The cost of equipment rises daily and at the same alarming rate, our profession is devalued

I’ve been a professional photographer for almost 21 years; it’s a job which I love and an industry which I fell in love with instantly. Photojournalism has always been my passion; never well paid but satisfying morally with an income that would help one get by.

In all this time, I have never seen a photograph be as devalued as it is now. Most companies believe it is a right for them to steal pictures and use them for free. They even set up dodgy ‘rights grab’ competitions which thousands enter into, signing away their copyright or at best giving away rights of usage to the organisers. Young freelance photographers straight out of college easily sign away their copyrights to the papers, being made to believe that is the norm.

The companies who do want to pay, make up fictitious small budgets as a way to say that they cannot afford to pay more than a certain amount and try to bully the photographer into submission. The same people would never dream of trying that on in a shop, but for some reason, photographers are fair game.

My thoughts are that we need to stick to our principles; pictures have a value; our copyright and the rights to our images need to be cherished. Have your rate card and stick to it. Turn away a client who is trying to take advantage. If we don’t do this, our work will continue to loose value and the equipment which now days cost twice what it did a few weeks ago will be well and truly out of our reach. Even worst and most importantly, the power and respect that a photograph has will be lost.

This short video makes the point very nicely; thanks to Keith Meatheringham for bringing to my attention. Definitely worth watching:

46 responses to “Value

  1. Bring back Magnum!

  2. Excellent article !! I couldn’t agree with you more.

  3. I also agree but whilst many people are offering ‘cheap’ they are keeping it devalued. The sad thing is as you say no one now seems to respect the quality image , the one thing I hear so often ‘I love your work’ and in the next sentance after telling them the cost ‘oh, its too expensive so and so does it for £80’! Im out closing down after many enjoyable years, I hope things level out I really do and that something is eventually done about it.

  4. LOl. So true I had a business beg me to enter a competition and expect me to indemnify them should they use my photo. When I said no thanks I do not wish to be exploited they ranted trying to tell me about free exposure and how sharing drives business.

  5. Its sad but oh too true. I – like everyone else – am always trying to educate my customers. They just cannot comprehend that you turn up with £30k worth of kit that produce the images they so desire yet are desperate to pay less for!! A difficult conundrum indeed.

    • There definitely is an element of educating clients and helping them understand the value of good work and how much time, money and effort is wasted on hiring a photographer because they are cheap.

  6. All so true, the way forward is stick to your guns and market yourself to clients you want to work for. For the last year I have refused any work for less than my half day rate. So even a 10 min job costs the same as a half day. I then do my best to educate the client and let them know what is realistic and whats not. This means I avoid jobs that are a waste of time or not financially viable.

    I’m also a member of pro imaging where I get lots of support and advice from other pros for £30 a year

  7. Yes we definately need to stick to our guns.

    I quoted for a job in Leeds the other week, it was for a charity who wanted 3 hours photography in the evening doing. I told them what my rate was and they came back saying they had been quoted a lot less by another photographer. I explained that I couldn’t match their price.

    When I found out it was a staff photographer for a large regional newspaper who had quoted them, I explained to them that the photographer was only charging such a low price because they already take home a good wage, and anything on top, to them, is a bonus.

    They probably don’t have to fork out for expensive camera and computer equipment as it is probably all provided for them by their paper, along with all the software needed, not to mention the insurance etc. They will probably drive a company car too and don’t have to make a living out of freelancing like we do.

    Thankfully the client totally understood, but still had to go with the lower quote.

    If these staffers are going to moonlight and take work from us, at least they could have the decency not do it on the cheap, if they ever have to go freelance themselves, it wouldn’t take them long to realise that they can’t afford to sell themselves cheap.

    • Good points Keith – Staffers, part-timers, enthusiasts – same rule applies to all; please don’t undervalue your photography. If it’s good enough to be used, it good enough to be paid for in full.

      • I’m an enthusiast (with a nice 7D) giving all my photos away for free. You probably don’t look too favourably on my point of view.

        At ice hockey events (my personal niche) I see the pro’s get all the good spots, but not turning out great photos (in my self-educated opinion).
        I get to shoot from a fan’s point of view and have had my photos used in prominent websites, programs etc.

        I have no idea how I would make money from my photos. I see no-one who would be willing to pay for them.

        Maybe there is a need to educate those who are creeping into DSLRs about the financial side, but that could also just create more competition for yourselves!

        I don’t think I’ll be leaving a well paid desk job to be a photographer.

      • Hopefully articles such as this will help educate. No quality goods are free in this world; everything has a cost and a value and photography, especially good photography is no exception.
        I do hope that you’re charging for your pictures being used by these websites and the publishers of the programs; as I’ve said before, if it’s good enough to be published, it’s good enough to be paid for.
        One thing to take into account (this isn’t aimed at you solely) is that no one would appreciate someone coming into their circle of work and offering their services for free. This is what’s happening in photography. The issue isn’t that as a pro I don’t want this competition; I welcome it – it keeps me on my toes and if my pictures aren’t good enough, then I need to improve. The point though is that enthusiasts shouldn’t give away images for free – charge for them, they are worth that.

  8. Dave, thanks for your comments.

    What did annoy me though is your statement…

    Re: “I don’t think I’ll be leaving a well paid desk job to be a photographer”.

    But, you don’t mind giving your images away free, which prevents other professional photographers from making their living from those same publications you are giving the pictures too for nothing! This is exactly the problem we have. In making this statement you obviously sound like you udnerstand that there is not a lot of money to be made in this field, and so please don’t help to devalue this already weakening market more by giving free photos away.

    If your pictures are that good, as Edmond says you should be selling them for the right price and not giving them away, then you won’t help to create this ”other photographers we know give their images away free, why don’t you’? mentality amoung publication editors.

    The point is, like Edmond says we don’t mind more competition as long as our competition is charging the right price, and doesn’t force down the ‘Value’ of editorial photography any more.

  9. Dave,

    On another note. Would you mind sending me your pictures straight after every event from now on so I can syndicate them all over the world for you, and make money from your pictures. I won’t be able to pay you – But I will try and give you a byline, if they are used?


    • Keith,

      Firstly, appologies if my post had annoyed you, I was trying to put forward the point of view of the enthusiast, not merely aggitate.

      My ‘trade’ is software. Linux, portableapps and free iPhone apps are all part of the landscape I deal with. Tools are expensive and ever-changing. Not a million miles away.

      If I saw an opportunity to sell my photos I would, no-one skips on an offer of free money! Should I put my camera away until then?

      On reflection, I may also be biased by my situation. You can’t get a model-release form from a sportsman and the clubs hold all the commercial rights to the logos etc. Ice hockey is a real niche too, where people pay-to-play. It could be the photos I take are ‘unsellable’.

      Again, appologies if you feel the need to unload here.

      • Keith has some valid points, although perhaps a little too passionate in the way he has written them! Kindly tone it down a notch or two Keith.

        Dave, the point isn’t that you shouldn’t enjoy your photography; you absolutely should and no one should stop you taking pictures. You are absolutely right that with any professional sport, there are a bunch of contracts and so on. However (certainly in the UK) you don’t need a model release for editorial use; you only need it for advertising use. This means that you can sell you pictures to newspapers, news magazines and websites to use in their news sections.

  10. Apologies for getting a little carried away. I didn’t mean to sound too critical or rude, it’s not really my nature. Slap on the hand accepted Edmond, LOL.

    Edmond is totally right Dave, don’t stop taking pictures, but learn to value your work more! I take your points about contracts, these are a nightmare. The amount of attempted rights grabs that are being produced now is very scary. Always read the small print.


    Royalty free image sites are also a major problem now.

    • As an enthusiast, I sometimes ask “how can I sell this?” which quickly leads to sites like GettyImages which cover several contractual bits I don’t understand well enough (like the model release thing) and I forget it and stick to Flickr.

      But you say I can contact newspapers etc with them without that overhead. Okay, I consider myself educated, thanks. I’ll look into that further.

  11. Hi Dave,

    A good online resource is the NUJ freelance fees guide

    This will give you a ball park figure of their worth.

    On flikr also make sure you never ever make your images royalty free!

    When Clients often question my rates, i quote how much it would cost them to hire all my kit from Fixation and then let them remind them they are getting an experienced professional operator thron into the bargain.

    Recently an existing client questioned my rates, half jokingly i told him i’d send my 15 year old brother back in who’d done work experience there the summer before!

  12. Falling rates, more expected for less, right grabbing competitions, all a dark side to photography, and one that college’s up and down the country seem to be neglecting to educate students about and arming them with the right way to tackle it! I know when I graduated non of the above had been mentioned! In the three years at college we had one day covering the basics of pricing, but from an advertising point of view.

    Editorially, I have been attempting to forge my own way, most likely getting it very wrong along the way, as support and guidance has been hard to find. You step out of the protected world of college in to a dog eat dog environment, sometimes its hard to know where to turn.

    I do try to use the London Freelance guide, and also Photoshelter’s built in pricing software, but then I have no idea how this reflects to how other people are charging.

    We need to stick together, form some form of coalition and ease the new blood in to the market place, with the right skills and knowledge in place to protect the industry for the future.

  13. I’m an amateur and although I think some of my work might sell, I don’t have the enthusiasm for trying to sell it so haven’t tried too hard to make money from my hobby. However a while back a designer approached me and wanted to use one of my shots as a background for showing off a 3D product render. I was flattered and after much thought and emails between us I let him use it on the basis he added my name and web site link to his site. Thinking back it was the wrong thing to do and I wish I had played hardball with him but I guess that’s me being inexperienced. Should it ever happen again I will handle it better and only allow use after an agreeable payment has been made. Live and learn I guess!

    • Photography is the best hobby by far; well, in my opinion anyway! My thoughts aren’t that photography enthusiasts should look to sell pictures they take or to actively search out markets and so on – this takes away from the beauty of photography as a hobby. It’s simply that if images are going to be offered to outlets that traditionally employ professional photographers, or purchase from professional photographers, that these images are not given away for free (devaluing the photographer, the photographs and the industry), but that they are charged for.

  14. very well put Edmond……….

  15. Hang on a minute Edmond…what are all those Google ads doing under your post advertising low cost folios, low cost portraits and learning photgraphy at home and make a fortune? Isn’t this just what your original post is about. (reply slightly tongue in cheek)

  16. Hang about…the Google ads just vanished.

  17. Well if you didn’t know they were there Edmond Google owe you some cash. I whole heartedly agree with your original post. We do not do this as a hobby, this is our job and I am seeing this more and more. Try and find a plumber who will come and fix your pipes for nothing. How many PR’s do it out of the goodness of their heart.

    • Non! Naturally!! Did you know most PR agencies double the photographer’s fee when they quote to their client? That’s why half the time they try and haggle as they need to get their cut into it. This is a little outrageous on the one hand; on the other hand it’s almost like a finder’s fee I guess.

  18. Edmond, I was not taking the pee about the ad’s. They are really on your blog. I have photographed them for you so email me and I will let you have the pic. It say’s they’re “possibly related posts” automatically generated. As I said, it seemed a bit strange what they were advertising considering the post.

    • How bizarre! As I mentioned, I’ve never had ads on this blog. I did have Google ads on my previous blog on blogger, but never here and strangely I can’t see them having looked at various posts as you suggested. I’ll send you an email so please send me the pics; I am intrigued!!

  19. I see the ads too….ads for £120 headshots…-anyway…..I think the fundamental problem is that digital technology has flooded the market with both photographers and images…. And therefore we have devalued ourselves…I charge just as much for my time and images as I did 10 years ago but I am making a lot less money….I think that any product or service or skill that can be delivered digitally is devalued…music, newspapers, and soon books…we have reached the logjcal conclusion of hte Market…..

    • Antonio, digital technology is definitely the main reason for the state of things. The main problem is that photographers, both professionals and enthusiasts, are adding to the problem by not valuing the work they create. This is an aspect we are in control of. We just need to stand up for our work and be resolute.

      As far as the ads, many thanks for the heads up gents; I had no idea they were there and after some digging it’s an option to turn them off at a cost, which I now have done.

  20. Well said Edmond, I couldn’t agree more, in my view one of the (many) things that threat the industry is that the “young freelance photographers” are really really good these days compared to 10 years ago when an experienced photographer was maybe always preferred. It’s natural that the youngs will maybe accept less in order to publish and start a career, who wouldn’t when is 25 and is hungry for success? but on the long term they are just shooting their own foot.
    Articles like yours are very important to create awareness of this.
    Kind regards.

    • Mario, many thanks for your words. The operative part of your last sentence is that we are shooting ourselves in the foot by giving away our rights and work. My thoughts are that we need to think long term and not for the quick buck; which isn’t even the full buck!

  21. Check this out….

    A ling from Tim Gander. Very good, but very true.

  22. Brilliant and very original way of getting the point across by adding the video.

  23. Interesting debate going on here and interesting points in the post. Nothing new, just a fresh report. I’m afraid though that the client only willing to pay £50 to the part-time craigslist shooter was NEVER going to commission you for your £500 day rate, NEVER. I know a good number of Wedding photographers who moan about this all the time, “erg all these weekend enthusiasts offering to shoot weddings for £150 with all the images on a disc, stealing food off my table, no overheads cheap equipment . . . .” blah blah blah. Sure times are hard but seriously clients only willing to pay bottom dollar, are only willing to pay bottom dollar. Educating clients about the value of photography is well and good, but that doesn’t alter the budget they have.
    If you feel threatened by the enthusiast giving their work away then you need to take a hard look at yourself in the mirror and figure out what you are going to do about it. Moaning to your peers isn’t the answer. Try figuring out how to make yourself a better photographer/business person than the “man with a camera”.
    The industry is changing, copyright is changing, how images are used and shared is changing. You need to adapt to survive not the other way around, these are interesting and exciting times we are in, more photographs than ever before are being used and shared.
    Again, sure people have had to stop trading / get another job etc. and that really is sad but that is true across all sector of industry at the moment, did Rover go under because of competitors cheaper vehicles while BMW got stronger? Did Woolworths go under because of the internet while poundstretcher went from strength to strength?
    I don’t believe we should just give our images away either, we just need to move on from the dark ages. Embrace the future and go with it, don’t hate the new guys, we were all there once (10 years ago in my case too) a rising tide raises all boats remember. Or just stay in the past in your darkened studios moaning about the good ol’ days, whichever, I’m not really bothered it’s your business.

    • I agree with your comments; someone who wants to pay £100 for a job isn’t going to commission the £1000 photographer; however, I have had instances where clients have pretended not to have budgets and spend days haggling – when I’ve put my foot down, magically, money is made available. It’s naturally not a case of trying to get every penny possible but the fact that my craft is worth a certain amount, and I should be paid accordingly. This is the same for all concerned.
      You are absolutely right that sitting in a corner isn’t going to do anything; photographers need to be proactive. However, things like copyright need to be cherished; it’s the law and our right. Giving in to bullying damages out own futures.
      One of my other main points is that pictures just should not be given away; if they suit a publisher of any sort, then they are worth charging for. The £150 wedding couple may not have any visual literacy and therefor that level of photography may well suit.

  24. Pingback: Stand Firm | Photo This & That

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