Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Reality of One's Future

Why must we stand by and somehow accept what other photographers are doing to the detriment of our profession? Why must we simply sit back and say "heck, go ahead and do RF!", or "wow! You just took an assignment for $75, using $250 worth of equipment if you had to rent it all. You go girl!", or "wahoo! You just got a photo credit for your work! Congrats! It looks great next to the full page ad that the advertiser paid $50k for! That's awesome!"

I was listening to the radio on the way home tonight, and heard this story. British General and Commander-in-Chief in India in the early 1800's, Sir Charles Napier, became famous when he was confronted with a terrible Indian (and that's India's Indian, not American Indian) ritual, called "suttee". It's a horrendous act, whereby when a man dies, as they are burning his body in a ceremonial fashion, the now widowed woman is tossed on the fire to burn to death. Napier, in charge of India, governed by British Authority, confronted the Indian seeking to do this, and stated to him:

"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."
Which brings me back to my point. Why must we stand by without making an objection as another photographer stands before us and says "man, I just think it's so cool that I made $25 off that photo." Why must we feel compeled to say, "It's ok that all you got for your hard work was a photo credit." Why, somehow, are we to listen while someone says "oh, my full-time job is X, so I'm not worried about how much I get for my photographs." Or, from our fellow photographers who are full time staffers, who say "oh, my freelance work is gravy to me, it's an extra few hundred bucks or so. It's no big deal to me."

I don't know. I suppose, there are several ways to confront someone. One is to yell at them. One is to try to convert them by citing how wrong what they are doing is. One is to toss a glass of water in their face and walk away. Trust, me, all of these are thoughts I have had. Really.

Napier, of course, had a bit more authority. He could actually jail, hang, or otherwise punish wrongdoers. What he did, though, was reason with the man.

What, then, should we do? Well, for one, not be silent. Yet, take a positive approach as you do respond. Stock licenses still cost good money. Just yesterday, I licensed an image for $1,800. That was fair for this company to pay. There is clearly a bottom, and it's free. I can't concieve of anything I'd ever endeavored to produce should ever be given away for $1, or less.

Perhaps ask a few questions, like: "do you want to do this for a long time, or just a few months?" "Do the people who hire you have health insurance and a 401k? Can you concieve that you'll have that in the (near) future? Is that fair?" "Do you think you could afford a family, or to eventually make mortgage payments at a revenue level that is about $200 a day?"

Try helping people to see the reality of their future. Suggest that they may look back at this year and next when they are five years down the line, and realize that all the work-for-hire deals they signed means they have nothing to show for their hard work back then.

Noted novelist Catherine Aird said it best:
"If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to serve as a horrible warning."
That's pretty damn succinct. Thanks Catherine.

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.


Sean C said...

Thanks John for your great contributions and your stand.

But to adapt is to survive.

Right now I'm attending a convention of wedding and portrait photographers in Vegas this year called WPPI.

In the last five years I've watched attendance balloon to by hundreds if not thousands. The attendance this year overtakes all of the conferences I've attended combined.

I'm guessing (but this is an educated guess) that the majority of people attending are not full time professionals.

There is also a lot of talk by the speakers (speakers who in years past, have taken a stand on giving work away) about giving their work away! Giving it to magazines, giving it to stock agencies, giving it other vendors and finally giving it away to the clients themselves.

You've painted a wonderful picture about the state of the profession (this is not an industry). But who needs to paint a picture when one can find wonderful examples all over the web?

Here's Rich Legg, profiled on the Photopreneur blog. He talks about striking it rich not as a realtor (his day job) but as a photographer (his hobby):


What would you tell Rich? That he can't pursue his passion? I have to ask myself is he really a horrible warning or the wave of the future?

Anonymous said...

You can not spend your life worrying about the stupidity of others.

YOU CAN live your life by always trying to do right, showing the example of a better way, a smarter approach and living within your means.

Speaking up is important, showing by example is walking the walk.

There will always be the low-end folks who chase the lowest price. Always!

There are also the clients who want to do things right. They may not be as visible, take more work to find and demand more from you in terms of creativity and abilities, but I would rather shoot one day a week for that level of client than spend a month chasing my tail, loosing time and money for a client that does not appreciate my efforts, abilities and whose only concern is the bottom line.

In the end, with groups, the circle jerk "speakers" and the former shooters who feel because they are being paid to "lecture" that they are right, just remember, the ones shouting the loudest are the ones who are often not shooting!. They are building business based upon selling the bullets - they don't care who wins the war.

Frankly, most of the "photographers" who sell out and become "experts" are laughable as shooters now - there are exceptions - the difference between a guy who teaches a one week class at Santa Fe versus someone who is an "Employee of Light" and an "Apple Guru" and a "Sandisk Master" and,,,,,,, if you notice, for the majority of them, there best work is in the past and wen they get on stage and talk about rights and holding the line and etc, etc. They can afford to be hard-nosed. They don't shoot for clients anymore. Their business is the business of selling their viewpoint on workflow, their software or just getting the ego boost of going on a lecture tour for a computer company and tossing out quips about how great they are and little-put downs on other shooters.

Shooting images that matter is far more important than speaking to audiences about weddings, stock, RF. Workflow, camera gear/computer equipment.

I'd take ninety-percent of what is "said" by the experts as hype and be suspect of the rest. As far as I am concerned, they are not photographers, they traded in that badge when the sold out.

Anonymous said...

Lately I've been struggling to understand where I fit into the photography business.

Last week I stopped doing spec work because it clearly wasn't working out for me. I felt it was earning me a reputation as someone who picks up the leftover scraps that other photogs didn't want to do.

I'm now agonising over commissioned jobs. The papers I work for pay £20 per photo. The last job I did took about 90 mins for set-up, shoot and tear-down, plus travel expenses. The reason the papers pay £20 is because they only want/expect a quick snapshot. In fact for what they want, £20 is good money.

I'll never do those snapshots. I'll always design, set-up and light the best shot I can do. That dramatically increases the time and the money involved, but it doesn't increase the fee.

Anonymous said...


Your blog is read and watched by many in our profession.

The topics you are addressing are worthwhile and interesting.

The writer above is working toward a better goal than just shooting for 20 pounds an image. Which is good as long as he understands that his current market will only pay 20 pounds for a shot - but down the road he will have a much stronger book because he cared to do it right.

I don't understand why people fall for these self-appointed industry experts. Many of them proclaim themselves to be experts and the promotion machine follows.

I just read a piece in a digital magazine about a former New York Times photographer who is doing commerical work now and the article was a puff piece for a computer company. The images presented in the article were prety weak, nothing special, yet people think that because this person is a NY Times shooter and has favored status that his viewpoints are special. They are just one view of the industry.

There is still good moeny in stock that is well thought out and is offers a unique viewpoint. Even RF can be profitable if it is done right. Getty is starting to address that monster with the Rizer collection; a step away from total right usage.

If you are self-employed, get yourself to a good financial manager and get rolling on a my(401)K or a defined benefit plan. The sooner you start the better off you will be in the long run. I've been shooting for close to thirty years and there were sections in your book that were a great help to me. You realize you never stop learning.

I am pleased to see this blog is about the business of our business - not a rant about all that ails.

Thanks for caring enough about the business to do this right.

Christopher Lambie

Anonymous said...

Christopher I believe you are referring to Pultizer Prize winner Vincent Laforet profiled in Digital Photo Pro. He is very good and well respected. He uses Apple technology, it works well for him (and many others) and he speaks highly of it.

Anonymous said...

Hey John

Take a look at the new ROTH 401K programs. Even though you are putting in money you have paid tax on, the growth is tax free.

For some people, this may be a better option than the traditional IRA, SEP-IRA or my (401)K.


Newer Post Older Post