Photographing swing dance events and money

I’ve been photographing dance events in exchange for a ticket, but it doesn’t feel like a fair exchange with the amount of work I put in vs what I get from it. Do you have any advice on what to do?

I’m, undisputedly, a professional photographer. I’ve been a full-time photojournalist for Practical Photography Magazine, been a regular contributor for DigitalRev, had work commissioned by Wex, as well as been published by Professional Photographer Magazine and had my work used as promotion by Tesco — and photographed a million a dance events all around the country. Yet I still get asked to do events in exchange for a ticket, the joy of attending, and I’ve even been asked to deduct the cost of a ticket from my fees.

There’s nothing wrong with photographing an event in exchange for a ticket — it’s how I started too. It’s good practise and it’s a perfectly valid way to developing your craft without the pressure of having to deliver professional-level shots. Sure, the event will expect a set of images — they let you attend for free — but I wouldn’t sweat too much about them being amazing because they didn’t actually pay you.

The problem lies in when you’ve been doing it a while, think your work has improved, and you realise that:

  1. You don’t enjoy an event in the same way when you’re always on alert for photos.
  2. It’s a lot of work. My edit time is fast, and I go on about a 1:1 shooting time to editing time ratio. When I first started out, this was definitely more 1:3.
  3. Kit costs money and using your kit causes depreciation. A shutter count on a camera is like mileage of a car (I take about 500-1500 photos per social), they wear out eventually and you need to replace/buy stuff.
  4. It costs you money to be there (travel and expenses really mount up).

These 4 things are reason enough to charge — even if it’s just enough to cover your costs and a bit of beer money.

The real difficultly is deciding how much your time and work is worth when beer money and costs don’t cut it anymore. Putting a value on yourself is tough for anyone and it’s uncomfortable no matter your experience level.

My advice would be:

  • Ask events for their budget — some events will not have the budget to back you, and some will have loads. If you’re not sure on how much to charge, having an honest chat about how much money they’re willing to put behind you.
  • Compare your quote to others — there are lots of photographers working in the scene. It’s not frowned upon to compare quotes so you can align yourself with others.
  • Know your limit — if you charge £100 per night and someone offers you £50 because it’s all they can afford, it’s on you to decide where your line is drawn for how much you’ll drop your price. You will encounter this.

As for me, I know I’m top-end and I’m OK with that (but it’s usually less than people think it is) however I don’t think my prices could go any higher and me still have regular work in the dance world. Anyone that’s supported me from day 1 gets a reduced rate, anyone that’s seen a quote and has offered me a ticket in return gets an increased rate in future, I try to support new events where I can but I know my limit. I try to recommend and support other people where I can, as I cap the number of weekends I’ll work in a year — turning down events is hard but I also work full-time and value my sanity. If you want to know how much I charge, DM me.

I hope this is helpful?

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