Are There Any Other Free Professions?

Naturally, Apart From Photography!

Please stop killing our industry. Photographers pose in the dock at Bow Street Magistrates Court, on the day it closed. Photo: Shaun Curry

I have no idea why, but there seems to be an idea that photographs should have no value and be free. This attitude is from both in front and surprisingly, behind the camera. News organisations, PR companies, random strangers at events and so on think that they should get photographs for free, or in best case scenarios, for peanuts. I’ve often wondered if the same person ever tries the same tactic at a clothes shop or a car showroom?

Part of it is that most people have a camera of some sort or another, and feel they can take photographs and therefor photographers shouldn’t charge. I would hazard a guess that even more people can read and write; do these people go into a bookshop and demand free books or go to the newsagent and demand free papers and magazines?

Part of the reason that these image thieves get away with getting photographs for free though is that photography enthusiasts and citizen journalists, some of which are extremely talented, agree to giving away their work for free. It’s the thrill of seeing something in print and maybe even having a credit. It’s the thrill of talking about it at the pub and so on. I can understand the thrill; I’ve been a full time photographer for over 20 years now and every publication still gives me a thrill. However, food for thought might be how would the same individual giving away images for free feel if someone shared their profession, but as a hobby? If someone interested in accounting turned up with a shiny new calculator and a laptop with a spreadsheet and parked themselves outside an accountants’ office and started doing accounts for free, I’m sure those folks inside that office wouldn’t take too kindly. Use exactly this scenario and apply it to any job; van driver, postman, lawyer and so on. It wouldn’t be tolerated and no one would dream of doing it either.

Another point to realise from the enthusiast photographer’s point of view is that if your images are good enough to be published, then they are definitely good enough to be paid for. Simple. Do not give away work for free. By doing this, you are cutting into someone’s income and at the same time devaluing your own worth and the worth of your passion.

32 responses to “Are There Any Other Free Professions?

  1. I agree whole hearty with you, as a wedding photography I find people are quit happy to paid for your service and albums, but want a DVD of the images you have taken for free, and are reluctant to pay for prints. Today almost everybody has a camera that can take good quality images, and I am sure they think it’s easy to take pictures, so why should they pay you. I sell a very small number of prints I am sure for this reason.

  2. Well stated Edmond …. and I am going to forward this to a mate/photographer who, whilst insisting upon the top-rates for news pics, flogs his headshots at a ‘below the par’ rate 😮

  3. Of course I agree with your point, but with one caveat: In my experience the “random strangers at events” are either (a) people who are *in* my photographs and are therefore helping me earn an income, or (b) people who voluntarily run community web sites that serve a valuable purpose but have no budget to buy content. I am always happy to supply free photos to these people, and would encourage other photographers to do likewise. This will not harm our industry, as far as I can tell, and may even imprvoe the sometimes negative image that people have of professional photographers.

    No free photos to companies and news outlets of course. If the intended use of the photo is for-profit then I accept cash, cheque or direct funds transfer, thank you 🙂

  4. Totally agree with you Edmond! Though I’m not a pro photog (meaning I don’t earn my living with photography), I’m not okay for doing things for peanuts or for free.
    I may decide, in some special occasion, to give some work for free, but it comes from me and not under the pressure of printing or credit rewarding, I think it’s completly different!

  5. We are a highly skilled profession, and so we will remain. No matter what, high quality and talent will always be appreciated over crap…

  6. Interesting post, not a new argument but well stated, professional photography seems to be in a downward spiral, the business suffers from over supply so its a buyers market, but I agree that when the buyers don’t want to buy but expect something they can profit from without payment its a very sad state of affairs.

    I’ve personally believe good professional photography still often wins the day, but has been damaged in the process, I find I do more for less these days!

  7. I agree.. and another example can be found on a web site for showbiz wannabees that I subscribe to: they also put out “casting calls” for photographers and crew. There are some very tempting assignments but I just don’t bother now as “no pay” gigs seems to be the rule rather than the exception. How does a “10 hour day photographing [whatever] and please bring your own lighting/backdrop” with a reward of “improving your portfolio” sound? Yeah, thought so..

  8. You’re accountant/lawyer points are ridiculous, you can’t just start doing them (from a skills point, and legal). It takes years of training, and there is no possibility for new people to just come straight in. Whilst most pro photogs are very good, you can’t argue that there isn’t a lot of budding talent and if you want to stay competitive, you just have to up your game.

    It’s a dog eat dog world, good luck

    • Andrew,
      Naturally the examples used were to make a point; the principle is the same. Yes, naturally one would need to be qualified and so on.
      There is budding talent for sure, and by doing workshops and writing this blog, I’d like to help and encourage this talent. I also get scores of emails from students and so on which I always answer. My point is, that working for free, is not on. If the pictures good enough to print, it’s good enough to be paid for. Part of the problem is also the budding talent signing contracts which give away their copyright as a freelancer – this again is damaging the industry and their bank balance long term.

  9. Peter Jordan T.O.O.P.J

    Just out of interest, how much was Shaun Curry paid for the Bow Street Courts picture used here ?

  10. Your readers might enjoy an interesting article on New Business Models for the Digital Economy by David Campbell here:

    http://www.david-campbell.org/2010/05/13/thinking-freely/

    and my response to a similar post on free here :

    http://rising.blackstar.com/new-photography-business-models.html

    Cheers, j

  11. i whole heartedly agree, but there will alays be a place for unique images, the average joe usually has basic gear, which is pretty good, but as pro’s we need the gear that makes us unique or that can give a unique perspective, many say its just the photographers eye, but and a big but lets say for example the perspective from a 200mm f2 to a 24-70 is very different and can give this unique look, this example is basic but this kit is out of reach of most average joes, same with light as pro’s we should no how to use it to best effect which again makes us stand out, we should not stand still and worry but evolve and learn more ,

    just my two peneth worth……

    • Karl,
      All I’ll add though is that unfortunately more and more publications are run by accountants; quality images, unique perspectives and so on are no longer becoming important factors in decision making. An accountant will generally see a picture as a picture – i.e. it fills a hole. The days of proper picture editors, with power is disappearing fast and in some publications disappeared a while ago.

  12. The fundamental problem with photography is that it is a profession where you can easilly suceed without any formal qualifications and is a common hobby.

    Most other professions have entrance qualifications in the form of examinations or membership to accreditation bodies – there are plenty of DIY plumbers and electricians out there but who would use them to change their central heating system or rewire their house!

    • Matt,
      Naturally I’m all for successful photographers. My main worry is succeeding by working for free is not a success. It ruins photographers incomes and also devalues the work done by the enthusiast. Also, it’s not a sustainable model – a time will come when the enthusiast wants to charge, perhaps to buy more kit or go on training courses, but by this point it’s too late. The client is used to getting free images from them and will never pay. At this point, they will pick the next person who gives away pictures for free in exchange for the thrill.

  13. Nicely done, Sire! Now, if only the culprits actually read this and actually did the right thing….

  14. I would like to make a point about Andrew’s post where he implies that being a professional photographer is a simple as picking up a camera, no training involved. I remember when I first started on the long road to becoming a professional photographer – remember Canon F1’s- I was stringing in Central America in the 1980’s and was taken under the wing by some older, more experienced snappers. I was told that to call yourself a professional photographer means a minimum of ten years on the job. I didn’t believe it at the time, but now I see it as a must. Photography isn’t just about taking pictures, any ‘citizen journalist’ can do that. Photography is about understanding the environment you are in, about the bigger world around you. It is about getting to the heart of a matter, in a way that the written word often fails to do. Being a pro means being quick of mind and quicker on the finger. To size up a situation in a second or two and automatically understand focal lengths, f-stops and shutter speeds. It goes beyond the simpleness of the automatic mode on the latest digital camera. Being a pro, to me at least, is something I have very little control over. Yes the market is being hammered at the moment and yes making a living is becoming more and more difficult, but for those of us who carry that gear around with us 24/7 it’s about creating the pictures that count. I’m sorry but I believe that Joe Public has a long way to go before he can join the ranks of those who eat, breathe and sleep this stuff. That’s all I want to say…

  15. Welcome to the music business 🙂

  16. I agree with some of the earlier posts – this is a simple case of economics and adding value. If the market requires a simple shot that can be taken by anybody with simple kit and little experience where the value added is low so payment will be low, or nothing – that’s the Darwinian world we live in.

    The pro photographer world has to keep up with the times. I’m afraid to say no one owes them a living. They have to develop a niche which requires the expensive kit and the years of experience that differentiates them from the amateur snapper.

    The worth of the profession is determined by the value you add not just by applying false restrictive practices or artificial economics. I’m sorry to say but you need to look to the future and not cling on to the past – that’s what the rest of us have to do.

    • Russel, I totally agree with looking to the future and as much as we may love aspects of it, leaving the past behind.
      However, my points and the reality is that good pro photographers are loosing money as good amateur photographers are happy to supply images for free. This work may not be as good but the accountants and penny pinchers who run publications now days see a rectangular photograph that will fill a hole as opposed to an image which enhances, enriches and tells a story, elevating that publication. Certainly no one owes the pro photographers a thing, but if you are given a VW Polo for free, you may not go and pay for a VW Golf.

      • I’m afraid I agree with Russell. Noone owes anyone a living. Ultimately the consumer rules – if they do not demand quality photos, the media won’t demand them from photographers either.

        Part of the give-it-to-me attitude might stem from the knowledge of a photographer’s costs – your expenses are:- living without a 9-5 job, buying the kit, getting to the location, etc. All of which are substantial and need to be covered eventually, but they are ‘fixed’, so once you are there each photo taken has no additional cost (electricity?!). And each time you sell or give away a copy there is little or no extra cost (there may be print costs, or the ‘opportunity cost’ of a lost sale). People know it doesn’t cost you anything, so if its ‘just them’ it won’t impact on you covering your costs.

        You say other professions wouldn’t stand for it, but I think there are many examples:
        many pubs, Post Offices, local shops, are run by ‘enthusiasts’, at a loss;
        the price we pay for some food eg milk is so low that farmers make a loss on each litre sold;
        a large number of web sites cannot find a way to make money because if they charge, someone will come along and do it for free;
        full-time artists and craftspeople have to compete with part-time amateurs;
        doctors hate going to parties because they know people will be asking about rashes and symptoms.
        Using your example, if a retired/qualified accountant decided to work for free, he would be unpopular with his ex-colleagues, but would get a lot of work.
        It comes down to too many people chasing too little money. And you can’t buck the market.
        Of course an interesting point arises if so many people are doing things for free that overall unemployment rises, leaving us all poorer (and more people with more spare time to do things for free!)

        The music industry has struggled for years to persuade people that music cannot survive without the ‘industry’. One day they might be successful but at the moment we have to assume that neither persuasion/education nor force (piracy laws) works. So they, and photographers, have to adjust to the new market. Maybe if most ‘news’ photos can be done by amateurs, leave it to them. Stick to markets where there is still profit margin. If those markets are fewer/small, only the best photographers will survive.

        I don’t want to restart an old argument that I’m fairly sure you will disagree with, but I see PA named one of your photos a ‘picture of the decade’. IMO as a viewer, a photo like that is mostly about the person in the photo, rather than the photographer who took it. In your photo, that was a person who was ‘vulnerable’, having experienced shock and possible injury. As I understand it they would not get any say in how those photos are used, or get an initial/recurring fee. *If* that is the case, there is a parallel in photographers ‘taking advantage of’ them, and amateur photographers taking advantage of a market that used to be the sole preserve of the pro.

      • Some interesting points David; really enjoyed reading your comments.
        You are right and the consumer does ultimately rule; if the media dumbs them down, then all we can expect is where society is heading towards.
        The huge part you didn’t mention about the photographers’ cost is that apart from the equipment and so on, the main and more important part is the skill set involved; not just making the picture, but going about it the right way, with ethics, integrity and respect.
        One thing that all the posts on this topic have done though is to open my eyes a bit to other industries that are also effected; points well made and taken on board. However, I feel my thoughts and fears are still very much justified and for some reason photography is seen in a bizarre way as something which should be asked for free.
        The downward spiral you mention is indeed worrying; unemployment leading to spare time to working for free; hmmm!
        As you guessed, I do disagree 100% with your comment regarding my image from the London tube bombings. It is a news photographers responsibility, a responsibility which I take very seriously to document such things; not just for tomorrow’s papers, next week’s magazines and next year’s books, but for historical purposes as well. It is difficult when faced with these horrible situations (not as bad as those caught in it, but for any journalist with feelings, one that effects us. Don’t forget, many of my colleagues face traumatic situation after traumatic situation. Never for the money, but for the importance placed in the job), but in my case, I am there with a purpose and a huge responsibility. To make things clearer, although we didn’t speak, we did make eye contact and I bowed my head to him as a sign of my thanks and respect as he walked past me at the cordon. Lastly, to clear up a misconception, I got paid a low day rate for being on the PA diary that day; there has never once been a reoccurring fee for me either.
        I did not take advantage of the gentleman but he helped to tell a story to the world about the horror that was faced in the tunnels below.

  17. Edmond, The difference is that you can’t make and build a car in your garage at home, so the example is not really comparable. How many of us would deliberately go out of our way to pay more for a flight to keep BA in business when EasyJet are charging £1 for example? Not many I suspect.

    The simple answer is that good pro photographers are only good if they are better than an untrained amateur – otherwise all they are is a good amateur themselves. They need to develop a skill and sell to a publication that requires the value and benefit of that skill – that may not be your average daily paper which just wants a simple picture. Perhaps the pro photographers should do the marketing / create the niche where quality pictures and photojournalism will be paid for at a premium.

    • Russel, part of the problem is that the people making decisions on visual content are not visually literate nor trained. I’m not saying all publications are like this and marketing can work in some but not all parts of the industry as a whole. These untrained penny pinchers are now offered so much free stuff, that it keeps them happy.
      All I want is for enthusiasts to realise that their images, if good enough for publication are good enough to be paid for.

  18. It seems to me that the problem of people without ‘proper qualification’ but some skills doing the work of others who are fully trained and/or very experienced in their job – and have invested a lot of time, effort and money into getting there -, has also soemthing to do with the general shift away from one career forever to the ‘multi-skilled’ workforce.

    One example, without mentioning names, is one of the big remaining manufacturers in the UK who are introducing a scheme to cross-train permanent staff so they can fill positions at sites with production spikes when the load at their own site is low. The catch is that they only get the absolutely essential skills to get by at the other workplace(s).

    If this is the official policy of big companies, how much more tempting must it be for people who want to try out something new on the side? If you have a mainstay money-earner and try to turn a hobby into a job, the principle is good (as interest and some knowledge are there), but for some it may be difficult to realise that now they ARE doing a job, no longer just following a hobby, and should be paid accordingly. I doubt people who have no other income would be able to afford offering anything for free.

    It doesn’t help that so many professions are not protected or registered. The earlier point made about dodgy plumbers or electricians is actually a good one. However, an average or even bad photo probably doesn’t have the same immediate dire consequences as wrongly connected wires, so people don’t perceive the need to vet the person who takes the pictures.

    Life-long learning, as fantastic as the concept is, brings with it the danger of creating jacks of all trades, masters of none. If ‘good enough’ will do, then I’m afraid the standards everywhere will sink. Depends on how low consumers (of images, products, services) allow them to get before they/we say that this is no longer good enough for us.

    • Antje, very well put. Naturally multi-tasking, something which is happening in our industry already with the take-up of video and audio as a means to tell the story, is already happening. The huge issue is that people are happy giving away images for free, or peanuts. They don’t have the overheads or the need to treat photography as a source of income as they already have “proper” day jobs which brings in the money; as you say, how can a full-time photographer compete with that?! My whole point is that images shouldn’t be devalued and should be charged for. I welcome the competition and my workshops and blog will attest to this.
      One little point about the dangers of a photo having dire consequences is that when a news image is sold for peanuts or given to the papers from someone who isn’t a news photographer- chances are that there may be misleading or inaccurate content which hasn’t been checked out; even worst, there are occasions when news photographs are staged and setup. Sometimes for the joy of it, other times for more sinister purposes. Regardless, these images then go on to mislead hundreds of thousands of people. Any good news photographer is a journalist first and a photographer second.

  19. I haven’t figured out a way to reply to your reply, so this will have to be a new comment.

    In my own industry (conference interpreting) I know of at least one agency pairing interpreting students with an experienced interpreter (simultaneous interpreters work at least in pairs, if not 3 per booth), paying the student half the rate of the professional, an overall 25% saving on the cost of the interpreters to the end client or a bigger cut for the agency. Usually, that leads to the experienced interpreter having to do the bulk of the work to prevent a disaster and the agency losing the client. So I am all too aware of what you are talking about.

    What I am trying to say is that people may not have the confidence to charge a competitive rate, being aware that they are the amateurs, competing against pros. Apart from that, in my case to a student half the rate of a pro is a lot of money, and unless the student KNOWS s/he is underselling his/herself, they will be happy to accept this.

    About the point of images having the potential to be misleading: again, I fully agree. However, faulty wiring could endanger lives in a very immediate way, a misleading image… okay, might do that, too, but not necessarily that of the consumer. Hence there appears to be less urgency to verify the quality of an image.

    What can be done about it? That I don’t know.

    • Naturally people need to be confident in their ability and charge accordingly; there’s no point in trying to sell a Fiat for the same price as a Ferrari. My main point is that if a paper or magazine wants to publish a picture, then it’s good enough to be paid for.
      The content of an image should always be verified; whilst it may not lead to immediate danger like dodgy plumbing, images can have extremely powerful outcomes, endangering lives or livelihoods. Naturally I’m talking of extreme cases here.
      All that can be done is for public awareness and understanding. However, the sad thing is that people are selfish. I know of several football club photographers who have had their livelihood completely compromised as photography enthusiasts have taken on the job for free in some cases and in others undercut the full-time photographer so severely that he has had to give up the client – all this because of the thrill of bragging rights and gaining access to ‘free’ games.

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