A Few Thoughts on Dealing with the Devaluation of Photography
It is a common experience for many of us. We get a call or an email from a design firm interested in using one or more of our images in a project. The pattern is very consistent. They start by complementing the work, “it is much better than anything I’ve seen”. "It would be perfect for our brochure, poster, magazine or web site." So far so good. I feel great that my work is appreciated and it is nice that they are actually asking permission to use my image(s), but then the other standard lines come into play. “Our funds are slim and we don’t have a budget for photography, but it will be great exposure for you and we would be happy to include a photo credit”. It makes me want to scream, “If your design firm will agree to work for nothing, so will I!”.
There are variations on this theme. A few weeks ago I heard from a communications firm asking to use one of my images on a calendar they were preparing for a regional finance company. They wanted to pay $20 for the license to use the image and without any photo credit. They insisted that they had many excellent photographers who were happy to provide their pictures at this rate. They seemed like very nice folks, and I told them that I would be excited to contribute to their project, but I had to ask for a more reasonable fee especially if I would get no recognition for the work. I politely suggested that if their budget was not flexible that they should certainly use one their photographers who would agree to such minimal compensation.
Whether it is minimal or no compensation, this is all part of an increasingly familiar pattern of the undervaluation of photography which undoubtedly stems from a combination of factors. We know the great amount of time, effort and expense that goes into capturing the perfect image, but in the digital world the public has been increasing encourage by the media and marketing to think of photography as something that occurs automatically with the click of a shutter. Because folks can occasionally get a decent picture with their cell phone, they think that a professionally crafted image must take little further effort or skill. reinforcing this perception is easy availability of cheap images through micro-stock agencies. Over the years I have worked hard to capture many images of Mount Monadnock, in all seasons, times of day and extremes of weather. I think I have some great shots that should be of high value, but a search of the stock photo site Shutter Stock shows that I can download a high resolution photo of the mountain for only about $15 per image.
Of course we are our own worst enemy. There are many developing photographers who are willing to accept a photo credit as compensation for their work. It is great to see your images in print, but I am aware of no studies that shows that a photo credit is an effective marketing tool. Of course if National Geographic calls offering me a cover for only a photo credit, I would have to think hard, but the fact is high quality publications, in which a credit would have real value, would not be likely to refuse fair compensation.
None of the factors that serve to devalue photography show any signs of going away. So what can we do when faced with the "No budget for photography" scenario.
Know Your Worth
I have struggled with this issue many time, and I don't have any magical answers. I believe that the first step is to realistically assess
|Banks pay their bills
the value of your work to the customer. This is not about selling fine art prints. It has very little to do with how artistically magnificent the image is , but how it meets the customer's specific requirements. If you have an image of the precise subject that is needed, in the proper size and orientation and if it tells the desired story, then the image may be of great value, even if it is not the most stunning in your portfolio. I have been frequently amazed when images that I felt were mediocre have been selected because they complement a certain theme, or match the color scheme or because the planned text fits in the picture's open spaces. Designer's can be expected to be unapologetic about their goal to get the image that best fits their needs for the least amount of money and you should not feel uneasy about asking to be fairly compensated for your work. As much as we would like it to be about the art, it is about business.
My first thought when a potential client undervalues my work is to avoid the tendency to feel insulted. It's not art, it's business. I try to delay any specific mention of money. I try to begin the discussion
|You haven't arrived until you are on Pig Ears
|Donated to a great cause
|Went to Maine for a wedding this weekend
Couldn't resist a shot at Nubble Light.
As it turns out, the communications firm that offered me $20 for my image eventually decided to license three of my images for a price close to my original bid. The theme of their calendar was Festivals and Events in New England and I was able to direct them to a number of my collections that provided exactly what they were looking for.
It doesn't always work, but after all it's only business.