth. We get rained on, deal with frigid cold, extreme heat, psychical endurance is pushed to the limit, and patience is an absolute must. The gear is expensive, travel is expensive, studios are expensive, software is expensive, classes, workshops, and any additional training we feel might benefit us. The days are long, many of which are 12 hours or more. The weeks are long, usually 60 hours or more and they seem to run into one another, and we work weekends. Some are always working, non-stop. I seem to fit in that category. And to be honest, there is way more time being spent on the business end of photography than the picture taking end of it. Marketing and self promotion never cease. However, the ‘work’ itself is very rewarding, very fulfilling. So the next time a photographer seems like they got a little upset that they were asked to give away something for little or nothing, try to have a little understanding and put yourself in their shoes. It’s not that photographers have a sense of entitlement, it’s merely that there is more to it than most people will ever realize.
To see More of Lee’s work, visit his website.
If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment.