One of the most difficult things I found at the beginning of my professional career was discussing money. I’d happily accept anything that came my way and was pretty short-sighted at the implications it had, not only for myself but the local working community and the economics around that.
All too often, you will have someone approach you asking you to cover an event, and they’ll say they only have £30 or some small fee that they expect will suffice. Or maybe you approach someone and aren’t entirely sure of your worth and again quote a silly small figure.
These small paying jobs will probably be responsible for you not stepping up in terms of career progression. Not only that, but you will damage the economics of how other photographers work in the local area. To put it into context say Mr A offers a high value product that is ‘standard’ in terms of what is expected. They charge their standard fee and have done so for a period of time to which they can get regular contacts.
Mr B, on the other hand, is entering the market and, unsure about how to put their worth on their work, undercuts Mr A by a third (this may or may not be intentional). Mr B will get work, possibly regularly, and if they have a desire to progress then the quality of work produced will be comparable to the standards as set by Mr A. But when Mr B starts to understand that their fee is far too low for the level of work being produced, asking for a raise from regular clients will prove to be difficult, or be met with contracts being terminated.
Mr A will find themselves having less work as it is being completed by less experienced people who don’t understand the value of professional commissions, and Mr A will be pushed into lowering their prices.
Lowering prices breaks the market. In the same way we have seen in recent global economic progress, events or changes – whether it is local or global – can push prices up or down of a market product or service.
As a photographer I don’t want to whine about the expense of running a business. Anyone with a full frame DSLR and workflow will understand that we require specialized equipment to conduct a job to meet a brief as set by our clients. But don’t forget that while equipment is one side of the issue, skills are the most important part of any business.
You can have all the gear and no idea. Or, you can use what you have got to the fullest of its capabilities through applied knowledge and understanding. Professional photographers understand that it isn’t about Nikon or Canon. It isn’t about Speedlites versus SBs. It’s how gear is used that really matters.
Which brings me back to the original argument. The time you have taken to learn, develop and acquire a decent working practice means that those £30 jobs that you think will work in your favor will probably lose you a lot more in the long run.
A client asks for an event to be covered, a 3 hour event and wants edited images delivered fairly quickly. The client feels that £10 per hour shooting the event is a reasonable fee.
3 hours of shooting can lead to hours, if not days, of editing. That £10 per hour quickly disappears into the void and the job that you are editing will stop you from taking on another contract. If you do decide to take on another contract you will become behind in your workflow and may upset both clients. Either way you lose.
I’m not saying that the minimal budget jobs shouldn’t happen. I happened to photograph someone for the price of a coffee a few years back, and that person has become one of the UK’s top fashion models. We still keep in touch, and she still buys me coffee — and gets me work.
The point is, if you know a low paying job is going to lead to a lot of post-production, then it has to be one hell of a proposition. Otherwise, if you do take it, not only do you damage your own ability to break into a higher market, but you also break the market for other photographers in your area.
If you go into regular £30 jobs, don’t expect to upgrade your equipment… ever. Don’t expect to pay the bills, and don’t complain about it.