If you’re good enough to get published you’re good enough to be paid
I sporadically read PictureCorrect photography posts. Sometimes I find them interesting, sometimes not. Sometimes I laugh at the lack of experience unwittingly betrayed by the writer and sometimes writers provide perspectives I’ve never considered before.
The best posts give me interesting ideas (rarely those intended by the authors because I tend to think out of the box) and I’ve found the worst to be insufficient rather than damaging That was until today. ‘How to get into concerts as a photographer’ has me enraged.
I believe it to be misleading, short-sighted and irresponsibly damaging to the photographic profession. In part I think it’s just plain wrong.
This is why:
- It tells readers that stringers don’t get paid. They do. Being a stringer is an established job. Not a hobby or charitable activity. Some stringers get paid per piece taken, some per commission, some per hour or per day and sometimes (albeit rarely) some stringers get a retainer too.
- It suggests that readers tell the publication they’ll cover an event in exchange for a press pass. Now I don’t know how it works in the US but doubt very much it’s different to the many countries where I’ve worked. In these countries it is the organising agency – often the event PR – who issues a press pass and not the publication or media agency at all.
- It misses out the most important thing, that the photographs, once taken, and unless very specific contracts are signed in advance, are yours.
Now here’s a thing… If you’re good enough to be printed you’re good enough to be paid.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never contributed to the media before. It doesn’t matter that it’s your first piece. You are either good enough to be printed or you’re not. Of course a portfolio helps, but since no editor worth their salt is going to plan space for your image without being sure you can deliver to a sufficient quality, you need to develop that elsewhere.
By offering your work for free you are devaluing yourself from the start. The same is true for blog posts. Just like with this blog the words and images are all yours. Don’t devalue yourself or what you cover by accepting what you don’t want associated with you and remember the value.
If you believe that a business that has taken your work for free will suddenly start paying you, when they can go to the next hopeful photographer and take their work for free instead, we’re not living in the same world.
You’re worth it!
It has taken you a long while to learn how to take good shots. It has taken longer for you to develop your low light photography to an extent to which you think you can get good shots at a concert. It has taken you longer to get in touch with all those organisations to find out if they want your work. It will take you time to travel there, time to take the photos, time to choose your images, time to process them, and time to select the best few for the editor’s choice. Your camera is expensive, your processing software not free and by giving away your work you’ve given the message that none of that counts. You’ve further damaged your reputation because not expecting to be paid is an unprofessional approach.
You’re hurting others too!
And that’s not all. By giving your work away you’ve given a message that it’s OK to pay little or nothing for other peoples work as well. They will have taken years to hone their skills, will have expensive kit and software and will also be spending time and money on travel and pitching. They may be struggling to make ends meet in an economy that doesn’t help them and an attitude to copyright that is often tantamount to theft. You’ve damaged every single other photographer and all their dependents, making it just that little more difficult to make a living through documentary photography at a time it’s already really hard.
If it’s your dream to become a professional concert photographer, you’ve made it a little more difficult for yourself as well. Don’t start thinking ‘its only me’ because if everyone else does the same you’ll never have a chance.
Listen to me
So listen to me. I’m going to say it again. Take responsibility for your actions. Do justice to yourself and other photographers. Follow the other parts of that post but expect to be paid from the start.
If you’re good enough to be published then you’re good enough to be paid.
Live up to this from the start.
Each how-to blog post is the synthesis of my experience as a pro-phtoographer and years of teaching photography to adults, children and teenagers. To attend a group course find me at City Academy or for flexible one-to-one tuition and portfolio building contact me directly.
this post, like all posts, is my exclusive copyright.
I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments Carole. It’s the difference between being a happy amateur and valuing the craft and profession.
Bang on. If a photograph is published it is good enough. What really upsets me is when you deliver some clients will attempt to avoid discussing payment, then publish. After publishing they’ll try and offer a derisory fee claiming that’s what they usually pay. The bigger the company, the worst the behaviour.
I requested a press pass from a promoter and received an email stating that I would get a press pass in exchange for photos to use at their discretion.
The band is national, the venue is moderate size, big enough for a press pit, And the promoter is a local limo company.
My question is, if this company does not want to pay me for my photos is my only option to back out of shooting this show?
It would be my first national stage and my first experience in a photo pit. I understand your point, and agree fully, but the one thing most people who give this advice fail to do is offer real world solutions to the problem of shooting for experience vs maintaining the integrity of the profession. If they don’t want to pay, won’t they just offer the shoot to “the next hopeful photographer and take their work for free” anyway? And then won’t that hopeful photographer be devaluating the profession AS WELL AS getting the experience I just threw away?
Could I get away with agreeing to the guidelines and then only provide a couple small lo-res files for use on his website, while saving the best shots for use in my portfolio and to send to local publications who will most likely be happy to pay for them?
This persons wording was very vague so I feel like I can use that to my advantage in the end, but I care very deeply for my level of professionalism and do not want to begin my career under false pretenses whether I will be paid or not.
It’s great to hear you thinking so carefully about the ethics of a difficult situation. I know it’s difficult because I struggled to get experience for exactly the reason you’ve given. But I managed. The way the band’s promotors have behaved is an issue of a kind that the NUJ has taken up and I share the opinion that their approach is totally wrong. I’m on deadline at the moment and thought it important to answer you quickly because I don’t know when your gig is, but if there’s time later I’m happy to dig up something from the NUJ for you – alternately you might try finding it yourself.
However, if they’ve given you a press pass, that means it’s a press pass for you to take photos to put in the press. Not for their discretionary use. I’ve not been in a situation like that outside of the dance or travel world but can talk about how it would work in my areas. If someone wanted me to take photos for them of a performance of about an hour (in dance most probably a production shoot) I would expect anything between £200 and £2000, dependent on a whole raft of different scenarios. I’d expect to spend a couple of hours at the shoot, a couple more travelling, anything between 2 hours and 3 days processing the shots depending on what I had planned… That’s a long time to not earn money, so for me the opportunity cost of giving away such work would be prohibitive. So the first thing I’d do is question whether I would want to do anything this time consuming for free when I could use the time to approach people, organisations and bands who value me enough to pay me. One thing is for sure, there are other ways to build a portfolio and those who respect photographers make their decisions on your (our) portfolio first and only much later our name.
If I really wanted to do the gig (for example if I had already agreed a commission) I’d write to them telling them that both my personal ethics and NuJ guidelines prohibit me from giving photos for free. Back in the day when I was starting out I would have phoned or emailed a local editor and would have asked him or her if there was a possibility that they would publish – if he or she liked the shots I was going to take. I’d make it clear that I wasn’t asking for a commitment, but that I just wanted a feel as to whether it was worth my going to the gig. Over time this helped me work out who I should approach for commissions (after a few knock backs you get a good feel) and to develop an understanding of the different ways to pitch my work.
Then I’d go back to the promotor and say I had a positive response from xxx media and that the NuJ recommends that photographers don’t accept the conditions they had proposed, so could they please suggest a way that I could keep the editor happy. Note I didn’t lie. I was hopeful of getting my shots published (but also realistic – a nice maybe is just a maybe, if the editor’s really keen they’ll probably give a straight yes) and was careful to present my position in a way that enabled some sort of negotiating dialogue.
Once, when a PR wrote asking for some shots for free, I wrote back saying I’d be really happy to provide them. I suggested that if they were really unable to pay me we could do an exchange. Their services for a number of days equal in value to my normal schedule. They didn’t respond to that email but less than a year later offered me actual paid work.
Sadly even though I’m now fairly well established, people still try it on. Sometimes I discover they’re only bluffing. Other times I receive no response at all. When this happens I’m sure now – absolutely and completely sure – that I can use my time better working on something else. Times are hard. Earning money from documentary photography even harder. We either stick together as photographers or the whole profession looses, whether they’re beginners, experienced or anything in between.
But what it comes down to is that I know for sure that I can not afford to throw time away on freebies (except a small amount of charity work but that’s different and something I think we all do) and I suspect that neither can you.
Thank you so much for your response and your valuable advice. I feel so much more confident now to approach these situations. I will definitely put your information and advice into action.
Extremely helpful. Thank you.
That’s a real compliment Victoria, thank you. As soon as you can I’d suggest you join the NuJ, they’re great for support and it’s always good to talk to other pro-photographers who understand what we’re going through