Stop Accepting $200 Assignments!

I’m a struggling freelance photographer just like many out there, I’m sure. I’m not widely known, nor have I been in the industry for decades with a client list that stretches for miles, but I know the sooner I learn to value my own work and the sooner I learn to value the industry in which I work, the better my business will be, and the sooner those big jobs will start rolling in.

NOTE: I pulled the names off this post because I feared that these up-and-coming photographers might get some backlash for openly discussing their struggle with $200 assignments. Most of the veteran photographers I’ve talked with had the same problems starting out, so I know it’s not anything new to the industry. The key seems to be getting over it as quickly as possible. In fact the 1st photographer wrote this several months ago and is already in a much better position, on his way to building a nice list of recurring higher paying clients and was relieved to know he would not be forever associated with his early struggles.

Consider this a snapshot into the minds of up-and-coming photographers in this industry and the kind of impact one influential person can have on their thinking.

Up-and-coming Photographer 1 (NY):
Those of us that attended the most recent Eddie Adams Workshop quickly came to see that it was a rare opportunity not only to show our work and meet the newest generation of image-makers, but to get advice from many of the best editors and photographers in the world.

The guest speakers were the highlight of the workshop. They gave us insight into recently completed projects, practical advice on how to handle story subjects, and how to begin and manage a career. This year we heard from people such as Nick Nichols, Platon, Jimmy Colton, John Moore, Bill Epperidge, and many others.

This year, of course, the workshop took place during a difficult time in our industry. There were just as many cautionary tales about earning a living as a photographer as the stories of adventure. Everyone of course was eager to do great work, but we all kept asking the same question: where are our fees going to come from, and will we be able to earn enough to make a career as an image maker?

On the second to last night, there was a panel that I had hoped would really address this issue. Moderated by MaryAnne Golon, it consisted of Santiago Lyon of the AP, Nat Geo photographer Gary Knight, James Wellford of Newsweek, and David Griffin of National Geographic. They covered a number of topics, but it wasn’t until a student stood up and asked a question about how we, as the next generation of photographers, were supposed to survive financially in this new photo world, that my interest became particularly peaked.

Each panel member had different bits of advice to give, some I had heard before, some not. Then Brian Storm, sitting near the panel, got up and turned to the students and said something that has stuck with me and many attendees that I’ve talked to since the workshop ended a few months ago.

Brian said that photographers should, “stop accepting the $200 gigs,” because those low-fee jobs, along with those who are working for free, are bringing down the collective value of our industry and are encouraging our clients to expect more for less. He also pointed out that MediaStorm turns away well over half of the jobs that come to them, so there’s obviously a demand for original, creative content, and we all needed to figure out how to tap into this new multimedia friendly market.

At first, I was surprised by Brian’s remarks. Like many of my colleagues I struggle to make ends meet as a photographer. Even with a prestigious internship to my credit, and with several clips from the biggest newspapers and magazines in the industry in my portfolio, I have to spend most of my days hustling and marketing myself to land assignments and clients. Since I’ve been working full-time as a photographer, I have turned down perhaps half a dozen assignments because the pay was so low it just wasn’t worth leaving the house.

But, if I hadn’t accepted other low-paying assignments, some of the kind Brian was talking about, I would be writing this story from the basement in my parents’ house in New Jersey, not from my East Harlem apartment.

I simply cannot afford to turn down the $200 gigs and continue to work as a professional. I’d have to leave New York, which as we all know, is the center of the photo world. I’ve invested a lot of time in the city as a subject. I’ve also invested a lot of time visiting various photo editors in NY, trying to establish a network of contacts. Finally, I stay in NY because, for me, it’s the best place for a shooter. Some of the low-paying gigs I accepted also led to other work and other contacts, and gave me great tearsheets.

The irony is, I agree with Brian’s comments. Nothing upsets my professional equilibrium more than when I think my services or my craft or my industry in general is being undervalued by a customer or client. I never accept a client’s first budget; I always—always—try to negotiate a higher fee. But if I had not accepted some of those low paying assignments, assignments for money that Brian says fall below current industry standard rates, my career would have been hamstrung. Those jobs have allowed me to build a portfolio, and those jobs have helped give me a small bit of revenue that has allowed me to keep my head above water.

Going into the workshop, I had one camera, one lens, one flash, and rent due. Since then I’ve gotten gigs that include advertising and corporate work (weddings too) and I can now be more discriminating when it comes to deciding what assignments to accept and what assignments simply aren’t worth it. I still wake up every day happy to be a photographer. It’s my career; it’s my life.

Now, I know that my experiences as an up-and-comer in NYC would be very different from those of my fellow workshoppers, so I asked a few of them to react to what Brian said, as well as give their two cents about accepting low paying gigs:

Up-and-coming Photographer 2 (CA):
I personally agree with Brian on the subject of turning down jobs of $200 work. I feel that as the saturation of photographers in the industry is increasing, everyone wants a bite and so photographers cut each other off to get a gig. I don’t think it’s fair for the work put in and for the industry itself. I believe it’s bad business management and it’s not the fault of the photographers. No one educates photographers on how much to charge and established photographers are reluctant to share their rate cards or share how much they charge for services. I believe that needs to change. I figure, photographers should be communicating with each other some more and keep the reputation of a high quality service. I compare this to gasoline, restaurants or other retail businesses, where a new business will open with very similar but competitive pricing to an established business. A hamburger at one restaurant will be $5.00 and at another place will be $4.75, and at another at $4.50, all with the same quality burger. It should be the same with photography.

I have turned down jobs that are $200 or less. I have been offered two hour shooting gigs for $100 and I have to turn them down. I don’t see a shoot every only taking two hours, because afterward I’m spending perhaps another hour on the computer editing and color-correcting images, and another 15-20 minutes burning a disc. So my time working has increased from two hours to maybe three or four. I feel worse when I have to turn down weddings or other long hour day shoots if they ask me to shoot it for $200, because it feels as if the client is devaluing the work. The worst part of all this, equipment prices get higher and higher every year, or new and better equipment comes out every other month now, and to stay on top of the game, you need state-of-the-art equipment so that it at least can push out two to three years of life from it. So I believe photographers need to agree more on charging and balancing costs and value, so that this industry can continue to strive and keep its prestige. In the end, it’s not just a hobby, it becomes a business, and it takes just as much vision in having a business as in having a vision for a photo project.

Up-and-coming Photographer 3 (NY):
I definitely agree with what Brian Storm had to say at Eddie Adams. I think its great to hear that there is such a demand for quality multimedia, but I think one of the major problems right now is that it’s hard for qualified multimedia journalists to find clients that understand the value in good multimedia journalism and are willing to give them the time and money for quality work. During a panel discussion at Eddie Adams this past year Brian Storm mentioned that Media Storm is turning away half the jobs that come to them, and many of us young journalists in the audience jokingly called out “can you pass them our way!” It’s a transitional time in our industry where less of us are working for traditional news organizations and only a few production houses such as Media Storm have been established, so until we find our niche in the world of journalism, we freelance. There are many advantages to working solo, but one of the biggest challenges is connecting with clients that are willing to pay more than $200 for a job. Many of us are trying to keep up with the bills and pay off student loans, so certain months it’s hard to turn down that $200 job. I think for young journalists to survive in this current climate we need to work together so we don’t feel pressured to compromise our integrity. I don’t know what the future in digital reporting will be, but I feel like one thing we can plan for is to make ourselves visible and accessible to future clients. Production houses like Media Storm, collectives like Luceo Images and photo agencies such as Redux Pictures all seem to be going strong. I think the next step might be to have more Multimedia agencies vs. still photo agencies, that feature qualified multimedia journalists and connect them with clients. At this period in my career, I could use the middle man.

Up-and-coming Photographer 4 (CA):
I feel like young professionals like myself are in this weird state of flux, like a catch-22. I’ve grown in my young career through the teachings some really talented, established photographers and have tried to maintain the industry standards of charging appropriately for content. Yet I’ve quickly found that these “high morals” (which I agree with) have yet to be fruitful. We are all trying to start up a lucrative, sustaining business in photography when the industry as a whole, journalism especially, lies in this uncertain state of a new media Renaissance. I always thought I would be a newspaper photojournalist, now the game has changed. It isn’t anything new. The playing fields are getting smaller and have a lot more players eager to stand out. I don’t have the long standing portfolios of contributing to the New York Times. Those client decorations seem to help define you as a pro and justify to clients that you are worth paying pro fees to. For unestablished, young pro photographers, this seems like a huge hurdle to get over. When so much of this business is based on word of mouth, how are young photographers supposed to get their names out there when they are trying to charge the prices of established photographers? The same great mentors/photo editors that are telling us all to maintain good pricing standards are the same people we seek out for jobs and are low balling us because of the flailing market. At some point a young photographer needs to get his/her feet wet and make a sale. After all rent is due.

Up-and-coming Photographer 5 (CT):
Brian Storm made a very strong point when he spoke at the Eddie Adams Workshop this year but I would argue that the issue is a little more complex then was perhaps discussed. I strongly agree with his thoughts on maintaining a level of commitment to the value of what we produce as photographers. This will help to avoid driving the market value down and consequently out pricing one another to the point where it is simply not viable to make a living as a freelancer. When we have some level of control over the fee negotiations on a particular job, it becomes essential for us to charge the appropriate amount for the work. Doing work for free undermines the amount of time, effort, and creativity that others put in on similar jobs and cannot be an option when we, as a community, are trying to regain control over price point.

The challenge, however lies in the work we do for clients who are large enough and unfortunately prestigious enough that they can set their price point with the understanding that we need the exposure they offer to build a reputation. This is especially applicable for photojournalists in this current market where even the ‘top tier’ news clients sometimes only offer day rates that hover around the $200 mark. As we move forward in this time of transition, it will become even more important to strike a balance between excepting work we feel strongly about for slightly less than we would have hoped and also demanding we are paid fair value for work we are in control of.

Up-and-coming Photographer 6 (TX):
As far as I’m concerned, while I fully understand what Brian was saying, I don’t know if I agree 100%. I also don’t really think this is about $200, but more about taking the crappy pay so many clients think they can get away with, which perpetuates the trend of paying us very little for work that is worth substantially more.

As a full-time freelance photographer fairly early in my career, I take a lot of pride in pricing correctly and practicing proper business practices. I know way too many incredible photographers without any business sense and it kills me. Understanding your market and the proper way to run a business is paramount, especially for a freelancer and especially in the “$200″ market Brian speaks of.

Since I don’t have a super niche market and do a lot of different kinds of work for a lot of different clients with a lot of different budgets, generalizing my “gigs” isn’t the best way to summarize my experience, but I quote, estimate, bid and price very similarly to other colleagues in my market (hopefully). As far as I know I’m the youngest active member of my ASMP chapter and take a lot of pride in the work that I do. In saying that, I also want to price it accordingly. When I have a pricing issue, a negotiation issue or a general business issue I have several colleagues, mentors and friends at the ready that will gladly steer me in the right direction. Sure they may be competitors in a sense, as well as friends, but none of us benefit from a photographer coming into our market and undercutting our business.

With that said, we can only do so much to educate ourselves and other working professionals in our market, but not only is it extremely difficult to regulate pricing as US anti-trust laws specifically prohibit it, but it is extremely difficult to eradicate the “$200″ market when so many photographers, hobbyists and the like are willing to do it for free.

Sure, there are tons of jobs that a hobbyist wouldn’t be able to match, but for every client that respects the photographer and his art/craft, and is willing to pay for it, there’s a client with swindling budget calling you up, leaving you a voicemail asking if it’s ok to use some of your photos and telling you that they cannot pay for them, but offering “exposure” instead (trust me I’ve had 2 this week already).

Have I personally turned down $200 gigs before? Sure. Have I personally said, “no thanks,” to a client that doesn’t want to pay me close to what I should be getting paid? All the time. Do I regret it? No.

I’m a struggling freelance photographer just like many out there, I’m sure. I’m not widely known, nor have I been in the industry for decades with a client list that stretches for miles, but I know the sooner I learn to value my own work and the sooner I learn to value the industry in which I work, the better my business will be, and the sooner those big jobs will start rolling in.

There Are 169 Comments On This Article.

  1. Amen on this post! I think I’m fortunate enough that from the very beginning it was drilled into my head by several professionals to never charge out cheap. Instead, I concentrated on learning how to show the value in my work.

    It’s probably also convenient that as I balance my photography between a full-time job, I’m able to turn down the low jobs and not worry about trying to feed myself. This approach has let me book the higher paying clients that I want to work with, and who want to continue working with me. Perhaps it’s moving a bit slower than it could if I went out and accepted every gig available, but the gigs I do have now are the ones I value and are necessary for a healthy, stable business. They also refer those same types of clients.

    I do feel for the freelancer who has to put food on the table/pay the rent. Sometimes if you’re staring down a bill that has to be paid, any bit is going to be needed. Tough call.

  2. In any career or art the sacrifice usually exceeds the financial gain but you do it because it’s all you can do. The way to stop accepting 200 dollar assignments is to stop making 200 dollar pictures.

    • @Carl Corey,

      Totally agree, but I don’t know if this is how the market is reacting and the reason for this debate to begin with. Here in New York City you can’t take 10 steps without running in to a talented photographer who is well past the $200 rate but you have to walk blocks and blocks to come across a client paying a worthwhile rate for photography. Unfortunately most people needing photography understand this and it’s a, “buyers discount market” because of it.

      I also do believe we need some perspective here. D.A.Wagner wrote: “Two Hundred dollars a day is a full time job at decent camera store or someplace like Home Depot.”, I don’t know anyone at a camera store or Home Depot making $25 an hour. But I also agree the amount of investing and uncompensated time spent learning our craft, photographers need a fair value for compensation that just doesn’t seem to be out there much anymore. However, I’m really starting to wonder if people who hire photographers really care about our craft so long at the message gets across to their customers. I fear since the bar seems to get lower and lower every year and yet potential photography clients aren’t losing customers, they are starting to realize they don’t need to pay tons for media. In this modern day when media is consumed like fast food, a client doesn’t need a lasting images since they have to refresh so often to keep their customers appetite wet. This is also why you’re starting to see more and more non-photographers who have decision making pull to hire photographers, just doing the photography themselves. They rent out a pro-studio, hiring (and more often looking for unpaid “interns”) assistants who must know lighting to setup the look they wish to shoot, a digital-tech, and on-site retoucher, have it all set up for them and then keep looking at the screens on the tech station and shoot and shoot until something shows up they can use.

      So with these new realities what is a photographer to do? As a photographer you really have to start thinking more like a director and pitch yourself as this bigger then life thing to get the rates that used to be there.The times they are a changing….

      • @christopherlovenguth, “I don’t know anyone at a camera store or Home Depot making $25 an hour.”

        If you’re getting benefits, you’re “making” well over $25 an hour. Once a photographer, or anyone in business for themself, adds in costs like insurance (health and property — your gear is insured, right?), taxes, supplies, travel expenses… $200 a day can be less than minimum wage.

        The points you and others raise are really interesting and instructional, though.

        • butcherboy

          @B,
          I appreciate the spirit of the post, but let’s use some common sense; the gigs which require a great deal of travel expenses and the like, are not those which will be going for $200. And as for “benefits” being worth well over $25 an hour; take a closer look at what most of the “$10/hour with bene” jobs are actually offering. They are often not nearly so attractive as you assume they are.

          • @butcherboy, you’re right about the travel expenses and the benefits of lower wage jobs. But what about taxes, equipment, insurance and retirement? Those are just a few expenses that go into the overhead of any photographer. I was told early in my career to count 50% off my rate for overhead. That makes the $200 job a $100 job. Well, unless you are the type of photographer who doesn’t carry any insurance or use pro equipment – then I suppose you should only be charging $200 a day.

            • butcherboy

              @Nathan,
              I absolutely agree with you to a point, but. I think to some extent, an argument which should be raised, is the fact that the relative ease of the learning curve of digital photography has allowed a far larger contingent of semi-professional photographers to essentially dilute the market. This is not intended to diminish digital photography but merely point out the fact that without the added expenses of film, in-lab color correction, etc., it is far easier for a beginning semi-pro shooter to go out, shoot A LOT of frames, winnow the best and fix the rest with any number of excellent photo editing apps, and hand over a disk to their client, with far less expense to themselves. I have seen many many happy newlyweds pay substantially smaller fees overall for a disk of images shot with reasonably prices prosumer cameras. The equipment issue is also something which I think needs to be addressed. How much gear is enough? I know of a very prominent architectural photographer who for most of his career shot almost exclusively 4×5, and 8×10 slide, with extensive technical lighting. With the advent of the RAW file and digital perspective control, he now does almost all his work on a pro level DSLR with far simpler lighting sets.. Not a cheap camera by any means, but minuscule compared to the amount of money he had layed out in LF camera and lenses and lab work. Now mind you, hwe doesn’t charge $200 per day, and he already had well established clientele, but the point is: if use the equipment you REALLY need, your expenses get become far lessened. I’ve always felt photographers are some of the worst victims of the “Gotta have it! Gotta have it!” syndrome. Good equipment should more or less be a one time expenditure, and if the advice for 50% of your overhead came early in your career, clearly this was with film expense in mind. Business models must adapt to both changing markets and changing technologies. You can certainly refuse to take $200 per day jobs, and if you aren’t making enough of a profit on that you should certainly do so; but, keep in mind, someone with Nikons latest prosumer DSLR and visions of being a pro shooter is probably going to snap up the job in your place.

              • @butcherboy, You can’t be serious? Good equipment should be a one time fee??? Are you a complete moron???? So what you are saying is I should still be shooting with my d1????? You are seriously deranged idiot. I would rather quit photography and work at home depot instead if that’s your attitude. The point is we have a specialized skill, if a plumber can make $100/hr we should be able to do the same, your ignorance is appauling! Do us all a favour and stop using the internet

              • @butcherboy, “I’ve always felt photographers are some of the worst victims of the “Gotta have it! Gotta have it!” syndrome. Good equipment should more or less be a one time expenditure…”

                Leaving aside your comment on my earlier reply, the above is something I’ve considered quite a bit. Mainly because I primarily shoot with extremely old technology by today’s standards; my camera is absolutely obsolete, and most people I talk to are amazed that I even bother with it. I’m not giving away details but I’m also not hard to track down; get in touch or search a bit if you want to know more.

                Sure, ideally we would not replace hardware often. But we’re taking the short view of digital photography, a medium that has only really been popularly viable for a decade or so. We have to replace equipment so often because the equipment is still in its nascence. In another ten years, consumer-level technology will be more than enough to satisfy commercial needs; put another way, someone buying a 5DMkII today will probably never need to replace that body if they want to create work for commercial print use.

                So yes, you’re right in the section I quoted, but I don’t think that can continue indefinitely. There will be a point of diminishing returns for the manufacturers, and while an AE-1 can still return a professional result today, as DSLRs reach maturity so to will they enjoy longer lifespans.

                • butcherboy

                  @B,
                  I really don’t think we are very far off on either of our respective view points. I think really what I’m trying to say say that in the grander scope of professional photographic gear, a great body and great glass are really areas that have been addressed adequately. As a great instructor of mine once pointed out, if you need to get a tighter shot on your subject, it’s a lot easier to get closer to it, than to buy a longer lens.
                  and as far a as a reply to “Realist” : surely you can find a less professional forum to waste peoples time with.

                  • @butcherboy, keep it up butcherboy, you’re heading to losertown fast. You will never be successful, you probably take garbage photos and most importantly couldn’t even handle working at Starbucks. PRO’S DON’T WORK FOR $200, end of story jerk!!

                    • Texas shooter

                      @realist, What pro’s certainly do not do is spend their time composing ridiculous diatribe’s and insulting rants. Doesn’t this site have a moderator to keep moron trolls like this at bay?

                    • @realist, you seem like a very high strung person. Being a professional goes beyond how much money you make, it has to do with how you handle yourself in all situations. Most of life boils down to toleration something you clearly don’t have. Why don’t you post your website so we all can see what a real pro looks like. Or better yet just leave this site.

      • c.d.embrey

        @christopherlovenguth said:
        “As a photographer you really have to start thinking more like a director and pitch yourself as this bigger then life thing to get the rates that used to be there.The times they are a changing….”

        Button snappers (even technically proficient ones) will be replaced by people who are good story tellers and can communicate with/direct the subject/model.

        The top has always been like this, now you may need these talents to even get your foot in the door.

        With clients wanting both stills and video this is even more important.

  3. Very true account of what it is like for new photographers coming out of the gate and being thrust into the realization it is a business. My eyes were opened to the larger world when talking or emaing established photographers about day rates and having it drilled into my head about not taking $200 jobs. Thankfully I haven’t taken too many of them or had to. Recently a local magazine editor told me he would pay me $200 for shooting let’s say – a doctor for an ad that goes into the mag. I was thinking like one guy said it not being worth even leaving the house to ahoot it especially when I had shot for national magazines at at least 5 times that much.

    It’s a delicate balance between saying no and needing to pay your gas bill and I think established photographers know that even when they are preaching against taking the small jobs. Those photographers are hoping to push us along and legitimize what we all do or want to do.

    It is somewhat comforting (sadly) to hear the $200 job-struggle isn’t just happening in my town.

  4. Yep, that all sounds familiar. Seems like this topic has gotten rehashed in the blogs every few months for the past couple years. There are just no right or wrong answers. Everyone from time to time settles for less than they’re worth. Not just because of this transitionary time we’re in, or the recession, but because we live in a free market. There are points of negotiating power and weakness, and especially early in ones career, everyone ends up in weak bargaining positions.

    The key is learning from each negotiation and being very conscious of why you decide to accept a job that’s below your standards, whether it’s to keep the electricity on, or for the connection, or the tear sheet, or the creative opportunity, or you’re helping a nonprofit, etc.

    We all choose to sign the occasional bad contract or take the $200 gig, because it’s a choice that’s more complicated than the bottom line. There are simply no absolutes in the real world, no matter how true to ourselves and our industry we strive to be.

  5. Two Hundred dollars a day is a full time job at decent camera store or someplace like Home Depot. And, to work in these places you don’t have to own $10K or more in cameras and lighting, roughly the equivalent of 500 dollars or more a day if you were renting.

    You will get paid every two weeks at a full time job, instead of waiting on (and financing) payment of fees for 30, 60, 90 or more days. And that’s typically the case with the cheapest of clients.

    There’s always going to be someone willing to take that 200 dollar fee. It’s not going to be me. You’ll find me at Home Depot asking if you need 3 inch, 1/4 x 20 screws for that project, before I lose money shooting an assignment.

    Consider the cost of your daily overhead including rent, car, studio, cameras, lighting, repairs, even your shoes and clothing. I’m going to guess it’s easily $200 or more, unless you live at home with your parents.

    • @D.A.Wagner, not that I don’t agree with with the point of your post, you should note, however, that $200 a day is over $50k per year. Not a lot of jobs at Home Depot that are going to pay you that much.

      • @billy,

        The big illusion is how many days of work, and financial investment it would take to book 250 days of work @ $200. each.

        What are the costs of the business? Equipment, marketing, product (image) development, insurance, overhead!!!!

        The more a job costs to produce over the net received the higher the risk. Drop (or theft) of a $1500. lens on a $200 job leaves a big hole. A parking ticket on a $200. job can be a big hit.

        The time it takes to market and do post production on shooting will most likely not allow 250 days of shooting. The image maker is billing while shooting for a client – not marketing, not while trying to fix that software glich, not while doing book keeping/bill collecting.

    • @D.A.Wagner,

      Chris pretty much nailedd it…$200.00 looks pretty darn good if you either lost your job for the past year or struggling in the industry. Home Depot certainly will keep the collectors from the door but living with the kids does have its challenges.

        • @Shane,

          Ha, You didn’t have enough *passion*, Shane!
          You need to eat, breathe, and sleep home improvement.
          Did you try putting together a special promotional piece for the job application? One that shows you really know the company? You need to let them know you understand the type of aisle to aisle experience their customers are looking for.

          What’s plan “C”?

  6. This is an issue similar to that faced in the stock photography industry. If Royalty Free and microstock did not exist, license fees across the board would be higher. Not only that, more individual images would be licensed, since it is painfully obvious that many images continue to be used year after year (see many bank ads) because they do not have to be re-licensed. Many others have commented on the difficulty of making money in stock these days. When StockShop launched just three years ago, we offered only RM licensed images. However, last Spring we reluctantly concluded that without offering RF, we and our photographers (who receive 50% of the license fee) were missing out on potential business – especially with the proliferation of new media/ web-based/digital advertising (and smaller file sizes). On an anecdotal basis (although Jim Pickerell or others probably have firm data), it apears that rights-managed license fees (on an individual license basis) are down over 50%.

    • @Maggie Hunt,

      Even worse, a potential client buys 20 or 30 ‘dollar stock’ images. Hires a digital editor to comp together elements from each image into one or two final pieces of art. No licensing. No copyright. The captures are at 12-14mps from an amateur camera so there is plenty of resolution.

      The final *art* is used for a commercial project that may have netted the image creator a commercial billing of $4K -$20K. In fact the designer or AD my mark up the final art significantly to the client, because it cost nothing to produce.

      The original image makers for the ‘dollar stock’ got $.35 for each DL of their images. How many DLs does it take to break even on a Rebel and kit lens? How many more DLs for the production?

      This is a race to the bottom. How does one compete with a negative “Return on Investment”? Not many can. Even less will succeed.

  7. One must think about it in terms of editorial fashion shooting for instance. You shoot for ID, Oyster, Flaunt, any number of reputable fashion magazines with a good distribution and a good reputation. Well, you shoot them for free, on your dime, because it’s good for you. Some nothing magazine with no reputation or a bad one or no distribution, you get PAID to do it – it benefits them more than you.

    If someone is asking you to shoot a doctor for an inflight magazine ad and they only want to pay you $200, you say no. It’s of no benefit to you and it’s not worth leaving the house. If they want to pay you $1000, well then go ahead.

    You have to weigh the benefits more than monetarily. Don’t allow yourself to get screwed. Maybe they really have used up their budget, but you think it really might lead to more work. There’s more to this business than art and business. It’s gut feelings, relationships and hard decisions.

    • @Anthony,

      Agreed. Sometimes it behooves you to think in terms of relationship building. Even then, it’s a risky proposition because you may be thinking “relationship-building” and the editor is thinking “awesome he did that for $200!”

      But still the $200 jobs give much needed experience as well from which you hope to graduate very quickly.

  8. Wow. I’m sure this post will get a lot more responses. I’m a NYC based freelancer, about three years into the business, and having some good months, some not so good.

    I come from a business background so I’m going to throw a few things out there from the way I used to evaluate companies and industries.

    First off, I agree with one of the comments about anti-trust and price fixing issues. We don’t want to be the Archer Daniels of photography.

    The dynamics of our industry have changed dramatically. DRAMATICALLY.

    Fragmentation: The market for buying and selling images has fragmented – there are multiples more users and providers of imagery. So despite the Gettys of the world, PE’s have many more sources of images and frankly, we as photographers have many more consumers (pricing I’ll discuss in a moment).

    Barriers-to-Entry: crumbled with digital technology and the wide availability of cameras in your cell phone, toaster oven etc. Anyone can take a well exposed, in focus image and post it immediately. That means a lot more…

    Competition: Because of lower barriers to entry, everyone with a camera can be a competitor in a way. MWC is your competitor for some business.

    Pricing: Because of the above dynamics, pricing is bound to fall. Again, PRICING MUST FALL, simple economics 101 supply and demand. Lots of supply. Demand – well, less and it’s changing. It’s no longer a certain number of monthly glossies, it’s the web now and all those blogs etc, who don’t have the same budget or approach to using photography. Many more consumers who value photography differently…

    VALUE VALUE VALUE – so how should value what we provide?

    Basic business 101 says you charge your marginal cost, or as many business books tell us, figure out our cost, layer on an appropriate return, and then charge that to your client. I think things get confusing when we’ve had this practice in the past of charging for usage. How do we calculate the value of usage or eyeballs or creative aesthetic?

    Think of it in value terms – where do you add value to your client? Where are you in a spectrum of unique assets and commodity assets? What do you emphasize in your business model and how much do you clients value what you do for them?

    Creative Vision (you have the eye!)
    Technique (you light or photoshop like no-one else)
    Your Team (great MUA, assts, stylists, etc.)
    Special Equipment (you got the googlepixel medium format camera)
    Organize/Produce a Shoot
    Convenience (fast turnaround, saves them from taking pictures)
    Professionalism (own a suit and work among execs/diplomats etc.)
    Reliable (they can count on you)
    Easy to Work with
    Fun to Work with

    This is just a quick list. But so where is your value to clients and how much can you charge for that? You can charge a lot more for aspects of value-add that are unique. If you’re Mr. Creative Vision, say LaChappelle, then you’ve got a monopoly on a pretty unique arguably one-of-a-kind asset. Charge like crazy. If you’re Jim Cameron and invented a new beam splitting 3-D camera and technique, then you can charge a lot.

    But if you happen to own a D3 and just take decent photos and scrape out a few jobs here and there, well, you’re likely in danger of being in the fee race-to-the-bottom because of all the competition out there. Better figure out a value add strategy.

    I don’t have the answers to all of this – they’re rhetorical questions that I ask myself every week as I plod my way forward in this dynamic environment.

    I do think there is money to be made, but with a more fragmented market, with a lot of users valuing photography differently, like a web-blog. Well, maybe instead of five $20,000 ad gigs a year, we need to do 10 x $5000 assignments, and 20-30 x $200-500 gigs.

    While there are some trophy assignments out there, I think we’re no longer big game hunters, we’re hunters and gatherers, and more gatherers at that.

    Gotta hop, I have to shoot this $200 job I booked from Craig’s List ;-)

    Good luck to all of us!

  9. Kristopher Michael

    While I agree with mostly all of this entry, I don’t entirely agree with all of it. It seems that the “$200 dollar job” that the author is referring to is something VERY minimal in his book, or bank account.

    But, what if (hypothetical or realistically), you run a part time gig where you’re photographing maybe 5-10 clients per week @ $200 per shoot/edit session? Only shooting 5 per week puts you at $24,000, and shooting the 10 is $48,000.

    Now, having a full time gig, I’ve been shooting probably 3-4 per week around that price point, but only on the weekends since I have a full-time, behind the desk, job *sigh.*

    You have to take a look at your photo situation if you’re a photographer full-time, because I am not. If you take quite a handful of these smaller gigs, then it adds up (clearly not as much as those $500 + jobs that are out there). The way I see it, Michael Jordan didn’t score 40 pts per game, and photographer’s aren’t going to hit those $500-$1000+ jobs all the time. While we, as photographers, need to teach and spread the word about our costs, time management, post processing, and everything else that goes into our work flow, sometimes those smaller gigs shouldn’t be told “NO” to right away. And who knows, maybe that $200 session will lead into a “Hey, my neighbor has an antique sportscar collection he wants to document,” that pays QUITE a hefty sum. Doesn’t happen everyday, but I’m excited when it does.

    • @Kristopher Michael,

      Yeah, but the $200 is arbitrary based on where you live. In your scenario, I have only covered my rent for the year, wait, not quite. And, that’s pre-tax and not including expenses. Your scenario for me is a good month.

      It also sounds like the work that you are doing is retail based or headshots and less relevant to the commercial world. It’s different when a magazine or an ad agency hires you vs the guy down the street or the struggling actor. Nothing wrong with it, just saying.

      The photographer that has a full time gig not doing photography is another issue in terms of pricing. I think it’s fine to not charge full time professional rates when you’re not a full-time professional. It’s when they get approached for a bigger job because they’re inexpensive that keeps things down. Remember the jar of coins on the Time magazine cover?

  10. This is the same dead horse over and over again. Its now gathering flies and starting to really smell. I think we all, as professionals struggle with it. Unfortunately, on the flip side, I cannot pay it forward and devalue things from my end. For instance, I cannot call B&H to order gear and tell them I will give them $200 for a Canon 1ds mk4, or tell my landlord that I’ll give him $200 for this months rent, or tell the cashier at Stop & Shop Ive only got $200 for groceries when we both pause and look over at my two shopping carts filled with food. So why on earth, would you let the client do the same to you?
    I have taken jobs for less than I would like, for the same reasons we all have, no need to rehash. But the problem is that when you do that, more often than not, you wind up working with a sour mindset. You want to do the best job, but you feel like your being exploited and it can reflect in your attitude. Its just not a good thing. Until we start saying no, it unfortunately will just continue on. Try telling the magazine client that wants to pay you a couple of bucks to shoot their editorial spread that you will buy an issue of their magazine for $0.25, but it’ll be great, you will read it and tell all your friends what a kick ass magazine it is and give them exposure.
    Its easier said than done, but I think we all need to stop wining and blogging about it and start taking action.

    For $200, they would be better off going to Best Buy and buying a point and shoot and taking the damn picture themselves

    • @christian,

      “For $200, they would be better off going to Best Buy and buying a point and shoot and taking the damn picture themselves”

      Amen. I’ve told people this many many times. When they do it, or have their nephew do it and are appalled at the results, they learn. I’ve done reshoots at correct prices because of this. It’s especially helpful for higher ups in companies to see these $200 or nephew jobs, get pissed, yell at the their underlings and ‘find’ the money.

    • carlos benjamin

      @christian, “more often than not, you wind up working with a sour mindset. You want to do the best job, but you feel like your being exploited and it can reflect in your attitude.”

      Excellent point. I’m not a PJ or Editorial guy. I shoot weddings and families primarily. I listen to the folks who are doing well and one of them mentioned this very thing. When taking low-paying jobs she developed a resentment for the client which showed in her work. I don’t think any of us who really care about what we do want to go there.

      What many photographers in the wedding/portraiture business have found is that when the put their prices where they need to be to have a sustainable business the tire kickers and the cheap clients who don’t appreciate quality photography suddenly disappear. Some of them charge what to those starting out in the business feel are astronomical prices – which means that all the expenses they never thought of are rolled into the cost of goods sold.

      Good discussion.

  11. I agree that the photography industry being devalued sucks. But it is important to realize that this is something that happens in all industries and, like many other trends throughout existence, goes in cycles. We saw the same kind of trend happen in the engineering world; more specifically the software engineering world. 40 to 60 years ago engineers were Gods. 15 to 20 years ago engineers were held in high regard. 5 to 10 years ago engineers were a dime a dozen. Starting salaries were in the dirt and job security was non-existent. This was in part due to the massive flood of engineers from foreign countries and the mass produced engineers from all the Universities around the US. But then a funny thing happened… employers began realizing that all engineers are not made equally. They found that a lot of them were good programmers but couldn’t design a system or reason logically to save their life. So they began getting rid of those engineers and hiring on the really good engineers at very good starting salaries, giving them good benefits, etc. Sure, the industry is not back to where it was decades ago but it is trending in that direction.

    With the emergence of cheap digital cameras the photography industry is now seeing the same trend as the engineering industry did 10-15 years ago. Suddenly there are tens of thousands of new kids on the block trying to make a go at it which drives competition up and contract prices down. But many of those who are hiring photographers will learn, just like a bride who hires one of these cheap bozos learns, not all photographers are made equal. They will get bitten once or twice and from then on they will only hire a true professional who knows what they are doing and has the portfolio to back it up.

    So, in conclusion, my advice would be to spend a lot more time making sure your portfolio is top notch and that you’re staying current on the popular trends instead of worrying about the two-bit cheap bozos who slap photographer on their business card and under bid the planet. Their time will be up soon enough and the industry will trend towards where it once was.

    • @Terry Reinert, yes I agree and for the record I have had three jobs this year which were shot first by a non pro first guess what the client did not like what they got so ended up sourcing someone with a portfolio to match what they needed…….

  12. if you think there is a difference between a 200$ rate and a 500$ rate then you are not doing the math.

    The rate itself is not the whole story, expenses, cash flow, payment schedule, all is just as important, and more important is what are you going to do with the work afterwards, and what are you going to do with the relationships with editors afterwards.

    Simply focusing on the rate is not enough.

  13. As a non-professional enthusiast who doesn’t care to make a living at photography and doesn’t care about exposure for free; I hope my perspective can help provide an independent view.

    Fact: There is a market for free images.
    Fact: There is a market for cheap photography services.
    Fact: There is a market for quality photography services.

    Figure out what market you are in and charge appropriately. Breaking into a new market is hard, photography or otherwise.

    I think as professional photographers offer business service that an amateur or enthusiast can’t provide the market for those services will pay appropriately. Ability to set exposure, buy a camera or lens, or be somewhere important with a camera are no longer unique skills. Technology has removed this barrier to entry to the photography space. If this is what you compete on, you might get lucky and make a living….

    If you want to compete in the image commodity market place then $200 is not so bad, just do a lot of $200 deals. Its a commodity; race to the price floor. Thats ok as long as you know what that is.

    Sometimes a $200 job is called a loss-leader. Make sure it leads to something.

    If you provide value, customers will compensate you. Those who want value but don’t want to compensate are not really customers, they’ll get what they pay for. If there are a 100 photographers that meet customer needs at $200 then that’s what that service is worth. Over time a level of service that commands a higher price will emerge or the ability to pay $200 for those services will be gone as photographers go out of business.

    Think about how you make sure you aren’t one of the 98 photographers that fail making this happen.

    Business is hard; as it should be. If your chosen line of business is in photography find out what value you provide to customers and charge what the market will bear. Keep in mind selling an image is not the only way to live off photography. How much will the enthusiast pay for a workshop? Did you pay for the workshop you attended?

  14. Folks, taking those $200 jobs will bury your faster than a two tons elephant falling on top of you. I said it plenty of time that the only way to make it to the top is by saying, in unity, NO TO BAD DEALS. That is how photographers can actually make a dent here and two steps forward there.

    Too many shooters out there don’t respect their own talent and keep digging their cold lonesome death. FOr some of you up and comers I heard you loud and clear. Drop by http://www.EditorialPhoto.com a great source of wisdom for all photographers re clients/business/what to do and how to do it/low paying clients/when and how to say not to poor deals/making it a win-win deal/what client is great to work for and who is a bastard etc etc

    http://www.EditorialPhoto.com was founded in 1999 or so. I am fortunate to had been one of the early founders. In a great way the form of communications and exchanges of ideas has change our biz for the better.

    Before EP photographers had the mentality of the Lonesome Wolf where everything was a secret and photo editors would call 4 photographers across the nation asking them to shoot for low payments, grabbing plenty of rights and saying, “oh nobody else is complaining about our rates. YOu are the first one. You bad bad bad boy.”

    In EP we are able to talk openly and be ready if MR B from xyz magzn calls you in Alabama or California with a $200 chicken fees job then you can mention that so the next photographer is aware of MR B’s intentions. Or maybe Mr B calls you for a shoot offering only $800 and you are not sure if that is a good deal. Then someone from EP may tell you, “Yes I did a photo gig for Mr. B two weeks ago. Same style of photo shoot and for an inside usage. He paid me $1,700 plus expenses.”

    Folks cheap clients will ALWAYS be around. Also those clients that will take advantage of the poor economic and use it as an excuse. Point is that they are still getting pay and their salaries still goes up. The publishers/editors are still sending their kids to Harvard and Cornell and driving new Mercedes. So why should we settled for a Pinto and a big chesse mac? NO ME!!

    The other day a friendly photo editor at a new mag phone me for a couple gigs. They are even friendlier when they wont pay you shit. She was offering me $850 including expenses or each job and sorry for that was all her budget has. I told her that by the time I drove there, pay my assistant, work on my computer charge for the pre and post production fees, and the usage of m very expensive camera and computer I would be lucky if I was making $100.

    Folks, is good to say NO TO BAD deals but even better when you tell them that the shoot cost a lot more to produce than $850 and WHY. She love my work and called me an hour later only this time she was offering $1,500 for each job. NOw that is a type of friendliness I like.

    Another problem is that many well paying photo editors are not opening the doors to new talent. All it takes is to spread the pie specially when they see strong photo work out there. IN Hollywood not each movie can be made using only Tom Cruise, Javier Barden, or Brat Pitts. So photo editors give a chance to new talent same way someone at the magazine gave you a chance when you were only the photo assistant.

    UP and comers and vet photographers the moment you say YES, or continue doing so, to any $200-$500 shoots is the moment that they will lock you in for those low paying jobs or for the magz snap shot of the month.Each time the knife gets deeper into your back.

    IF your work is solid then keep showing your work. Trust me you will be found. There are plenty of caring, giving and open minded PhEd/art dir out there.
    ALso check other outlets out there paying much better than magazine so explore those venues. But you gotta have faith. If you work is that bad then not even the angels or the Virgin Mary will help you.

    Make not mistake you got more resources today than ever before. When I learned the biz in the 80’s I did it by making mistakes and doing it more than once. There was NOBODY to call, emails to send or forums to read.
    Just GET BUSY and push your ass.
    Good luck out there and keep saying NO TO BAD DEALS!!

    For more on the the biz of photography you can check my new FB blog.

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Los-Angeles-CA/Manuello-Paganelli-Photography/302760519537

    Manuello Paganelli

    http://www.ManuelloPaganelli.com

    Los Angeles California

    • @Manuello Paganelli,

      EP was my saving grace starting out…..I don’t look at it much now b/c the same arguments seem to pop up over and over and there is a lot of bitching but, there is also a lot of really good info and helpful people on there, you and Brian Smith among them.

      • @Brady, you said it “was my saving grace starting out..” That is the key word and the place that can help many up comers and plenty of pro shooters.

        Cheers

        Pag

  15. The idea that taking a low-paying job devalues the profession is a myth perpetuated by established photographers who are scared of becoming obsolete in a race to the bottom. Simple insecurity, so don’t listen to them.

    The only way you lose a job to a cheaper guy is that you are on a job where cheap is what matters! If you’re already established, that is the wrong battle to fight. If you’re on your way up, it is just something you have to go through. Everyone does it for a short time, at which point they step up or step out.

    To all the up and coming photographers: take every job you can! $200? Who cares? Don’t let knuckleheads like Brian Storm tell you what you’re worth. Figure it out for yourself.

    • @Cletus,
      Nearly all the veteran photographers I’ve interviewed told me about shooting for nothing or free but the topic seems verboten. Possibly because people feel the youngsters might forget to step-up?

      • @A Photo Editor,

        It is a nice gesture to offhandedly remind youngsters to step up, but just like anything else they can’t be told, they have to go through it just like everyone else did. And one day they can say the same thing.

        Why is it forbidden? Fear is my guess. Every creative has a creeping horror that one day the calls will stop coming. Easiest outlet? Kids these days.

    • @Cletus, Not a myth. The stock industry took a huge bite out of the market share for assignment work precisely because it offered quality at a lower price. Stock has continued that race to the bottom. First competing with assignment, then competing with itself: RM vs RF – RF vs Microstock. Now a ‘Return on Investment’ is difficult.

      At one point there was a large (mostly) healthy middle class in the photography industry (70’s-early 00’s). That is now gone. What has replaced it is a very small elite group at the top and a huge underclass – often netting less than waitresses.

      Your post is riddled with distortions. If this is a myth why would established photographers be insecure about becoming obsolete? If the proof works out as you say, they would have nothing to worry about and see no changes to their business (However there have been HUGE changes). Is it possible this “insecurity” may be based on the present market, and it’s effect on business?

      You mention only two options, “step up or step out”. The world is rarely that simple. This is an example of ‘all or nothing thinking’. What exactly happens to those in either of those categories? Does “step up” mean they have a healthy career ahead til retirement? Does “step down” mean they will just quit after a few months?

      Most likely neither of those scenarios will be that cut n dry. Those that quit may do so after struggling for a decade, realizing huge debt, and have no other option. Then what do they do with that art degree, $170K in debt, and no income? (btw – those falling may be very talented, hard workers).

      For those that “step up” the struggle may also still be a huge part of their entire career. Step up to what? Return on investment relative to other opportunities is a primary consideration.

      “Figure it out for yourself”
      This is something many photographers don’t do well. Why do we have so many coaches, workshops, editors, marketers, designers, all being hired by photographers. Many have trouble editing their own work or deciding what to shoot, put in their books, in what order. Never mind the business side.

      A truth here is that if a photographer can get (and stay) in the major leagues (think sports, music, entertainment) they can do very well. The majority below that mark will be influenced by market forces – including the influence of lowball photographers, and their own poor business decisions.

      • @Bob,

        Of course stock took a huge bite, it was low-hanging fruit. But that had nothing to do with people taking jobs for less money. It had to do with simple economics. Say what you will about Getty but they did a damn fine job eliminating inefficiencies in the photo market. Too bad those were actual people. You know what else they did? Brought photos to everyone regardless of budget. Have you taken a look at magazines from the 80s? Where are all the photos? Oh yeah, there weren’t many.

        Healthy middle class? Nice rose colored glasses… That huge underclass you deride is the democratization of photography. I can take a picture of my kid hiking in the Catskills and email it to my parents in Antarctica. I won’t trade that for the good ol days, not for a second. But the elite will always be the elite, and Canon will make tons of money off everyone else who buys a Ferrari without knowing how to drive stick.

        For the elite, it isn’t any change. I mean, light is light. You either see it or you don’t. People who don’t see it should be worried. Not about the market, but about their abilities. But you either fret or you keep shooting. Only so much time in the day.

        The reason we have so many coaches workshops consultants et al is that they leech money from insecure people. During the gold rush in SF, no one got rich off gold, they got rich off selling shovels to the prospectors! Nothing wrong with that, mind you…

        Lots of generalizations on both sides, but bottom line is, competition is healthy and the people who consume photos are so much better off now than 20 years ago. Thank you Getty, thank you digital cameras, and thank you youngsters who take jobs for nothing – may they all breathe down our necks. Keep us honest.

        • @Cletus,

          Again, more distortions. You seem to be following an ideology. Arguing to win the discussion, instead of trying to illuminate the subject.
          My words are based less on my beliefs than actual facts.

          First, Getty didn’t have to license images cheaply. The quality of images has been every bit as good as assignment work. In fact the images are often on their second life at Getty after the licensing from the originally commissioned project for the client ended.

          In the beginning Getty was a great company. A real pleasure to work with. They changed. The first change in their contract in the late 90’s had some acceptable concerns. The second change two years later was a radical departure. In fact 600 photographers challenged it, spending a quarter of a million (collective) dollars on legal fees. These photographers (and others) lost – both the negotiation and their businesses in many cases. They couldn’t say, *NO!* Possibly they did not see the true intentions of Getty. It was not just the contract, but the way Getty practiced business. This was an unacceptable contract for me. I saw Getty’s intentions clearly, no longer trusting them with my time. I terminated our relations.

          On the subject of competition. The war between Getty & Corbis to buy up all the major stock agencies/libraries at the time was a competition between these two giants of capital. But it reduced the competition to primarily two oligarchs after they owned everything. Stock corporations are not the only ones in the business to do this either. Mega media corporations like Conde Nast, Time Warner, etc. In Advertising the largest corporations are primarily owned by 5 holding companies. This equals LESS competition. Eliminating inefficiencies may look good on corporate paper, but no corporation is an island. Taken to it’s maximum, ultimate conclusion, elimination of inefficiencies can be a race to the bottom. Eventually it can take the corporation down along with the community. Witness Getty Images today.

          I wonder what the market might look like today if there was more structure and competition from the variety of Rights Managed stock agencies that once existed. Would this have helped provide a healthier business environment for digital imaging to develop within? With such a void, both Getty and Corbis have been hammered by the new market forces in the digital age.

          The reason stock DOES have to do with people taking less for assignment is market share. Over 900 stock agencies: http://www.mindspring.com/~frankn/photo/stock.html That’s a lot of available imagery for assignment to compete. It wasn’t just stock though. Declining editorial rates, bad (work for hire) terms, and a growing supply of images.

          When one area of the photography industry is hammered, photographers often redirect their businesses to other areas. You don’t seem to have much first hand knowledge of the photography industry when it was healthier. Yes, there was quite a large thriving middle class. It wasn’t all cake. There was still a lower and upper tier, but the middle was by far the largest group. Lowballing was still prevalent, and there was mucho competition – but there was also much more market share for the number of image providers. Your analogy about the Gold Rush may have some bearing here. However there are still photographers in the top tier doing very well without giving workshops. Just as Denzel Washington does very well, and most actors barely get by. However, there was a time when many more photographers in the middle did very well. Not rich, but an excellent living, with retirement savings, healthcare, etc.

          btw – There is more to the California Gold Rush than you suggest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Gold_Rush#Profits

          What exactly is the definition of “the democratization of photography”? Is it anything like the democratization of shoe factories in South East Asia? Or the democratization of sewing Pocahontas pajamas for $.07 a pair in Haiti?

          80’s magazines with no pictures???? There were plenty. Many still here today. In fact there was this little organization:
          ASMP (American Society of Magazine Photographers).

          There is an inherent conflict with what I understand as your “democratization of photography”, in the marketplace of images. Those that are in business need a return on investment. There are no free lunches. Without a healthy return they will not be able to continue. Whereas the hobbyists and wannabes return is a validation of ego. This ego driven *business* will eventually crash too. But like a sharks jaw, there will always be another tooth to replace the one that has broken. Of course these newbs don’t have to be low hanging fruit either. Why do they need to enter the marketplace at all if they aren’t here to make their businesses work well? Is it not enough to make great images for themselves? Or are they “insecure” and need the validation?

          Finally, there is more to this business than seeing, creating, or managing “light”.

          • @Bob,

            You’re mixing things up – market share is one thing but rates are another. Sure, there are fewer assignment jobs because of stock. In the good ol days that actually used to be a problem, because from a publishing perspective it took a lot of effort to make photos. Now it is easy. Like you said, 900 agencies. Prices are low because they have to be out of supply and demand. No way to go back on that, short of collusion.

            But assignment rates? A photographer’s time doesn’t cost any less. If anything we’re reaching an equilibrium between ‘any photo will do’ and ‘this photo must be tailor made to my specs.’ It used to be different because the technology wasn’t there. And now it is. Except that no amount of technology can replace a human operating a camera with a modicum of art direction. You could have a server farm the size of Nebraska and it won’t have an image of ‘hairy man consuming new product,’ not the way one art director sees it in his twisted mind.

            By democratization of photography, I mean everyone can take decent pictures for cheap. Lots and lots of them. And magazines, I meant the amount of photos in a magazine. Hell, the amount of photos you saw anywhere in the 80s. Now, well, like someone said on APE, the internet is a visually hungry medium.

            But good photos? That are assigned with specific requirements and a vision in mind? The need for those will always exist. No amount of stock can replace that, and no amateur can make them. Those rates will always be high. Except when you’re young and need the money. Or can’t manage light.

            I’m not pushing an ideology, I’m just happy how things are today in this industry. Are you?

    • @Cletus, I dont know about other photographers and their insecurity and I sure dont give a shit to any of that. Problem is that #1 Plenty of up&comers cant say to a magazine PE, “hey instead of $200 how about $500 or $700 and how against space” only one time usage. All it takes is asking with nothing to loose. Client will ALWAYS offer you the lowest fees. Is up to you to bring it up in a professional way.

      BTW I do the talk & the walk and I write my real name too. To me “insecure” is not sharing ideas with upcoming talent or even pro photographers and not telling them that there is a better way to do biz. YOU got plenty of professionals vets out there who still dont know the MEANING & REAL value of ©

      And #2 They get stuck on doing those $200 and never have the balls to ask for more or even to try for fear of loosing that $200 client. That can go for many yrs. If you got MOJO the right art buyer will see it and will pay for your talent. That is how I did it and worked for me.

      If tell folks “if you think little then you get little.”

      “If you’re on your way up, it is just something you have to go through. Everyone does it for a short time, at which point they step up or step out.” In a way I agree but SADLY most of the upcomers dont know shit about the biz and for sure dont know when to say NO or ask for better deals. That is why savvy pro folks tell them that there is another way to get up there. I want them to be successful. Sharing ideas and knowledge doesnt have to be selfish and for sure IS PRICELESS!

      Also “on your way up” doesnt mean that you need to get the $200 jobs.

      YOu still can get a $500 or $800 magazine shoot instead of $1700 or $2,000 but it doesnt have to be a $200 job. AGain if a client loves your work they will pay accordingly.

      • @Manuello Paganelli,

        I agree with everything you said. But by the time you are able to demand more money, you’ve probably already done a lot of the $200 gigs, and that you should not be ashamed to have done so, in spite of ludicrous claims of ‘devaluation.’

        The only real way to educate someone is to let them make their own mistakes.

    • @Cletus, “The only way you lose a job to a cheaper guy is that you are on a job where cheap is what matters!”

      Unfortunately, because of the economy and state of print media, cheap too often is what matters.

  16. If you are starting out and you feel you have to take the $200 jobs remember this: you are not just taking a job, you are looking to start a relationship. Ask yourself is this a client you want down the road? There are lots of friendly ways to probe this by asking the right questions: What do you have coming up in the future (get specifics). Do you have another photog you work with regulairly? Will you have a better budget next time?…. etc, All these friendly business questions will let you know if the client wants a cheap job and if they care weather they will ever see you again. You will be able to tell in the way they answer the questions. This tells you how much energy you want to put into this job, so you don’t run down your self esteem…. Remember to ask about the details of the assignment, to gauge how important these photos are to the client, and stay interested. Also you can point out to clients who are low balling that there is often a perceived value in photography but that their is also an actual value and actual costs and normally you would charge…… etc. Stay friendly and interested and show how you will shoot the event…. That $200 job can become a $500…. If they still don’t budge and you absolutely need the cash, another good thing to be able to say is, “ok but i will only do it at this price this one time only”. You are now at the most important point: you have to be willing to lose the job to learn how to negotiate! So you lose $200, you could be at some cool party that same night meeting the kind of clients you do want. And if you decide to meet them you will……

    db

    • @Dean Buscher, you don’t take a $200 job to build a relationship with THAT client, because that client will always only offer that $200. You should decide if the opportunity is one that will benefit you in other ways.

      example: You get a $200 assignment from the NY Times to shoot CEO of Fortune 500 company for the Sunday business section, (not sure if that section is still alive). You shoot Mr. CEO at your highest ability level. Light it up and compose it just right. Get in as many compositions as time will allow.

      Your contact for the shoot will most likely be a PR or marketing representative. Leave him/her a card and express interest in doing some corporate work. Follow up the shoot with a special promo card with the portrait of Mr. CEO with your logo and contact information. Now that you have the PR/marketing contact info, you can follow up with subsequent promo blasts. In addition, you have several nice portraits of Mr. CEO to add to your archive to make available to Business Week, Fortune, Money, etc.

      I’m speaking from experience. My advice is to pick and choose if that $200 assignment is one that you can make work for you. I’ve turned $200 shoots into several thousand dollar shoots.

      • @Tim,

        “you don’t take a $200 job to build a relationship with THAT client, because that client will always only offer that $200.”

        again, this is not always true…couple years ago i shot a $500 job for a client….same client came back a year later with a $6000 job.

          • @Tim,

            i wouldn’t call it a rule or exception…..just a possibility….and that’s my point. you have to weigh the possible opportunities or lack there of.

            Now i will say, i never expected that client to come back w/ that size job. my interest was portfolio piece, i was starting out, it was a client I wanted to shoot w/ regularly and they were giving me an opportunity to prove myself on a smaller assignment in the back of the book…..since then i’ve shoot numerous higher paying jobs for them as well as their sister pub that is also in the same office. Now that PE is at another mag and I am getting work from her at her new publication and still have relationships w/ the former mag.

            which is another point. in editorial, budgets for assignments are usually based on it’s overall position in the mag…..front of book and back of book will usually have smaller budgets than features in the well……you’re young, your starting out…it would be smart to take those smaller assignments to get in and build some trust with plans to move into the larger assignments…now that may not happen and at a certain point you might have to cut your losses but, that is the risk you take.

            • @Brady, you made it work for you and that’s great, but your story is an exception. I dare say that most pubs paying $200 have those as flat fees. I know this is true for the mighty NY Times. I can’t speak about other publications because I don’t take $200 assignments anymore. And yes, you can make it work for you if you use it as a marketing tool for yourself. That means treating each assignment as though it’s of Pulitzer Prize caliber. Make your work stand out even on the most mundane of assignments. If you’re going to use it to get noticed, then exhaust yourself in the effort.

              • @Tim,

                what’s wrong treating each assignment as a pulitzer? what’s wrong w/ wanting to do good work? why would you want to half ass anything if it’s your passion. if you’re in it just to make a buck, maybe so but, if you’re just trying to make a buck then photography ain’t the place to do it.

                that’s the thing, I don’t think my situation is an exception. In fact, i would say it’s pretty normal in the editorial market(see Anthony’s post above regarding fashion editorial)…..I’m not strictly speaking of $200 jobs, just low jobs in general…but, to apply it to those $200 jobs….

                newcomer PJ shoots a bunch of jobs for NYT gets awesome portfolio, goes to getty, shows his book. gets on contract, gets embedded in Iraq or where ever. Boom, he is up and rolling and has created future opportunities.

                you have to be able to see the possibilities. You keep telling yourself that’s it NOT possible then guess what? self fulfilling prophecy…….you know how many times i heard i was a fool or was told what i wanted out of my photo career was impossible? guess what, they’re all getting proved wrong…not saying it’s easy or quick but, bust your ass and put in the work and it will happen.

                my point is just that low paying jobs are not an absolute No even though it is so often preached as such.

      • @Tim, I work mostly in the film industry here in Vancouver actor headshtots $325 corporate headshots as needed $500, unit stills $500 – $1000 per day. However there is tons of start up in my business with little or no budget. So if you can get your kit covered say $200 and you are working with a a great team who may be shooting the next big budget feature its a good move. Commercial work always pays top dollar always…… Anything outside of my industry always pays top dollar – just to clarify.

        db

        • @Dean Buscher, ok, I don’t know anything about the film industry since my background is editorial. I guess it all depends on the scenario. But that’s my point, it should be a means to an end, not an end itself. (I hate cliche`s).

          • @Tim, agreed its about building the long term relationships that will be paying you for years….. at the rate you should be getting paid

  17. Cheap clients only refer more cheap clients. Good clients refer more good clients.

    I’m not saying I haven’t done work for $200 (or free) to net some shots for my portfolio or to make some connections, but I’ve only been a professional for less than a year. It’s a part of paying my dues–I can’t net good work if I have no work to show them in the first place.

    But you can bet your sweet bippy that every time I’ve done discounted work they have signed off on my estimate/contract that shows what I really charge. I make it very clear that I am discounting my work. That way they know the true value of my work up front.

    And when a client pays me $300 for a $675 job, they get a $300 photo with only basic editing/retouching. I still make a $675 version, but it gets added to my portfolio. The clients that pay full price get full service (and then some).

    Demonstrate your value, turn down the jobs that offer nothing in exchange for discounting your work, and spoil the good customers rotten.

    • @Corey,

      “Cheap clients only refer more cheap clients. Good clients refer more good clients.”

      I would say that is not an absolute truth.

    • @Corey,

      On top of that I think it is a mistake to give a client a $300 photo for a $300 job. Why? because that photo will be out in public w/ your name under it and if another editor or AD sees that shitty $300 photo they are going to think that is your regular work. If you are going to put something out there with your name on it make sure it is something you want your name associated with otherwise you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Good tears do result in additional work from other prospects.

  18. Really what this is about is learning to say NO. The fact that someone is calling you for work means they see some type of value your work. Learn how to leverage that.

    That being said….

    I wouldn’t make a habit out of the cheap gigs but, sometimes it pays off…..weigh your options. I would evaluate on a case by case basis…..I’ve had cheap jobs turn into advertising work, referrals, and repeat business at a normal rate. It just depends on the shoot and who the client is that’s calling…..what’s ur financial situation this week, what’s the subject matter, can it be turned into a promo, yada yada.

    Just know that you DON”T HAVE TO take those $200.

    There is always going to be cheap paying clients…you are not going to rid the world of that and there will always be ppl who take those jobs…some ppl will take those jobs and think that’s as good as it gets and some ppl will take those jobs and use them as stepping stones.

  19. I have spent the last 17 years supporting myself and adventure lifestyle with my craft. I’m a middle market photographer at best but I’m not searching for fame, just existence. Ask yourself “what do you want out of photography ?” If you answered money…….I’d reevaluate. You might as well go in search of record contract. It doesn’t matter what kind of job you have, greed will fuck you right in the ass.

    Yep, it’s getting harder to make the big bucks yep, nobody wants to pay ’06 money for photography anymore but if we bring our perspectives back to reality, there is plenty of money out there.

    More photographers need to go to business school. Don’t take the $200 job you’re shooting yourself in the foot. What does $200 dollars get you anyway, hardly a trip to the grocery store. Demand a resonable value for your work, it’s the only way you’ll get ahead.

    All that said, the photogs who work for $200 don’t last very long anyway so don’t sweat it.

    Do what you love, with passion and the universe will reward you!

    Z

  20. Ironic that this topic is coming up today, and that Manuello mentioned the Business Week situation of years gone by, when twelve or fourteen photographers in the Bay Area acted in unison to say No to low fees. And then I see this today, about massive layoffs at Business Week, (ironically in the art and photo departments):

    http://tinyurl.com/ykjwhdd

  21. Who is “assigning” $200 jobs?

    Certainly no one that actually purchases photography on a regular basis. Maybe Craigslist scammers looking to break into the big time with some lame idea? Maybe a relative looking for a family photo?

    Where are these $200 offers coming from? Who are you selling yourself to that would offer you $200 for an “assignment”? $200 usage for a shot that you may already have in your files I can see someone offer but I don’t believe that an agency or magazine would think that they could offer $200 to a photographer and expect any sort of usable result.

    I think that the gist of “$200″ is don’t low ball, which I agree with but I don’t think that any real player in the commercial world is offering that low. If they do they are NOT legit.

    vjp

    • @Victor John Penner,

      new york times…..$200 flat….no expenses…..and hip/cool mags…..tokion/interview/bust/nylon/vice…though some of the “hip” mags don’t pay at all.

      • @Brady,

        wow, that sucks! I would think that you would want to shoot images for the folks that pay to advertise in these “hip” mags and not the mags.

        I looked at your work, very nice, you are worth more than $200 Brady!

        vjp

        • @Victor John Penner,

          I totally agree and I’m very keen about my billing on proper jobs, I wouldn’t stay in business long if I weren’t. But, the cheap ones are not always a bad thing….There are people w/ very successful careers now that started out shooting cheap jobs for the right clients..

          ….I just shot a story for Bust that I actually went out of pocket on and I don’t regret it at all b/c it was awesome subject matter I probably would have had a hard time getting in with on my own, I had full creative freedom, a multi page feature w/ work I’m proud of in a mag a lot of creatives look at, and I will be turning it into a really nice promo piece and the work is reflective of the direction I am trying to take my career in.

          I read an article not that long ago about Erik Almas where he got called to do an assignment for a mag, small budget…ended up taking it and turning the job into a personal project/promo…..he spent thousands on it when all was said and done….I believe it’s the fashion series w/ the models and the animal dioramas……..Someone correct me on this if I’m wrong, i can’t find the article.

          It’s not always about money. There are things like access, relationships, and building your credibility. As much as you might not like it this business is based on approval and if you do a good assignment for a credible mag, someone at another legit mag w/ a legit budget is bound to call you b/c you’ve already shot for so and so.

          Everyone’s so militant about saying no and that’s good b/c it will slowly help to change attitudes in the long run but, there is also the present reality that is not changing anytime soon and you have to be able to play the game and work that situation to your advantage. There are people out there making those $200 assignments from the Times work and leveraging them into higher paying jobs, one of them posted on this thread up above actually if I’m not mistaken.

          • @Brady, That Erik Almas editorial was for 7×7, a local San Francisco city magazine. If I remember right from the PDN article he spent 5 figures of his own money to produce it.

          • @Brady,

            AGREE.

            i got a gigantic ad job when an art director saw a little tiny fashion piece i did for NYLON… that i had shot for no money. it’s about picking your assignments.

  22. Up&Comer #4080 (CA)

    Yes, it sucks to get offered a low paying gig. If you’re starting out and don’t have a strong book, how can you say no? Obviously don’t put in a $100,000’s worth of time shooting the $200 gig. Make it a quick turn around. Don’t promise to retouch photos like Box Studios, unless they’re going to pay extra. Get a second job. One of these days your book will fill up with better work, stuff that isn’t just photos of your stoned friends or portraits of homeless people.

    And the mother of all business lessons: keep costs low!!!!

    • @Up&Comer #4080 (CA), One mistake to avoid is getting a low paid assignment and doing a half-assed job (I’m not saying you’re suggesting this BTW). Folks need to remember that every time you shoot a job, the photos will be seen by at least a few people, and in such a competitive field, it’s important to avoid submitting supbar work at all costs. It can be tempting to phone it in when you get a lame assignment, but it’ll end up making you look bad.

    • @David Stubbs, I dont shoot for any wire services. Why when they pay so low? How can you make a decent living that way. But re AP I can tell you that the problem came form their shooters who, like cows lead to the slaughter, didnt have the courage to say “NO we will not sign this one sided contract where you will keep all the rights.” IF a photographer has a strong book then there are other clients, besides the pub world, out there to move beyond working for AP/AFP or any low paying wire or newspaper clients or magazines.

      • @Manuello Paganelli, I, too stopped shooting for the AP many years ago for the same reason.
        However, the wire service is an invaluable journalistic institution for instituting change. It is just sad. I was hoping to hear if there was a response from Santiago Lyon at the Eddie Adams panel.

  23. Could we please stop talking about Stock photography? It was dead for the photographer 3 years after it’s inception/heyday. You either made a lot of money early on or you didn’t.

    Screw stock. I wish it wasn’t produced. It’s never been good for photographers. It’s mostly a market for the types of photographers that would otherwise be shooting family portraits and bar mitzvahs. I’m not in photography to make pennies here and there.

    • @Anthony, this is extremely naive. While the value has nose-dived in recent years, rights managed sales from one’s archive can be pretty valuable and help add one more facet to one’s business. As for the type-cast of photographers contributing to stock, I suggest you take a closer look.

      • @David Stubbs,

        It’s the general rule. Yes, there are exceptions.
        Rights managed sales, how much of stock transactions is that?

        No publicist will allow syndication of their talent any longer. Used to be that you’d get hired to shoot an actor for say Entertainment Weekly. The selects they didn’t use you could turn over to get licensed for use in stock. Very rarely happens nowadays, if at all.

        Used to be there was very little if any non rights managed stock. Now royalty free is the majority of stock business.

        Used to be that you could get hired to shoot scenarios by agencies and they would foot the bill for the production. Now it’s on your dime and you gamble.

        Used to be that it was almost fair, the take from the licensing of an image by the agency and what the photographer would get from the sale.

        It used to be. BTW, I cut my teeth at Corbis and Getty. Like, I worked for both places. I know stock.

        You may take offense to my opinions and you may make some extra money off of stock photography, but it’s not what it once was. You are also talking from a landscape, photojournalism, wedding background, and I am not. So, if someone is writing a story about a hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains and they don’t have the budget for a photographer to go there and shoot some pretty photos…”Hey look, this guy has some, and look, super cheap!” Bully for you David. Even if you got paid already to go to Virginia and shoot and these are your personal images or non selects from the hired job, it’s gravy, not a living.

        AND FINALLY, this post is about not taking low paying gigs, NOT stock. “But it’s relevant..” No, it’s not. It’s an aside.

        • @Anthony, an aside indeed, but hopefully helpful to young photogs. I am speaking from a BUSINESS background that includes commercial work. Royalty free stock makes me puke. I have never licensed an image this way. My point was ultimately that it is important for young photographers to diversify their business enough so that “the gravy,” as you call it, may get you through some of the hard times. This is one more way to survive without compromising the industry by taking pitifully priced gigs.

  24. This is a great example of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ dilemma. It is in every young photographer’s best self-interest to pay their rent, so sometimes taking that low paying assignment is necessary. But every time you do it you devalue our profession as a whole, which leads to lower rates and makes it harder for everyone to make a living making images.

    Yes, sometimes a $200 job becomes a $500 job, sometimes it leads to better work, sometimes you get a tearsheet out of it, but a lot of times a $200 job is a $200 job. I’m sure all young photographers have thought the same rationalizations at some point: at least I’m not assisting, I wouldn’t make that in a day serving lattes somewhere, paying rent with this and not getting a day job lets me be available when the big jobs come along, etc….

  25. The $200.00 job isn’t as simple as don’t take the job. When I considered what I wanted to do with photography as a second career, I had a lot of questions. I have spent a lot of time learning and trying to work at the same time. The experience has been rewarding and insightful. What I know now I wish I had known before I started out, it would have been a lot easier.

    I think those breaking into Photography as a profession haven’t been prepared no matter their generation. If you went to college and graduated with finance degree, you weren’t taught about the business side of things. My son can attest to that! Education has become very focused, but if your intention is a profession where there are multiple disciplines involved you better have a plan to get that education even if it is ongoing when starting out.

    Most professionals didn’t have the resources or relationships that are available today. I have asked how they did it and for many of them it was trial and error just as Manuello Paganelli confirmed in his comment! When someone is breaking into the industry, they need to be willing to be mentored. I think that not being mentored is part of the cause to settling for less.

    New professionals need to learn and understand the value of their work. There is a huge insight to have someone help create a business plan or at minimum a CDB (cost of doing business) spreadsheet. It will provide an in depth or abbreviated picture of the financial value of their work. Then there is the subjective value. Up and comers need to grow, so do they always get paid the top rate? It’s not a question I can nor willing to answer, especially since I wouldn’t want a tiered pay scale.

    I think as an overall whole Photographers need to be in unity over the $200.00 job. It isn’t acceptable. I don’t even shoot a portrait for $200.00. I have taken the time to learn the business side with the help of articles like this. I would be hopeful that article like this causes thought, research, and the desire to be educated further.

    The average person has the perception that they can take a great portrait, still life, sports shot, etc. What makes it great to them is it is their memory, not a creation for advertising, magazine article, and such. Cheap film cameras have been around for a long time and will be until the advent of the under $20.00 disposable digital camera. As far as equipment goes, a great photographer can take a great picture with a box camera. Equipment is part of the cost equation but when it comes to image creation, the value is much less.

    There are snap shots that look wonderful, no doubt, but to me there is greater artistic value in professional photography. I think some want to be and newbie pro’s are overly threatened with the idea that everyone with a camera phone, P&S, or a prosumer camera will cut into their business. It’s doubtful! They don’t have the vision and creativity. Those who rent out a pro studio to get what they want will eventually be paying more that it would have cost them to hire someone.

    This is a topic that may never go away, and to some it is like having regurgitated food. So what! It needs to be brought up every often. I think a part it can be resolved through the mentoring of those choosing photography as a profession whether they are in school or learning on the job. I think the mentoring can come through those who have been successful, (doesn’t mean they are well known or supper rich), but successful overall in business and are not the struggling photographer. There is a wealth of knowledge that SHOULD BE SHARED to make a difference. Competition doesn’t mean you have to undercut someone else’s bid and loose money, it means you need to get on your game, and then again you win some and lose some.
    JMHO!

  26. I also think we should stop accepting poorly paid jobs. Unfortunately, rent is always due on the first few days of the month and I cannot decline anything at this time. Sad, huh? going against your own principles for a few bucks. I am from Portugal and here the average pay for a 2 hour editorial job is 30 or 40 eur (something like $50). I would give anything to have $200 jobs. Of course it is hard to decline anything when there is a line of 100 people behind you that would do it even for free. The market is very small for so many photographers. Quality is not even a decisive element anymore. Basically everyone will take the photographer that charges less. I try not to reply to freelance ads with a rate because I know if I asked for a fair one, they would delete my email without reading it through.

  27. I can remember graduating back in the late 80’s and a lot has certainly changed since then.

    You could be technically proficient and survive on that alone, almost. Having a good eye, not screwing the film up and knowing how to expose it properly could get you pretty far. Starting out I did a few of the 200.00 gems and learned quickly that was not a future that I wanted. The sentiment of the new photographers is pretty much the same from what I have read.

    Today, I can produce an image with less than half of the equipment and less time on the set. This is mostly due know how and years of experience. Also, you can ignore that equipment has become more portable. Lighting for 4×5 was no picnic and took forever.

    What hasn’t changed is the value that my clients put on my style and ieas and how we implement them together.

  28. Whenever you’re thinking about taking a low-paying job, remember this:

    A good guide for a business is that payroll be in the range of 25-30% of revenue. In other words, the employees take home 30% of what comes in the door. The rest is spent on the business: marketing, insurance, rent, product development, employee benefits etc.

    You’re a business, not an hourly employee. You don’t get to keep everything that comes in the door. Most of it is going toward your business. If it’s not, then you’re not devoting the proper resources, but are instead “eating your seed corn”.

    So when you get a $200 gig, it’s really a $60 gig. Now is it worth it?

    The flip side of course is that reality doesn’t alwasy mesh well with your budget. There’s no such thing as “industry standard” rates. There is only “what the last few people got paid”. It changes, and it’s different for everyone. And quite frankly, there are too many photographers out there. I don’t just mean too many newbies and part-timers. Too many established shooters as well. You, you, you and the guy hiding over in the corner…you need to quit the business. Supply is too high, demand too low. If demand continues to be low, the $200 gigs are nature’s way of weeding out the weakest, until there are so few capable shooters left, that the price goes up.

    I’m not quitting. So would some of the rest of you please throw in the towel?

  29. My two cents worth. First the problem seems to be based on clients who don’t know what a good photograph is and how much skill and sometimes equipment it takes to produce said shot. (in general ad agencies know the diff). I am speaking to all areas of photography whether fine art, headshots, advertising or journalism. Secondly, every media outlet these days has a section that says “hey send us your viewers’ pictures”. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the media outlet is getting photos for free but the really, really, really scary thing to me is the following.

    I am Uncle Joe. I shoot on the weekends and think I have gotten pretty good with my digital Rebel. So I send in one of my “lucky” shots to the Weather Channel who then posts it great big on the television screen. Me, Uncle Joe, realizes I must be a really good photographer if the Weather Channel or FOX News is posting my photo on TV or their website, etc. So I am going to start shooting weddings, whatever cause I am good…the weather channel said so. And lastly Auntie Janie and all of her family see that “great” shot on the Weather Channel, etc. so if its good enough for the networks then it MUST be really good. Why should I pay a bunch of money to a pro when I can just go out and buy a pro level camera. I mean hey, its the quality of the camera not the shooter right??

    Do you see what I mean? If the buying public is improperly educated to what constitutes point and shoot vs. professional then pricing continues to decline. I feel strongly in my heart that a major cause (besides a down economy) is that the viewing public believes everything that print, TV, web media tell them (sheeple) and therefore if a photo is published on their site it must be good therefore why should I, the consumer, pay $1000 to you the pro when all I need is a decent camera?

    Amateurs, mom and pops with disposable income can buy expensive equipment. I read their posts on forums all the time. Yet they have no clue how to use that equipment. And frankly, a great photographer (pro) can take a great image with a throw away plastic camera and table lamp if necessary.

    So what can we as an industry do to turn this around? That is the question we should be asking ourselves. While many pros have gone the seminar circuit route to fill in where good paying shoots have left off they as much as anyone must know deep down that no matter how much technical knowledge/skills one has, being able to recognize, capture and process a great image takes more than technical skills. Creative skills can not be taught. One can teach composition, etc. but still the “eye” of the greats is from a gift (talent), hard work, experimentation and many years of self education on the job.

    Somehow as a group we must find a way to educate the buying public as to what constitutes a $200 shoot vs. $1000.

    I recently had a call from someone who owns a significantly historical B&B worth tons of money. I looked them up on the web prior to our scheduled meet and was horrified at the poorly scanned newspaper photos advertising their business. They called yesterday to cancel because they realized my shoot wasn’t for free. Can you imagine?? Why would I take at least 1 -2 days to shoot such a complex location (10,000 sqft) and then days of post processing, HDR as needed FOR FREE???? This is the battle we are fighting.

    • @Pam, “I feel strongly in my heart that a major cause (besides a down economy) is that the viewing public believes everything that print, TV, web media tell them (sheeple) and therefore if a photo is published on their site it must be good therefore why should I, the consumer, pay $1000 to you the pro when all I need is a decent camera?”

      Even if those folks were educated and shown the difference between a great photo by a talented pro and a hack job, how many of them can afford the $1,000? Lots of folks are frugal, and willing to settle for less quality for less money. I’ve had a few potential clients say they wish they could afford me. They realize that paying a higher fee for a photog like me will get much better photos, but they either can’t afford it or would rather save money and have their friend with a DSLR shoot it.

      I keep hearing photogs say we deserve more money, but I just don’t think there are enough clients out there willing and/or able to pay all of us what we “deserve.”

      • @Jim Newberry, you are right. I moved from Arizona because the market was horrific. At least here in New Orleans there is more value attached to good photographs. I think something else we have to remember is print magazines are likely to become a thing of the past like many newspapers. Revenues down, less money to spend. We all have to remember we got into this for the love of photography, the love of that moment. If not then we shouldn’t be here. We are artists as well as business people. For someone like me I don’t need 10’s of thousands of dollars of equipment, fancy studios to impress clients. In a way I think it speaks highly of the photographer when they can pull off amazing shots simply. I guess in a way I am of the Joe McNally school of thought…well without 10 flash units! And there are those times if I like the client and I know I am going to get something really special I will lower my rate to meet their budget. I make sure they know this is a “special deal”. Either way it is definitely a direct relationship to the advent of digital and photoshop that we are all dancing around trying to figure out where we fit in this new world. You are so right, money as it is today makes it even tougher. But then I think it did get out of control. And the clients are few and far between. It will be interesting how this all shakes out in the end.

  30. We need to stand up for ourselves and say no to low pay and rights grabs. But there’s a really serious supply and demand problem here. If you publish a prestigious magazine, and you get 50 promos a day, why wouldn’t you pay as little as you could get away with? Isn’t that how (semi) free market capitalism works? Especially if your advertising revenue and circulation is down, and expenses on the rise.

    Of course we need to stand up for ourselves, and say no to bogus deals. But there is a glut of photographers out there–a great many whom are very talented. There aren’t enough well paying assignments for half of us.

    Also, what about photographers who say no to cheap fees again and again, but end up with no work? Is it more likely that they’ll try a different career, or lower their rates? I’m guessing the latter. We can and should educate young photographers about rights and usage and saying no, but some photogs know all that and still are willing to work for nothing more than a photo credit.

    I’m absolutely not saying we should give up or give in, but sometimes when I hear photogs complain about this I think some folks aren’t facing reality. There’s not enough well paying work to go around, plain and simple.

  31. Count me in the group that feels that if the lower values continue, they will drive themselves farther down. A trend, a graph, a chart… declining trends can perpetuate themselves. Not always, but we have seen it happen in oh-so-many instances.

    But also put me in the camp of the “get it done” and become blind to the lower levels of the industry – no matter where you are. Lose the lower rates, focus on rates that make sense to you.

    Don’t look down… look up. Move as fast as you can from the bottom and grow grow grow into better work and assignments.

    A $200 assignment may be a terrible idea for some photographers, and a life-saver for another. Unfortunate, for sure, but a serious situation for many. But there can also be a difference between a “gotta do it” moment, and a career path of cheap pictures.

    I have always believed that there is an intrinsic value to a photograph made by a photographer. Used by someone else to advance an idea or product – a context – increases that image’s value.

    I believe it to be well over $200, and that is something I personally believe, and anyone can believe something different about their work and work in general. Just a note about where I come from on this. Without a belief that what we do has a value, it becomes even more difficult to work in it (unless one is simply dabbling while working at something else during the week. That I call a hobby.)

    Way above me someone stated that “there is a market for free photographs”. And that may simply spell it out right there…
    Free photographs are NOT A MARKET. Not by any definition of market that I know of. But alas, that sort of silliness is being more and more adopted as mainstream thought. The ‘MARKET of Free’… of course pushed by people who do NOT do free, but are happy as clams to take the IP from creatives and ‘set it free’ while of course taking a small pittance for the spreading of the work. Like that bullshit Creative Commons nonsense.

    In order to move forward, any group must reach some sort of consensus. The comments above show just how far away that possibility is.

    I have said it for 30 years. When it comes to photography and photographers, “I have met the enemy… and it is us.” – Pogo

    • carlos benjamin

      @Donald E Giannatti, It’s hard to sell a product you don’t believe in…….

  32. This is an age old dilemma. I know because I have reached old age while in the photography profession. In the mid 60s when my carer started the problem was the photographers who would accept $35 to do a half day (2 hour or less) shoot for a publication. The ASMP minimum then was $100 for a day and $75.00 for a half day. That would be about $1,000 a day and $750 per half day in today’s dollars. Many, probably most, beginners like myself learned fast that working for lave wages was a sure fire recipe for maintaining a slave’s life. We woke up or washed out. I woke up after about 6 months when I had to replace a 35mm Leica lens damaged beyond repair by a foul ball at a baseball game I was shooting for UPI. I could not afford it because I had no money other just enough to live on, and that was eating pasta all the time.

    I got lucky when I ran into Larry Fried, Newsweek contract photographer, who was covering an anti-war demonstration that I was also covering. It was a quiet part of the day, and he and I were sitting on a curb and struck up a conversation. I told him about my woes, and he said something like “Change it.” How I asked. He said if you shoot these pick up jobs for UPI and they ware putting them on the wire, you are worth more money than they are paying you . You just have the wrong client(s). To shorten the story he blew away all my excuses for taking low paying work. He then said, if you want to a fair day rate you have to say no to low rates. Find a way to supplement your publication income so you can afford to say no.

    I thought about that, and one day I decided that I would try shooting candid photos of children as a way of making supplementary income. I found I could made about $150 a week doing that and usually in one day. That was almost as much as I was making in five days shooting for low rates. I started saying no to low paid jobs. It took about six months but I started to get paid the going rate because I would a no to anything less than it. Eventually, I stopped shooting for extra income because I did not need it and had no time to do it.

    Today, I advise young photographers to shoot weddings, legal photographs, portraits or any other kind of work to make an income that allows them to say no to bad deals. That way slave wage jobs don’t keep you in servitude.

    Doing a job for less than you should be paid is like admitting you are not good enough to be paid the proper rate. Why would anyone do that? Pride and dignity are important to professionalism. Prospective clients that are worth working for want both those characteristics in a photographer. Reinforce that you have them.

    During my fifteen years as Executive Director of ASMP, I came to know many highly successful photographers. They all told similar stories about finding a way to have enough money to refuse bad deals. One in particular is impressive. The late Arnold Newman ranks among the finest portrait photographers in history. One day, Arnold and I were chatting about the problem of financing a start up career. I told him my story. He told me his. When he was trying to break into the business worked as a photographer in department store photo studio. The wages supported him as he worked his way into better and higher paying jobs. Eventually he could name his price. He said no to bad deals.

    • I have to add to my post above another morale of the same story. The Leica repair people had told me the 35mm lens had to go back to Germany to be rebuilt at a cost close to a new one and with a three month delay. I could not be without that lens as it was my ‘bread and butter’ lens on my Leica M2. An accomplished pro told me to take the lens to Marty Forscher at Professional Camera Repair in NYC because he routinely saved pros butts. I did.

      I showed the lens to Marty who was a man on mythical proportion back then, and I explained my financial dilemma and how not having the lens would make it almost impossible to work.

      He took the lens in the back store and came out half an hour later. I asked: Can you fix it and how much. Paraphrasing, Marty said “it wasn’t broken and i should try it. Low and behold it worked perfectly. I asked how much it cost and he said I can’t charge for a lens that works. Its free. But keep in mind that the reason it is free is because I can afford to give it to you. I can do that because I have a profitable business because I get paid the going rate or better. It’s better to be able to give work away than to work cheap and not be able to do it.”

      As I started to make a real living in the business I took all my repair work to Marty. One day he finally told me that he had taken parts from a scrapped Leica lens that had the working parts needed to repair mine, then completely disassembled and reassembled it. He gave it me out of pity. When I asked what he would have charged if I had the money he said $250, which was the price Leica had quoted me. He told me he never worked for less than the going rate.

      I used that lens for another ten years. Every time I put it on a Leica, and it clicked into place, I heard: “Never work cheap.”

      • @Richard Weisgrau,
        I wrote an article recently that addressed this same sentiment. Personally I would rather someone shoot for free, as a gift or trade-out for value, instead of lowering the fee for an established entity.

        In order of preference:

        1. Get paid the rate.
        2. Do it for free, while letting the client know the value.
        3. Lower the value by quoting a lower rate.

        Numbers 1 and 2 affect the photographer and the client and their relationship. Number 3 involves the entire industry. And directly limits the photographer from getting the fees he/she deserves as the work progresses. Believe me, no one remembers when you told them it was a one-time ‘deal’ you gave them.

        But I think a lot of pushback comes from people who are so new to the business that they are confusing shooting headshots of models with “assignments”. Banging away real-estate shots for monthly give-aways may pay next to nothing per shot, but that is not what I think of when I think of “Assignment.” And, yeah, lots of photographers have had these kind of things help keep the doors open, when a single “architecture” shot for an ad would pay maybe hundreds of times more than the “pop-n-go” work for the flyers.

        And of course, direct to consumer is a different animal than working for magazines and agencies.

        It was good that Rob noted that one of the photographers had found his way above the lower rates. I think that is the best way to go for all. Aim Up – Focus Up. Down is where you started, no reason to hang around there for long.

  33. Schadenfreude

    As someone rejected from an Eddie Adams workshop, let me just take the moment to revel in the fact that these days I don’t leave the house for less than $4K a day, and have to beat clients away. No, I’m not bitter at all.

    • @Schadenfreude, Tell us what you’re doing right and how those methods can help us all. Not to take anything away from your street cred but add to the conversation here or go count your money

  34. Y’all need to take a spoonful of cement and harden the f*%k up. There is no recourse or formula for dis. And if there was ever a time to re-think tings…NOW is your time time. I will take work away from you…. some way or another.

    Jus Sayin’

  35. isn’t it the top photographers accepting NYT Magazine feature assignments for $400? I swear I remember reading this somewhere, and they do it for the prestige, to work with Kathy Ryan, tear sheet, etc…and thats cool but just wondering, if this is the case, is seems like its not a new problem, or is it?

    • @curious,
      No I doubt it. Most of those guys negotiate their own deals. Sure, on the hollywood issue you could probably negotiate a flat usage fee because of the subject matter but the expenses will still be through the roof.

  36. I can’t believe I read every single comment. God, I think I just spent two hundred dollars in reading time (taken from not shooting a cheapie gig).

    But….good stuff. Thanks to everyone with a positive attitude and something useful to contribute. I will use this information, with gratitude, in my own negotiations.

    the bitter ones, not so much.

  37. You know I’ve seen allot of really lame advertising photography out of the 80’s that came from very successful photographers, er I mean businessmen. That is what it really comes down to – there will be struggling artist who make great images and don’t/can’t make a dime and there will be successful businessmen creating crap but making allot of dimes. In the end it will be success in business that will make most of us successful in photography. 100 days of shooting a year (if your lucky) @ $200/day is $20,000 – less than most school teachers – now deduct your overhead…if you need an honest overhead calculator go to nppa.org they have one. What are you left with? Enough to feed yourself? probably. enough to pay rent? probably not but maybe. enough to go out and have a good time? depends on what that good time is I guess. enough to pay health insurance? hell, no. enough to take a vacation? doubt it.

    so as a struggling “artist” how long can you live like this? if your straight out of college maybe it wont be such a big lifestyle change but eventually it will take you down…unless I guess your home is where your van is parked.

  38. “We teach people how to treat us.”

    Tell them that you are worth only $200 and suddenly you are. It might be very hard to recover from that perception.

    And it has nothing whatsoever to do with the “quality” of the photography.

  39. As a consumer, I understand the desire to keep value high as well as the importance of making a reasonable profit. I also understand my own budget and what I am willing and able to pay (whether it’s for a photography session, a computer, a meal in a restaurant). It’s a tightrope walk for both sides.

    The one thing that concerned me reading through the post and the comments is the possibility of too much collusion in setting prices. At least in the US, there are price-fixing laws that you, the service providers, need to be sure you don’t violate.

    • @Bob Allen, “As a consumer, I understand the desire to keep value high as well as the importance of making a reasonable profit. I also understand my own budget and what I am willing and able to pay (whether it’s for a photography session, a computer, a meal in a restaurant). It’s a tightrope walk for both sides.”

      Very true. What I tell people is, if you can’t afford me, I understand. Just come back when you can.

    • @Bob Allen, Is it collusion that nearly every mechanic, plumber, attorney, and tons of other professions have nearly the same rates?

  40. Arrest the hooker and not the pimp the john?

    Maybe a little help on the buy side? Considering the world of advertising where there is a hierarchy, titles (AB, AD, AE) buying power and organizaiton…. If the world wants to have access to quality images maybe there will have to be some reversal of the commodification of photography. You can sell stock images and stock in stock houses but if you commodify art you get commerce not art.

    Now pay me what you owe me!

    David

  41. @A Photo Editor, well said – but prepare to be hated on by those who don’t have the chops, the patience, the self-esteem, courage or the knowledge to step up and charge a fair price.

    Also prepare to be hated on by those who think photography should be free and that photographers should just be happy to get anything.

    And lastly, prepare to be hated on by the folks who think everyone and I mean everyone BUT them is overpaid.

    Thanks for writing this post.

    • @David Bean, I think you are very right about this. Yes, there is no middle class for photographers. Either you get paid a lot or you don’t get paid at all. Unfortunately, it takes a while to get paid a lot…

  42. I come from a business background; I am new to the photography business. But the concept of “valuing my own work” is hogwash. In no other business do you “value your own work”; the market values you work. Does the painter “value their own work”? Or the the musician? Or the lawyer for that matter? No; the market values their work. I know lawyers chasing ambulances, and I know lawyers charging $1000.00 an hour. As you establish a name, a reputation, as you become busy you can afford to raise prices and charge what the market will permit. In the interim, nothing wrong with making $200.00 a day for four hours of work; you establish contacts, you learn and practice your craft, and hopefully, you improve and therefore increase your value.

    As for it “bringing down the collective value of our industry” that too is hogwash. If the experienced pro cannot add value over the newly graduated photographer, well…. then his rates are too high.

    • @James, Very aptly spoken. As to the
      “value” of what we bring to the table? Part of this is subjective, as are all things. One would hope that we offer above and beyond 100% in all of our endeavors whether we are a paper pusher, a doctor, or a photographer.

      To reiterate what others have said, if we underprice what we offer, it becomes a mind game of sorts, convincing the buyer that the caliber of our work is not really worth that much.

      • @Paul, I do agree; it is subjective, but the market judges, not the individual; fair or not; that is life. As while “offering above and beyond 100% in all our endeavors” is commendable, “effort” is not the point; talent is the issue. We are all adults now. The cream rises; “effort” doesn’t count; only results. I could practice ten hours a day and I still would never make it as a pro golfer! :-) I do agree with your point that it is a “mind game of sorts”; nothing wrong with confidence but you need some facts, i.e. a CV and references to back up your persuasion/sales or it’s just hot air. Worse, simply saying you want to charge “X” because that is what experienced and talented photographers (executives, lawyers, or brick layers, etc.) charge isn’t reality. The new associate doesn’t make what the senior partner does nor does the junior executive make what his senior does. Talent is rewarded. And the client is the deciding factor. In the interim, nothing wrong with working in the mail room, paying your dues, learning your craft, making minimum wage, and then advancing to the big time. And if you don’t cut it; well… you don’t survive. Again, cream rises. Art is not egalitarian

        • @James,

          Apples to oranges. Much of imagery is subject. Hierarchies. Who you know. How well you front. Art. Fashion. Celebrity. Culture. Understand how the artist fronts – influencing perceived value.

          Golf is more objective. That doesn’t mean some areas in photography do not work as you suggest. But not all.

          Why would the client commission the services of the “experienced pro” when they can get something good enough from a newb who does not know how to value (and price) their services?

          Working in the mail room is fine. Unless the daily consideration received is less than the cost of transportation getting to work. ROI.

          • @Bob, your initial paragraph is spot-on. It is common knowledge that many big time power brokers in Hollywood started off working as mail room clerks, prod. assistants, etc until they made their way up. Much of it had to do with their drive and tenacity. Just part of the game. So much of it is about connections and attitude, and this goes way beyond Hollywood.

            @James, yes, I agree with some of your points, but it seems like you are giving away a bit of power to the market, and the client. I believe if we have the skills (as you said) and a positive, flexible attitude to back it up, then this can wield its own power in negotiations. As to “paying your dues” this is quite true. In the case of photography, many decent (albeit non-paid) experiences can be had with family and friends to establish basic skills. Having said that, it is a tangled web of catch 22. No simple solutions, I’m afraid.

  43. Paul, glad you caught my analogy to the mail room. I’ve met a few agents; they said they worked liked slaves, were paid nearly nothing, barely surviving, often they had a second job just to make ends meet, but through “drive and tenacity” they are players now, making big bucks (ROI). Also, I like your summary of negotiations although like any business, the client is king. And yes, you can learn basic skills with family and friends, but it’s different. After leaving the comfort of your family and friends, it can be a cold world out there. Only the strong survive.

    And Bob, I agree, there IS absolutely no reason why a “client would commission the services of the “experienced pro” when they can get something good enough from a newb (low cost)”. Why should they? If I was the client on a budget I would do the same. But that is true is business, law, art, medicine, music, acting, construction, gardening, gosh just about any field. The newb isn’t worth as much, but often they are “good enough” and will be paid accordingly (less) for the job at hand. And until they get better, and their reputation increases (like photography, much of life is subjective) they will never make significant money. In the interim, as they try to build their reputation, they only need to earn enough to barely survive. And if they cannot find enough photography work, well, maybe they should simply quit. Are they tenacious, how much drive, and how much talent do they truly have? Darwin.

    • @James,

      There is an illusion when following the successful. The notion goes, that if one looks back on what they did, the key to ALL successes will become apparent. However, for every one of those people with the “drive, tenacity and talent”, there may be thousands of others with as much or more of those qualities that failed in similar paths. Then there are other successful people who quickly realized other routes to their own success. This was accomplished without having to do the mailroom route for ten years, or struggle in a market with huge odds against them.

      If the client is king, why are so many international brands providing such poor customer service and requiring all sorts of tricks and traps in agreements?

      There are all sort of service providers that do “get better” and still do not make any “significant money”. It’s important to look at the type of market forces in play.

      Cream can rise, then we witness the financial crises of the last decade. Where was the cream while this played out? (Those rare incidences in which senior management and CEOs were convicted for corruption probably are not isolated instances – they are just the tip of the icebergs). Or, just look at all the BRILLIANT photographers just barely getting by – if that.

  44. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antitrust

    I think photographers can work around this. Many emerging photographers are victims of Predatory Pricing, because companies hiring photographers are the ones pushing those $200 gigs. Funny thing that there is no regulation of companies dictating fees to our industry, yet so many scream every time someone suggests a common ground for how we bid.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predatory_pricing

    Perhaps the answer is price transparency? If more and more established photographers list some of the shoots pricing structures, then I think more will learn. Obviously not everyone does the same types of shoots, so it might be a long time, and lots of data, before we can move towards common ground.

    So as a start on Price Transparency, here is what I do. When I am able to determine, or am told, a budget, then I charge 5% of the client’s budget plus expenses. I shoot mostly corporate, and some advertising. Sometimes I use FotoQuote, though mostly on less planning intensive shoots. A few shoots end up being quoted as a location based fee, similar to the old day rate model, and those start at $3000 per location plus expenses. Obvi0usly there are many details to all this, but I want to keep this posting short.

    Price Transparency – it’s not price fixing, it’s not an attempt to create a cartel.

  45. Wow. My head is spinning — not only from the conflicting arguments and wide ranging “assumptions” made in support of said arguments, but also from the plethora of typos, appallingly bad grammar, etc. In the end, after reading the entire blog post + every comment to date, all I can think of to say is: it’s a good thing none of y’all are hoping to make any money as writers!?

    • @Dan Heller,

      Even if there is NO “cooperation” turning down $200. gigs (out of self interest) can be helpful to an individual’s business.

  46. Bob stated, “Or, just look at all the BRILLIANT photographers just barely getting by – if that.”

    I suppose the same comment could be applied to musicians, artists, architects, authors, etc. yet some make a very good living and others earn less than minimum wage – barely getting by – if that… Who defines “BRILLIANT”? Talent is subjective… Fair or not, the market; the buyer, the consumer defines what is “brilliant”.

    I really like Dan Heller’s comment on his site,
    “Real success is having a skill or quality that cannot be provided by the lowest bidder.”

    And the corollary is, if you don’t have a skill or quality that cannot be provided by the lowest bidder, then the lowest bidder will and should always win.

  47. And isn’t funny how the AP is the major abuser of paying 200.00 for an assignment that could last hours. And they pay none of your expenses to go along with that. I would like to have heard Mr. Santiago Lyons of the AP responses to the question. The AP does not value the freelance photographers they have or would pay the much more than the cheap 200.00 for a news assignment and 225.00 for a 8 hour sporting assignment. WAKE UP PEOPLE. Photographers invest 20-30 thousand dollars of their money in gear to make almost 10 dollars an hour in profit. STOP the MADNESS and don’t except it. By doing so it makes it worse for everyone else.

  48. I post about this on my blog today, but here is the most relevant part

    “What to take and what not to is always a judgment call. The decision will be influenced by what the assignment is, how busy you are and what the rights/fees are. This is always a moving target. But remember this, careers are not made on individual assignments. There is no such thing as a big break. Photographers who do well consistently work hard and have long term relationships with their clients. I’ve never been able to establish a relationship with someone who thought my photography was worth $200 a day.”

    -Stephen

    • @Stephen Alvarez,

      I found you blog from a photo editor. What a wonderful blog. And kudos to you; obviously you are VERY talented.
      And articulate.

      I agree with your post above; it is a very pragmatic and logical approach. And in theory, I also agree “continuing to work cheap” can and will hurt your career. But you also, succinctly point out the benefits of accepting assignments on the “cheap” that will further your career.

      However, while you represent Rodeo Drive (I live in LA) or at least upscale clients, all, to your compliment, and I’m sure most photographers aspire to reach your level, “Dollar Store” also can make a profit. So does McDonalds. My point on a photo editor is why be concerned? I doubt if you are worried, given your obvious quality, about the competition of low cost new photo school graduates. So I don’t understand others logic of demeaning them for only charging $200.00 either to build a base and/or to survive. I think everyone agrees that once you have excellent references, good work, that your price should go up.

      My point, that charging $200.00 for a shoot is “hurting the industry” is hogwash. Your point, that you have to start somewhere, and build from there, and then charge an appropriate fee after establishing your book is right on. And if, like you, one aspires to do quality work, and make a good living, one needs to move on from $200.00 a day.
      You obviously add value; that is why you charge more. And that is how it should be.

      Again, thank you for referencing your blog; an excellent site.

  49. As a photo editor and freelance photographer, I’m torn about this one. On the one-hand, I completely understand the struggles of an up-and-comer. Nobody should undervalue their work. On the other hand, there are many photographers who over-value their work too, including some higher-profile shooters.

    I once commissioned a big-whig photographer to get some portraits of a few people our magazine was profiling and what I got was utter garbage. We ended up not running any of the shots. They were so bad that we ran our writer’s photos who happened to snap a few frames – and believe me, our writer is a horrible photographer. The “pro” photos were blown out or underexposed; zero variety; bad lighting; the list goes on. And its not like we didn’t do our homework either – we knew this shooter’s style and trusted his judgement because, well, he said he was a big deal. We ended up paying for the photos anyway, because that’s what you gotta do. So, yes I can sympathize with younger photogs but don’t charge more than you’re worth and/or trick clients into thinking you’re better than you are. If you’re worth $200, charge $200.

  50. As someone who tried to break into the photography industry in a fairly unsaturated area of the US, I find this rather interesting reading. Given that NY is over saturated with photogs, it’s got to be tough to find someone who isn’t trying to drive the prices down.
    Here, it’s impossible to find someone who wants to charge prices OVER $200, never mind find a client who wants to pay them, regardless of what the work is worth, unless of course you’re in the wedding business. At this point, I have for now said forget about it, you can’t make ends meet on that kind of money anywhere.
    As an aside, don’t bother trying to find a pro to talk to, they’re out of bounds here to newbies. It amazes me that pros talk to and actually help fresh out of the gates newbies. It’s like a whole other world out there.

    But now that I’ve gotten way off base, I do agree. Don’t take the $200 jobs. They’re destroying the business.

  51. It’s all about supply and demand. You guys are not worth more then 200 dollars.

    • @Mike, How about the hours put into planning a shoot, finding locations, the costs of equipment, lights, etc., and then the actual shoot depending how many hours that takes, and then more hours put into EDITING photos.

      That goes well above $200.

      The work isn’t consistent. It’s not like $200 for 5 days/week. It’s maybe, one shoot a week. So you made only $200 per week. Wow that sure doesn’t pay rent or for food.

      So yes, we are worth MORE than $200.

  52. I’m a 25 year old photographer who’s just starting out; in Buffalo, NY (hardly a photographic mecca). I’m involved with my local ASMP Chapter and my professional peers have helped me to value my work more than I originally did. The comment section of this article is a great resource, I appreciate everyone who took the time to weigh in. It has given me a tremendous amount of information to funnel into the internal debate that I’ve been having for the past few months. I really enjoyed the personal anecdotes from some of the more experienced shooters.

    I believe the industry is struggling through a paradigm shift right now. The technology available in the marketplace has made it easier for amateur photographers to get “Lucky Shots” more frequently. So there has been a bit of demystification of photography to the general public. “Saying you’re a photographer is like saying you’re on Twitter”, that’s the running joke with my friends. I think that we need to focus on differentiating “professional photographers” from just “photographers”. Professional photographers need to focus on selling the fact that they create great images consistently. The value we bring to the table is our expert knowledge and the reproducible quality in our images from frame to frame. We need to educate our customers on the key differentiators: Our business practices, our insurance, our redundant gear, our knowledge of lighting, our ability to quickly solve technical issues, our experience in direct models, our expertise in composing images, our ability to delegate work efficiently to a team of other creative professionals(Stylists/MUAs/Hair/etc), etc, etc.

    We have to show that “Anyone can take a picture, but not everyone can create a image of value”.

    As far as the $200 jobs go, I don’t take them; but it still hurts turning down work. I’ve been scraping by month-to-month for the last six months. I probably would have had to bail out months ago, but through a mix of creative and luck I had some media success with my http://www.twelvehoursinacity.com project. That experience gave me the opportunity to supplement my photographic income with some Web Strategy consulting work in the short-term.

    I’ve also taken the time to intern(paid) with a commercial photographer in my area. She works regularly on campaigns for national brands and this experience has been tremendously educational for me. It has also given me the confidence to turn down the lower priced jobs after seeing what other work was out there in the marketplace. I encourage all new professionals to seek mentors, I also believe that many of you seasoned veterans should take the opportunity to teach new-comers to the field. The knowledge exchange flows both ways and through discourse we will help our profession grow more viable as we navigate this tumultuous period.

  53. Lots of blah blah as far as I am concerned..it is and always has been a free for all….there are no rules and never were any..except that before the turn of this century quality and talent did count for something as well as loyalty..all that has gone down the crapper….today anything goes and it depends on the flavor of the month which changes regularly….contracts mean nothing any more than a hand shake…..who you fuck counts more in this business or should I say who you sleep with….the digital world has not helped either..every body has a camera today and at least one…either on their phone plus the small compact etc….and everybody is always taking pictures and evidently one is bound to eventually take a good interesting photo…..but the real test is can these people do this time and time again and on demand..where will you be 5 to 10 years from now…….most disappear and don’t last just like flash in the pan singers….longevity goes with quality and consistence……yes I also have been touched by the down shift in work and sales but I have been doing this for almost 41 years and I am still doing it and making my living……

  54. No one would bat an eye if I was taking a part time job at a newspaper for $20 an hour, why should someone tear me a new one for taking a half day assignment for $200? Should I take a regular job for $10 an hour to get me thru the tough times instead? Something that ties me down so I can’t take a good paying photo gig one afternoon? Or should I take the occasional 2-3 hour assignment for a couple hundred dollars, keep myself open for better jobs and get paid $40-50/hour for actual photo work? I just took a job for a lobbying group and charged them $650 for a day and a half’s shoot of there convention, and it allowed me to take on three assignments for the same convention from separate newspapers for another $400 All told I probably spent a day in PP (maybe two hours or that for the papers with deadlines that day). $1000 for two-ish days of work wasn’t bad, that’s two or three weeks worth of pay from some crappy job I’d have to hold down from not taking cheaper assignments between the good ones. The AP is dropping its rates and making it’s stringers sign shitty contracts, Getty’s slowly going out of business, High end photogs are having to do seminars instead of getting real work, When are photogs going to realize that the good old days are over, some of us are in markets that are so shitty that we either have to take the $200 jobs or find another line of work. There’s $200 jobs that are worth it, and are profitable. And there’s $1000 jobs you can lose money on.

    • @Nate W, “No one would bat an eye if I was taking a part time job at a newspaper for $20 an hour, why should someone tear me a new one for taking a half day assignment for $200?”

      The difference is, at the $20/hour part time job, you’ll be taking home around 75% of your pay.

      After taxes and overhead, you’ll be taking about 33% of your pay from a photo assignment.

      So where you’re looking at $15/hour take home at that part time job, if we say your $200 assignment is one day’s worth of work (8 hours), you’re looking at $8.25/hour take home.

      Can you live on that? In the market were you can get a $20/hr part time job? This is the “$200 job” that’s being talked about. If you’re able to double up and leverage your opportunities as you say, I don’t think this is directed at you.

  55. Pretty interesting posts and from my perspective, if you are going to accept a $200 day assignments, have fun. Either your work sucks or you will be out of business soon. Either way, you will be justifying my fees. I have been doing this 3 years now, and even in the first month I would not even think of leaving the house without making at least a grand. Also, I run a rights managed business model and have been told by clients and prospects that I am pretty conservative with my licensing, but they keep buying those licenses and commissioning me. Just worked with a start up not even a year old paying me over 3 grand for just 12 hours of shooting with minimal rights, basically portfolio and promotion use only, and that was after a little negotiating. I even get others involved in projects contacting me months after I photographed it to purchase a license to use the images every now and then. Do they all bit, no. Do they complain about double billing, sometimes, but it’s business and if you want to use you have to pay. Sometimes I throw bate in water, with that start up I sent a couple sets of prints to others involved explaining if they would like to have a license to use these in their marketing feel free to contact me at …

    Do I get people who want me to do $200 day assignments, not really, but that may be do to the fact that I always control the conversation. When prospects call me before they start talking about price I tell them I will be writing an estimate and e-mailing a pdf to them; its harder to argue something in writing and plus it looks more professional. The cheap ones never respond back to me, but no problem, I know what I need to make in order to clear a profit and if they insist on not meeting that number, too bad for them.

  56. I have a fellow photographer who keeps sending his photos to my paper for free usage while complaining for nobody willing to pay him.

    I already told him not to send photos for free because my paper does not have a budget to pay anything but they will never even consider it if they get it for free anyway – why would they?
    He does not seem to understand and keeps sending photos.

  57. White Lotus

    I’ve always been of the mindset, if you produce quality work, eventually people will know and things will work out in the end. If you are a brand new up and coming photographer and Vanity Fair wanted you to shoot their cover for $200, and you did a great job, would they be undervaluing your work? The answer is YES! Absolutely! Of course you deserve to get more than $200 for shooting the cover of Vanity Fair.

    But let’s look at this from the other side of the coin. Tens of thousands of people will see your work. And they’ll want to know, who did that cover?!? That’s great work! Now you inundated with jobs and you can set your fees accordingly. I’d rather take a $200 job that will open the doors for more gigs (and more experience) rather than take a ‘holier than thou’ approach to get a few more dollars for my next gig.