Photographers, don’t get greedy

I received a request earlier today (sent globally to a group I belong to, not specifically to me) for a photograph of a local landscape feature to be presented as an award by the city to a donor of land which will help expand and preserve open space. At the end of the request was this statement

“Presumably, the City will pay for t[h]is, but don’t get greedy. Remember, it’s taxpayer dollars.”

I had to read it twice (and I still have to re-read it to make sure I’m getting it right). Don’t get greedy. I don’t think I’ve ever met a photographer, or seen an estimate for work, that could be considered “greedy”. Greedy photographers are, for one thing, probably not pleasant to work with (I imagine, I’ve never worked with one, so that’s just my opinion). I extrapolate this opinion from all those greedy companies that keep calling wanting free stuff from me. For another thing, greedy photographers aren’t likely in business very long. Word gets around, you see.

I replied with the following response:

I appreciate your request, and unfortunately, probably don’t have the image you’re looking for. But, I have to take offense to your “don’t get greedy” comment.

Professional photographers, like me, are more than willing to “donate” photographs to causes we believe in and it’s up to the individual photographer to determine the pricing of their work. A professional photographer, making their living from their skill and talent, rarely gets the opportunity to “get greedy” when pricing their work for sale or license. Those photographers who understand what it takes to be (and stay) in business price their work and the fees for their skill and talent accordingly and to the market in which they sell their work, regardless whether the buyer is a multi-national corporation, a local non-profit, or “taxpayers” through local, county, or national government. If photographers “got greedy” they would not make it very far in the business.

I’ve sold many prints of my work to city governments for display in their offices and never have I been asked to not “get greedy”. I think it’s an insult intimating that photographers take advantage when the truth, in my long experience, is the other way around.

It’s also a fact that you will likely find someone willing to provide the image you request for nothing, or nearly so. I would encourage you to not take advantage of this and perhaps offer some payment in return, regardless, as a thank you and a gesture that you understand what an image is worth.

Photographers, particularly fine art photographers, are constantly asked by perfectly legitimate causes to donate works for fundraising auctions or their skills to document an event. Honestly, if I could make a living giving my work away I would do it. I think many photographers would feel the same way. I would still be a wildlife biologist if the work was available and I could survive on $10/hour.

But, life requires money and we can’t work for free. I don’t think people working for an employer realize how different it is paying 100% for health insurance and not getting bi-weekly deposits into the old bank account. But, that’s for another time.

I love doing what I do, most of us do. We hate being taken advantage of or having our work marginalized by those who think a snapshot is the same thing as a fine art print and/or both are as easy to create.

I’ve been trying for 3 years to get a shot of the area in the request (and similar locations). I live 25 miles away from that location. When the lighting conditions are right, you have to be there and that can be problematic if you don’t live right there. If it’s just a snapshot they want, then there are plenty of those available. If it’s something special, then I’m afraid they’ll have to pay (reasonably) for it.

So this is for both the potential client out there and the wanna-be (or subsisting) photographer. For the client, stop taking advantage of (or demanding) free. That’s all that should need to be said about that.

For the photographer, learn the business and charge a reasonable fee so you can continue doing what you enjoy. A simple start is to calculate your Cost of Doing Business, what it takes to maintain your business at break even every day. This is especially important for those of you currently living on full-time or part-time jobs. If you aspire to be a full-time “Pro”, I think you’ll be surprised what it’s going to take to maintain your current lifestyle and stay in business once you lose that security. Price your skills and talent and your work right now as if you’re dependent upon it. It’ll make the transition that much easier.

For those of you without aspirations to be full-time professionals, calculate your Cost of Doing Business anyway. Why give your work away for nothing? If someone asks for it, it has value to them, shouldn’t you receive something for that? Giving it away sends a powerful message that you don’t value your own work. If you can get paid for it, you can use it to purchase that new lens you’ve been salivating over. Otherwise, you’ve got to spend your valuable time trying to convince your spouse why it’s better to buy the lens from your regular salary. I hope they are supportive of your “hobby”.

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