Friday, December 3, 2010

Taking Work from Professionals

Free Your Speech, 2010

Every now and then I get a call from someone asking if I’ll do a commercial photo shoot. It might be something with a model, or a product shot or some kind of event. Even weddings. It’s flattering to get these calls. If I were making my living from photography these calls would be my lifeline.

But I never accept these assignments. Don’t get me wrong. I’m flattered that some people think I might be up to that kind of work. But the truth is, my heart’s not in it. More importantly, there are people who are very good at these kinds of jobs and who need this work to make a living. Some of these people are my friends. I know how hard they’ve worked to build their businesses. It would bother me to know that I was taking work from them.

I’m sure somebody will say I’m “leaving money on the table,” or being foolish about my own financial future. Both are probably true. But I’ll bet I sleep better than they do.

Professional photographers have had a hard enough time in recent years without all of the rest of us—anyone with the capacity to buy a decent camera—taking their work away. A lot of clients can’t tell the difference between a good photograph and a bad one. Some don’t care. One of the professional marketing journals I receive is mindless, not to mention visually boring, in the way it uses the same four or five stock photos in every issue.

I’m told that big time photography clients are paying less than they used to and asking for more from the photographers they work with. Contract photojournalists often don’t get anything more when the pictures they took for one publication get used online or in sister publications. Some clients are asking for more speculative work, or asking for extra work for free and promising to “make it up on the next job.”

There’s nothing illegal about all this. Some of it’s just the nature of competition, the evolution of the world of commercial photography and the constant balance between supply and demand. But I have a hard time aiding it. I figure life’s too short to spend it screwing up other people’s livelihoods. I’m happy to lend a photo for free to a nonprofit. But if I’m lending a photo or selling a photo for a commercial assignment that I know would have otherwise been done by a working professional, I charge what I think the professional would have charged. That I’m fortunate enough to not have to depend on that income does not make it okay for me to lower the integrity and perceived value of all of our work.

Not everyone may agree with me, I expect. I’m a big believer in the Golden Rule. I’ve been the recipient of enough goodwill in my lifetime to know that what goes around does come around, and that you get as you give, whether in your personal life, your professional life or in your art.


  1. Oh Sir, ethical people are extrmely rare and very few "amatuers" show the moral fibre that you show here and have done all the time I have known you. The poblem is that clients who used to use professionals are often greedy and deliberatelyset out to exploit great amatuers to keep costs to a minimum and further maximise profit. Tjhe industry here has suffered terrbly as a result. There are also many greayt amateurs who like to live on the kudos they think they gain just for being published. That is fool's gold !

  2. Funny I have a new blog and have just bveen writing about aspects of this ! Check it out !

  3. I agree fully. I photograph what I want to photograph, for me. My wife and I have never regretted for a second the excellent pro photographer that did our wedding photo's. He got excellent shots, got them all, fast.

    His issue was with the marketing side of his business, (but that's another story). :-)

  4. Makes good sense. I don't know how people do make a good living in any artistic field--I'm in awe of those who do!

  5. I'm the same way. First off I really don't think my photography is on a par with a professional but mainly because photography is a hobby I really enjoy. Doing it professionally would probably take some of the fun out of it.

    Web design and development became a passion when I first became interested in computers in the early 90s. This eventually led to being assigned web master duties for a major US Gov't. entity and it wasn't long before the thrill was gone.

  6. I agree with you entirely , and how right you are about the Golden Rule!!

  7. My cousin is a professional photographer in Norfolk and has lived there his entire life. I know he feels the business pressure you describe from the technical capability of even a modestly-priced point-and-shoot digital camera in his potential customers' hands. But his true artistry shows when one views a collection of shots, or a customer needs that one, powerful image.