photographers are dogmatic about certain rules in business:
"never work for free," "never give up rights," and the all-encompassing
"just say no" [to bad contracts]. While these are usually good,
sound bits of advice, there are exceptions to the rule. While
no one disputes "exceptions," the more critical issue at hand
is the "attitude" that accompanies these mantras. And it is
this attitude that can often cloud one's judgement about making
good career business decisions.
can be summarily described as a "unionist" approach to doing
business. The notion that the success of all photographers depends
on the "all for one, and one for all" paradigm, where the chain
is only as strong as its weakest link: you hurt yourself and
everyone else with you if you break any of these mantras.
for this is simple: Photographers are on the defensive because
of the ever-growing difficulties in making a successful career
in photography. It's a classic stance any organized group of
workers takes when old business models fail to keep up with
changing times, both technologically and culturally. Assignment
day-rates are going down, it's harder to negotiate longer-term
contracts, fewer expenses are being reimbursed, copyrights are
being negotiated away, and frankly, there's just too much competition.
than taking the defensive, photographers can use the changing
times to their advantage simply by adopting different attitudes
and approaches to their business. Technology has made higher-quality
products more accessible to the consumer, digital photography
has made more photos available on the market, photo distribution
is easier and more efficient, buyers are going to multiple sources,
and more people are out there taking pictures, whether for their
own personal enjoyment or for work (often, as part-time freelancing).
So, while these can make life difficult for the old-school photographer
because of increased competition, you can use each of these
to your advantage if you think smart.
once said about photography, "If there is light, there is a
picture." His point was that no matter what you are given to
shoot, a good photographer will find a good picture in it. You
may have to look really hard and get creative, but a picture
is there, and your job is to find it.
I have a
similar approach to the business of photography: If there is
an opportunity to take a picture, there is a business to be
made from it. You may have to look really hard and get creative,
but one is there, and it's your job to find it.
is that Stieglitz attempted to prove his theory by leaving his
camera shutter open in his basement overnight, and what he got
the next day was a tiny streak when a mouse happened to run
across the floor. Not much of a picture, illustrating that perhaps
there may be an exception to his rule. Similarly, not every
photo assignment may be a good opportunity.
is, however, that there is a paradigm here. And this new way
of looking at business opportunities in photography may be new
to some. Thinking in terms of "finding opportunity", you must
look at situations that come your way in those terms, and check
them against these new, unalterable facts about the photography
business in today's new market.
Truisms of the Photography Business:
will always be someone willing to work under less-favorable
terms than you, whether it's out of ignorance, or because it
is a good deal for them. You cannot change this–it will always
be true– and you cannot expect clients or anyone else to look
out for your business because of this truism #1. There are two
categories of people who fall into this truism, which further
explains why there is nothing you can do about it:
people have photography as a "hobby" than those who have it
as a "profession." There are many people who happen to be excellent
photographers, but have no intent, desire, or motivation to
make a career out of it. These people are tickled pink when
someone wants to publish one of their pictures, and I place
no fault on publishers for seeking them out. The nature of a
free economy is that everyone seeks the best financial opportunity
they can for the product or service they want. If both sides
are happy, business is done.
working photographers have different business goals than you
do, and thus, may implement different methods than you in accomplishing
them. If a photographer is willing to work for less (or even
for FREE) because it gives him access to photos, experience,
or some other benefit that makes the assignment worthwhile to
him, then that will happen. It's not his responsibility to look
out for your interests.
make assumptions about your clients' business, and don't set
expectations of your business terms based on those assumptions.
The predominant assumption is that a publisher is a mega-corporation
with deep pockets that "can" pay photographers a living wage
as a day-rate, but they don't because they're out to screw the
photographer. This is counterproductive, even in the cases where
it's true (but especially in the cases where it isn't), because
you assume the worst first, which puts you in a bad negotiating
position. This is about negotiation, not ethics. Recognition
of this reality will help optimize your contractual relationship.
You may be able to use facts to your advantage in negotiation,
but you cannot expect better terms from your client simply because
you know they can afford to pay you more. You need to focus
on compelling business reasons to support your negotiating position.
get emotional. And if you do, don't show it, as it will only
compromise your negotiating position. It is NOT the responsibility
of the client to do right by you, and you can't get "upset"
when they don't offer you favorable terms. If a client presents
you with a contract that's in his favor, you're supposed to
reply with a counterproposal in your favor. Eventually, as the
game goes, you compromise and meet in the middle. Don't be insulted
because a contract may appear blatantly unfair -- just make
the appropriate changes and send it back. If business is going
to happen, then you'll both work it out. And don't expect business
to always happen.
your business. Consider an assignment because of its long-term
opportunities, not just the short-term pay (if any). One cannot
earn a living from a single client, on single assignments, or
on day-rates. It is your responsibility to evolve, to broaden
your business model to go where the money is, to do things in
ways you wouldn't or couldn't before. The old days of livable
day-rates are gone, and complaining about it is like the old
horse-carriage drivers complaining that the new automobiles
with engines are taking their jobs away.
all photographers are equal. This is not an assembly line consisting
of an unskilled labor force, where you can join a union, get
a standard rate of pay out of the gate, and be given guarantees
about how "the man" treats you. (In other words, stop thinking
like a unionist.) If someone offers you a job to shoot something
that you feel isn't worth it to you, you aren't going to change
his mind by adopting the mantra: "Just say no," and expecting
people to fall in line behind you. The client is just going
to find someone else, as per truism #1. (There may be exceptions,
of course, but these are exceptions to the rule.)
see other, more experienced photographers doing better than
you, it's because of WHO they are, not because it's fair or
reasonable. If two photographers are equal in talent, experience,
and all other things related to the job, and they are paid differently,
it's the PHOTOGRAPHER's fault, not the business's!
you are NOT screwing other photographers, and they are not screwing
you if someone accepts terms that you consider to be "bad for
the industry." Photographers cannot and should not necessarily
look out for each other and/or expect others to do the same.
Sure, it's nice when we can all do something that helps the
"collective," but this is rare, and expecting it to continue
(or even happen) is naive. This is not about solidarity. The
reality is that photographers compete with each other, either
on the same terms, or simply due to the fact that objectives
may differ. I had one woman yell at me, saying, "you are preventing
someone from feedng his family", because she heard that I shot
an event pro bono for a nonprofit company. It's not my responsibility
to make sure someone else can make a success out of his business.
world is harsh, and it's part of the package when you choose
to become an independent, working photographer. Recognition
of these realities will not only help you consider your business
objectives more realistically, but should help you think about
how you should react to any given situation. Application of
these truisms should help you think more carefully about an
assignment that comes your way. Before "just saying no", I advise
you to ask these questions:
there "resale" opportunities?
2.) Is there sellable "art"?
3.) Is there great credibility or other marketing aspects I
can exploit because of the nature of the customer?
4.) Is there experience I can gain that I don't yet have?
ALL possible ways I can make an assignment favorable to me before
I let it go. If I can't make a good business opportunity out
of it in some direct or indirect way, I turn it down. In short,
"I just say no."
a good photographer, you can get higher rates because you've
established a working relationship with people. You have convinced
them through your working relationship that they know they're
going to get good results, and the risk factor is low. That's
worth something. People who pay for cheaper photographers are
taking a risk -- let them do that and possibly fail. Or, let
them win, and find out they can get good work for less money.
That's how a free market works.
If you are
being asked to take a worse contract, lower rates, or give up
rights, this is a very clear sign that you should have moved
up and out long ago. You are overqualified for your job if you
aren't getting paid adequately for your services. It may be
that you can convince someone of your worth -- perhaps by adding
new ideas to how they can benefit from your services, or by
reinforcing the lower-risk they have by working with you --
but the writing is on the wall, and regardless of the outcome,
it does show that it's time to move on.
I don't want to conclude without acknowledgement to people like
Seth Resnick, who works exhaustively negotiating sweeping deals
with big companies regarding day-rates that trickle down to
everyone else. This is great work, and it does help. But, it
is a "negotiating" situation, not a career-planning approach,
and it's important to differentiate between them. Once you've
determined that an assignment is worthwhile, it's certainly
wise to do whatever you can to optimize your terms. That's where
an aggressive approach is worthwhile; it's not worthwhile when
you're simply trying to make a point.