I have been taking pictures, in one form or another, for about 30 years. I won’t say that I’ve seen and heard it all but I’ve seen and heard quite a bit. I learned in my long and wonderful life not to let too many things bother me but there is one thing that really, really gets under my skin, and that is when people devalue photography services. They want to trade and barter, they want to offer you what ‘they feel’ the services is worth because their “uncle used to be a photographer,” or they basically think that the work is easy and that “it shouldn’t cost that much.” There’s no other business that I know where people feel they can run it for you, other than photography.
Why this posted rant, you may ask? Sure! Recently, I came upon a job posting by a marketing company that requested a photographer to photograph their properties, leading to a “long term working relationship.” The payment, they stated, would be to trade services where they would either give advertisement in the form of a web video or Search Engine Optimization services, and these packages would be worth $795 to $1,295 to the photographer if they had to buy them! Advertising is a strange beast. You could pour hundreds or thousands of dollars into advertisement and only get moderate success and then you could shoot a family reunion, pass out business cards and next thing you know you have three months worth of clients bringing in enough money to cover that planned Disney Cruise.
Why do potential clients always feel they can cut down or completely eliminate payment to a photographer? As payment for a wedding, I was once offered “bring your family, and we’ll cover their meal.” Really? Seriously???
I am not saying that trading and bartering are not useful business tools, in some circumstances, and advertising is a necessary business practice, but I think first and foremost the offer to any professional should be an actual payment.
My wonderful and talented daughter was in an acting workshop, a couple years back. I attended, shot some pictures, and passed my business card onto the director. She said “Hey, you can shoot everybody’s headshot for free and if they really like the pictures then maybe they’ll book a full session!” So I was supposed to be naive enough to enhance her business model by giving her students free headshots and then sit back and wait for work to hopefully come my way? Really? Seriously???
To put it bluntly, I find it highly insulting and professionally disrespectful when a potential client feels that they can dictate the terms of the working relationship. The same way a person walks into a mechanic shop or picks up the phone and calls an electrician or a plumber, and would not even dream of playing any creative payment deals, they should approach a photographer the same way. Yes I know photographers who will shoot a wedding for $300 and a plate of food and I have one friend who shoots bands for a $50 bar tab, but I am not talking about the weekend optical warriors.
Please, do not get me wrong; I am not saying that simply taking a payment makes anyone a professional nor am I saying doing photography work free means you’re a bad photographer. It just seems that few people view the day in day out general photographer as a real and true business. Some people think that unless you are photographing $3,000 dresses in some fashion capital or shooting fast moving cars on some foreign race track, you’re not a real photographer. I feel that any person who takes up the art and business of photography, learns the craft, buys thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of equipment, and puts themselves out as a professional, either part-time or full-time, should be treated as such. Whether you are photographing babies, the high school football game or real estate, a potential client should have one question about your work: So, what are your costs?
I have spent over 9 years working for Walt Disney World as a photographer, a photographer trainer and also in the quality assurance the department. There’s one thing I have learned from The Mouse; while it is a good practice to make a person happy, that person should always understand there is a price attached to service and that any changes or negotiations are at the sole discretion of the service provider.
My photography mentor recently told me to set my prices, stick to them and be prepared to watch quite a few people walk away. However, in the long run I will be happy because I will end up with clients that are willing, able and understanding enough to pay for my services.
Yes, I still love photography with all my heart. As for the unreasonable payment offers, I simply and politely decline, and watched the surprised look cross their face. I guess they’re thinking: Really? Seriously???