Nothing is more defeating than hearing you won’t get paid, that your work isn’t worth money or that there isn’t room in the budget for a photographer. It’s doubly defeating when you’re vaguely promised exposure, a murky intangible thing that would really only work if they sent a memo to every single one of their clients saying, “Hire this photographer.” That doesn’t happen. Exposure won’t put clothes on our backs, nor will it put food on our plates.
There seems to be a prevailing thought in some circles that if you hand someone a camera or one of those souped-up smartphones, you’ve essentially made that person a photographer. The most potent example of that was the Sun-Times’ decision to axe its photography department and give their reporters iPhones. We all know how that went. This post, however, isn’t about dwindling newsrooms. It’s about pernicious practices that primarily target young, unassuming photographers who are trying to make their way.
It’s happened to me, and it’s probably happened to you. Emails are flying back and forth about the specifics of the shoot, and when you ask about payment, you get a message saying there isn’t enough money. Even though there isn’t enough in the budget, they say, your name will be seen by their extensive network. They want to give you exposure for your exposures.
The problem is, of course, exposure doesn’t mean anything. It’s a vague promise of results that may or may not happen. Exposure won’t butter my toast. It won’t fill my glass. It won’t pay my rent, put clothes on my back or food in my fridge. I can’t trust that the people who might see the picture will look for the name, that is if you even attached it to the picture. It’s highly unlikely they’ll type “John Doe photographer” into Google.
Your commitment to no payment means word will most likely get around that you don’t pay. Finding out you won’t get paid leaves nothing but a foul taste in your mouth. It’s incredibly defeating and can be a hard pill to swallow if in fact you do take the gig.
Here’s the thing: I want to work for you. I relish any opportunity to photograph, but my work has value, much in the same way any other service has value. That value is dolla billz , moolah, bucks, benjamins, skrilla, dough, clams. Trust me, I got the stuff, and if you want it, you need to have the money. Otherwise, no stuff.
Of course, it’s important to know your value as a photographer, and that can be a tough thing to figure out, which is why it’s good to have photographers as friends. They can provide insight to your images, and if they’ve been doing it longer, they can help you figure out prices. A potential client’s unwillingness to pay isn’t a measure of your value, it’s a sign of their inherent lack of understanding of what photography is and what it entails.
To all potential clients, check please.