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November 22, 2007

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brant Richards

No names, no pack drill, but I hear you. Word.

Juan

Did you ask him to use the interview?

Because reading the bio of this guy, it's gonna end in a lawsuit.

All the best

Niels

Hi Seb,

Nice rant :-)

Interesting subject. You told me the added value of a professional photographer over an amateur is the ability to consistently deliver high quality work, or, in other words, the guarantee to get the job done.

An interesting comparison springs to mind. I work in open source software development, a field which is (allegedly) full of "well willing amateurs". In this world too, professionals provide guarantees (to deliver a product on time, to fix a bug, to offer support, etc.). It is very possible to maintain a healthy business based on this principal. From the customers' perspective the useful amateur work is a nice bonus, but it cannot be built upon and they are happy to pay professionals in exchange for a guarantee to get the job done (or, someone they can blame if things go wrong ;-).

Surely software and photographs cannot be compared at all, but don't you think there will always be a demand for professionals and high quality? Just like open source software a lot of photographs are readily available (for "free") but hardly ever will they suit exactly the customer's needs.

Anyway, the world is changing, and just like MP3 music, "free" amateur photos are not going away anymore, so I guess photographers need to find new ways to distinguish themselves rather than rely on an (unnatural?) scarcity on the market. I am sure with the quality of your work that will not be a problem for you.

Otherwise you can always become a full time teacher, which you also do very well! ;-)

Cheers

Niels

Seb Rogers

Juan,

It did occur to me, but I guess he'd have to sue all the other bloggers (there's, er, one or two) who've linked to the clip. I suppose it's a risk I'll have to take. And need I point out the huge irony of Harlan sueing a bunch of people who agree wholeheartedly with his point and who are helping to bring the issue to a wider audience...?

Oh yeah... Americans don't do irony. Especially not litigious ones ;-)

Niels,

Thanks for the vote of confidence! I guess my point is that I don't have any problem with confidence in my own ability, just that the market is being eroded through a combination of ignorance (on one side) and wilful exploitation (on the other).

So long as there are clients happy to pay for a professional job, with all that that implies, I'm fine. But the signs are that price, expediency and choice are overriding factors like quality and reliability when clients make decisions about where to source their photography. I'm just asking readers of my blog to do their best not to make the situation any worse than it already is :)

And yes, I do feel very like King Canute... ;-)

Niels

The point of my comment is that some people see the guarantee of quality and timely delivery (and the willingness to take blame) as their product rather than their actual creations, and make the latter available under an open source or creative commons license. That's not ignorance, it's just a different business model.

In case of software this model works, I know because I live from it. I wonder if a photographer could though, or he/she would have to find a way to introduce long term support on photographs...

Anyway, back to work now, or the customers may think they are dealing with an amateur! ;-)

Seb Rogers

I see your point, Niels, but I also think you've hit the nail on the head: the crucial difference between the software and photographic models is that the former has long-term support element (for which you can charge) and the latter doesn't. At a fundamental level it doesn't matter too much whether photographers see their charges as relating to their time, their expertise, or a license to reproduce; the key point is that commercially viable photography has a monetary value.

So I rest my case: giving photography away for free is partly attributable to ignorance about the way in which intellectual property rights work. You'd have thought that the widely-publicised brouhaha surrounding file sharing might've increased awareness somewhat, but apparently not.

There are still clients who appreciate the value of professional photography: the best possible quality images shot to a tight brief within a limited time frame under whatever conditions happen to prevail at the time... and the ability to deliver that every time, consistently.

The trouble is that there are also increasing numbers of _potential_ clients who have discovered that they don't always have to pay for photography. And the market is allowing that to happen, because photographers are rolling over and giving stuff away for nothing because they like having their tummies tickled. Metaphorically, of course ;-)

I can't change the way the world is, but I don't have to like it... and I can suggest ways in which I think individuals can help to make it a better place :)

David

I am trying to become known as a sports photographer.

It is certainly difficult and somewhat of a catch 22 situation insofar as one requires access ( to a game ) but cannot get that without accreditation. When I started I approached a local newspaper and worked with them. I supplied photos for free as they were “teaching” me. I learnt a lot, and my photography improved as a consequence.

I then moved. I managed to blag access to the local football ground, but the slightly large football ground didn’t get back to me with regard to a press pass. Afterall, why should they? The new local newspaper wanted the photos for free, but I held my nerve. Eventually I got a photo the sports editor really liked; he even used it over the staffer they had at the game. So far I have sold a few photos to them.

There is a local sports magazine that wants me to shoot stuff. They can’t* pay but I’ll get a byline. ( * I was recently taught that every business plan will have a budget for photography, so to if a business truly can’t pay they clearly have a very bad business plan. ) The same magazine has a competition, I hadn’t thought about the image rights.

Whilst equipment counts for very little, a “pro” can get the photo with virtually any camera, a pro-level dSLR will enable an amateur to get lucky. The pro is consistent. Most publishers will know this, but will still chance their luck trying to get an image for free from the lucky amateur.

The other problem… Whilst I want paying for photos, I want much less than a full-time photographer. Afterall, all I need to cover are my direct costs.

Seb Rogers

Hi David,

I think that's a very honest and accurate appraisal of the current situation, and a perfect illustration of the fact that photography as a viable profession is dying on its feet.

Photography buyers are partly to blame for demanding too much for too little, but they are, after all, just trying to run a business. And there's the rub. In contrast, photographers as a group are hopeless (I really can't emphasise that point enough: HOPELESS) at running their affairs as though they were a business. Which they are. Or should be.

A pro needs to not just cover their immediate costs, but all their other overheads (car, office, heating, lighting, stationery, postage, phone bill, internet connection etc.), pay tax, put some money aside from profits to replace cameras / lenses / computers / cars as necessary... and then, if there's anything left over, pay themselves a salary and even - gasp! - put some money aside in a pension or savings scheme for a rainy day. Oh, and don't forget there's no sick or holiday pay either.

Please don't take this as being in any way a personal attack - it isn't :) I'm just trying to explain why this is a subject that gets me so agitated. To some extent it's simply market forces at work - there's an over-supply of photographers and an under-supply of clients (or at least, clients willing to pay a decent rate).

But I also think photographers - and I make no distinction here between pro and amateur - are their own worst enemies. If we want to earn decent rates, we need to place a realistic value on our work.

It won't happen - but hey, I can dream!

In the meantime, good luck with the sports photography. Just make sure you charge a fair rate - by which I mean a rate that's fair to you :)

derek

amen brother

Chris Ratcliff

Not wishing to be difficult here, but what I've noticed recently, especially with the rise of digital SLRs, is the number of talented younger photographers. These are people who want to become working pros and have the talent and dedication to do so. They still need money - for all the reasons you said - but are willing to go with the first number an art ed throws at them.

As a man with more overheads, but a bigger reputation and body of work, how do you approach that? Keep doing the best job you can and hope that your reputation and talent keep getting you booked? Try and adapt your style to fit an emerging trend or look? Even target outlets and clients who are willing to pay for a proven hand rather than a cheap unknown?

Seb Rogers

Hi Chris,

Well, exactly. There are loads of talented guys out there producing excellent work - but you know what? Earning a living doing it... that's a whole 'nother thing. And that's where it's all starting to come apart at the seams.

It's a buyers' market, because there's massive over-supply - photographs have become commodities. But in a situation like that, if you want to survive (let alone thrive), you've got to really sweat the business side. It's not just about money, it's increasingly about rights. Clients want more of them, for the same amount or less then they were paying before. And there are too many photographers - whether through ignorance or desperation - willing to roll over and play nice in this situation. It's not sustainable.

You'll have to forgive me if I seem a little exasperated about this, because I can see a situation in the not-too-distant future where photography becomes largely the preserve of rich kids and wealthy amateurs.

So, to answer your questions, I fight my corner by making sure I produce work that's better, or at least equal to, the best of the competition. I stay on top of equipment trends as best I can, if I think it'll give me an advantage (doesn't matter how small). I pay my bills and don't pay for gear on credit. And yes, I definitely favour clients who are willing to pay for my experience (although it sometimes seems they're a dying breed).

There's no future in being a bottom-feeder, because there'll always be someone who undercuts you. My advice to anyone starting out is to charge what you're worth. Don't know what that is? Ask someone whose work you admire what they charge - and then aim to get as close as you can to that price. I have no problem competing with photographers who are charging close to my rates... but I have a real problem trying to earn a living against guys who've been around for five minutes, charge a fraction of what they should be charging and give all rights away into the bargain. Reality check: you'll never earn a living that way. And very soon, neither will I.

And... breathe...

:)

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