Each time I’ve gone to write about this topic, I’ve stopped, stressed, and struggled to even start it. A few things have happened in the past few months, including a friend writing about this very topic (see here), and I’ve just come to the conclusion that I’ll do it eventually, so why not be now?
When you are working in any artistic field you have to assign your services/work and worth. For me, I find this task so hard. There aren’t always tangible costs or mark ups when it comes to photography – like paint, or materials, or space hire. Yes you buy your kit, but it’s always in one go, to last you as long as it can. So, your services seem like a simple an exchange of time and skill – and to me that says: how much am I worth?
As a newbie to the freelance photography world, I struggled with this immensely and felt bad when charging for anything, but over the course of time, and with my ever-growing experience, I feel far more comfortable of sticking firmly with the fact I come with a price tag. Photography has been my full-time job, I have worked internationally, and shot for some of the largest media corporations in the world – there’s no way I should shoot for free anymore.
The problem is there are so many people who will work for free; they want to build their portfolios, do people favours – and I get it, because I did it too in the early days. But this is such a problem for the world of professional photographers, it devalues our work right the way to nothing.
Although one could argue that it only devalues the work of the person working for free, it opens the door to: ‘thanks for your quote but [this person] will do it for free/or for a ticket to the event‘ or even, ‘what would you charge for less time at the event/shoot?’ That’s all well and good, but for me that says: ‘you’re not worth the value you’ve placed on yourself.’
But a cost for a photographer, or any form of artist or creative isn’t simply ‘this is the value of my time for 2 hours of an event‘. For me it’s this:
- Time at the shoot
- Double the amount of shooting time working on the images after the shoot
- Thousands of pounds worth of equipment
- Months of doing jobs I didn’t want to do to save for the equipment
- Paying for my Adobe subscription
- Travel to and from events, and wear and tear on my car
- Spending 7 months in the USA working 16 hour days as a photographer working on my craft
- Spending one year working full-time on a photography magazine and being spoken to like sh*t by my editor, day in, day out
- Hours and hours and hours working on my Photoshop skills
- Using my leave from work to recover from working the weekend
- And so on…
It’s much the same as hiring a dance teacher. You’re not just paying for their tuition time you’re paying for:
- Their training time
- Years of experience
- Countless events that they’ve been to to learn
- Trips to the physio for injuries
- Lesson plans
- Antisocial hours
- And so on again, you get the picture…
Having to justify costs to people is a really disheartening process; to have someone question the value you put on your work, your time, and your experience is degrading and a little hurtful. I find the process of having to reply and say: ‘I’m sorry, I don’t work for free or for less than I’ve already quoted‘ really uncomfortable and embarrassing. But, I’d encourage others to do the same.
Specifically for me, I can’t attend an event and ‘just take a few photos while [I’m] there‘. I’m either there as a photographer, or I’m not. As soon as I started consistently charging, my entire photography game changed. It gave me the space and the mindset to be completely focused on my images as my task for the evening. It allows me to give my all each time, and I’m never happy walking away from an event unless I know I’ve done my absolute best work – and I just can’t do that without dedicating my whole night to it.
If you’re approached to work for free, or for less than you’ve quoted – please just say no, because it stops that being appropriate thing to ask.
To quote my friend Alex’s article, because I cannot put it better myself: “This isn’t just an important lesson for myself, but for creatives everywhere – especially in crowded scenes like Manchester. If you’re [someone] working with a brand for free, remember the number of people they’ve already approached who turned down free-work and how, if everyone done the same, everyone would be much better off.”