Sunday, December 7, 2008

Working For Free - Commentary and Responses to Selected Comments


(This is the third article in a three part series)

Since so many people have come into this discussion on David's site, I thought I'd highlight the sentiments of several posts, and respond to them/what they've written.The reason for this is that there are many perspectives to this, and almost all of them are either flawed, or fatally flawed. So, I'll show quotes, and then provide a response:

(Continued after the Jump)


"...4 or 5 bands have called and asked for pricing and ... and I said "...its on me", ... it would be a great way to get a couple done to get into that market...."
Yes, you'll get into that market being known as "free". The record labels will use your work in all sorts of marketing, PR, and advertising, CD labels, and so on and so forth, for free. More profits to the music labels - don't you think musicians have screwed themselves enough over time and given the farm away to the music companies? If you're not sure, read this blog post I did and listen to how Elton John fought to fix his early career mistake.
"Free is good (for now)! I just did a free shot for a young actress who is trying to make ends meet as many starving artists do...It was great to practice my Strobist techniques and not feel super pressured. It was a valuable experience for for me because the lighting was challenging."
As to that starving artist thing, I wrote a few pieces - The Proud Starving Artist ; 10 Ways to Remain a Starving Artist. Romanticizing being a "starving artist" isn't really a good thing. It's nice when you're sipping a chai tea latte with your beret in the local java house listening to beatnicks recite their slam-poetry wearing Birkenstocks and having not showered in 8 days, but other than that, it's a bad idea. Doing a trade-for-prints/trade-for-CD deal is what c-grade models and photographers do who almost never become pro-level photographers, unless maybe you're in Los Angeles, where there are thousands of models.

One commenter said it well in response to the concepts outlined above:

"In my world for example, the idea of TFP (Time for Photos) is a joke. "Models" don't value your skill and think the equation is stacked in their favour. Photographers don't grow in the one area that matters most - the confidence of knowing what they do is inherently valuable."
"Before reading this, I had actually thought of the idea of shooting portraits for my neighbors for some Christmas portraits on my time."
This isn't such a bad idea, especially since having good neighbor relations is a good thing. BUT, next might be the invite to the wedding/mitzvah, and the suggestion "hey, why don't you bring your camera, we'd love to have some photos, and since those that you did of the family were so great, we thought we could save some money - did you know how expensive these things are? - by just asking you to bring your camera." Now, you're working that day, and some wedding/mitzvah photographer in your community is out a few grand. And, when you say "gosh, that was a few years ago, I charge for these things now..." the lame response will be "come on, we're neighbors, and you're going to be there anyway." Yes, being there as a guest is one thing, as a working photographer it's completely different. Make absolutely certain that you tell your neighbor that this is a one-time deal, or, better yet, knowing what your neighbor does for a living, ask for an exchange of services.
"This is exactly the push I need to go ahead and do something I've been thinking about doing, but was worried about the hit my perceived value as a photographer would take."
Yes, your perceived value will take a hit. I PROMISE. More importantly, your own feelings of self-worth and self-respect may take a precipitous dive, and it will have a (possibly sub-conscious) effect too.
"This is a great back door business plan that I for one plan on implementing."
90% of all businesses fail in the first two years. This business plan all but ensures you'll be among that 90%. Since unemployment is at a 34 year high (Half-million jobs vanish as economy deteriorates, 12/5/08), you might want to head down to the unemployment line and see about filing in advance of your plans' failing.
"I had also thought of approaching the local humane society not too long ago (have you seen most of the pics on petfinder.com??) ...taking photos of dogs and cats that nobody owns -- man, talk about NO pressure!"
Ok, I think this idea falls into that of one of the few that might work. However, this suggests that you might want to go into the field of pet photography (a lucrative one) (check this link - for information on how it can earn you $110k a year shooting twice a week), but that would be a part of that/a photographers' "giving back to the community" efforts. Or, the local humane society should/could have an arrangement with a place like PETCO (Pet Photography At PETCO) that would be a part of PETCO's giving back.
"Recently, I offered to shoot one of my company's employee celebrations for fun, and the results were very rewarding -- I got access to shoot a major corporate event (300+ people) for a Fortune 500 company, got recognized for my photos on a national level throughout the company w/ over 25k hits on the site the pictures were hosted on, and even got an award and free photo printer for my effort. All for only wanting some event-shoot practice. Not bad, considering I could have just gone and shmoozed instead like everyone else (I hate shmoozing.)."
A free photo printer? Let me guess - it was probably one of the dozen printers that the company got for free when they ordered the last batch of CPU's from Dell or HP? "I got access" ? Weren't you going to go there already? As someone who has shot for over 1/2 of the Fortune 500 companies, I can tell you that I've earned $1k (and more) shooting company picnics, holiday parties, and so forth. It's not glamourous, but it helps pay the bills. That is, unless you have someone willing to do it for a clip-art-inkjet-printed award and a free printer. And who insured your personal gear against spilled sodas or any other accidents? Sorry to sound so grumpy here, but this is just a bad idea.
"Exactly what I've been doing. I have a lucrative day job but I can't do it forever...I've been picking and choosing photography projects ...and get me some much needed experience...and I've been doing them for free. And loving every minute of it!"
That lucrative day job that you can't do forever? Guess what? You can't do photography for free forever either if that's what pays the bills, regardless of if you're "loving every minute of it"! It's called "You could be doing 'self-assignments', where you go out and try things out in your evenings and weekends."
"Every job I've ever gotten through photography has been through word of mouth or from someone seeing my work personally... and all because I usually did something for free."
This would then, have people passing the word "hey, that's the guy that will shoot for free. /Congrats! You’ve become the guy that works for free. Expect to hear from buyers who know: “Call him - maybe you'll just need to buy him lunch!"
"I've been doing some portraits for friends for fun, helping people get new facebook pictures and getting to experiment with lighting, new techniques, new gear, and so on...Plus when you start putting up shots on facebook, you start workin' the connections and offers may start coming in, friends of friends wanting shots done too, but like you said, that's just gravy."
Here's a video piece I did on this subject (From Intern to Executive - Your Corporate Photo ) that talks about doing this, and it's something to bill for. Otherwise, the offers will be for or come from people who want things for "fun" and "for free". Yes, then friends of friends will want them - again, for free. This type of work, for many people, is meat-and-potatoes bill-paying work, not the "gravy" for someone with a day job.
"I always cringe a bit when I hear the notion of doing solid work for free because, if done in mass, the law of supply and demand indicates that number of paid gigs will be suppressed and exacerbate the current recession."
Agreed.
"I am by no means a great photographer, although I can create images that help sell my clients goods. One of the reasons that I was able to build up a client base was my own feeling around the essence of the work, that I was being hired to perform a service and not creating "art". My intuition in this has built my business, as keeping the costs low for my clients has enabled them to increase their advertising placements, as the per ad cost was lower, which in turn has led to more work for me. "
Hmm… Not sure about your general answer here, since this dude might actually be making a good living, given his geographic area and what his costs are. He might be like those furniture studio shooters in the South who have so refined costs that everyone is making money, but it sure isn’t “art”, but it does take imagination and effort! Yes, more low-paying work for you, and in turn, the business has more money to buy more ads (at going rates, of course) and grow their business since they don't have to pay you much. What you're talking about - perform a service - is akin to the commoditization of photography that has taken hold of the stock photo industry. Your intuition is off, and I am guessing you're not interested in turning it on and straightening it out. Why bother? The businesses you are doing cut-rate work for are more likely to prosper at your expense. That's akin to the sentiment 'I take a small loss on every job, but I make it up in volume.' I wrote A Triumph of Hope Over Experience, where I write "Remember when the client said 'I don't have much money, but if you'll do this one at this price, I will make it up to you with the next one'?" When they can afford a great photographer (since you state 'I am by no means a great photographer'), they won't call you, they'll call a great one, and pay them accordingly.
"I'm also volunteering my services for my church. Easy stuff - little events, staff photos, etc - but with a 1000+ member church, somebody's bound to ask somebody for a photographer sometime, and I'm hoping somebody remembers my name."
I see the value in this point - if it's done from a marketing standpoint. Perhaps you should ask for a trade in the church bulletin, where pictures of the last coffee klatch after services has a "Photos by John Smith - www.JohnSmith.com", and a small ad that parishioners can read on the back page of the bulletin during the pastor’s rambling sermon, "for family portraits, or wedding photography like that in this bulletin, consider John Smith - www.JohnSmith.com".
"I am an amateur who is now the company’s in house photographer...I got this because I shoot some corporate-charity work for fun, the company and charity liked the pictures, then I was asked to photograph a Director (which I decided to do for free), and on the back of that I became our in-house photographer...I suspect many people could blow me out of the water photographically, but the guys I beat off the role for the company pictures might have been ‘pros’ but they were also ‘poor’."
Nice. You're essentially admitting that you've cost a professional photographer assignments, contributing to, as you put it, they're being "poor." Corporate charity work is lucrative work, and many a photographer earns a living doing just that type of work. Then, you're doing a free portrait of a corporate Director, thus costing another photographer a portrait assignment.
"Two days ago I made the same deal, since I love having my day job (IT freak) and my night work (Photo freak). I am passionate with photography and I prefer working without constraints (meaning that 99,9% of my projects are self funded) , this attitude gave me the opportunity to gain "access all areas" and make backstage photos,"
Fortunately, one of the things about location photography is that you can't outsource it. "IT freaks" on the other hand? They're a dime a dozen and being outsourced faster than you can say "f8 and be there." When India's night work takes over your day job, and you're left with empty server racks and a personal budget that limits your bandwitch/Internet connection to dialup, don't bother trying to get into the field of photography, especially trading to "gain 'access to all areas'" and so on, since that's already been ruined by others (The Business of Rock & Roll Photography - 5/30/08).
"I'm a young amateur photographer, still in school, and I'm just about to start doing this: take photos of the people I want to for free to have fun and build a portfolio I can be proud of. Money? Later. Reading your writing made me more secure about what I'm about todo."
Excellent. One more amateur student photographer emboldened to care not about money. That's a nice "starving student/starving artist" badge of honor, but about 6 months after graduation, when Sallie Mae comes a callin' for the beginning of the payback for the student loans that got you that degree, money will become much more important to you. Then again, when you have to buy a home and start a family too, "evil-money" will rear its' ugly head. That security you feel for what you're about to do is only because mom and dad are/were paying your bills during school and you can afford to work for free. That's nothing to be proud of - a portfolio built upon free assignments that may well have cost others the monthly rent.
"this summer and fall shot Metallica, Mastodon and Status Quo amongst others. Still free (well kind of, free for myself as my day job would have been the client), but now I'm published in major magazines with a credit for shooting Metallica."
"will work for photo credit" is one of the more asinine mentalities that is pervasive today. This is the type of post I told David he'd be encouraging, and thankfully, it made it past his moderation for all to see. Last July I wrote - Spec Comparative to Salary, where I detail that for many years, I was hired by Rolling Stone and it’s sister publication Us Weekly to cover concerts and celebrities on Capitol Hill and at the White House. Then, along came a “photographer”, who also had a design business where he did some of the graphics for concerts in town. He would then frequently shop them around, because he wanted to see his photos in Rolling Stone. After a year or so, when one of the annual festivals came around and I called about my regular assignment, the editor said “I am not assigning it this year, we’re getting spec work from {so and so} and we won’t be needing you.” Poof – away goes a $250 guarantee against usage, plus expenses, plus my ability to generate revenue off those images. Had I said “oh, I’ll do it for spec, just get me a credential”, I would be not only subsidizing a media conglomerate with between $250-$600 in expenses, where they would only ending up paying the $150-$175 for the use of the one image, meaning that, in a best case scenario, I would loose $600 minus the $150 for the “privilege” of shooting the assignment, IF they used mine. He continued to work this way, and among his poor decisions, was one to drive over a hundred miles each way to a concert near Richmond, Virginia, for free.
"I agree with what you say. I'm recently graduated from a photography school here in Paris and since graduating have been shooting like crazy, mostly for free. What do I get from it? Experience. I'm still learning, every single shoot without fail I do I come away with some lesson learnt. My book improves on an almost monthly basis, I'm making contacts, working on an exhibition series and know that once the economy turns around I'll be in a much better place than had I sat on my ass waiting for the phone to ring with paid assignments."
That’s some great school in Paris where you DIDN’T get experience!!
In order to get clients, you don't "sit on [your] ass waiting for the phone to ring with paid assignments", you market yourself to people who are willing to pay. Yet, contributing to the mentality of shooting for free as a good thing means there will be far fewer paying assignments to go around. Those contacts you're making? They're contacts that know you as "free and cheap", and not someone worthy of investing in valuable/assigning an important and lucrative assignment photography. C'est la vie.

Again, more broad-brush mis-interpretations of what David and Chase intended when they wrote their pieces. Not much more to say about that:
1) "I'm an amateur photographer and as such see that I have no choice but to work for free if I am to progress in photography. To hear that you as a pro feel it beneficial is refreshing. "

2) "As a student who plans on entering the business in the next couple of years, I Find your post to be very inspirational...This post has been another nudge in the right direction, and personally I give much more weight to what I read on this blog and Chase's as well..."

3) "Between your comments and chase's about really shooting WHAT you want and worrying about the immediate cash payback later on is very inspirational...Personally, since I'm just a beginner, I NEED the cash, but it's always important to not forget why we take photos: cuz we love it."
Then there's:
"PIXELS are FREE!!!!!!! I just shot 13 guys from High School , all for FREE to help them out in a "Man Pageant" . The Pageant is to help raise money for a high school junior with Lukiemia. I did all their individual portraits in a tuxedo , shot on black. Then I designed the poster for the show. I had my printer donate them for FREE. They are selling them to raise more money. Tonight is the show and yes I'm shooting it like a fashion show. I will post the poster on flicker for everyone to see. FREE PIXELS & WARM FUZZY FEELINGS. PRICELESS"
No, actually, pixels are NOT free, but thanks for contributing to that mis-information campaign that clients always promote,(ie: "can't you just copy the files to a CD and give it to me?" No, I can't, unless you can handle huge raw files on your office computer, which you can't.) Further, cameras/camera shutters have a lifespan of a few hundred-thousand frames. Divide the number of frames you shot for the 13 people by the cost of the camera, and you'll see they weren't free. Digital cameras have a lifespan of about 18 months. Two $3k cameras during that time equates to a depreciation of about $333.33 a month. This doesn't factor in the massaging (otherwise known as ‘post-production’) of those pixels in that computer of yours with Photoshop. That's not to say that doing work for a pageant for a junior high school with the proceeds going to a cure for Lukiemia isn't a good thing, it is, and while you likely did not take work from a local event photographer (but you might have), to say what you did was "free" is, in point-of-fact, inaccurate. What's "PRICELESS" is your misguided beliefs about what it takes to be in business. Oh, and what's also "PRICELESS" is the amount of money you can deduct from your taxes for your charitable deeds - zero.
"in today's digital world, your up-front costs are close to nothing. 10 years ago, shooting for free meant eating the cost of film, processing and maybe 'Roids unless the client paid your costs. Today, all a free shoot costs you is your time."
See above - no need to repeat myself.
"I just recently asked a local Congressman if I could do some free potraits. I don't have a lot in my portfolio, and would like to do something like that. I just have to wait for him to get out of session in DC. Then, everything is a GO, they loved the idea."
Let's see - a little research tells me that, If you're zip code is 61115, and you're speaking about your Congressman, and that would be Rep. Donald Manzullo. I see from your profile photo, you are posing with a 4x5. You know those cameras aren't cheap - but they're also antiquated and used by just about no one these days. That portrait, used by Manzullo, will be a part of his brochures, website, and campaign ads and so forth. You can see here that in the 2007-2008 cycle, he raised $1.3 million dollars, with $79k coming from the healthcare sector, $56k from insurance groups, $56k coming from the banking industry, and top contributors like United Technologies ($14k) and AFLAC ($10k) all ponying up, thanks, in no small part, to the smiling face of the good Congressman you depict in your free photo. Congressmen (and Congresswomen) pay all the time for professional portraits, but now there's one less paying portrait, and more money in his/the Congressman’s coffers to help out the banking industry, since he is on the House Financial Affairs committee. Well done.
" I have been a free photographer for some time now....As soon as I quit trying to earn money I had offers and requests coming at me from all directions. It has always been my intent to use my abilities to bless others and help those who could use my photographs to benefit the world or their business.... So often money is the measure of success and I really need to to work on getting my thinking away from that."
"...As soon as I quit trying to earn money I had offers and requests coming at me from all directions...." OMFG. Of course you did, just like a drunk girl in a bar who hops up onto the slippery oak bar-top with a low skirt and no underwear and says "if you see anything you like, I'll be in the back offering it for free..." and then she has a line-up for the back room. No surprises there. You're not "bless[ing] others" in the photo community, it's your approach that is a curse on the photographic community and the scourge of much of what is good and right with the mission of photography. What would you say to the 500k+ folks who lost their jobs last month?? And where are those new cameras, computers, printers and supplies coming from??
"I am a photo student and we get the "this would be a great experience for you and will help you build your portfolio...and we will even...(just wait for it)...give you a photo credit," offers all the time. We get them from people who can and should pay, but someone usually takes it for free. "
Yes, there will always be someone willing to do it for free. Check into "How to Do It Without Ruining it for Others" for some insights. Just because the bar girl above is giving herself/’something’ away for free, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. It appears your perspective is that you're not interested in doing free work like that, and that's a good thing.
"You can see why this can very easily get very complicated - and dangerous. Some people - such as Chase Jarvis - know how to navigate these things. And make sure that if that “free” awesome assignment somehow become a hit - he’ll be able to profit in it - and not get caught feeling left out. "
Yes, Chase, and a handful of others, do know how to safely navigate these waters. Chase, et al, are the ocean-going vessels out in the stormy seas, and the vast majority of people reading and LEARNING from David's blog post are the cabin cruiser/rowboats out on choppy seas, ill-equiped to weather the storm or navigate the waters. Yet, with bravado, they will set sail, Gilligan and the rest of the crew.

Here's a well-spent 3 minutes with Harlan Ellison to wrap this up. I am purposefully putting it at the bottom of ALL THREE pieces to improve the chances that you watch it at-least once:



THE REST OF THE SERIES:
PART 1 - Professional Photographers vs. "Hobby" Status (i.e. Working for Free)
PART 3 - Working For Free - Commentary and Responses to Selected Comments

RELATED LINKS:

From several perspectives, I've written extensively on this subject. Here are several links to those pieces:

A Triumph of Hope Over Experience
A Collection of Inconvenient Facts
Free Not Working for Thee?
Businessweak - Amateurs vs. Pros?
Just Say "No" Just So Oversimplified
Speculative Photography - An Introduction

We also wrote all about working for free for places like US Presswire - US Presswire - Introduction.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

33 comments:

iacas said...

Way to post so many rebuttals that there's no chance anyone will actually respond to your comments because it's not worth their time to clarify exactly which one they're referring to in their comment.

So I'll comment on your general tone and position as a whole.

I personally don't have any problem with an amateur photographer taking photos for free. I earn my living doing web and software consulting and development and the equivalent to the "free photographer" exists in my arena too. If I cannot convince a client that my rates are reasonable and that they get what they pay for, they're not a worthy client to begin with, and I walk away secure and happy in the knowledge that I've avoided a headache.

When it comes to amateur photography, or free photography in general, your hard line stance on "never work for free" strikes me as a little bit of many things: stupid, obnoxious, irrelevant, and more. I take 25,000 pictures a year of my child (my wife scrapbooks them), including some "portrait" type stuff around holidays, birthdays, etc. Am I costing some professional a job? Sure. Do I feel bad about that? Hell no, and I won't be made to feel bad either.

Your hard-line, always/never stance on the issue fails to acknowledge reality in many ways. I don't go around shooting someone else's kids, but if I ever want to, I will, on my terms and schedule, without worrying about the working photographers who have been put out. If I'm ever asked to do something that feels a helluva lot more like "work" than "fun," I'll ask to be paid or turn it down. It's that simple, and it's my right to make that choice. I won't feel bad about it, and I humbly suggest the pros out there either realize one of two things when their assignment is given to an amateur: a) the client was too cheap to work with anyway, or b) the pro didn't do a very good job detailing what makes their time and skills worth the expense.

I've happily walked away from several projects on which I was being low-balled. I choose not to compete with "free." In many cases, after being unsatisfied with work done by someone else free or inexpensively, I'm called, my stock rates are accepted, and the client appreciates working with a professional.

Furthermore, amateur comes from "lover," after all. In the end, "free" comes down to a simple cost-benefit analysis, on an individual level. If someone feels it's beneficial for them to do something at a certain price - even free - they'll do it. While you may have a point in terms of their long-term goals and the impact their short-term cost/benefit analysis might have, it's weak and can often easily be overcome by someone with a little confidence in themselves.

The simple truth is that there are always going to be professionals and there are always going to be amateurs doing the jobs of professionals for free. I don't enjoy working on my car, but some people do. I don't have to help with my kid's school play, but I want to.

In many cases in my "day job," I'm paid to write, yet here I am leaving this comment here, on your blog, without any expectation of payment. You just quoted a bunch of other people who both commented originally and were quoted - for free. You not only condone such activity, but you actively promote it.

Hypocritical much, eh? And you've used a YouTube video of a WRITER to illustrate your points. Tell ya what: send me $150 for my writing here and I'll back off the "hypocritical" statement, because at least then you will have backed up your words with action.

I'll be waiting by the mailbox.

Rick Lewis said...

The comment made by iacas does not make much sense in the context of your rant.

I for one am an aspiring professional photographer. Yes, I have a day job. I first thought taking on jobs for "free" to get exposure was a good thing. But, through my own thought process have come to the same conclusions that it truly will serve no purpose in the long run. I have found most business people, when shooting commercial projects, expect to pay for your services. I do a few pro bono shoots for local charities and that's it. By the way, I charge my co-workers and friends! They understand.

John, I couldn't agree with you more!! Keep up the good fight!

Rick
www.ricklewisphotograpy.com

Eric Hamilton said...

I did a number of high-profile gigs for free when I was just getting started, and it led to an excellent, ongoing (paying) client relationship.

At the time, there were several other photographers trying to earn a living shooting the same stuff. After a while, they stopped shooting the shows. I asked one of them why. He said, "I got sick of working for free."

I looked at him and said, "I'm not doing this for free. This gig is putting several hundred dollars in my pocket."

I don't think he believed me. Actually, the number I told him was shy of my actual income. After license earnings, that particular gig netted me about $1200.

Some salient points:

1. If I hadn't worked for free initially, these other jokers would have undercut me and blocked my ability to even be considered. So many people like them had been covering these events for so long without handing people invoices that there literally was NO PAYING MARKET for the work I wanted to do. Before I could even think about charging, I had to mount a massive client-education campaign on the value of photography.

I could have walked away, but I work in a niche market and the client is the biggest promoter in the area serving that market. I would have been walking away from the biggest potential contract in my market had I taken the "absolutely no free" work course.

2. I did not continue to work for free. I worked very hard the first year, trading this ONE CLIENT for access and delivering invoices listing my target prices and a substantial discount, just to emphasize that they were getting something of great monetary value. I based those target prices on my actual costs and the salary I wanted to earn based on my living expenses (thanks to "Best Business Practices for Photographers" for explaining how to do that properly).

3. The other music promoters in the area saw the shots being produced and started to hire me. They all payed.

4. Once everybody else was paying, I could say to the big client, "Xyz is doing a gig the same night, but if you can pay I'm there for you."

In other words, I got them all hooked on good photography, and the good publicity that comes with it, and now they are all paying customers.

5. I don't recommend this track to most people. It's a major pain to convert "free" clients to paying clients, and there are few circumstances where there really is no paying market for your photography and you have to cut the path like this yourself.

For example, there is a publication in town that claims they have zero photo budget. This strategy isn't needed to earn their business, because there are other papers in town that DO PAY (still too little, IMO). Go work for them, instead.

To all the photographers giving them photos: You're morons. They're not paying you because you let them get away with it. If they ask to use a photo, give them an invoice. If they don't pay it, just say no.

That publication has printed some of my photos, but I got paid for those shots. I did not give them away for free.

If they want your photos badly enough, and you stick to your guns, they're gonna fold and pay for the photos.

These days I only do free work for myself. I track down the projects I want to do. I maintain 100% creative control. I use these "free" shoots to develop my portfolio and target the paying work I really want to be doing, and if the people in the shots want to use that work for anything but a watermarked profile pic on MySpace, they have to pony up some cash.

I'm trying to do a shoot like that at least every other month to build up my portfolio, but the pay / portfolio trade ratio is deliberately very high. After all -- I'm doing this full-time and I have bills that need paying.

Anonymous said...

He Said, She said.

Harrington say's this.

Hobby say's that.

LaForet proclaims this.

Jarvis say's that.

He Said She said.

Anonymous said...

what other professions start out by giving their services for free, besides drug dealers that is.

Doctors don't do it for free unless its a humanitarian mission, but those don't pay the porsche payment.

Politicians certainly don't do it for free.

Teachers think they do, but they don't

Cops, most of them have a part-time job on the side.

Mechanics certainly don't give it away and neither do the girls at the "bunny ranch"

So why should a photographer give it away for free?

Because they usually aren't good enough get paid. And really just wanna be "there" Wanna be part of the "posse" Wanna be with the celebs. Wanna be on the sidelines.

They are really just posers who end up being losers that hurt everyone. So I just say. be a pro, don't blow it for everyone else.

Don't give it away for free.

People usually have more respect for you when the relationship is built on mutual respect and trust.

Neal Lippman said...

John:

Great series of postings. You have hit the nail on the head - most folks reading the strobist posting will miss the point, and very few of us are Chase Jarvis, able to navigate the waters of "free photos" and arrive unscathed.

I am not a pro photographer, but I will be one someday. In the meantime, I had to learn the "free" lesson the hard way, shooting a wedding for a friend of a friend who "couldn't afford" a photographer, and of course I wanted the experience... you know how this ends up. I work more than 8 hours in exchange for a meal in the hallway and a few sodas. What I really learned, though, is that when you shoot for free, your pictures are worth exactly what you were paid for them. The images were good, but the bride never even ordered prints; obviously, if she wasn't going to pay for the photography, having the photographs wasn't of much value.

I was fortunate to come across your book; every aspiring photographer needs to read it. Now I carry professional liability insurance, malpractice (I read about the wedding photographer who was sued because the bride's headgear wasn't positioned "properly" when the formals were taken), etc, and when friends ask me to shoot their wedding, engagement, etc for free or to just "bring along my camera" I know to just smile, say "sure, no problem, and by the way, I was thinking about stopping by your car dealership tomorrow and picking up my free car, you don't mind, do you?"

Kevin Steele said...

Bravo, John.

Thanks for taking the time and energy to compile your thoughts here - Well Done.

I am not too surprised that the signal to noise ratio on blog forums can be pretty poor. I first passed off the "shoot for free" comments as akin to taking down-time to work on self-assignments, hone your craft etc. Great. I agree. But what struck me was the how many were posting with ideas of either what to shoot for free or how they can justify shooting for free for CLIENTS.

The opportunity to educate via the blogs and forums is huge - it is too bad that sometimes the classroom gets a bit noisy but the smart ones will listen and learn and succeed.

japanses said...

I definitely see your point. I can see where David is coming from in that there are shoots he wants to do but he isn't going to get a chance to get paid for. In the end what he is suggesting (based on my interpretation) is a form of TF* I think one absolutely essential point is not licensing the work for usage and coming down on someone that thinks they can get away with it. Giving someone a photo to share with their family in exchange for getting a photo to put in your portfolio is a different beast than the commercial usage described by most people in the comments. I would be more than willing to take a picture of a friend or acquaintance for their facebook profile if they would give me a chance at an image I wanted to take. I'll conclude by saying that I am a hobbiest and I never take pictures for any sort of profit and don't plan on it but if someone asked me to do a shoot for them I would ask for something of value in return be it money or other goods or services.

Jackie said...

Thank you John for posting this. As someone who recently "went pro" that post from Strobist really disturbed me. I understood the message, but I know a lot of people wont get it. To break into the automotive photography segment, I first tried to shoot for free. Sure I got people who agreed but it never paid off in the end like I thought it would. There are publications out there that count on photographers to work for free-- they NEVER pay and they get what they deserve-- crappy photos. When a publication is known for bad photos, it doesn't give you much credibility when you try to get a job with a publication that DOES pay.

I wanted to get into the pet photography sector, being an animal lover, so I started on that path thinking I'd begin with editorial. Oh boy! Not a single one wanted to pay me, not even expenses. "You'll get a photo credit and that'll be exposure!" is what I heard. A photo credit has NEVER brought me sales, and I have many to my name. They assured me that every pet photographer they've worked with were more than happy to provide the photos for no compensation.

So I volunteered to photograph shelter dogs for their petfinder pages. I figured it would be a win-win situation... I'd help out animals in need and I'd get animal handling skills in return. Turns out, the volunteer who took care of the photos for the petfinder pages took liberty at using my images to illustrate articles she wrote and got paid for. I found out about this once she told me, exclaiming how I should be excited for being published (she didn't know I did editorial photography).

Basically my point is... working for free doesn't give you a free pass into paid photography gigs. There is ALWAYS someone willing to work for free to replace you, and the cycle is never ending. Once a publication understands this, it's *real hard* to convince them to cut you a check for your efforts.

And John, if I didn't live in SoCal (yes, you CAN get A+ models for free, any day of the week here in LA!) then I'd apply for your intern position in a heartbeat. If you do any consulting please let me know... it seems like I've been living worst case scenario here! Maybe I'm doing something wrong...

ProPhotographer said...

John,

Suffice to say a big huge WELL DONE for this series of articles. Like you I was yelling back when I read the crap being spouted in the comment forms.

Unfortunately 50% of the wannabees are the same people that don't know a JPEG from their arse. So its not unsurprising that they didn't get what was being spoken about.

Instead, we get the (yawn) usual "ooh you nasty old pro we're going to show you" type posting.

I've had a blog like yours for a year now, and it was my way of trying to put something back while trying to say to the new shooters "look, you really must get to grips with the business side". But the events of recent days really make me wonder why I bother.

Perhaps I should just take the free advice down and say "FU". After all, that's what weekenders working for free are doing to my industry.

So well done for highlighting this. I really wish David and Chase had EXPLAINED THIS PROPERLY so that the IQ 50s out there understood it. Still, nevermind.

Suffice to say that those smug wannabees out there will almost all have day jobs providing their family income. So really we should disregard their hoots of derision because, well, they're JUST PLAYING AT IT are they not?

Nobody but nobody can survive in business without making money (unless your a registered charity). Hopefully a few of the sanctimonious "new breed" will learn this in 2009 when being made redundant in the oncoming downturn and then, perhaps then, they may realise why pro photographers charge for their work.

Keep up the good messages John.

PP

Anonymous said...

KEEP IN MIND THE PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING TO BE GIVING AWAY PHOTOS FOR FREE CALL THEMSELVES STROBISTS... THEY ARE 99% MADE UP OF PEOPLE WHO PURCHASED THEIR FIRST CAMERA IN THE PAST 2 YEARS, HAVE NO BUSINESS IN PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY, AND DECIDED THE DAY THEY GOT THEIR DSLR THAT THEY WOULD BECOME PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS. THEY HAVE GEAR ENVY, GIG ENVY, CAMERA ENVY AND NO TALENT..

Corey Nickols said...

So good! Seriously, nothing like a little bitterness to take you from "getting the experience from working for free" to "pay me now!" I think Craigslist is the devil for photographers (reference my last post). Glad that there are people on the internet who are being honest about how much an effect the TFP really has on those like us who are trying to make it or already have in photography.

Roger Mudd said...

Would you mind detailing your licensing process, if any, with the Alfred E. Newman imagery from MAD/Warner Brothers?
Also, do you think there should be any discussion about the prospect of collusion/price-fixing among professional photographers? It seems that there is a vocal group of professionals banding together in an attempt to influence the business practices of peers/competitors. Who does that benefit in the long-run -- the photographer or the consumer?

Anonymous said...

Ask yourself... Will Britney Spears do bj for you FREE? Yes, when she is still on drugs and out of her mind.

Eric Hamilton said...

"Doctors don't do it for free unless its a humanitarian mission"

Before they become Doctors, they take required internships. Some of those are unpaid.

Many professional occupations are built on a system of internship / apprenticeship that frequently involve low-pay or no-pay starting positions.

I honestly disagree that the newbies starting out and working for free or cheap really devalues the industry as a whole.

People with little or no photo budget should seek those shooters out -- they're certainly not going away.

People who demand high quality work and professionalism will pony up the cash.

That's just the way it is. It's the way it's always been. It's the way it always will be.

There are amateurs (even pros) in every field doing stuff for free. Shouting at the top of your lungs, and posting a video of an old guy ranting and cussing isn't going to change it.

I'm not concerned about competition from people who are working for free, and believe me, there are plenty out there begging to shoot the gigs I'm getting paid for.

I'm sure half the photographers in the world, pro or otherwise would shoot a gig for National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, or Vogue gratis, given half the chance, just to see their photos in those publications.

This is a dream job for a whole lot of people. The census numbers showing "photographers" who work other jobs to make ends meet are overwhelming. Just being a professional creative, you're beating astronomical odds, but honestly, trying to put an end to free work is like trying to hold back the ocean with a bucket.

Still, somehow, the profession manages to live on.

Miracles happen.

Talligent said...

There is no difference now and in the past with photographers or hobbyists doing stuff for free.
The only difference is now we have the Internet to blog babble about it.

IF someone wants to work for free and IF it's a bad idea in that situation... [s]he'll notice that eventually and stop doing it. Those "neighbours and friends" that only want you to do it for free... they won't be a pro photographers client anyway!

I wonder how much personal time is spent [reading, replying, copy pasting etc] on this by very talented individuals like the blogs owner instead of doing actual work?

I'm sorry but I also stumbled upon this topic from blog a to b, and to be honest this is just one of those topics which will have believers and non-believers. Noboddy is going to win the argument here.

John Harrington said...

Talligent wrote:
>>>There is no difference now and in the past with photographers or hobbyists doing stuff for free.
The only difference is now we have the Internet to blog babble about it.

No, actually, you know have the internet as a distribution channel, which is having a devastating impact on the market, because hobbyists' free work can be distributed in a way not known before.

G said...

I think I lean towards the Strobist side of there being situations where free can be a good thing. Photo Business News' critical tone and talk of cheating a local photographer from a gig does not really sit with me. I mean, why is it only photographers that appear to have this issue (I guess the video shows that writers do to?)? I don't hear about free auto mechanics being a problem. Nor do I hear about free doctors complaining. Why? Because it is likely the person who I find that is willing to fix my car for free or diagnose my illness for free would do a poor job. I would much rather go to a professional. To an extent, I think photography is the same thing. Take wedding photography for example, I have done a couple weddings for free, as a favour to friends. And I also received wedding photography services for free, as a favour. In the above, did some local photographer lose out of a deal? Yes, but so what? Didn't I get to help a friend out? Yes. Didn't I get some experience shooting something I wouldn't have otherwise had a chance to shoot? Yes. If my photos sucked, wouldn’t my friends have gotten what they asked for? Yes. If my own wedding photos sucked (they did not), wouldn't I have gotten what I paid for? Yes. So what's the problem?
I am not a professional so I do not care about making money. I do photography because it is a hobby I enjoy. If I like shooting new subjects or projects, and one way of shooting these new things is to offer my services for free, than why shouldn't I do it? A hobby is meant to be pleasurable and done during leisure time. If I want to shoot a model or some theater's production, why would I put myself through the hassle of looking for paying people, and the added stress of having to perform given the contractual obligations when one is paid for work? I could much more easily just do it for free and get the most enjoyment out of my hobby. Just because I do not charge, does that mean I should forever be shut out of doing some interesting projects about which I am passionate?
If we follow the thinking that amateur photographers are hurting pro photographers, than should pros not also rail against people sending in their snapshots of news events to BBC Yourpics or CNN IReport? (Maybe they do? I don’t know.) We wouldn't want a Pulitzer prize winner coming from someone's camera phone now would we? That would just rob a deserving "pro" from getting the prize.
I for one think that the more mainstream photography becomes, the better it is for photography, writ large. For the pros out there that really are worried about getting edged out by mere amateurs, they either need to review their value proposition or start looking for a new line of work, since the number of amateur photographers are only going to increase as digital photography and electronics continue to march forward. There is no right or wrong way for an industry to behave. Any industry’s particular economic idiosyncrasies are constantly in flux and include certain costs of doing business. I do not see why photography is any different – professional photographers need to adapt to the amateurs and move on. Sure there will be some uncompetitive photogs out there that may not make it, but being in business for oneself is not without its risks, nor is it a right to stay in a business. If you cannot stay in business because of “weekenders” than you should find a job that will pay your bills. A a pro is better off working to improve his or her business rather than complaining about somebody shooting their sister’s wedding for free, because only then will they be able to attract paying clients that are interested in the service they are providing.

So to sum up, yes, I am an amateur. I have no intention of making money from my photography. But I should have the right to pursue my hobby as I see fit, much like pros have the right to pursue a living as they see fit. For those pros that do not like what they see out there in the biz, might be time to step up your game or go back to being an amateur.

Jenny Hill said...

Well done. Really, bloody marvelous.

David's post was considerably clearer that Chase's about the thinking behind such provocative headings but then didn't someone or other say there's no such thing as bad publicity when your income is predominately add-revenue driven?

Anonymous said...

1. Don't tell me what to do with my photos. I can give them away if I want.

2. I'm one of those 'stupid strobist' amateurs. I have been shooting long before digital came along but my hobby (no pun intended) has increased in intensity since discovering David's blog. If you (as a professional) can't convince a customer to pay for photos from you instead of getting them free from a hack like me, whose fault is that?

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those 'stupid strobist' amateurs. I have been shooting long before digital came along but my hobby (no pun intended) has increased in intensity since discovering David's blog.

By your own admission you're one of those stupid strobist amateurs...

You are aware that David Hobby didn't invent the speedlight and sync cord, I assume?

Just because you shot crappy film photos for years and have suddenly discovered that lighting things can be beneficial to your photos doesn't mean you're not an amateur.

I have a guy on my street who's been shooting freethrows in his driveway for years. The different between him and you is that he doesn't think he deserves to be in the NBA...

Anonymous from above said...

I'm confused by your post...

I said i'm an amateur. That means that I just do this for the fun of it. I don't ever plan on making money from this hobby. I don't WANT to be a pro. I'm OK with that. It seems like it's the "Pro's" who have a problem with that.

I'm fully aware that David Hobby didn't invent speedlights, sync cords or any of the other things he discusses. After years of getting snobby looks from the local camera shop "Pro's" it was extremely refreshing to hear positive encouragement and teaching from someone like David.

My sister played the flute at my wedding, sometimes people bring in homemade baked goods to work, a co-worker plays in a 'garage band' for the fun of it at local clubs... Are there blogs from professionals in those fields complaining about those freebies?

So to recap... I'm not a pro. I will never be a pro. I don't pretend to be a pro. I don't give away images for free so that people will later hire me. I DO give away images for free because I like to take pictures. I would never tell a Pro that he charges too much for his images. (I realize how difficult it is and the behind the scenes costs!) Why is it OK for a pro to tell me I charge too little?

If this whole discussion isn't directed to hobbiests like me than I apologize for getting involved. If this is the case than I must say that it is hypocritical to become inflamed about David and Chase's blogs being unclear.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous from above said...
I'm confused by your post...

I said i'm an amateur. That means that I just do this for the fun of it. I don't ever plan on making money from this hobby. I don't WANT to be a pro. I'm OK with that. It seems like it's the "Pro's" who have a problem with that.

I'm fully aware that David Hobby didn't invent speedlights, sync cords or any of the other things he discusses. After years of getting snobby looks from the local camera shop "Pro's" it was extremely refreshing to hear positive encouragement and teaching from someone like David.

My sister played the flute at my wedding, sometimes people bring in homemade baked goods to work, a co-worker plays in a 'garage band' for the fun of it at local clubs... Are there blogs from professionals in those fields complaining about those freebies?

So to recap... I'm not a pro. I will never be a pro. I don't pretend to be a pro. I don't give away images for free so that people will later hire me. I DO give away images for free because I like to take pictures. I would never tell a Pro that he charges too much for his images. (I realize how difficult it is and the behind the scenes costs!) Why is it OK for a pro to tell me I charge too little?

If this whole discussion isn't directed to hobbiests like me than I apologize for getting involved. If this is the case than I must say that it is hypocritical to become inflamed about David and Chase's blogs being unclear.


Dear Anonymous:

I'm as confused by the posters comments as you are but I would like to comment post with your permission.

I like your references to the flute and other things people do just for the pure love of doing what they love.

I don't believe this blog was directed at you as a hobbiest nor do I think the term hobbiest or amateur aptly discribes what you do.

I think what you do is honorable and very satisfying from a personal level and must leave you and the friends or aquaintences you shoot for very happy.

There are many amateur photographers who do wish to develop and grow to become professional that do a tremendous amount of "Free" work that do it without knowing what it does to the market they live in or what it does to them professionally.

These are the people that this series of postings is directed towards helping imho.

It is pretty complex because of the diversity of photographers in the world and each have their own reasons for becoming a photographer. Sometime we fail to fully understand individual efforts because it is always eaisier to group everyone together.

I applaude your efforts to grow and become a better photographer and while visiting Professional Photography sites and discovering new and better techniques, please remember that those individuals that have to earn a living in this business get a bit sensitive towards others that promote shooting free work.

Please also think about those individuals that seek out free images. There are sooooo many photo users in this industry that are absolutely scum. They will say all the nice things you would expect to hear for any silver tounged snake oil salesman to get you to produce some very valuable work for them.

They will be your new best friends and that freind list will grow as your level of accomplishment grows an they tell their network about your work.

If your are accepting and money at all for your efforts than your a pro whether you want to consider yourself one or not.

If you are as blessed as you seem to be buy a copy of fotoquote software so that you can at least beware of the value of what you may be giving away. It list all the biggest users of images and what they pay. You owe it to yourself to be as informed about what your doing as you can.

I'm pretty sure your sister knows what her worth is and I hope you do as well.

Be well and watch our for the scum bags out there. They are highly educated and very, very comfortable using people. Behind your back, they call photographers who give work away idiots and suckers.

I know it sounds sad and it is.

Anonymous said...

If this whole discussion isn't directed to hobbiests like me than I apologize for getting involved.

There you go!

It's not directed at you. You're a hobbyist. You don't "work" in the field at all. I know DH threw it in his post as an aside that it was directed at amateurs too, but he's got to get eyeballs to get paid.

You "work" in the photography industry the same way the guy down the street shooting free throws "works" in the sports industry. He buys shoes, you buy cameras...

Anonymous said...

First off, you have some factual errors in your replies. "90% of all businesses fail in the first two years." This isn't true. I can tell you this isn't true without even looking up statistics. Why? First off, earning enough money to cover the expense of starting a business that you plan on keeping for more than two years in just two years would be a challenge. If 90% fail in that time, it would be an uneconomical prospect, and the rate of newly starting businesses would fall until the market becomes desaturated enough for it to make economical sense to start a business. Out of curiosity I looked up some articles on business failure rates, and it's not 90%, as you can see here and here, and particularly here and here. It's especially interesting that you bring the state of the economy into this. Of course, I'm sure you could find some statistics citing that 90% of businesses starting within a year before the great depression failed, or even some more recent ones coming out now showing a higher than average failure rate thanks to the credit crunch, but that doesn't accurately reflect the economy as a whole.

Now for the more subjective content. I think it's interesting that so many professional photographers are keen to point the finger at the amateur photographer. It's convenient, but they're really nothing more than a scapegoat for your argument. Why not even mention the papers or magazines that are willing to accept sub-par photos simply because they are cheap? If a magazine or newspaper chooses the "budget" route, and picks a low-paid/free amateur over a well paid professional, they'll get exactly what they pay for. If professionals can't produce better results than an amateur, then they don't deserve to be paid more. This applies to any field, be it software, consulting, entertainment, etc., and photography is not alone. The reality is that the more value you provide to a client, the more they are willing to pay for it. Why worry about amateur photographers increasing their portfolio? They're not providing as much value to the client as a professional would. Amateurs are getting valuable experience by experimenting with photographic techniques, and that alone is payment to them. So why point the finger at them and scream "Bloody Mary"?

I do, however, think it's very rude to ask a friend, especially if they're a professional photographer, to photograph a lengthy important event, such as a wedding, for free. I wouldn't ask my friend in carpentry to build me a deck for free! But I also know you can take this too far. If a friend calls you up before a purchase or project and takes 5 minutes of your time asking for advice in your field of expertise, do you charge them? Of course not! Or if they ask for a one-time photo of an important heirloom, or a neighbor who's just completed a masterpiece painting and would like a quick photo from you, the professional photographer, do you charge them to walk next door and spend 15 minutes taking a single photo for them? Again, the answer is an obvious no, as it's just common courtesy to not nickle-and-dime your friends or neighbors. Of course, they should thank you one way or another, if only with words. Who knows, maybe you'll need their help someday?

Perhaps the best example of this that comes to my mind isn't even photography related. A friend had managed to make their computer unbootable, and needed assistance reinstalling windows. Obviously unable to reach the internet for help, he called geek squad, who quoted him with some ridiculous rate ultimately costing him well over $200. Knowing my skills, he phoned me, and in less than 10 minutes he was able to initiate a reinstall of windows. He graciously offered to thank me for saving him over $200, by either direct payment or a reasonable gift. Did I accept? No. I think charging over $200 to ask someone to follow a few simple instructions over the phone, taking in total less than 10 minutes of time, is absurd, but that's not why I refused payment. It didn't take much time, and some day I may need help or advice from him, and while I'm not going to bean count favors, I think there's value in not being forced to! It's a trust that a friend will be there when you need them, and you don't need to pay them for a simple favor. Obviously I'd offer a gift if they saved me a substantial amount of money, even if it didn't take much of their time, and I certainly wouldn't be offended regardless of whether or not they accept it.

Do I get continuous calls from my friend about minor issues that could easily be solved with a google search? Never.
Did I hurt geek squad's revenue by helping my friend out? Probably.
Do I think their rates for simple service are ridiculous and unfair? Absolutely.
Am I evil? You tell me. :)

Anonymous said...

Dear "Am I Evil":

Of course your not evil. Your kind, considerate and well, just darn nice. To use an SNL quote.

An aside to Mr. Harrington. Please make these typing windows larger.

What you are saying, if taken to heart by an amateur, would only help to promote a continuation of bad business practices in the field of photography.

Worse than that, it promotes the idea that you should offer free images to "practice photo techniques". I know you don't say that but it's implied.

In one paragraph you say

Quote<

Why not even mention the papers or magazines that are willing to accept sub-par photos simply because they are cheap? If a magazine or newspaper chooses the "budget" route, and picks a low-paid/free amateur over a well paid professional, they'll get exactly what they pay for. If professionals can't produce better results than an amateur, then they don't deserve to be paid more.

End Quote>

Magazines and Newspapers have been choosing the budget route for some time now. This has been written about extensively. Some Newspapers are at the point where they are partially staffing themselves with photographers and citizens who's only desire is to see their name in print.

People just like youself. Who have all the justifications in the world "My appologies if you thought your analogies were original", more than you could ever imagine.

"These are the exact people that feel they don't have a value yet".

Let me repeat that because it is important.

"These are the exact people that feel they don't have a value yet".

If your neighbor asked you to take a picture of his latest "Masterpiece".

Why would he want you to photograph it? Wouldn't he want everyone to see the masterpiece itself? More importantly, why would it only take you 5 minutes to photograph it?

Have you not studied photography? Have you no vision about what you would setup for lighting, background and creative asides to enhance that image to do it justice and yourself, render a masterpiece yourself in photographic form to make this masterpiece look the absolute best it could look?

Hopefully your still reading at this point and thinking about the difference between talking about photography and talking about holding a camera, pointing it and pushing that bottony thing on the top that makes it make that "click" sound that tells me to look at the monitor on the back to see what the camera did.

Please, please, please don't think this is directed at you personally. I'm drawing right now from literally hundreds of justification posts I've read over the years and used myself initially to screw up my own career.

You go on to say...

If professionals can't produce better results than an amateur, then they don't deserve to be paid more. This applies to any field, be it software, consulting, entertainment, etc., and photography is not alone. The reality is that the more value you provide to a client, the more they are willing to pay for it. Why worry about amateur photographers increasing their portfolio?

This is just simply not the way to think. Real professional photographers can and do produce better work day in and day out.

The problem is there is no rating service for the consumer to be able to know what he or she will be getting beyond the initial conversation about the project.

By your standards, anyone who is articulate and convincing and has a few images they got while "Practicing techniques to increase their protfolio" is ready to go and promote themselves.

It would take much longer than anyone would put into this post to start detailing the "Portfolio" considerations. That is hours and hours in dialogue itself.

I'm sorry I can't do justice to all the bad advice that is insuated in your post but the true amateur who is doing his or her homework about photography will know.

The people that have expensive cameras that allow themselves to believe they are professional photographers and jump out there,misrepresent themselves as knowing anything about professional photography,offer their work for free, disappoint others who bought into their dribble and then slink away and use the next level of justification---You didn't pay anything so you deserve what you got--- is what the true amateur should be thinking about. Not if their feeling got hurt on some post.

If your life skills are dedicated to computer repair, that is where you should offer up your best advice.

I have to go now. I'm suddenly empowered to go to Best Buy and hang around the geek squad counter and help people with their computer problems. Just by reading what you have offered I'm fully capable of saving a lot of people a lot of money.

信次 said...

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Nicholas Fodor said...

You're completely on the mark here John.

Being a full-time business student while running photography gigs on the side keeps my motives in line (and believe me; it's mostly common sense, not textbook knowledge).

Amateurs need to understand the concept of "free". Free as I understand it has two perspectives, depending on what it is relevant to. This can be either the perspective of the photographer or the client. To the client, free means they get everything without contributing anything. For the photographer (as I take it), it means that I get a lot more out of the deal than the client may have utility to the pictures. It's a sum of net gains that should at least equal zero for the photographer. If it doesn't, then just keep taking pictures of your cat for flickr. Think of it like a not-for-profit charity. They don't make margins, but still make a living.

To explain this further, even if it is understood that it is not going to be a full-paying client, I always work on the premise that my costs are covered. It's about zero-sum, so as I incur costs as a photographer for depreciation. Those costs need to be covered. I'm not a charity.

If I need props or rentals; those are to be invoiced for. Zero-sum still. If I need an assistant or MUA, same deal.

Now, the last component is my time. Sometimes I do invoice a bare minimum for my time, even if it understood that it's a "discount" or "pro-bono" rate. This makes it a lot easier when you start to slowly increase your pricing. If I don't invoice (depends on the clients, work and budget), then I negate my time for portfolio pictures, PR, marketing, contacts, and all that jazz.

It's also important however to be able to differentiate between what marketing you'll get in exchange for your time. EVERYONE thinks that THEIR event is the most important, the most valuable, and an INCREDIBLE opportunity for you. That's one part not seeing the value of proper photography, and one part un-managed expectations. So as a photographer, you really need to weigh your options and be subjective, not every event is a zero-sum game.

Photography for me isn't a long-term career path on its own. But even if it's not my career of choice, by calling myself a "professional photographer", I owe it to the other industry professionals not to de-value the industry. I have no problem competing with them. That's the magic behind capitalism. I'll be sure to offer a better product or service than them at industry pricing.

The photographers that are complaining that free is killing them need to spend less time whining, and spend more time focusing on value-added services that differentiate them from the cat photographer down the street. As technology changes (as you suggested) every 18 months, eventually the pro gear of today, is in the consumers' hands in a little bit more than that. Now, if you're sitting in an industry, and have been doing the same thing for 18 months and now you're wondering why someone else is offering the same service for free, then it's you that's the problem. The issue isn't that you can't rely on the same old set of skills and think to keep making cushy income.

As a full-time photographer, there's an upper hand in having so much time to shoot with clients, building up experience, but also the time to continually learn and expand your skill set.

Personally, in the market I've targeted, I'm the only one offering this unique service. I came up with the concept from scratch and adaptations of other offerings. I understood the client, their unique situation, their needs and how to market to them based on their predispositions. No one else in my market is even remotely close to offering my package. And if they try to, I'll have already changed it to something bigger and better.

I'm sorry of that appears arrogant; but that's business. If you can't stand behind your business like that; you're destined to fail, or turn into that free photographer at nightclubs. The choice is yours.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering, did you pay David Hobby when you lifted quotes off his blog?

Anonymous said...

Dunno if this will get answered at all, but if what you say is the right way to go about it, how in the hell to new photographers get any better?

You can only take so many photos of your feet until you need to get some people to shoot (If you wanna to portraits for instance). And you aren't going to be able to charge them.

I wanted to get some experience shooting babies so I asked some people I knew who'd recently had babies if I could shoot them? Without doing this for free I wouldn't have got a job. In fact noone would have, they wouldn't have hired a photographer to shoot their baby.

Likewise for a portrait shoot. I wanted experience for a portrait. A friend of mine was willing to be a subject so in turn I said she could use the photos for her headshots on her website.

What else is someone going to do if they need to find subjects? I can't charge someone to shoot their portrait, I've only shot one in my life for christ sake. I'm bound to do less of a job than a pro. That would hurt my reputation as well.

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