Monday, August 13, 2007

Do You Care If It's Bad for the Profession? Quite Possibly - No.

Many of you will act based upon your actions being morally right, ethically right, or just right on principle. However, there is a broader group that won't act as counseled to unless it's something that is personally good for the individual. In many cases, this is selfish, and is counter to a greater good, but for people to act based upon how the decision is good for them are either, in general, not concerned with that, or see themselves as not having the luxury, at this stage of their careers, with being concerned with that.

So, the question remains then - how do you affect someone who's attitude is "I do what's good for me..."? If you're that type of person, this post is for you. If you know that type of person, then the message points in this post are those which will help you convince others about how to change, for the better.

When I, or many others, say "don't do WMFH, it's bad for the profession...", or "don't do jobs for $500 that you know are worth $5,000 because it's bad for the profession...", those are a form of a "shortcut" of advice. When we say it's bad for the profession, that means it's not just bad for you, it's bad for your friends and colleagues.

Consider the call girl. Not because I am going to equate some photographers to them. Rather, there's an almost universal agreement as to opinion about them and the profession. We all can agree that being a call girl has moral and ethical and principled deficits. We all can stand back and say "she shouldn't be doing that...". Further, few, if any of you, could hold in any regard the profession of call girl. That leaves the call girl herself to discuss. There are three primary things wrong with her and her chosen profession then. The first is that, while subjecting herself to that line of work, she's at high risk of contracting a communicable disease that quite probably will kill her. The second is that, she is also at a high risk of physical abuse or assault. The third is the psychological damage - the transfer of percieving intimacy as for sale, and quantified by a dollar figure, affects the call girls' ability to be genuinely intimate or genuinely in love in the future. Yet, in these instances, the call girl doesn't see all of this diminishment as bad for women, she just sees it as income - as good for her. She's not considering, nor does she care about, short term versus long term benefits, she's just worried about making money. No matter how loud you shout that what she's doing is bad for her, or bad for women, she won't hear it. She only will stop when she comes to her own conclusion that it's bad for her, even when she may well know, deep down, it's bad for her, she does it because she feels she has no other choice.

Consider next, the day laborer. Forget for a moment, whether they're illegal immigrants or not. That person earns a nominal hourly wage, each day, for back-breaking work. Each day they work, they earn dollars. When they don't, they don't. Further, their daily income is all but capped. With that income, they'll never own a new car, they'll never have health insurance, they'll never buy a house. In order to do these things, they must leave the profession where they are paid for their physical capabilities, to being paid for their mental capabilities. That worker is only concerned with how much money they're bringing in for themselves. They're not concerned with how, by their subjecting themselves to those working conditions, they are telling their employers "hey, it's ok to treat me this way..." and then, as more and more people do the work, those working conditions become more and more acceptable. Further, they won't be able to support or provide for a family as they should.

Photographers are not day laborers, nor call girls. Yet, when a photographer accepts a WMFH job, they become, in effect, a day-laborer. They're paid for that work, and will never generate a dime from it again. When a photographer accepts an assignment that they're paid $150 for, that should be an assignment for $1,000, they are selling themselves short, and not recognizing the true cost of that assignment, and how they have given away their creative talents for a fraction of it's value.

When we say "it's bad for the profession", what we're saying is a shortcut to how it's really bad for you, and that it'll hurt your friends as well. It's not a holier-than-thou attitude, it's sound counsel. You may know, deep down, that WMFH is bad for you, but you feel you have no other choice. You do. You can say no to the deal, or, better yet, negotiate the deal to a yes/win-win for both parties. Sure, some clients have such a long line of people saying yes to WMFH, that you have no bargaining power. Don't work for them. Don't work for people who don't value you beyond your eyeball and trigger-finger.

As you enter the profession, there are leaders in trade associations who all are (or have been) photographers, there are the legends in the field, peers you look up to, and the middle-of-the-road photographers, and when all of them are telling you that something is "bad for the profession", they're saying it's bad for you, so don't do it. These folks know whereof they speak. You've probably, in preparation for entering the field, read their books, or been inspired by the images they have produced.

What's good for the profession, is, in turn, good for you, as a member of that profession. What's bad for the profession, almost without exception, is also bad for you.

When you don't know what you're talking about, or when you're new to the field, listen to the people around you whom have been in it awhile, or listen to the people you look up to and aspire to be like. These photographers will be able to tell you what's good for the profession, and what's not. Listen to that advice.

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.


Anonymous said...

Last week, a potential client wanted me to shoot a financial magazine cover for $500.00, inclusive of all expenses.

I begged off, citing too busy and suggested a photographer who I knew would turn them down flat.

I should have just said: it is not enough money to do this assignment. I was on the road, communicating by email and it was the first time in a very long time that I just did not want to bother with it. I am very busy and long ago grew past these types of shoots.

I have three clients that I give a lot of usage to as part of my rights package with them. Why? Because I value the relationship, they trust me to shoot exactly as I like to without an art director or client hanging on around to make sure I get the shot.

They are fair to me with the usage requested plus anytime there is any additional usage past the scope of the agreement, they always tell me and I invoice them for the usage.

Silver River Images said...

The 'call girl' scenario could only have been written by a male!

Don said...

Excellent post. True in this or any profession. I would also add that there are other forces at work here as well.

Lowering the bar. Have you flicked through flickr lately? There are thousands of GWC's (Guys/Gals With Cameras) now going after jobs that used to be offered to professionals. But as the young start to populate the business we used to populate (old fart here) we see the natural progression for them to use their peers... their buds. They didn't grow up with our business... they know their buddy takes "awesome" pics with his camera and then makes 'em look cool in Photoshop.

There is not that much respect for the profession from many younger shooters... lighting is secondary to Photoshop. Creating the image in camera is now secondary to Photoshop... it just is the way it is. And before you start slamming me for hating on the young shooters, please don't. I believe that the industry is changing and changing fast. We may not like where it is going, but we must be aware of it at least.

I will be posting more to this on my blog today. Really an excellent post and food for thought.

Ray said...

The only problem is who determined the job was worth $X? You? All other photographers? Conventional wisdom? Realistically the market determines the price in terms of what someone is willing to do it for, at an acceptable level of quality. Sorry, but if someone is willing to do it at a level of workmanship/artistry that is acceptable to the client for $500, then regardless of what everybody in town thinks the job was worth, it was worth $500 dollars. If you're not providing tangible value for the money you charge, you're just agreeing on an artificial price floor; congratulations on the price fixing. If a guy is charging prices that he can't sustain, or doing crap work, the market will wash him out or he'll raise his prices. There's already a name for women that want to be paid for sex with low risk of disease, emotional context, no "psychological damage"; they're called wives and it's just a different payment scheme (I kid, I kid...). But realistically, your sole point seems to be that if someone can undercut you on price, then it's "bad for the profession". Isn't the business of photography about producing images the client wants? So regardless of whether that's done with deep and abiding reverence for the past, or by a "GWC" and Photoshop that couldn't care less about 5 minutes ago, unless that effects the quality of the images produced who cares? I'm reminded of the controvesy in the UK a few weeks ago when Prince announced that he'd be giving away his new CD free in the Sunday paper; the record sellers were infuriated because 'how dare he give his [own] record away'. What's good for the profession folks, is demonstrating to clients why the GWC's work won't be as good as that of a true professional, the same as a skilled carpenter needs to show that his work has more ultimate value that a day laborer. If you can't do that, and the ultimate argument is really keeping the story straight on pricing, that says something about the "profession". In fact, the GWC getting paid $500 is ultimately good for quality photographers; once customer gets crap images, or unprofessional service/behavior, hopefully they learn their lesson about bargain shopping.

Allen said...

junyo, I agree with you. In other photography forums/sites I often read from the "professionals" how much damage is being done to them as a result of all the GWC's out there. And I usually tell them that if they are threatened by a GWC then they are not a good photographer. When I got married, I paid a photographer to take my photos. I did so because I wanted a good experience and the photographer had a history of delivering quality. There are others, though, that either can't afford the best or don't see the difference between a quality photo and a snapshot, should those people be forced to not hire their friend as a photographer because it's bad for the profession? Should they have to pay for a pro photographer? If a GWC with a point-and-shoot is out there putting out better results than a photographer with a $2k camera and $3k lens for a cheaper price, then the "photographer" needs to work on getting better, not be upset that he's not getting work. That's Darwinism at work!

bryan_luckyoliver said...

I've been a 'professional' strategic web designer for 10 years. I think clients will determine the value of your services based on their ability to monetize your work.

I've owned a company that has had to compete in a space with both outsourced workers and high schoolers. I have not seen a drop off in hourly rate (in fact it has gone up). The key is forming a good relationship where you can provide good value at a good price.
I might be dumb, but it's really not too complicated.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I missed it, but it would be a lot easier to understand this article if somebody explained what WMFH is.

Anonymous said...



Mark said...

> We all can agree that being a call girl
> has moral and ethical and principled
> deficits.

No, we can't, actually. What's wrong with you?

Anonymous said...

What you are talking about is indeed price-fixing, and your terrible analogies do not disguise it. Also:

We all can agree that being a call girl has moral and ethical and principled deficits. We all can stand back and say "she shouldn't be doing that...". Further, few, if any of you, could hold in any regard the profession of call girl.

Keep your misguided and obnoxious moral commentary to yourself.

Anonymous said...

There could never be price-fixing in our industry. I do not believe John suggested that.

I do believe that he feels that people in OUR industry should try to maintain a respect for the industry and themselves, by valuing their work and more importantly, how the client uses and values the images.

Anonymous said...

I get hired to shoot a job for $x which is a fair price for the difficulty of the work, the value my skills in getting the shots done under tough conditions and the final usage. I produce good work for years and the client is happy.

GWC comes along and offers to do the job for FREE. Y'know, to "get his foot in the door". Client fires me, apologizes, says work isn't as good from GWC but HELL IT'S FREE.

They'd be stupid to pass that up. They get a bonus for saving the department money that year.

Clients are consistently willing to pay $x for a particular use of a stock photo. Along comes GWC, dumps pix on $1 site or Flickr and, due to inexperience, either licenses that same use for far less than the market is willing to bear or gives the use away after a flattering pitch by the client wanting to use the image.

I'm not advocating price fixing. But I'm not advocating stupidly leaving money on the table because you are inexperienced in the ways of the industry and refuse to listen to and assimilate, digest and put to use some of the information from those who have "been there".

Clients are laughing all the way to the bank at these people willing to work for peanuts. One told me so. That isn't Adam Smith and the "Unseen Hand" of captialism and market forces at work. It's uninformed people shooting themselves in the foot with an Uzi which does collateral damage to those around them.

Anonymous said...

All of you defending hookers are a joke. It's reprehensible. And I'm not even religious!

And yes, WMFH cripples you. If you're going to charge $500, at least stipulate usage rights.

Anonymous said...

hmm... it's a joke to defend someone who charges what the market will bear rather than giving it away for free? Prostitution is legal in many places and I believe that they very well may consider themselves professionals. They do preform a service for a fee, a service where there may be many others giving away the same service for free.

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