Saturday, August 29, 2009

Not Out-Gunned, Devalued

Everytime I post something or read somewhere where something is written that is critical of amateur, pro-sumer, volunteer, or free photographers, whether these folks are in credentialed positions, getting a magazine cover or photo in an ad or newspaper, I hear some variation of " pros are just worried about getting out gunned...". Honestly, nothing could be further from the truth.

A pro knows the value of their work, and, as a result, the value of the effort they bring to the assignment. Product shot on white seamless? Seems simple, but it's not. What about transfer edges? Highlight shapes? Angle/perspective, and so on. This is one of a hundred examples I could provide. Case in point - I recently had a client drive a long distance to come to my studio for a product shot. At the conclusion of the shoot, he commented that he had no idea how much went into doing a shoot to get superior results. He expected it to take an hour for four products. It took seven hours (frankly, much of that time was product-build time). Afterwards he recognized what was involved, and definitely pleased with the results.

When someone sells a commodity for $10 that everyone else is selling for $100, it devalues that commodity. If the commodity was easily selling for $100, why would someone - anyone - sell it for $10?

(Continued after the Jump)

Photography is, however, not a commodity. Just because some people choose to devalue it to that point, treat it as such, price it as such, doesn't make it so.

Some organizations have chosen to price images, for example, by the pixel dimensions alone. This does not take into account so many things, it's just rediculous. The image of the hindenberg engulfed in flames or JFK being shot cannot be priced by the pixel. Doing so devalues the work because it does not take into account the content of those images.

Consider, for a moment, that an inventor created a product, and it costs that inventor $10 in materials and overhead, per product, to manufacture it. Following common business practices, that product will wholesale for $20 each. Following again common business practices, that product will retail for $40, and likely sell on the street for around $30. Understand, this is an example and these are generalizations.

With those figures in place, the company decides to spend $250,000 for ad space (online and in print) to market the product. It is to be your photograph, of the product looking so cool and so amazing, that is the entire ad, with a tag line "Buy it and be cool". As a result, the client sells 250,000 products. That means that the client spent $2.5M in raw materials, and netted $2.5M in profit. The retailer too grossed $2.5M as the middleman for the product, providing retail shelf-space. How much are you, the creative mind behind the image that convinced the buying public to actually buy, due? 1% of the profits? 5%? How about just 10% of the ad buy? What if your single image were one of four on the page, would you be due 0.25% or 1.25% of the profits, or 2.5% of the ad buy?

A photographer brings to an assignment an understanding of the subject and their quirks. Whether it's a sporting event, where you know how a particular player will likely act, a portrait where your subject has a duration they will be willing to sit for before their unhappiness at being photographed shows in their expressions, or food photography, where the concoctions that photograph like, say, ice cream, are almost inedible despite looking great through the cameras lens, all assignments have challenges. Can any given photographer stumble into a great photo? Sure. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile. The pro however, must get it right at a level of expectation for success that approaches that of a surgeon. The problem is, unknowning clients look at the bottom line and then ascribe equality to an amateur's work and that of a seasoned professional. In the end, the client is unaware of the risks, however, the damage of devaluing photography has been done. The client will just blame the photographer when the shoot fails, not themselves for hiring the photographer without a proven track record of success.

The collateral damage of the client choosing on price, is that photographers will feel pressure from clients to lower their prices, and some will. Then there will be more pressure, and more lowering of prices. Please understand, I am not writing this as someone who has lowered their prices (I have not), but as someone who is watching as photographers' sales reports that used to show average per-image licensing of upwards of $600 now showing those same images for similar uses averaging under $100. Further, photographers who used to earn $2,500 off an original assignment and several thousand dollars in re-sales licensing over the years are now being expected to sign away all rights (and thus all future resales) for $1,000.

In the end, not only are you devaluing your work, and those of your colleagues, you are doing damage to a profession that is a passion for most in it, and you are leaving a lot of money on the table.

I know of no photographer who feels the young upstart photographer, the amateur photographer, or even the pro-sumer will "out gun" them, but almost all of the photographers I talk to about this know that these same folks are devaluing their work. Interestingly enough, that means that the pro sees quality, capability, and talent in the images produced, and knows they are worth much more than they are being given away for.

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.


Kevin Halliburton said...

I've always wondered how pros critical of amateur, pro-sumer, volunteer, or free photographers got where they are without passing through the trials and errors of at least some of those categories without devaluing the industry. Just about every honest pro will admit to suffering through the trials, failures and illusions of grandeur on their way to figuring it out.

I see limited concern about low tier shooters from the top shooters in the business. Quite the opposite actually, many of them seem hell bent on helping them step it up a notch rather than knocking them down a few pegs.

Even the cocky loudmouths who don't have a clue how far they have to go, and clearly deserve a good swift kick in the pants, eventually either fail or grow out of it. I don't think they really have much of an impact on the overall industry until they get good enough to know better and that's where the tireless investment of the pros who've gone before really pays off for all of us. I've been that guy, haven't we all?

Nick said...

Could this just be more the the "Good Enough Revolution" at work?

Wired > Good Enough Revolution

Amateur Photog said...

The thing is, that amateur photogs have a place too. I'm starting out and there's no way I can charge "normal" fees so I work for lower prices ($75/h) to gain experience and purchase equipment etc...

I'm not doing any mag covers or would have the balls to say I could handle a wedding. I make sure that I let the clients know of my limited experience and point them to my website so they know what they will get.

TEDTHEB said...

In order to create stock images, is it rational to offer a small business owner (who was not planning to buy any photographic services in the immediate time frame) use of stock images I shoot of their product and process in their place of business -- IN EXCHANGE FOR being allowed to shoot in their workplace with their full cooperation/signed clearances, etc..?

Maldives Photos said...

No discount in Art , even when I started I newer asked lower prices.
Once you start low you will never ask for more and when you work for less you give less.

Anonymous said...

On the seamless note, here is a time lapse video of Advertising Photographer Peter Belanger shooting product for a MacWorld cover. Not just point and shoot...

Andre Friedmann said...

For photographers feeling too shy about charging "full prices" when starting out, try Googling the writings of advertising photographer Jeff Sedlik, especially on APANet. Sedlik carefully explains something counter-intuitive to Amateur Photog's writings, that a young photographer waiting tables to keep body and soul together has a huge advantage in being able to pick and choose which jobs will advance his career, that a young photographer needs to maintain that choosiness once he stops waiting on tables, that a young photographer can avoid the damages caused by working cheaply simply by waiting tables.

Andy Ptak said...

John - While I often agree with you on business matters, I often disagree with some of the nuts and bolts of your arguements. This time however, you have eloquently presented the case. Well done

Mike Spivey said...

The problem is that the because of technology, the professional photographer is going the way of the professional typesetter. I, too feel a twinge when I hear of big glossy magazines paying almost nothing for cover shots. But..... want to know why they do it? Because they can. 20 years ago there weren't enough amateurs with enough good equipment to be concerned about.

There will always be high end photogs. But for garden variety, home town guys, the business model just isn't there and all the workshops and techniques can't overcome that.

Look at what many pros are doing now. Workshops. Blogs that sell advertising. Books. Magazine Articles. And a client here and there.

If the guys giving photography business workshops (as opposed to those showing us photography techniques) really had it figured out, they would be back home making a fortune.

I feel for guys that spent a lifetime learning their craft. But technology moves on.

Gerry said...

Commnter Mike Spivey is spot on with his comments.

Because of the impact of technology, except for a small number of top professionals, photography is becoming the domain for hobbiests.

First, the internet has devalued photography. The meme that information is free has made it impossible for publishers to charge a subscription fee. If publishers can't make money how can they afford to pay writers and photographers?

Second the digital camera revolution has made everyone and his uncle a photographer. And the learning curve is not so steep as it was with film. The number of talented amateurs has skyrocketed and they all want to see their work published. They have day jobs so don't care if they get paid or not.

IMHO there is no future in photography as a profession.

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