To Be Paid or Not To Be Paid:
This is not the kind of thing that I thought that I would be talking about when I started this blog, but the question has come up so many times that I thought it might be a good thing to begin a discussion about.
North Florida Repo, 2009
I teach in a community art school where we look at photography as a fine art. While we do discuss the selling of artwork in some of my classes, some of my students are thinking about setting up their own business and do some sort of commercial photography in case this “Art thing” does not work out. While most of my photography these days is self-directed, for a number of years I did have a commercial business and I do know something of commercial world.
Hardly a week goes by that I don’t get a call asking me to recommend a student to do a photo for some business or for someone who is getting married. The owner will want my best student as the photograph to be produced is going to be used in a very important ad. Then they will want the student to cover their own costs, in other words they want the student’s services for free and at their expense. The justification for this rather absurd point of view is saying that they are giving the student experience. On top of that they will ask for all rights to the photos to be used in anyway that they want, though the student may use the photos for their portfolio or website if credit is given. I should hang up on these jerks that want something for nothing, but the sad fact is that a number of my students would be perfectly happy to do this work for free. My advice is to them, if they are going to do a professional job then they deserve a professional rate. I have students all the time that tell me that they did something for a “friend” for nothing, because they can’t envision themselves charging anyone at this stage of their career, besides what would they charge?
There are two issues here and I would like to offer some thoughts about. First, the act of charging is a perfectly honorable thing to do when you provide a service. Often the student thinks that they are not ready to charge. If someone is asked to do a job, then the person doing the hiring thinks that there will be value to the work produced. If the work has value then compensation should be received. Most newcomers to the business of photography will charge too little just to get their first job. But that is a slippery slope because when the client comes back to the photographer for more work the rate has now been established and often times established too low. It is very difficult to raise your prices. “How do I know what to charge?” is a question that I am often asked. There is no cut and dried answer as different types of photographic services charge different rates. Sometimes the client will tell you how much he or she will pay and you can accept or reject that amount. The big thing that any beginning commercial photographer can do is to do their homework. Business plans are a good place to start, as they will force the photographer to think about what kind photography is going to be done. Not only will a business plan help define the type of work the photographer is going to do, but also help him or her figure out what the cost are and to research what the going rates are. Once this has been done then when asked what the job costs then the photographer will have an answer that is given with confidence. The client can then accept or reject the rate.
The second is the “friend” who wants you and only you to do their family photo. What this “friend” does not tell you is that the only reason they only want you is not the quality of your images, but the fact that they know that you won’t charge a “friend.” I have no problem doing some things for free every photographer should have some pro bono work as part of their business. However the pro bono work is for a charity or an important cause not for some friend who is too cheap to pay for work. As part of your business plan you can come up with what circumstances you will do work for free. Otherwise all other pays, its company policy.
There are two skills that all photographers must have beyond photographic skills, and that is to know the value of their service and to be able to say no. It is a disservice to the honored profession of photography to give away or charge too little for your services. By charging too little for your photography services you make it more difficult for you to charge more and for other professionals to charge a fair rate for their labors. You don’t have to charge what the top shooters in town are making, but you do have to charge enough that you will profit enough to keep you in business. Photography is, after all a profession and deserves proper compensation and respect.
Every photographer has the first job where he or she is charging for his or her work. Each of those of those first jobs the photographer was nervous about whether or not the he or she was skilled enough to do the job. They usually were, the job went well, the client was happy and would freely pay the going rate for a professional job. It is how business is done.