Earlier this week I was contacted by Moving Still Productions a video production company based in Perth Western Australia. They wanted to use the above photo in a production they were making. The email was pleasant with flattery about how beautiful the image is and what an important part it would play in the production. They were very generous with their offer, I would get a credit but no payment as there was no budget.
“We couldn’t afford to financially reimburse you, but we of course would credit you as the photographer. Your photo could really help us tell the story visually, and your assistance and generosity would be greatly appreciated.”
Vanessa Barnett, Senior Producer
Riiiiiight! So obviously the production crew are working for nothing as well? No there is a budget for the production crew. Ms Barnet went on to say in another email:
“We simply don’t have the budget to send a photographer to York, which is why we need your help! “
So it’s not that the photograph is really that good. You want my photo because it meets the criteria that you won’t have to spend any money thus maximizing your company’s profit. Thanks, but no thanks! I expect that Ms Barnett likes to be paid for her work, but it seems that she cannot see how that would extend to others.
There comes a time in every photographers life behind the lens when they get asked to do something for free. There are a whole heap of reasons why we apparently should in this post industrial, post modern and peak everything media interconnected world, but there are also a lot of reasons why we shouldn’t.
The reason why I’ve brought this up is that in the last couple of weeks two people have asked me to do some work pro bono (for the good not for the singer). I’ve done work for free before, namely work for some churches, a human rights organization, and some weddings where the photos were my wedding present for the bride and groom. So as you can see I do have form here. Unfortunately it has also been my experience that doing work for free can often lead to an unpleasant experience, and this tends to happen where you feel taken advantage of. The first job was a little complicated as it not only involved photography, but writing copy and graphic design as well. But what should have taken just an afternoon ended taking up the best part of the week as it happened that the person who “commissioned” didn’t have a clue and despite protestations to the contrary was completely computer illiterate and did not know what to do with the product and would n’t listen when told. To cap it all there was no acknowledgment or thanks for the work. The second job was a straight forward cover an event and provide some photos suitable for handing out to sponsors and to promote it in the future. Photos delivered the day after and they were followed by a very nice email thanking me for the work put in. Reading it left me with a nice warm fuzzy feeling and restored my faith in human nature.
The problem is that we now live in an age where the camera is ubiquitous and we are bombarded with slick imaging every day. What this has done is devalue the work of the photographer because to coin an oft quoted phrase “We’re all photographers now”. There is also the perception that in the digital age photography is free as there is no film and processing to pay for. In fact the situation is such that even multi-nationals and national media outlets are all expecting content providers to work for nothing with the premise that doing so will “further” our careers. But if we work for free how do we pay for our equipment, and important stuff like food and housing? So should we work for free? I guess that we all do it at some time in our life, but I would like to say that when you do it do you feel taken advantage of or manipulated? If you do then you probably are and these are the freebies to avoid.