I do not work for free – IF you think I do, you are not my client, please move on!!
Funny how so many people love your work until you tell them they have to pay you when they commission you! So many times clients think and believe they have the right to force their hand in making a photographer either grossly undercut another photographer to get a cheaper rate for the same shoot, or actually expect the photographer to do the shoot for free.
When I tell my prospective client who made these requests that I do not work for free, they almost always seem surprised, and even a little offended, by the very suggestion that they should pay me for the work they are commissioning me to do. “We don’t have the budget for that, Jimmy does it for free!” they respond! One can almost hear them turning to their office colleagues and saying, “Can you believe the audacity of this photographer, asking us to actually pay him to photograph for us? He should be grateful we even noticed and contacted him!”, conveniently forgetting that they DO have the budget to pay everyone else involved in the project – it’s normally just the artists, musicians, writers and photographers who are expected to work for free: not because the large, household-name brands who make these requests can’t afford to pay them, but because they don’t feel they should have to. Why would they, after all, when they know many of us will work for free?
Photography is a skill that is not valued, part of the issue, of course, stems from the fact that many photographers don’t value their work themselves – and if they don’t attach any value to what they do, then why would anyone else?
If you as my client are going to profit from my work, then I expect to profit from it too. Exposure does not pay the bills, mortgage, insurance, and no business gives a flying fish about the exposure you were given for doing a free job, because it does not pay their bills!
Just because Jimmy shoots for free doesn’t mean I have to! Jimmy may be a hobbyist and doesn’t have the business overheads that I do, so for him, it really doesn’t matter that he works for free. The problem lies here: just about anyone can walk into a camera store and buy a camera, (that still costs money) and think they have arrived. They set up a Facebook photography page with a Yahoo or Gmail email account, happy to do business over Whatsapp messenger, and are suddenly a top notch photographic company, charging unbelievable prices that are just above zero! He would like everyone to believe that he is a top notch company though; however, there is more to taking photographs than just pressing a button!
Jenny, who is getting married, wants the most amazing photographs of their special day. She gets swept up in the buzz of the wedding planning and contacts the caterers, the dressmaker, the venue, visits the shoe shop, contacts the DJ, spends the money… oh yes, she left the photographer for the last minute (they are an after thought), and there is no budget for that! Then there is a pity-party story she is out of budget as the dress cost so much, how can’t she possibly afford you because you are so expensive, and then she tells you they having a 250 guest wedding! She then tells you, their friend either does it for free, or has the latest iPhone 7, that has a 12-megapixel camera, who, she is convinced will do the job just like I would, with my 16-megapixel Nikon D4 DSLR which costs the price of a car! Her friend can edit the images on their cellphone, as they don’t need Photoshop, the apps work just fine!
What she fails to see, is that a blue ribbon chef does not go to the deli and buy chicken flavoured 1-minute noodles and serve you a one minute dish, he actually prepares everything from scratch and you are served a blue ribbon meal, nothing less!
Now that Jenny is no longer my client, as I do not work for free, she will then sift through many posts on relevant sites on Facebook to find her freebie photographer, and may end up using the services of Steven. Steven then finds himself in a predicament and posts the following on Facebook: Hey guys, I’m taking a huge risk here but is there any chance someone’s not booked tomorrow? I’m doing my first wedding and I need an experienced photographer to assist me and second shoot for me. My support photographer cannot make it. I am prepared to cover any petrol costs. The inexperience shown by the photographer is what also what drives the prices down. Furthermore, the support or second shooter as they are known, who is more experienced is expected to be paid in fuel expenses for his time and expertise! Jenny commissions Steven, as he offered the following wedding package as per his advert below:
6 hours shooting
It is impossible as a weekend or full-time photographer to edit 500 images, depending on the quality of the images and touch ups you have to do, pay your second shooter, print a photo album and canvas, make a profit on the photobooth you hired, cover traveling costs to the venue, the outlay for camera equipment and make a profit for the price quoted above! This advert actually exists on Facebook!
You get what you pay for!
The digital era has opened up photography to so many people, you never leave home these days without a camera, it’s part of your phone! The instant gratification of click or delete and the photo is taken, looked at once or twice and forgotten about, is not like the days of film. There you had to wait until your photos were developed to see what you got and if they even came out!
The perception people have is their high megapixel cellphone camera is more than capable of competing or performing at the same level as a DSLR camera. The fact is the 12-megapixel sensor is not the same size on a cellphone as it is on a DSLR; the results are simply not the same! In the days of film, professional photography was more out of reach than it is today. You had to shoot slide film as the print houses would only accept slides / transparencies for publications. Slide film leaves little to no margin for error. People have forgotten that there ARE skills to be learned in photography, skills come with experience, experience with time, not just delete and shoot again!
Let’s look at it from both sides, from you as the client, and me as a photographer, who is essentially a professional and a business owner, working from one contract or photoshoot to the next; what are you paying for?
Someone who can take photographs. That simple! Your expectation is to have someone take the most amazing photographs, in the shortest turnaround time (because we live in an instant world now), usually for free or next to nothing, if you are one of those clients. You have no idea about the amount of the work involved after the shoot, you think you paying for 3 hours work, and that is it.
If you are business minded and expect the best, you will employ a recognised photographer who has a professional portfolio, comes highly recommended, possibly an award winning photographer with a few publications to complete the task and concept you have in mind. You understand that the time you are paying for is not only the shoot, but the editing time after the shoot. Your need is that the end product needs to sell your brand and grow your business if this is a marketing shoot, bring you a return on the expense of your shoot, and possibly a longer term relationship with the same photographer for future concept shoots you may have. The said photographer may end up working for your opposition!
Someone who can create images that will meet your requirements under all types of lighting conditions and environments, and deliver amazing results that leave lasting impressions on all who view your images.
You are paying for my time, both at the shoot and after the shoot; that is the many hours spent behind my expensive computer, equipped with the latest editing software, which is now my modern day photo lab editing your images. Even if film has been shot it still needs to be converted to digital!
Admittedly, not every photographer has studied, those that have, it is many hours in the classroom, YouTube, paid online courses offered by the likes of Lynda.com and Creative Live to perfect the skills needed for the job on hand, as well as how to run a successful photographic business!
As a business owner, I need to have liability insurance in place in case you injure yourself in my studio or on a shoot, or plan to sue me for future earnings for whatever reason. A professional photographer needs to have sound contracts in place, written by attorneys, we know law firms are not cheap! My photographic equipment, which is anything from a studio light to a frightfully expensive camera and lens combination, professional camera gear is not cheap and needs to be insured. I have the expenses of business running costs, that is lights and water, office rent, website hosting and IT support, telephone and internet services, data storage plans to keep your images secure on a backup system. I will also need to purchase a new camera or lens if it is not in my kit to cover a different genre of photography. I may also need to pay an assistant for the times that I am not able to work alone. Should I be planning an exotic workshop for international clients in Antarctica or any other destination, I need to save towards that trip, which is certainly not cheap. One needs to prepare, plan, save, advertise well, to attract those clients to run a successful workshop; this costs money.
Remember too, I also have a family and need to put food on the table and a roof over our heads!
If you still think anyone can press a button and be a photographer, look and think again, see what is actually involved, and appreciate the end product you are receiving from a professional photographer and DO NOT ASK TO HAVE YOUR SHOOT FOR FREE!
I have yet to find someone ask the dentist for a freebie, and say my friend has a few instruments you can borrow, will that help lower the price? No! You go to a dentist to get a professional job done, not to a mechanic to have your teeth pulled with a greasy pair of pliers! You pay the bill for the professional service you received, as he is a professional! You wouldn’t dare ask the cardiologist doing your heart transplant for a freebie either, he may just let you die on the operating table. So what gives you the right to disrespect my profession and expect photographers to work for free?
I do not work for free, if you expect me to, you are not my client! You really get what you pay for in all walks of life. To the other photographers out there:
When you learn how much you worth, you will stop giving people discounts and working for free!
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