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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Woe is me.....no, really just confused.

There is a lot of negativity in the world of professional photography. And probably a lot of it is justified. I mean rates haven't gone up in decades, many clients are demanding if not your copyright then at least unlimited rights. There are more photographers than you can poke a stick at (that's 'a lot' in Australian!), many of whom have no knowledge about how to run a photography business apart from the fact that they know where the ON button for their camera is.

But I don't like to buy into all this negative bullshit. Photography has always been a hard business, competitive and full of people who think that it seems like an easy way to make a living. I can only control how I run my life, not how the world around me does. But one recent phenomenon has got me a bit baffled.

And I've only really noticed this in the last few years - mostly coinciding with the introduction of digital capture. Potential clients (and I use the term very loosely!) honestly seem aghast at the thought that they have to pay me money if they want to use my photographs.

Maybe I'm just naive but isn't that the way business is supposed to work. You provide a product or service, customers pay you money to use what you're selling and the world goes on its merry way. Yet for an increasing number of people, it seems that making money should only be an option for other kinds of businesses.

Maybe it's because photography is perceived as fun. Maybe if we enjoy our jobs we don't actually have the right to get paid for it? I'm pretty sure Brad Pitt loves what he does, and last time I checked he gets paid pretty well. Lady Gaga looks like she's having a ball out there on stage. I don't think she's doing it for free? So it can't be that people expect it for free because I enjoy creating beautiful pictures.

Maybe it's because digital is free. After all I only have to buy expensive digital cameras (every two years!), lenses, fast computers (that also need to be upgraded every couple of years), thousands of dollars worth of hard drives to back up my precious images on to. And let's not forget all the time and money invested in learning how to be my own personal photo lab. Digital is a hell of a lot more expensive than film ever was so it can't be that.

Maybe it's because if I give all my work away for free I'll get really good publicity. Hell, everybody knows that a credit line is the road to fame and fortune. Hate to burst your bubble but I don't really know anybody that has had a credit line on a free photograph lead to anything other than more requests for free photos! Actually here in Australia it's now federal law that if I want a credit line the client has to put it in there anyway. I took some tearsheets in to my bank the other day and asked the manager to pay my mortgage with those. You can guess what his response was! Then I went to my accountant and proposed to him that if he did my taxes for free I would make sure I told all my friends what a great accountant he is. He wasn't playing ball - bugger.

You know what I think it is. A plain old lack of respect. For both photography and the photographer. A thought process that says "I have the right to promote my business and make as much money as possible. I have the right to use beautiful pictures (because I know they are the first thing a potential customer sees of my business) but if I can get it for free than why the hell should I have to pay anyone?"

I don't know that this is always the case because I've met a lot of seemingly really nice people who just don't understand why they should have to pay for photos. So I guess I'm stumped as to why businesses understand that they need to pay for: their electricity, their printing, their graphic design, to place ads in magazines, to advertise in the Yellow Pages, to build a website. So why do they have to pay for all this stuff, and yet not comprehend that they should pay for the glue that holds it all together - beautiful pictures that show their business in the best possible light.

I gotta say...it's beyond me! I have no idea whatsoever. I'm just really confused. The only thing I'm not confused about is my answer to requests for free pictures - 'because it'll be really good exposure'. Sure I could get snarky and mean and abusive but who would that help? I've got better things to do with my time, and the last thing you need is to be abused for what might be an honest mistake.

Just be aware that if you come to me looking for free pictures, it ain't gonnna happen. There will be a charge for all uses big and small. The fees won't be astronomical but they will be respectful. Respectful to me that is. I don't set my prices according to your budget, I set it according to my bottom line. I'll try to be flexible and help you out when I can, but going to zero isn't in my vocabulary, or my best interest. And at the end of the day that's why we're in business - to make a profit so that we can do what we love for the rest of our working lives. Forgive me if I put my family's needs before yours but that's the way it's gotta be. My wife has a big stick!

PS I'm not talking here about donating my time and services to charities whose cause I really support and I know get no external funding, or have tiny budgets. I love to help grassroots organisations doing good work in the community when I can. Compassion makes the world go round. My compassionate streak just doesn't stretch to those running businesses for profit at my expense. Sorry but them's the breaks.


nathanoj said...

Right on Paul.(rattles placard).
Coincidentally I've just fielded 2 similar requests; the first was of the, "I was thinking 'free' because it'll be great exposure for you", variety. I politely said that at my age and stage I'd decided to value my work and not give it away. They bought the shot.

The second was for some product photography, with the request, "if it's $ per photo and we buy 6 photos, will the total be less than 6 x $ ?". (grrrr...)

Frank Harrison said...

Excellent piece of writing Paul. Plus of course there are charities & charities. Some charities employ executives on a most envious salary.

Though some may say that my chest does not contain a heart but a swinging brick, I have been known to soften. I offer this sympathetic, benevolent, quid pro quo proposition to suchlike people wanting my images for free.

My talent is taking & supplying top drawer images; but they must also have some skill about them. So, in return for a free image that may have taken me a couple of hours to capture, they come to my home & donate the same amount of time say...helping me sand the back deck, or giving the kitchen a lick of paint, or just washing & detailing my car for an hour.

You know its a funny thing Paul, not one of them has ever taken up my kind, humanitarian offer of help!

Keep the blog going mate, one of the few truly worth its weight on the web.

Frank Harrison

Paul Dymond said...

Thanks Jonathan, thanks Frank. Yes I think we've come into contact with these baffling members of the species. Happy to take stuff for free in return for the dubious honour of telling everybody what great photographers we are. Like I said my accountant wouldn't go for it. I like your idea of getting your verandah sanded Frank, must try that one next time.

But, you know, they wouldn't try it on if some photographers didn't cave in straight away. The ones who like exposure more than eating. Photo credits more than petrol for their car. Notoriety more than money for the mortgage. I'm just not one of them, and obviously neither are you guys!

nathanoj said...

Update: the photo that was purchased had my URL watermarked in one corner. Quite subtle. Some layout monkey took it apon himself to crop it out, I can only imagine so the photo would fit the design (a trifold pamphlet). I'm sure there was no malevolence in the act. The person who purchased the photo brought it to my attention and apologised. Ah well... :-)