This article has been has circulating around the photography community the past couple days and has gained a lot of traction. I’d like to share it in it’s entirety.
Dear potential photo buyer,
If you have been directed to this page, it is likely that you have requested the use of an image or images for free or minimal compensation.
As professional photographers, we receive requests for free images on a regular basis. In a perfect world, each of us would love to be able to respond in a positive manner and assist, especially with projects or efforts related to areas such as education, social issues, and conservation of natural resources. It is fair to say that in many cases, we wish we had the time and resources to do more to assist than just send photographs.
Unfortunately, such are the practicalities of life that we are often unable to respond, or that when we do, our replies are brief and do not convey an adequate sense of the reasons underlying our response.
Circumstances vary for each situation, but we have found that there are a number of recurring themes, which we have set out below with the objective of communicating more clearly with you, and hopefully avoiding misunderstandings or unintentionally engendering ill will.
Please take the following points in the constructive manner in which they are intended. We certainly hope that after you have had a chance to read this, we will be able to talk again and establish a mutually beneficial working relationship.
Photographs Are Our Livelihood
Creating compelling images is the way we make our living. If we give away our images for free, or spend too much time responding to requests for free images, we cannot make a living.
We Do Support Worthy Causes With Images
Most of us do contribute photographs, sometimes more, to support certain causes. In many cases, we may have participated directly in projects that we support with images, or we may have a pre-existing personal relationship with key people involved with the efforts concerned. In other words, each of us can and does provide images without compensation on a selective basis.
We Have Time Constraints
Making a leap from such selective support to responding positively to every request we get for free photographs, however, is impractical, if for no other reason than the substantial amount of time required to respond to requests, exchange correspondence, prepare and send files, and then follow-up to find out how our images were used and what objectives, if any, were achieved. It takes a lot of time to respond to requests, and time is always in short supply.
Pleas of “We Have No Money” Are Often Difficult to Fathom
The primary rationale provided in nearly all requests for free photographs is budgetary constraint, meaning that the requestor pleads a lack of funds.
Such requests frequently originate from organisations with a lot of cash on hand, whether they be publicly listed companies, government or quasi-government agencies, or even NGOs. Often, it is a simple matter of taking a look at a public filing or other similar disclosure document to see that the entity concerned has access to significant funding, certainly more than enough to pay photographers a reasonable fee should they choose to do so.
To make matters worse, it is apparent that all too often, of all the parties involved in a project or particular effort, photographers are the only ones being asked to work for free. Everyone else gets paid.
Given considerations like this, you can perhaps understand why we frequently feel slighted when we are told that: “We have no money.” Such claims can come across as a cynical ploy intended to take advantage of gullible individuals.
We Have Real Budget Constraints
With some exceptions, photography is not a highly remunerative profession. We have chosen this path in large part due to the passion we have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matters in which we specialise.
The substantial increase in photographs available via the internet in recent years, coupled with reduced budgets of many photo buyers, means that our already meager incomes have come under additional strain.
Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant monetary investment.
Our profession is by nature equipment-intensive. We need to buy cameras, lenses, computers, software, storage devices, and more on a regular basis. Things break and need to be repaired. We need back-ups of all our data, as one ill-placed cup of coffee could literally erase years of work. For all of us, investment in essential hardware and software entails thousands of dollars a year, as we need to stay current with new technology and best practices.
In addition, travel is a big part of many of our businesses. We must spend a lot of money on transportation, lodging and other travel-related costs.
And of course, perhaps most importantly, there is a substantial sum associated with the time and experience we have invested to become proficient at what we do, as well as the personal risks we often take. Taking snapshots may only involve pressing the camera shutter release, but creating images requires skill, experience and judgement.
So the bottom line is that although we certainly understand and can sympathise with budget constraints, from a practical point of view, we simply cannot afford to subsidise everyone who asks.
Getting “Credit” Doesn’t Mean Much
Part and parcel with requests for free images premised on budgetary constraints is often the promise of providing “credit” and “exposure”, in the form or a watermark, link, or perhaps even a specific mention, as a form of compensation in lieu of commercial remuneration.
There are two major problems with this.
First, getting credit isn’t compensation. We did, after all, create the images concerned, so credit is automatic. It is not something that we hope a third party will be kind enough to grant us.
Second, credit doesn’t pay bills. As we hopefully made clear above, we work hard to make the money required to reinvest in our photographic equipment and to cover related business expenses. On top of that, we need to make enough to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, transportation, etc.
In short, receiving credit for an image we created is a given, not compensation, and credit is not a substitute for payment.
“You Are The Only Photographer Being Unreasonable”
When we do have time to engage in correspondence with people and entities who request free photos, the dialogue sometimes degenerates into an agitated statement directed toward us, asserting in essence that all other photographers the person or entity has contacted are more than delighted to provide photos for free, and that somehow, we are “the only photographer being unreasonable”.
We know that is not true.
We also know that no reasonable and competent photographer would agree to unreasonable conditions. We do allow for the fact that some inexperienced photographers or people who happen to own cameras may indeed agree to work for free, but as the folk wisdom goes: “You get what you pay for.”
One other experience we have in common is that when we do provide photographs for free, we often do not receive updates, feedback or any other form of follow-up letting us know how the event or project unfolded, what goals (if any) were achieved, and what good (if any) our photos did.
All too often, we don’t even get responses to emails we send to follow-up, until, of course, the next time that someone wants free photographs.
In instances where we do agree to work for free, please have the courtesy to follow-up and let us know how things went. A little consideration will go a long way in making us feel more inclined to take time to provide additional images in the future.
We hope that the above points help elucidate why the relevant photographer listed below has sent you to this link. All of us are dedicated professionals, and we would be happy to work with you to move forward in a mutually beneficial manner.
I found this Fast Company article titled, Mayhem on Madison Avenue, to be a fascinating read. As a former ad industry creative, this really came as no surprise to me as I had realized that most of the creatives at the ad agency I worked several years ago had no idea about digital much less had experience with blogging, SEO, social media, etc… Such was the case at the other places I worked at following that agency. The sad part was that no one figured their career path might be going extinct. Well that day is has already arrived according to this article.
The article cites agencies struggling to price work in the digital era because clients want more work but are willing to pay less for the work. Various business models have popped up in the meantime including crowd-sourcing ad creative. The “race to the bottom” if you will. Ten years ago when all media spend was limited to print, broadcast and radio it was easy to work in the industry because reaching people was rather formulaic and several large holding companies owned all the advertising spend. No longer. There are a million different ways to reach the consumer now and for the consumer to receive content. “Competition” is popping up in all sorts of places that never existed previously.
Sound familiar? Yes. The photography industry has already been heading down this path for ten years now as you already know. You can literally swap out the words ad agency for Getty / Corbis and photographers and write the same story.
Having only been a photographer during the internet-era, however, I feel there has never been a more exciting time to be a creative person because of all these reasons. My photography website for example reaches tens of thousands of visitors per month and I have about 1,000 more people that I reach on a daily basis via the social media sites I’m on. Had the internet not been around when I started photography, I probably never would have even bothered to try sharing my work much less talk about it because what audience would I have – family, local camera club, a stock photo agent, and a few clients? There’s not a lot of people where I live that are into outdoors and the type of photography I do.
Had this been 15 years ago, I’d probably have a few photos hanging on display in the local library, setting up a booth at weekend farmer’s markets and art fairs, be on the phone all day cold-calling and maybe consider running some print ads in advertising award annuals with no guarantee of success but a lot of money out of my pocket. But this is 2010 and here are two sites I have had an opportunity to be featured on in the past week:
Pro Nature Photographer – a website about the business of nature photography written by long-time industry vet, Charlie Borland.
The Rogue’s Gallery – an art website for current and former ad industry professionals curated by Steffan Postaer (ad god and creator of the Altoids ad campaign).
Who knows if I’ll get any direct benefit from getting my work on these sites but I know who reads these sites and those are the types of people I’m looking to reach. When you simplify the new technology down to that level, basic marketing principles have not changed at all. It is actually easier than ever to reach people and obtain any sort of metric you could imagine that was never available previously. You can cut it up so many different ways from checking referrer sites in your web analytics and tying that to geographic data, to seeing who comments on the sites, to which organic search terms people found your site via the search engines, to seeing Quantcast demographic info about any site out there. Any webmaster in the world can create a media kit and sell to advertisers now. You could create a media kit so detailed that it would bore even the most anal media buyer. This is powerful stuff at our disposal.
I skimmed through an article in Photo District News (PDN) about Urban Outfiiters photography choices and the part that really caught my attention was a quote from their photo buyer recommending to photographers to stop wasting money on mailers and focus on web marketing. She specifically referred to blogging, Flickr, and social media because that is where she goes to find new photographers to photograph for her brand. She said she spends a lot of time seeking out new photography blogs so she knows who is out there shooting what.
From what I have read, these days there seems to be an equal mix of art buyers who say they still prefer traditional marketing methods versus those who actively seek out photography online via Google, Flickr, blogging, etc…. But in the coming years as a younger generation of art buyers gets into the workforce, we will probably see a majority swing to web 2.0 because younger demographics have grown up during the internet age and have less reservations about working with people they meet online.
Times are changing so fast culturally that it is only a matter of time before that day comes. It was just nine years ago that I had a college marketing professor state that no internet company had yet figured out a way to become profitable. Now, things that used to be taboo to talk about, such as online dating, have become a standard way to meet people. Photo buyers are people too and it is only natural that they consume social media just like anyone else. Photographers who haven’t yet accepted this cultural-shift or are too scared to jump into the web 2.0 world are kidding themselves. True, there may be some well-established photographers who can probably ride out the rest of their career without changing a thing but it is also no coincidence that there are a lot of pros who grumble about how good things used to be in the 80’s and 90’s.
Another way to look at web marketing is that it can open up a whole new world of opportunities. Within the traditional photo buying market, you have ad agencies / publishing companies / art galleries / etc… where you have every working and aspiring photographer targeting that same small niche of photo buyers. With the internet, anyone with an internet connection and a need for photos is a potential customer. Suddenly you go from competing in a crowded market where there are only several thousand potential customers to a market where you have tens of millions potential customers.
Occasionally there are photo forum threads that ask for photography business book recommendations but one particular person’s question stood out to me. This photographer was interested in learning more about the business of nature photography and was complaining that all of the business books they had seen were about commercial or studio photography and thus did not apply to them. In my opinion, this is completely wrong.
The best book out there on how to run a successful photography business is John Harrington’s Best Business Practices for Photographers. It is a generalist commercial photography book yet I got a lot of useful info out of it and so have a lot of others judging from the reviews. It doesn’t matter what genre of photography you are involved with, the business principles are all the same. You have assignments, you license images, you have contracts, you deal with clients, legal issues, accounting, marketing, etc… All photo businesses have all or some of these elements.
This photographer probably drew a distinction between nature photography and everything else because of a romanticized idea of what it’s like to earn money as a nature photographer. The reality is that everyone from Art Wolfe down to the part-time wedding photographer has to treat what they do as they would any other business if they expect to stay in business. Without a solid grasp of business fundamentals then it is nearly impossible to make any sort of consistent progress.
With that said, here are some great photography business books that I would recommend in addition to John Harrington’s book:
I had the opportunity to attend a fantastic lecture this past Saturday that was hosted by the American Society of Picture Professionals (ASPP) and Picture Archive Council of America (PACA). The featured speaker was Nancy Wolff who is an attorney that specializes in intellectual property law. There were quite a number of people packed into the venue which was a photography studio in Culver City. The audience appeared to consist of photographers, stock photo agents (including one of mine), publishers and filmmakers. I was told that that is what the difference between the ASPP versus the other photography trade organizations because it caters to everyone involved with in the photography industry not just photographers. I tried my best to take notes for those of you who might not have had the opportunity to attend. Keep in mind that I’m no legal expert but here goes:
– The event was sponsored by the Copyright Clearance Center and they wanted to promote their new image licensing platform called Ozmo. (I personally know nothing about this product or the organization so I have no opinions on this at the moment.)
– Nancy started off by listing several popular myths regarding photo copyright laws including, “If I remove my image after being served a notice, I don’t owe any money.”
– Copyright laws were founded to give incentive to creators to continue advancing the arts and sciences in the U.S. The incentive is exclusive rights to the work for the length of the author’s life + 70 years. For corporations it is the lesser of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation. I believe this time period designation was established in 1978.
– Anything created 1923 is now part of the public domain.
– Works not protected by copyright law include anything created by the U.S. government. (I got the impression that this is not as black and white as it sounds.)
– Copyright laws were revised again in 1989 stating that copyright notices were no longer required to be displayed in order to claim ownership. This is purely voluntary but recommended. A proper copyright symbol goes like this – ©year, name.
– Freelancers by default own the copyright to their work. However if you are an employee (work-for-hire) then the employer owns the copyright.
– Allows for limited duplication of material for educational uses including criticism, news, teaching and research. A good example would be photocopied class handouts, short excerpts and quotes.
– Fair Use is not about merely choosing an image to illustrate a news story just because it might look appropriate alongside the words. The image must actually be the news story. (I’m trying to paraphrase this part.)
– Must be transformative. Not merely repackaging the work. Does it harm the creator in any way?
– Parody can be fair use such as the famous Annie Leibowitz picture / Vanity Fair cover of a pregnant Demi Moore being mimicked for the Naked Gun 33 1/2 movie poster.
Nancy proceeded to show more side-by-side comparisons of situations that claimed Fair Use.
– Social commentary can be Fair Use.
– Merely changing the medium is still an infringement because it is derivative works.
Most in the crowd seemed to believe that Shepard Fairey, creator of the Obama Hope poster, infringed on the AP’s photo by creating the poster without asking for permission. Nancy mentioned something interesting that when Fairey sued the AP, the AP countered by hiring the attorneys that had just defeated the Stanford University Fair Use Project in a recent case.
– Who is responsible if there is an infringement? The publisher, includes both companies and employees.
– One must show that the infringer had access to the original works. (I think this means that if the “infringer” has never seen the original work in question then it might not be an infringement and just merely coincidental similarities.)
– There is no hard and fast rule to determine “substantial similarities” as this is determined in court on a case-by-case basis. The judge will often compare two images then use that to decide if the case will go to a jury or not.
Nancy then showed an example of a photographer that sued an ad agency. The ad agency had contacted the photographer to use an image but apparently didn’t like the price so they went out and photographed their own similar version. The giveaway was the featured model in both had the same jacket on in both images carrying a briefcase. The photographer was rumored to be very happy with the settlement.
She then had a section about Scenes a Faire, which means that certain scenes or ideas can only be seen in a limited number of ways hence not being eligible for copyright infringement. An example would be photographing a well-known landmark in a public place such as the St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The more staged the original work however, the more likely it is to be considered an infringement.
– Why register your photos with the U.S. Copyright Office? You can’t get attorney’s fees waived if not registered. (This is one of many reasons to do so.) This can be done so now by electronic filing. Send thumbnails in large quantities marked as unpublished works. If the photo has already been published before filing, then mark as published works. Once an image is registered you never need to re-register it again.
– Avoid sending your registration via USPS because since 9/11 stuff just gets backlogged and lost due to anthrax scares. Send it via FedEx if you must.
– Internet Service Providers have a safe haven. When serving a take-down notice, you have to send to the ISP’s registered agent and give them proper time to address the situation? (Wasn’t quite clear in my notes.) You also have to identify the work in question, the location of where the infringement can be found, include either a physical signature or electronic signature on the document.
– The 1st Amendment offers much more protection for editorial uses including art, news, and exhibits. Commercial uses have much more limited 1st Amendment protection.
– A proper model release should contain the name of the model, date of birth and have a witness’ signature. This applies to the U.S. mainly because every country has their own laws. In some countries the model can decide at any time to invalidate your model release.
– Pets are considered property and require a release if they are well-known and has been exploited commercially in the past. (I think this is primarily to avoid brand confusion in the marketplace.)
– Buildings photographed from public areas do not require permission to publish commercially. Several property owners have tried to sue for trademark infringement such as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland suing a photographer for selling a poster of the city skyline. The museum lost because there was no obvious trademark apparent in the photo. Same goes for photos of the Empire State Building. There is no trademark confusion apparent.
Next they had a door drawing for three of her autographed books. I won the 3rd. 🙂 For the record, I was planning to buy the book if I didn’t win it.
Question & Answer Session
– If a photo agency or an individual photographer wants to promote their own work are they allowed to use non-model-released photos in the promotional materials?
Nancy said there was not a lot of established legal precedent for this sort of situation. She thinks that if you have multiple images together in the promotional material then there is no confusion as to whether the model endorses your business. If you have a single photo depicted then it can more likely be questioned.
– Copyright doesn’t protect styles of photography. If you popularized photographing subjects on white seamless for example, then another photographer does the same idea then you can’t claim copyright infringement just because they used a similar style.
The PowerPoint presentation is available for download at the PACA website if you are a member.
Overall I would highly recommend attending a session like this if you are a professional artist or deal with intellectual property of any sorts. I learned new things and got some clarity on previously fuzzy concepts. You might think oh, law, boring academic stuff but this really was an interesting presentation and even entertaining at some points.
When thinking in terms of your own photography business, it would be wise to observe what other types of businesses are doing like retail stores, restaurants, business-to-business service industry, etc… There is a lot that can be learned from evaluating the good and bad decisions that these other businesses are doing. I’ll use this local Japanese restaurant as an example:
I got this menu in the mail a while back. It was fully illustrated with nice pictures of sushi and other dishes. It probably cost them a lot of money to produce so I decided to order take-out from that restaurant one night. I knew where the place was located on the map right on Route 66 but while driving into the strip mall parking lot, I started to question whether or not I was in the right place. The reason why is because from the traffic flow directions, there is no line of sight to the restaurant. The view is completely blocked by a Merrill Lynch office from every angle. To complicate matters, on the strip mall marquee, the restaurant wasn’t listed.
Now I can understand that if the restaurant does okay business-wise during lunch when there is foot traffic from Merrill Lynch, but when I went for dinner there was no one in the restaurant except for the owner’s family and another fellow take-out patron. I wasn’t surprised because due to the location of their restaurant, it is impossible to get unsolicited walk-in diners after the work day ends. Heck, I knew where the place was and still was unsure of where it was.
All of the restarant’s dinner customers are being driven there purely by their direct mail efforts. Well that costs a lot of money per customer so as a result, they are probably not as profitable as they would be located in a more strategic location. This strip mall doesn’t have the type of businesses to bring people in during the dinner hours either so really at this rate, they should either consider relocating their business or just shutting down for dinner IMO.
My point is that if there are opportunities to get customers for your business that do not require your direct involvement then that is the most efficient type of sale you can ever get. It is about getting visibility as efficiently as possible. Whether those customers are parents driving by on the highway looking for dinner one night after work or a local hospital looking on the internet for prints to decorate their hallways, a smart business owner considers these factors in their business marketing plan before setting up shop.
I personally think this would have limited use to buyers because only hardcore industry veterans would likely know enough to understand how this works. It is hard enough to get some photo buyers to understand the basic concept of image licensing to begin with. The plus side is that you can theoretically protect your copyrighted work a little better since the license would be embedded in the meta data. Given all of the Orphan Works b.s. that is happening in Congress, you can never be too safe.
Photoshelter’s payment and distribution options are pretty similar to LicenseStream’s but the difference is that the photo buyer can’t look for another photographer’s images on the site. This is a pretty big deal because whenever you send an instant license via Photoshelter you risk losing sales to other photographers if they decide to browse the Photoshelter home page out of curiosity. On the LicenseStream home page, there is no such site-wide archive search.
If you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, check out my LicenseStream gallery.
I read on the Photo Business & News Forum yesterday that several template-based website services such as LiveBooks and BluDomain have been having problems with their Google rankings as of late. I personally do not have a website with these companies so I can’t say for sure how much if any control their photographers have over their own site design but from what it sounds like they don’t have much. If ranking high is really a top priority for your business then the only way to go is to either have a site designed specifically for your needs or to do it yourself. At the least you should understand how things work under the hood so you can give adequate direction to your service providers.
I might sign up for a portfolio site with one of these companies eventually but I don’t expect that their search engine rankings are going to be as good as what I can do for myself on my current site. If you think about it, if every photographer out there had the same website structure then it’s just random luck that you’d crack the top ten on Google for anything. But with my own website, I can tweak and adjust my web content at any hour of the day according to how I see fit.
Getting the most out of the search engines isn’t just about throwing all of your eggs in one basket such as “Las Vegas wedding photographer”, you need to have a strategy – casting a targeted net if you will to draw people into whatever it is you want them to do. If one word falls off the list then you should have other variations of the subject to make up for that. Lets say that tomorrow my ranking for Southern California coast photos drops, well that’s not really a big deal in my opinion because people can find me still by typing in Point Vicente Lighthouse stock photos or Venice Beach travel photographer for example, where I’m currently ranked at or near the top on Google, Google Images and Yahoo.
Joe Winkler of “The Boomer Report” interviewing Sherri
When Jeff and I returned from our recent Road Trip, we had a very exciting phone message awaiting.
The message was from Joe Winkler of “The Boomer Report” (the first and only television news program for the Boomer generation) in Sacramento. He wanted to do a story on me, because I specialize in photographs of “Baby Boomers.”
Joe had stumbled upon my previous interview with Professional Photographer and Writer Richard Wong. A story on Baby Boomer Photography was the perfect fit for his on-line and nationally televised news program.
I returned his call and a date was set. This past Thursday was the big day. Fortunately, Jeff was home that day and got to be a part of this too. Joe spent a couple hours at our house and produced a great video clip about Sherri Meyer Photography. It started airing on ABC, NBC and CBS on Friday, in numerous states across the country. Unfortunately, it will not appear locally and San Diego is the only city in California in which it is airing.
The good news is, you can view it on-line at “The Boomer Report.”
Note: Please allow a couple of minutes for the video to load. Loading times will vary, depending on what type of Internet connection you have.
Thanks to Joe Winkler and Richard Wong for making this all possible. It is a day Jeff & I will never forget!
Professional outdoor adventure and lifestyle photographer, Sherri Meyer is based out of the historic, Sierra Nevada Foothills gold mining town of Auburn, California. Having access to the Sierras as her backyard, she has photographed a variety of adventure sports such as kayaking, marathon running and off-roading. Here are her thoughts on the current state of the stock photography industry:
I noticed that a number of your images appear to be of the baby-boomer generation. From what I have read, this is a category that is in demand and under-photographed so was it a conscious business decision of yours to photograph this demographic?
The main reason I photograph “Baby Boomers” is because I am one and most of the people I know are too. Some of them have become regular models for my photography. But, it is also a fact that photos of this generation are of high demand and in low supply. That is the other reason why I focus mainly on the “Boomer” generation. The “Baby Boomer” generation is the largest segment of the population. So why is there such a low supply of photos of them? Go figure! By the way, according to the publishing industry, you are also considered a senior if you are 50 plus. Photos of seniors are also of high demand and in low supply.
From a business perspective, what would you like to photograph that you haven’t already?
I would like to Photograph for REI and Title Nine. I would love to have my attractive and fit “Baby Boomer” models featured in their catalogs. Title Nine does use women of all ages in their catalogs, but REI seems to focus on children and models in their 20’s and 30’s. I really think they are missing the boat by not featuring older models in their catalog also. I would like to change that. Since the “Baby Boomer” generation is the largest segment of the population that means they also spend the most money for products [and typically have the most disposable income.] Therefore, they also deserve to be part of their marketing program! I would also like to do some food product photography. Every month, I pick up the Raley’s “Something Extra” magazine where I shop. It’s a free publication they put out for their customers. It’s full of recipes, accompanied with outstanding food photographs. I love looking at the photos and thinking that is something I would like photograph. Also, one of my sisters photographed food years ago, for the natural food company she and I worked for. I always admired her work. That may be where it all started.
Business reasons aside, what would you like to photograph that you haven’t already?
Cowboys. I have always been attracted to photographs of cowboys. I have stayed at a dude ranch and photographed cowboys, as well as other activities that go on at a dude ranch. I have also photographed rodeos and cowboys performing various other ranch duties. But, what I would really love to do is go on and photograph a real cattle drive. I would also love to photograph singer/songwriters Emmy Lou Harris and Jimmy Buffett, two of my all-time favorites.
When dealing with a client directly, is there a minimum price that you set for negotiations?
Absolutely. Our fees are negotiable; however our minimum fee for any usage is $150.00.
When a potential client inquires about the use of an image and claims to have no budget for photos, there are some amateur photographers out there that are willing to give the client unlimited use of the image for free in exchange for a credit. They generally believe one of two things: 1. it will lead to a higher paying transaction in the future, 2. they only care about seeing their work published so they can brag about it. How do you feel about this?
I don’t think anyone should give their work away for any purpose, period. If your work is good enough to use for free, then it’s good enough to charge for! Richard, this question really hits my hot button. I’m giving you my short answer to this question for now, but I would love to write more in a future post.
Without naming names, tell us about a client from hell type of story.
I have worked with more than one client from h**l and they all have something in common. They have no respect! The three that come to mind were back in my earlier days and they were all regional, low paying markets. One of them was a brand new magazine. The editor knew nothing about working with photographers. I had to educate him about everything. Then, when one of his employees left on bad terms, she left with a CD of my images. Who knows where they ended up? I had another editor lose 4 of my [slides.] After contacting him several times, I managed to get all but one back. One of them was “nowhere” to be found until I sent him a bill for $1500.00. The next day, it was found. Amazing isn’t it? Then, there was the client that lost a whole submission consisting of 40 slides. I billed him also for $1500.00 per image. Soon thereafter, the images were recovered. I didn’t stop there, however. I did get compensated for the inconvenience of it all. The biggest problem with this type of client is they get treated the same way a good paying respectful client gets treated.
I noticed that you recently switched from the Photoshelter Archive to hosting your own Lightbox photo archive. What factored in your decision to do so?
There are a couple of reasons why I chose to go with Lightbox Photo over PhotoShelter for archiving my images. First, I wanted to have my images on my server rather than someone else’s. It’s more expensive to use Lightbox and there is a huge learning curve to setting up the galleries, but the benefits are worth it. I feel like I have a lot more control of my images, I’m getting more traffic and uploading images is much faster. Don’t get me wrong. I love PhotoShelter. I think they are one of the “best bangs for your buck” out there. I do still use their basic service and I plan to contribute to the new PhotoShelter Collection (PSC) very soon.
Any photography business announcements or personal projects that you would like to tell us about?
I don’t really have anything in the hopper right now, but there are a couple of things I would like to do down the road. I would like to publish a coffee table photography book featuring photos of… We will keep that a secret for now. Also, I would like to teach photo workshops and maybe do a little consulting. I did teach a few classes a couple of years ago which included a photo workshop through the adult education program here in Auburn.
Thanks Sherri. You’ve provided some great insights for the rest of us to ponder.
See more of Sherri Meyer’s work at: http://www.sherrimeyer.com
When you freelance to pay the bills, (unless you’re already loaded), it’s not about how much gross income you make, it is how much net income you come away with. When you have a full-time job, it’s nice to get health insurance benefits (hopefully), have taxes taken out with every check and money put into retirement. When you don’t have one, then it is up to you to manage all of those things. So the freelancer really has to think of their income as business income, not salary. The IRS says so as well. Regular jobs don’t come with an overhead cost usually, but freelance jobs usually do, particularly photography. If you’ve ever had to do temp work or in an industry with no job security, then you can probably relate also.
I’ve heard a joke from some professional photographers that you can tell the difference between the full-time freelancer and a serious hobbyist just by looking at them. The F/T freelancer has a beat-up camera & lens and drives a 20 year old car. The other photographer has the latest equipment and makes sure everyone knows it. For the freelancer it’s as much about minimizing your expenses as much as it is generating income. So what types of costs are there to consider?
Camera: Do you need the latest and greatest body? It depends. Can you get the job done effectively with your current gear?
Lenses: Can the images I can only make with the image stabilizer lens sell for enough money to justify the extra cost? Can I get similar image quality with a non-Canon L lens? Would it be smarter in the long-run to put this money into a mutual fund or property investment so I can upgrade later?
Car: Does your 15-year old car still work? What is the gas efficiency? How much does it cost to maintain?
Travel: Hotels or camping? Can you get an inexpensive room in the city without fearing for your life? Does camping still save you money once you factor in the driving distance? Can you find someone to split the travel costs with? Haven’t I photographed alpenglow on Half Dome ten times already? Would I ever sell an image from this place if I go there?
Office: Where you handle your daily business – can you get the same amount of work done conveniently in your own home rather than renting studio space? I’ve read and heard all sorts of things from wedding photographers believe that meeting in the photographers home helps to seal the deal, to having a downtown studio sounds more impressive to photo editors.
Other Stuff: Everything else that normal people have.
The moral of the story: It’s hard to earn a living doing what you enjoy but many are doing it. It can be an incredibly rewarding occupation or part-time business. It requires a lot of personal sacrifice however. There are some people making a mockery of photography by giving work away for free or selling royalty-free for pennies. If you are going to shoot serious pictures, then charge appropriately for your pictures. If they are good enough to be published then they will sell for market value. With the general public suspecting each photographer of being a paparazzi member, terrorist or a source for free photos these days, really all photographers are being affected by the actions of a few. This is not simply a matter of economic philosophy. What it comes down to is that photography needs an image rehabilitation and that should start today with you and I. It’s about educating those in need of one.