Having been a professional photographer since 1988, and I can say this industry has been good to me. I’ve seen amazing places, experienced history as it is made and met some inspiring people while working alongside some of the world’s best photographers. All while being paid to do it. I’m lucky, yes I know very lucky.
Sadly the industry I love is slowly being eroded as the mass appeal of photography drives down the price of the service, images and skills that many photographers offer.
Many people are happy to accept a by-line for an image published by a newspaper, organisations are keen to get reader/user generated content because “everyone can take a picture”. Sadly Because of this desire for content the value put on those who make, create and generate images professionally is at an all time low.
I regularly get emails asking me to speak, write or run training courses and workshops for companies. Recently the number of emails I get that tell me how much they like my work, are impressed by my industry credibility, have heard how I can teach photography in an easy to understand way and how my talks have held audiences in rapt silence – all very nice – then comes that sting, we would love you to come and do whatever it is you do but we don’t have the budget.
Today I had four emails back to back, all asking roughly the same thing and all stating that they didn’t have the budget but how they could see the value of what I have to offer to their clients and colleagues.
So what’s in it for me? Selfish, it’s all about me!
A talk takes on average about around two days to prepare, yes some are rehashed but even they take a day of re-editing, scripting, building and checking running times.
A workshop can easily take up to a week to put together so that people can turn up and – weather permitting – be taken to wonderful locations and shown how to shoot them.
Apparently I’ll get exposure to people who may buy my images, meet interesting like minded people and have an enjoyable time doing it, oh and there’s tea and cake. There’s always tea and cake!
I think I am partly to blame for some of this, as Picture Editor of The Times I was forced by the budget constraints to acquire images as cheaply as possible. Delivered to some photographers that because I couldn’t afford them I was having to let them go and shot a picture of a courgette in the office to avoid paying the £25 required by one agency.
I do occasionally work for nothing, the church I go to – I’ll happily shoot for them for free, there are certain charities I have provided images for free as a way of supporting them. I know that perhaps this go against the grain of some, but we each have our way of dealing with things that are important to us. From time to time I’ll exchange my skills with those of some one else – my barber, he got shots for his website, I get haircuts, a plumber I know, he repaired a small leak I did a portrait of his daughter.
What offends me most of all though, is the people who fire off an email asking for me to work for free are usually on a payroll, rock up at 9am, leave at 5pm and get paid for their holidays or sick leave. But they seem to think that exposure or a nice time with tea and cake will pay my mortgage or my bill at the supermarket.
I don’t have a huge bank balance or wastefully dine on swans, I live a fairly simply, just wanting a fair day’s pay for the work I do, the value these people acknowledge but object paying for.
To add to the insult when I mention that really there should be a fee, they react as if I have punched them on the nose!
Genuinely I love what I do. It’s my choice to be a photographer, it was my choice to work hard, long hours gaining the experience that has allowed me to follow my dreams and my heart to shoot the work I do.
I am a photographer, I have a value, my time has a value, my experience, and creativity has a value.
Please don’t ask me to work for free unless you, your boss and the entire staff work for free and provide free products to the public for their own enjoyment – then yes I’ll work for free or at least a skills exchange.