July 31, 2019
A Fair Day’s Pay for Photographers
What should a photographer be paid as a fair day's pay?
Photography is one of those hobbies that can eventually turn into a profession and a career. As a hobbyist photographer, it is easy to take on opportunities to raise your profile. This week I’m going to discuss the business side of photography. The topic this week came from an e-mail I received from a tour company in Edinburgh. I have taken out anything that may identify them but the e-mail received read like this;
“Hello, We are currently looking for a photographer in Edinburgh to take promo pictures for our company. We are a xxxxxxxxxxxxx company operating nationally. We operate xxxxxxxxxx sightseeing tours xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. We explore xxxxxxxxx Edinburgh's xxxxxxxxx past. The reason we are approaching you is we are looking for photography students, who would like to widen their portfolio or just take some photos for recreation. In exchange, we offer 2 tickets for xxxxxxxx Tour on a date and time by choice. I believe it'll be quite an unusual opportunity and incredibly fun experience! So if there is anyone who may be interested, please let me know.”
What’s wrong with this approach?
My response to the company in a polite way set out why I wouldn’t be passing on this opportunity. Let’s step through the e-mail and consider why I did this.
“We are looking for promo pictures” – this first sentence of the e-mail clearly sets out that the photographs are going to be used for commercial purposes. Promotional photographs are the first thing a potential customer will see. You could argue they are the most important part of an advert or social media post. A high-quality image will drive a customer to read more and then buy the product.
“We are a company operating nationally” – the second sentence now tells us that the company wanting the services is fairly large. If they are operating nationally then they will have more than one experience. If companies are operating in multiple cities then it’s fair to assume that they have developed a successful model. Success = profits.
“We are looking for photography students” – so far this mail has been good. This is a successful company operating across the country. Perhaps their desire to look for photography students in an act of altruism?
“..in exchange, we offer 2 tickets for a tour” – now we have the true reason why the company are looking for students. The price that they value a set of images amounts to two tickets. Bearing in mind they have specified students, this would be at the concession rate advertised, which is £28.
Is £28 a fair price for a student (or for that matter any photographer)? Let’s look at the costs of photography and establish what could be considered a reasonable rate.
A fair days pay
I could look at this request from the perspective of a professional photographer. However, even as a hobbyist there are some considerations that you will need to take into account when pricing this job.
Firstly, there is equipment. Despite the request for a student photographer, the client’s expectation will be for professional-looking images. The images they are looking for are to be taken both inside and outside so there would be a need for flash photography. Therefore the absolute minimum amount of gear for this job would be a camera, at least 2 lenses, a couple of flashguns, remote triggers, lighting stands and modifiers such as softboxes. It’s quite easy to get to a four-figure sum to have all these things.
Secondly, you need to think about the risk of undertaking this work. There are going to be customers in the vicinity of the shoot. If your expensive flash gun falls over and lands on someone, they won’t be happy. They could also sue you! Would you have the money to pay for the legal expenses of a claim? In order to mitigate this you could take out public liability insurance but this is an additional cost. One you should definitely do.
Thirdly, if you do have an accident then you’ll need to repair or replace your equipment. You’ll always need to maintain your equipment. A sensor clean can be £50 and you wouldn’t want spots on images sent to a client.
Finally, let’s think about your time. You’ll probably be shooting for at least a couple of hours. Add to this maybe another hour spent selecting images, editing and preparing the final images to be sent to the client and you’ve probably worked for 3 hours. This works out at an hourly rate of just £9.33 (marginally above the National Living Wage) from which you need to deduct the cost of equipment you have bought, insurance and maintenance. Don’t forget you should also declare income to be taxed.
It’s easy to see that you have a lot of costs and very little benefit other than a warm glow seeing your images on a leaflet or being used in a Facebook ad campaign. On the other hand, the company involved have received images that they can make even more with, for no cost. They would have run the tour you’ll be attending anyway. Is that fair?
Now it’s easy to argue that you have gained experience and exposure. These two things could be worth the lack of actual money exchanged. To an extent, this can be true. You may have challenged yourself and hopefully succeeded in difficult lighting conditions. You may get someone call you up if you have been credited on the advert. However, go to Facebook right now and check how many photographers have been credited on adverts. At most, it will be single-digit numbers. Now, think if someone who may want to employ a photographer is actually going to see your credit and think ‘that’s the person for my job’. It’s highly unlikely!
Good hobbyist photographers often think that they may want to take up photography as a profession. Let’s imagine the recommendation for the tour company if you did a good job when asked who took their images. They’ll say your name, how good you were and how little you cost. You have now created an unsustainable benchmark which it is difficult to increase your prices from. Ask any professional photographer today if they are paid more or less than they were 10 years ago and the answer will usually be less. Photographers pay has reduced, largely by this race to the bottom in terms of pricing.
Charging an appropriate fee helps your work to be valued for what it is worth. It also ensures that professional photographers can charge for their skills. If professionals can’t afford top of the range cameras they won’t buy them. This means the developments that are made to camera technology won’t happen as there won’t be the demand.
Hopefully, this article on photographers pay won’t come over as a rant. It’s been written to help new photographers be valued. I’d be interested to get any feedback by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org – Don’t forget to protect your images by adding metadata when sending them to a client. You can read more about creating metadata here.
You can also let me know any other subjects that you’d like to see covered. You can also sign up for the Edinburgh Photography Workshop monthly newsletter where you’ll get regular updates on interesting things happening in photography and some great tips. Sign up by clicking here.