Hey guys, Andy here. Have you ever wondered or asked why photography rates what they are? Why does this photographer charge X when that photographer charges Y and do photographers really work for exposure? There are few set rules in the industry and, even after a decade, it can feel like rates are based on a wet finger in the air determining the direction of the wind. However here are some thoughts to consider next time you question photography rates.
For many outside the industry, the increasingly common request that a photographer should work for exposure sounds both reasonable and logical. For those unfamiliar with the request, the line of thought goes that the exposure gained via an image, or series of images, is such that the photographer will attract offers of work from those who see it. As such they should consider work for free now in exchange for this future opportunity. The reality is that the notion of future work is a possibility not a guarantee. The only guarantee in such an exchange is that the client has what they wanted out of the deal; namely the images and for photography rates at zero. The photographer is left holding a promise that is often never reclaimed leaving the them empty handed. My experience from working with influencers, who are the main culprits in the field, is that their audience will ‘Like’ an image on their feed but will not spend the time to reference the photographer; as a photographer it’s not my feed or account they’re interested in and I do not benefit from cross account engagement.
This idea of free photography has also been adopted by photography competitions. More and more competitions now claim rights, in their small print, over submitted images. These rights include the right to use commercially, for perpetuity and the right to alter; all for free. Commonly known as #RightsGrab within the industry these terms are rarely ever shown up front on the social media posts that promote them, rather they are buried in the T&Cs and often found at least one hyperlink away. Ie they take time and effort to find and are not on the radar of most laypeople who then fall foul of them. Personally my belief is if the competition believe the images are good enough to use and show to promote and earn work, then those images have value and the person behind the camera deserves to be appropriately financially compensated. Using images for commercial gain when the creator receives nothing in return is exploitation.
So let’s get down to brass tacks; photographers have costs and overheads. This may be education in the form of a degree or course, it may be rent for a studio, it may be for travel and accommodation and it certainly will be equipment. These costs need to be covered in addition to a wage needing to be earned which reflect factors such as experience and expertise and, let’s be honest, sometimes a certain celebrity photographer X- factor. Personally my costs include computing devices, cameras, lighting and software applications. Were I to purchase all this new, the total cost would be more than £20k (X). I then need to factor in a wage (Y) and calculate how many hours I can work a week (Z). As a portraitist I am aware that I have to balance my time behind the camera with time spent editing my work and delivering it to my clients in reasonable time. As such there are only a certain number of hours I can actually dedicate to taking photography. Therefore my minimum hourly rate is (X+ Y)/ Z. This figure can be qualified over time to account for depreciation of equipment, but ultimately a rate less than this number means I am losing money. Could my equipment costs be lower, yes, however they could also be higher. Either way I am confident in the photography rates that I offer and they are what they are.
Associated with hourly rate is my ethos which ties into my final product and my offering. From a single two hour portrait session I look to offer five images and my sessions are built with this aim in mind. Despite an increased need in society for instant gratification, I have deliberately gone down the path eschewing the now, which I associate with low quality, for products which I hope stand the test of time. My ethos is one of value and offering the best product I can which I believe takes time and I also believe a quality image will last longer than a rushed product and will not need to be refreshed as quickly. I used to pride myself on being able to take an image quickly and put myself under self induced pressure to do so, in order to show the image as quickly as possible on the internet and feed the beast of content. And while composition and reportage are skills I still hold dear, when it comes to portraits and facial expressions, you can’t instantly build rapport and expect emotional honesty; it takes time and a rate. So consider what you or your product are worth and next time you’re after photography, find someone of appropriate value.