Money and Photography

Over the years, I have met many professional and semi-professional photographers. We’ve discussed seeing, creativity, gear or even marketing and promotions but there is one topic which appears to be taboo – money! In fact, this is such a toxic issue that even now as I am writing this piece I’m still not sure if this is a good idea.

Let’s start with a consensus. Making living from photography is hard, extremely hard. Every successful photographer (definition: those who can support themselves from photography) knows that. No, I am not talking about “successful” in terms of getting rich and famous but in terms of being able to provide for your family.

As some of you may know, photography has become my main source of income. I made the transition to being a full-time photographer quite late in life but there is no need to repeat my life story (in short, this choice was triggered by some dramatic events).

Strangely enough, I’ve found the topic of money so toxic that any mention of it causes conversations to stall and metamorphose into a strange and bizarre sideshow. I have to admit that some reactions have surprised and puzzled me.

When raising the topic of money in photography, whether on social media or in person, I’ve got the impression that for many people, making money in photography is something shameful. I don’t think any reasonable and intelligent person could throw the accusation at a photographer that they are in it for the money. That would be pure insanity. Of course, this is not the case.

Some of us made a deliberate choice to take our passion and turn it into a profession. And as such, broadly speaking, a photographer must find ways to offer some services and products and charge money for it (it is even strange that I have to write this but it appears to me that some people still don’t get it!).

Not long ago I received a note from one of my photographic friends who told me that he is embarrassed to ask his clients to pay for his services. I started wondering why this is the case. Why are we pressured to feel this way? I concluded that we are part of the problem.

For years we have been selling out our skills and devaluing our knowledge and experience under the cute and adorable cover of “collaboration” and “community.” Unfortunately, these important virtues pave the way for “I-know-it-all” bullies who after an eight-hour, comfortable, fully paid workday (in their chosen profession) put their slippers on, open their brand new shiny computers and are ready to share their wisdom with the world. Other than spreading the usual outrage about the state of world affairs, they demand everything for free – it’s a new world out there – it’s a sharing economy, stupid. After all, Facebook is free, YouTube is free, gossip is free – at least in their naïve minds (that’s an entirely different subject).  

No wonder when the topic of adequate compensation comes up, the chorus of FREE raises its outraged head. Those who are brave enough to stand up to this madness are quickly labelled enemies of collaboration! What’s even worse, some photographers put their hands together and clap the madding crowd to score a LIKE or two; others stay silent, afraid to alienate the potential clientele.

Indeed, I have witnessed numerous instances when a photographer was publicly lashed for charging “too much” for some services or in fact, charging at all. What’s even worse, I have seen photographers themselves justifying unsustainably low pricing with slogans like “photography education should be inexpensive or free,” “I am not greedy” or “I charge half what others charge” etc… On the surface, it is difficult to argue with such glitzy but dishonest headlines.

Here’s the hidden truth. Since photography has such wide appeal it attracts people who want to be seen as working professionals, regardless of the cost. Some of them are already well-off financially with no urgent need to support their family with every paycheque. Off the bat, they spend a fortune on gear and fancy studios, travel to exotic locations and present themselves as super successful. They live their dream with all their workshops full, clients lining up at the door and speaking engagements left and right. After all, hard work and struggle is for losers!

The truth as usual is much less flamboyant. Those who must pay rent, pay off their student loan and support their family by working as a full-time photographer must be aware that the income flow will not be steady and on top of that there will be times when you can’t pay the rent or buy the latest gear or take an exotic trip. The only way to survive in this industry is to excel in what you do (yes, part of it is taking great imagery – having great experience is not enough!), find a niche, work almost non-stop, provide your client with an exceptional experience and, most importantly, charge adequately for your services. Yes, the last part is the key to your survival. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

 

Here is some recent imagery taken mostly with the X100F.

 

 

2018 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

 

12 thoughts on “Money and Photography

  1. I came across the same problem observing my wife giving quotes to potential customers to play at receptions, weddings, etc (she’s a cellist). Everybody thinks it’s expensive to pay x amount of $/€ for a 1-hour act. But then they forget that she had to study for 20 years to be able to play like that. And that she’s going to spend time rehearsing with the violinist and the pianist. And that they are going to play at 3pm but they have to travel to the location (pay for gas), be there early to do some sound check, have lunch (it’s not free in restaurants), then play, then eat again, then go back home. That’s a full day of work. Where I live, Portugal, people don’t argue a price with a doctor, a plumber, an electrician. They just pay (and probably complain about it later).

    I guess the issue of money happens with artists in general everywhere. Stay strong!

  2. Olaf, thank for bringing to light one of the conundrums that has plagued photographers for a long time, including me. While I am not a ‘professional’ photographer (i.e., photography as my main source of income – I am retired) I occasionally get the odd request to use my photographs for the inquirers’ purpose, e.g., to include in their website advertising, Facebook sites promoting their business, cover page for their book, etc.
    At first, I thought this was flattering thinking that it would give me exposure (and all the other excuses we have for allowing this to happen) but it finally occurred to me that by giving away my images (under the misconception of flattery) I was, in essence, devaluing my work. Am I giving away something free in order for someone else to make money from my efforts (remembering that the image is what draws people more often than not to what is being sold)?
    Most recently I had a request from an individual wanting to use my images from a trip I took to Uzbekistan so that she could share it with others on her Facebook account. However, she failed to state that she worked for an international travel agency whose specialty is travel in Central Asia. Hello – how far is it between her Facebook account and the agency’s website?!
    All of this is to say that I do not give away my images freely anymore – I value my work (and myself) too highly and haven’t the least compunction in charging for the images. I hope other photographers, however they may feel about the ‘excellence’ of their images, will do the same.
    Which raises another issue, of course: how much to charge! If you or anyone else can offer some advice on this issue, I would appreciate it. Thank you. You can reach me privately if you wish at the following:

    Luis Curran
    luis_ curran@yahoo.ca
    http://www.pbase.com/lcurran

    1. Luis,

      Thank you for sharing your story with us. I think you did the right thing to stop giving away your images for free. How much should you charge? This is a very difficult question but I have some ideas. Will try to contact you privately.

      Stay tuned,

      Olaf

  3. Excellent article, thank you. I’m a professional translator and we have many of the same issues — discussions of money are viewed as tacky, even vulgar, presumably because so many of us prefer to emphasize the pure/noble “intellectual” side of the profession. Or possible because we can’t count. (Translators love words, not numbers). But my own experience is that failure to study hard data and comprehend the “big picture” (= the value added by the work we deliver) leads many translators to bid low and ultimate devalue their own work and that of others.

    1. Christine,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. From my experience usually those who “emphasize the pure/noble “intellectual” side of the profession” are not qualified or they try to hide their poor knowledge and craftsmanship. I noticed the same in photography. I guess our role is to educate and convince our potential clients why we charge more. Great conversation for sure!

      Take Care,

      Olaf

  4. Terrific article and you have covered many taboo subjects – Thank you! We are all in all of it together.

    1. Thank you so much! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.

      YES. We are all in this together!

      All the best,

      Olaf

  5. Many photographers have an embarrassing lack of business knowledge/experience to make money as a full time professional photographer. This is not unique to photographers, I have seen it in artists, architects, designers, chefs etc. They think it is a “if you build it, they will come..” profession. I think every would-be professional photographer should read Michael Gerber’s book “The E-Myth Revisited – Why Small Business don’t Work and what to do about it.”

    1. Alan,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you about lack of business experience among some photographers. I will definitely check out the book.

      Looking forward to your future comments.

      Warm Regards,

      Olaf

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