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October 11, 2007


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Heh I've just had a TV company on trying to get images for a wedding documentary. Thinking flattery will get them everywhere by telling me how amazing my wifes dress was and for a friends wedding I took some photos at.
As I'm firmly entrenched in the amateur status I told them how much I wanted per photo and suprise suprise they have no money to pay for them.
Ah well back to the day job.

Oh yes and that was via Flickr and yes I'll be recording the show to see if they used them anyway.

Seb Rogers

... but of course they have a budget for everything else, from the CEO's salary to the catering people. Photography, however, is free. After all, a.) how hard can it be? and b.) a byline or credit keeps every photographer happy and will have everyone beating a path to their door to, er, blag more images for free.

Good for you for standing up to them. Many people wouldn't have done that.

Graham Stewart

Been reading "The Online Photographer" there Seb?
Today's post on his blog was on a similar topic:

"..people have come to me regularly asking for advice about how to succeed as a photographer."

He suggests that the only way to stand out now is to have a very distinct style.

Would you agree?

Your photos are certainly distinctive (with those slopey horizons that the STW forum dwellers were debating).

Seb Rogers

Hi Graham,

I hadn't seen that, actually. Great minds, and all that :)

I think it's a valid point. The web is awash with competent-but-essentially-dull clones of images we've all seen before, a thousand times. This is the bread-and-butter of microstock, because there are people out there willing to pay a few cents each for images like these. But you have to sell an awful lot of pictures at $25 apiece to earn a living...

But although I agree with Mike up to that point, I don't think style (or lack of it) is the thing that lets down most putative pros. I still think it's largely business sense (er, or lack of it). Sure, you need great pictures, and a distinctive style is one of the things that can set you apart. But unless you can do basic sums (no, really, I'm not kidding) and a bit of marketing, it's just not going to happen.

The other thing to do is to swim against the tide, and try NOT to be another landscape / football / wedding snapper. I'm relatively fortunate to be working in a fairly small niche, which means that I can trade on my specialist knowledge of what, in mass market terms, is a pretty arcane pastime. But it's still very competitive, and I don't think I'd still be doing what I'm doing now if I hadn't developed both a fairly thick skin and a hard-nosed attitude to contracts and pricing.

As for my style, I'd like to think there's a bit more to it than slopey horizons ;-P

Graham Stewart

Well all right then, slopey horizons, pro elbows and frozen water splashes :)

Seb Rogers

Doh! If I'm that easily typecast I'm not sure it qualifies as style, per se ;-P

Mike Osborne

I remember the 'pre-flickr days', then the digi explosion happened now everyone is a photographer, has a flickr account (yes, even me) and some people are quite happy giving away not-very-good photos for free. I find it pretty depressing, I quoted a job for the council here below what I thought was an acceptable price, but not so much as to undercut, but that was still way too much and they wanted full copywrite. I sent them a polite mail back... As for style, I think having your own style helps, but a good buisness head helps more. Look at the ammount of amatures on who take amazing photos, and the 'Pros' who take sub-par photos. They are pro because they can sell themselves as pro. Anyway, I have quit my day job to take landscape photos, so what do I know :-D

Seb Rogers

Hi Mike,

As you've discovered, there are plenty of (potential) clients out there who want the moon on a stick in exchange for thruppence ha'penny. Depressing as it is, the only way to earn a living (and teach them all a lesson - ha!) is to leave them to suffer at the hands of cut-price, barely competent 'photographers' and go and sell your talents to people who will appreciate them enough to pay a reasonable rate. Such people do still exist, you just have to search them out.

As for the copyright issue, demanding all rights is often at least partly down to ignorance on the client's part. It's always worth asking exactly what uses they envisage. A license can be drawn up to cover whatever uses a client needs and can be presented as a workable compromise that suits both parties, whilst (and this is your trump card) keeping the client's costs down. Obviously you don't actually drop the price, you simply point out that acquiring copyright is much, much more expensive (7x the 'base usage rate' appears to be an industry benchmark). It's enough to put most clients off the idea of a copyright buyout and makes you look reasonable and flexible :)

Strictly speaking if you assign copyright you can't even use your own pics in your portfolio. And in some countries it isn't even legally possible to transfer copyright from the creator to a third party. Most clients don't even need to own copyright, they just don't realise it. Hey, I've just thought of a subject for another post... :)

And you're right about the number of 'pros' who peddle sub-par images.There's no direct correlation between creative merit and income derived from photography, particularly now that so many photography buyers are driven solely by price.

Good luck with the landscapes, anyway!

Mike Osborne

Cheers Seb, The main thing I've seen and experianced is that thanks to digital photography, photos as a 'product' seems to be much less valued. Why should someone pay £XXX for an image (should be rights to use the image in a specified context :-p) when they can go out take one themselves? or even as has happend a few times, take one off flickr/google images/t'internet generally, for free, and hope that no-one notices. Unfortunatly it seems if anyone does, then they settle for a pat on the back, its only the minority that kick up a fuss. I'd rather take a few good photos that sell than lots of photos that I have give away for free in exchange for credit lines, or 'exposure'. Well, that's until my camera shop will let be buy a 70-200 F2.8 VR with credit lines.... :-)

Yep, copywrite does sound like a good idea for a post, could be a big one (aulthough it would be good to get more of an idea on UK copywrite, most things on the internet are US based, and I think they have a few subtle differences)

As for landscapes, I don't think Charile Waite has anything to worry about.

Seb Rogers

I'm still astonished at the number of people who think I'll be happy with a byline in lieu of payment. I tried telling the bank that I'd recommend them to all my friends instead of making the interest payments on my mortgage, but strangely they weren't interested.


I'll have a think about the copyright thing...


I'm way off earning a living from photography but it is my eventual aim, I probably need to at least quadruple what I currently get and that will be very hard. To anyone thinking of of trying to make a living from it, it's a lot harder than you think. A full time job actually seems very appealing one you are trying to get work, trying to fill out tax returns and trying to live!

Mike Osborne

I would love to make enough from photography, to pay the bills and live. I guess it all comes down to perseverance, motivation, and good business skills, get all of that and theres no reason why not. Also learning to spell copyRight correctly could help :-)

Seb Rogers

Launching your photographic skills on an unsuspecting market is very much like launching any product: the key to making a success of it is to understand the market before you start. Is there an untapped niche that your images can fill? Go for it! Are you offering broadly the same kind of images and the same sort of service as established photographers? Then it's going to be much harder, because unless the market is growing (hint: it isn't, except possibly at the very bottom end where the returns are pitifully low) you're going to have to grab market share from other photographers in order to survive.

And that's where it gets tough, because it's easy to end up with more and more photographers wanting a slice of the same sized pie. You either end up with a few losers who drop out under price or some other pressure, or everyone ends up with a slice that's too small to earn a living. Ergo, no-one wins. I see signs of this happening in the mountain bike photography market...

Kenneth Koh

Damn! I should have read this article before I quit my job!

Seriously though, I have no illusions about my abilities as a photographer and know that I wouldn't be able to sell my photos without the words that go along with my pictures. I find that 'being there' - somewhere unique, or having a unique story to tell, will go a long way towards having your story and pictures published. Hmm... I just thought of a new article for my blog.

Take care,

Seb Rogers

Hi Ken,

Photographers who can write (well) are a fairly rare breed, so that gives you an advantage from the start :)

Seriously, I don't mean to imply that it can't be done, just that it's harder than most people realise. But I have the feeling you already knew that!


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