Jim Colburn - Don't Ask

I Don't Mean To
Sound Discouraging But...

It used to be soooo easy to laugh at video people. Those poor bastards ('m talking about the freelancers now) had to take out a second mortgage to buy enough equipment to do their jobs. There was $70,000 for a camera and a lens, $10,000 for an extra edit deck, thousands more for lights and a couple thousand just for one of those fancy-shmancy tripods with a fluid head. You could hear them complaining about their back pains and chuckle (inwardly) that you, as a still photographer, could be up and running for around $5,000 with some primo gear. Ready to cover a game, get that photo-op or light a nice little portrait. And to top it all you'd get as much as, if not more, than the video guy for your days effort. The videographers had some sort of scam going where they "rented" their own equipment to the client but still, WE weren't $100,000 in debt...

Oh, how times have changed. If you're still photographer and you want to equip yourself, you've got to have a couple of film cameras, a couple of digital cameras and a few expensive lenses. Let's say that you'd need, at a minimum, a 16-35mm, a 28-70mm, a 70-200mm and a 300mm/2.8. You can't use those $80 Vivitar 283's any more, you have to spend $400 a piece on two on-camera strobes. A kit of studio quality flashes, a decent tripod and some $100 (each) UV filters will cost thousands, and you'll still need to buy a decent laptop and a $1600 film scanner. So, all in all, you'd be looking at something over $20,000...

Video? Call up a discount house and order an XL-1. That's $3500. An extra lens? Some extra batteries? Heck even an extra "cuts" camera (like a GL-1) and Mr. Visa will only be $8,000 better off. You'll need a laptop for your field editing and it'll have to have more horsepower and RAM than the still shooter but that's only another $4,000 or so. That's around $12,000 to be up and running and able to produce broadcast quality stuff.

Then there's income. In the early '70s a still photographer could get $225 a day from a national magazine. That'd be worth about $950 in today's dollars. What can you get now? $200 from a major newspaper. $400-500 from a major magazine. Some wire services won't even pay for film and mileage any more. No wonder still photographers are looking so down in the dumps. Day rates suck. Agencies suck. Re-sales have dried up and every moron in some $%^&* ad house wants the copyright to your work and the soul of your first born son.

Maybe it's time to go back to school for that teaching certificate and just start taking pictures for fun on weekends again...

Jim Colburn
Contributing Writer

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