Should You Take that Lower-Paying Job for ‘Photo Credits’ from a Big Publication?

One question — or should we say debate — that often arises among photographers is whether or not you should take a lower-paying job if it means getting an assignment from a reputable publication or brand. The hope, of course, is that the impressive photo credits will entice other clients to hire you for a fair rate, making up for the initially low pay.

While there is no “right” answer to this question, the team over at PhotoShelter asked John Harrington, author of a number of top-selling photography books, to weigh in on the debate over Skype.

The video comes in at two and a half minutes, but if you’re looking for a little summary, this quote boils it down to its basic message:

Anytime a photographer talks to me and says, ‘I don’t have a choice because I gotta pay my rent or mortgage or my car needs to get fixed.’ I would never begrudge a photographer taking a low-end, undervalued, underpaid rate… The key is to not find yourself in that situation on a regular basis because it will ultimately hit a downward spiral that is just not going to serve you well.

Watch it for yourself at the top, and then let us know what you think of Harrington’s advice in the comments down below? What’s your policy when it comes to low-paying jobs for big names?

(via Photoshleter)

  • MMielech

    This has been the situation for eons. Edit always pays less than commercial. Even the hot shots work for less just to build their books. Nothing new here, move on.

  • behindthecamera

    Best advice ever.

  • Andrew Kandel

    I’m not an assignment photographer, but I do sell editorially. From my perspective, the biggest issue is that you have likely permanently priced yourself low with the publication/photo editor. And your best chance of building future business off the assignment is likely with the same publication and/or photo editor. In time you could maybe get out of that dynamic, but I doubt it would be easy.


    Big publications / clients have more money to pay fairly than small publications / clients. They just like to take advantage. Demand a fair wage or they will take advantage of you, your peers, and the entire profession.

  • Dani Riot

    This is something I have to deal with rather regularly. I was going to write the word ‘battle with’, but to be honest its no longer a battle like it was when I first started.

    The trick is in the art of negotiation.

    to work for for a reduced rate or even for free, I make sure certain things are covered.

    mostly and primarily, is artistic control. Use these shoots where usually a full team is involved, all working for free, to cross off one of those personal shoots you just haven’t got round to yet.

    another is PR, sometimes the amount of free marketing you get can vastly outweigh what you would get with what you would have achieved on similar cash flow to the fee.

    and thirdly, if you know or even suspect that doing this one thing for free will attract a new paying client, use it to your advantage.

  • Jan ‘Archee’ Bloch

    at the beginning everyone will sort of work for free for the society.. you get around.. you get known.. but be able to pull the plug and say enough.. if you are good, you get noticed.. if you are not good.. any publication won’t help you.. the online media these days are better than magazines.. which many time no one really reads. if magazine comes to you, make sure you are able to survive and still enjoy this.. if it’s a beginning of your own misery.. what point is that.. I think the most important thing is to be able to say no.. or say .. please pay this and this.. if you can’t put your value on yourself.. don’t expect others will…the key is to become from the best free photographer.. to become financially independent person.. trust me.. worked for me. worked for many others… it will work for you as well

  • Digi•Pixel•Pop

    Agreed. It’s hard to say “Hey, I know last week I did that shoot for $500, but now I want $2000 for the one this week”. Once you set a price with a client or Art Director, you’re pretty much stuck with it.

  • Pickle

    Would it have cost extra to turn on a light and not have 240 quality (even while on 720p) video?

  • Lukas Prochazka

    I think it always have been what is your motivation and what you want to do…if you “dream” is work for time…and you get low pay job…you are so motivated that you go beyond your work beyond making just your regular job and then I think people relize that you are good at something because you love what you do and loosing you would be shame. That’s my opinion I would do 5000 things or even more on earth for free, I don’t care if I am taking your job, I don’t care if you must pay bills, it’s my passion and joy. Photography from beggining have been always more than way of earning money.

  • saraderp

    Agreed. If we could pay more, we would. Budgets are a thing for art directors too!

  • eyeguy99

    Take any top grossing photographer and ask them if they started out their career at that same rate. My guess is not. They likely started out scratching the bottom working for cheap. As they gradually built their brand, and word got around about their skills, the demand for services would build accompanied by a corresponding demand for higher wages. The photographer is then in a position to pick and choose which jobs (s)he want to partake and what they are willing to work for.

    I don’t understand why some photographers criticize others for accepting cheap paying jobs. It’s a free market economy and if an agreement is reached b/w the buyer and seller of services, so be it.

    I’m sure the photographers who expect to be paid top dollar…also expect the best deals when buying their gear. What’s the difference? How many photographers go surfing the net to check out competitors prices before placing their gear orders with their favourite retailers expecting to pay a competitive price?

    For some reason, if a retailer is charging top dollar for it’s goods, it’s gouging, but a photographer charging top dollar for his/her services is a savvy business person.

    The way I see it, it’s a free market economy and the only thing that matters is if the contract for the goods/services is mutually agreeable to both parties, then they have a deal. If either party is unhappy, they are free to walk. Back in the 80’s or 90’s, when the balance of power rested in the hands of the photographers, they would demand their price and say “take it or leave it”. With the advent of digital and the proliferation of imagery and wanna-be pro’s, the balance of power has shifted into the hands of the clients driving down prices. Now the photographers are crying the blues as the market forces that once worked in their favour, has now come back to bite them in the ass.

    Not a criticism of either photographers or purchasers of their services; just an observation of the shifting dynamics in free-market pricing, and the desire of the market players to adapt to the new reality.

  • Joseph Campanella

    So, are we talking FULL TIME photographers here?

    I have a steady job in my field, as a freelancer, and will often times request days off to take a photography gig/video gig (I work in TV so it’s all in the same wheelhouse).

    $500 for a days work doesn’t seem like peanuts. Usually that “day” is 1-3 hours with maybe an hour or two of post work. Usually comes out to about $100 an hour, which, in my book, is pretty decent cash.

    Now, I understand if you have to price higher cause you’re not working everyday and it’s your only means of income, but that’s just not the case for everyone and perhaps that’s why the overall cost of these types of services are down?

    Anyway, times they are a changin’

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  • MMielech

    In case you haven’t noticed, “Big” publications are dying off along with the rest of print. The largest magazine publisher in America, Time Inc., was just spun off from it’s corporate parent to fend for itself, and ad revenue and newsstand sales have been declining at a fairly rapid rate for years and years. Budgets are not flush anymore. As a matter of fact, the new CEO of Time Inc. seems to think that his first priority is to cut costs (again) in order just to survive. I used to work there, and it’s not 1970 anymore, with expensive lunches and fringe benefits everywhere, i can tell you that. Many are happy to have a job.

    The healthiest magazines at the moment are niche or specific market periodicals. But, I wouldn’t get all uppity with them “demanding” a “fair wage”. They aren’t exactly rolling in dough, either.

  • Anonymoused

    Could this be helped if, when accepting low rates, you flatly tell them that “hey, I just wanted to let you know that this is an unbelievably cheap rate and you will not be able to get this quality, from myself or other talented photographers, at the same price in the future”?
    I feel as though even though it’s kind of upfront, you’re telling them straight they shouldn’t expect that rate as the norm.
    (I have never been in this situation, I just think that if you’re going to accept a paycheck that’s much lower than you deserve, you should let them know, as long as you don’t do so begrudgingly)

  • cardmaverick

    Invoice them at a more normal commercial rate, then discount it at the bottom as a line item. That’s the advice I’ve always heard when it comes to doing anything for less than your usual rate.

  • cardmaverick

    A store that operates on on a volume sales business model can’t be compared to a business like commercial assignment photography. What I do is not even close to volume work. What I do also has a direct impact on how much revenue a business grosses, the public perception of the company, etc.. and I get rates that reflect that.

  • Peter “Pots”

    if one feels that the job is really important to your image and you feel that your other clients would be impressed, then, by all means, do it. I would present the client with your itemized charges that you normally get and show what discount he is getting for this particular shoot. Leave your regular price list with the person that hired you so that he has something to refer to when your name crops up again. Good work and a good attitude will pay off for you in the future.

  • Anonymoused

    That’s a great idea, I hope people see this and make use of this advice. Very clever!