Recently, PhotoShelter.com presented an intriguing blog topic entitled “Would You Work for Free?” The subject has generated plenty of discussion among photographers who are approached to perform services or contribute their images for little to no compensation at all. Responses included very reproachful remarks while others have attributed this trend to the Information Age in which we find ourselves. Furthermore, some remarks plainly lamented the hyper-saturated abundance of photographers in the world who are willing to virtually give their images away for free in exchange of seeing their name in a newspaper or magazine.
As an alternative for proper compensation, many corporations often offer “exposure to millions of people” and “a photo credit with your name next to the image” as their “generous” equivalent to proper compensation for one’s efforts to create an image.
One particular perspective in response to PhotoShelter’s topic was that the digital age and the internet have essentially corrupted photography as both have done with music (do you remember the last time you actually bought a compact disc from the music store, which probably and sadly went out of business sometime in the last decade?) and reading books on printed paper (we currently have a generation of people who are not familiar with libraries or the thrill of picking up a hardback suspense novel). As a result, the opinion resolved that photography — or the financial value of photography in general — is in decline and will inevitably share the same fate because the digital age has made it so incredibly easy for anyone to call himself or herself “a photographer.”
Please find my contribution to the same topic below:
I think it was the Joker who said, in “The Dark Knight” blockbuster movie, “If you’re good at doing something, never do it for free.” I start with this line because it’s contemporary pop culture and an iconic villain who actually made sense with this line given his relentless, wrathful, violent insanity.
If my sister, my dad, my mother, or my best friend approached me to do some photography work, and I had the time to do the work, it’s unlikely that I would ever turn them down — nor would I bill them. Family and my closest of friends can always feel free to approach me comfortably.
However. . .
“Working for free” seems to be an oxymoronic phrase to a certain degree. For amateurs, and those who are just beginning to market themselves, I can understand how the lack of experience and naïveté could lead one to quickly agree to do work without any compensation.
I do agree that it is presumptuous and inconsiderate for a photographer to be approached for her work and not be offered compensation. Many companies these days think they are doing the photographer a favor by saying, “Oh, we’ll give you credit by printing your name by the photo” as though that is worth a million dollars in gold. I know photographers who leapt at such offers only to see their name or website misspelled or not listed at all — and the publication has already been distributed to the circulation of five million readers. If some monetary compensation had been added, the blow of the mistake wouldn’t be so bad, but this is bad business.
This is not about greed for money. This is about being compensated for one’s services, talent, and value. Photographers should never be deceived into thinking their images or services are not of value. If a company is approaching you for your photograph, then it is of value to that company. It’s similar to being contacted for an interview for a high-level position. The company’s hiring managers wouldn’t invite you unless they were interested in your skills. They know you have something of value from which they can benefit. The same logic applies to our photography.
It’s up to the individual at the end of the day. I’ve been told “Oh, you’ll get so much exposure.” That may be true, and it may be alright to engage every once in a while, if the photographer sees the benefit, but 9 times out of 10, do not do something for free. Don’t waste your talents on companies and groups who stand to benefit so much more from your work and not consider paying you your dues.
Stepping down from my pedestal. Thanks!
I’m going to let Dolly Parton carry us out of this one. Even though these employees were unsatisfied with their “9 to 5”s, they did get compensated. Have things really changed that much since the 1980s???
(Feel free to answer or ponder).