Common Cents: Our Side
September 2008

by Mark Loundy

"Free advice is worth the price."
Robert Half

The message board at SportsShooter was more like a paintball war during a recent multi-threaded exchange about working for free. On one side were the forces in favor of justifying working for free. On the other side (the side favored by God) were a number of experienced professionals trying to explain the arithmetic of a zero payday.

By "working for free," I mean taking an assignment from an outside party where you are only promised the possibility of getting paid. This is not to be confused with self-assignments in which a photographer shoots completely for themselves and their own stock.

The bottom line of the exchange is that when a publisher is able to assign a number of photographers on spec and pay only one of them, the market for real assignments shrinks. I mean would you pay one person to do something for you when you could get 20 people to do it for free?


• Here's to Imbibe magazine, for negotiating on their indemnification and kill fee clauses. A photographer got them to "drink their own Kool-Aid" by having them indemnify him. They also agreed to limit kill fees to situations where "the images do not meet the magazine's previously established technical or stylistic standards."

• The Maine Tourism Office for being totally OK with one-time, non-exclusive use when a photographer said no to their initial all-rights contract. And so many shooters would have just rolled over for the initial contract.


• The "national marketing firm" trolling Craigslist for a photographer to shoot three outdoor locations in the Washington, D.C., area for $100.

• The five metropolitan area photographers who signed the new AP contract. Their justification: They weren't getting very many assignments from the AP anyway, so what's the big deal? I would think that with so little admittedly on the line, they would have refused to sign purely on principle.


• The Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat for raising their employee mileage reimbusement rate from 26 cents to 28 cents. That's about half of the IRS rate. If you don't itemize your taxes, you can't recover the difference.

• The Milwaukee-area company looking for photographers to shoot real-estate assignments at $25-$75 per assignment. This wouldn't be so bad if they didn't require equipment and software for Quicktime VR imagery.

• The "Satellite Radio DJ looking for creative, upstart (or experienced) photographer who wants to shoot some press photos to notch in their belt." Since the DJ is specifying that there is no pay, the photographer should be prepared to tighten their belt.

Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.


Did you remember that your momma told you to register your images with the Copyright Office? Architectural photographer Liz Ordoñez of Florida remembered and it has paid off with a $12 million+ judgment against an infringing client. Although Ordoñez had not requested it, the judge based the award on the transaction amounts of the multimillion-dollar homes sold by the defendant, a high-end real-estate speculator.

But the end of the case means much more to Ordoñez, "When the judgment came through it was quite a victory and it's really a symbol for photographers to remember to register their work," she said.

Ordoñez has already gotten invitations to speak to students about her experience. Perhaps she'll inspire some of them to stand up for their rights.

The IRS is increasing the amount you can claim for automobile expenses for the rest of the year. The rate will increase to 58.5 cents a mile for all business miles driven from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2008. Easiest call of the year: It won't be enough.

Did you know that real people love to sign releases? Well, they do, at least according to Betsy Reid of the Stock Artists Alliance and photographer Nick Koudis writing on the Photoshelter blog. They've created a list of the "10 Things You Should Know About Stock Photography" on the PS blog.


10 Things You Should Know About Stock Photography

NPPA Independent Photographers Toolkit

Advertising Photographers of America Business Manual

Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

Editorial Photographers

Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group (Message Archives)

Small Business Administration

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© Mark Loundy

Mark Loundy is a visual journalist, writer and media consultant based in San Jose, California.