Do you work for free?
As a professional photographer for 8 years now, I have learnt a lot of lessons. The one which I see time and time again on a Facebook group I belong to called Stop Working for Free are post complaints from new photographers and artists, saying they haven’t been credited/paid for their work. Stop the Press! This is not new and will only stop when us artists refuse point blank to be involved in anything unless it falls under one of the following:
- There is a contract confirming a pre-agreed rate for the service which is being provided
- There is a mutual exchange agreement on the service which is being provided. By this, I mean expenses are covered and the booking is going to benefit YOU
- Charity bookings
- Collaboration shoots
There can be no other option. Period.
Until the industry YOU are involved in realises there are no more free photos, artwork, bands, music or attendance, nothing will change.
Personally, I feel the music industry is far worse off than the photographic industry, with musicians having to pay to perform …. seriously wtf?
It took me about 2 years of self employment to realise this myself after promised credits never appeared, or during attendance at events, parking/expenses/food never arrived so I decided to take a stand. Now, whenever I am approached by someone new wanting coverage or to use my images, I always negotiate for payment. About 80% never reply (and I assume try elsewhere) and the 20% agree to pay without a problem as they know the level of service they will receive.
Payment levels depend on your experience and qualifications. My corporate day rate is £800 a day. My wedding day rate is £1450. I can charge these rates as my work is proven. One of my new business photography offers, pimps me out at just £50 an hour however, the contacts I make and bookings I receive post invoice, compensates amply for this risky strategy.
The purists amongst you will believe we shouldn’t even consider the second option of working for expenses. Let me give you my take on this. I would not get involved in anything that did not benefit me or my companies. If I am free and know the images I capture will enhance my portfolio, I’m happy to discuss a collaboration in exchange for expenses. I love my photography and would rather be shooting than sitting on my arse writing blog and social media content!
Working for a charity is a personal thing and I have donated many hours over the years supporting local charities. Some of whom are very large and yes, I know some of the staff are getting paid, probably the minimum wage however, many are not, but that is not why I am involved. I am there to do a job and to network my services. I might even get to take a forbidden photo of a VIP. I have gained a lot of paid bookings and great contacts through this avenue.
Collaborations rock in my opinion. Working to achieve something you are all passionate about. My collaborations normally take place out of season and consist of a small group of awesome people all wanting to achieve a common goal.
I do see a small wave starting though i.e. the knowledge and points of reference for newbies is better than it used to be and there have been many a global outcry recently about copyright. However, we are talking big guns and small steps. Long may the small steps continue in my opinion.
If you are a decision maker in the industry and regularly take the option to gather free content over paid, professional work, then think again. I beg you to take a moment to realise how you are damaging the industry and basically calling us and our years of education and investment in our craft, worthless. Pay the going rate, acknowledge the artists involved. You will sleep better at night and help revive something which is quite frankly, getting rotten to the core.
So my advice in a nutshell, is that when you are starting out, yes it is flattering to be asked to be involved in something or for your image to be used for something in print/online but just take a moment and think, what will that credit actually do for me? The only way to make a change is to make a stand. Make sure your agreements are written and watertight. “Think of the exposure” is an overused sentence in our day and age, so let’s work together to eradicate it.
Lesley Burdett Taylor is based in Brighton, UK and is a professional photographer. She owns an app called Jaunty Twig, organises alternative weddings fairs called Quaint Queer Weird and is a separated parent. She takes no prisoners …