How Any Photographer Can Get Paid Exactly What They’re Worth

Press photogs at an airshow

Articles like this appear with regular monotony.

The writer of this latest piece on the topic, appearing on the Light Stalking website, Dsvonko Petrovski, claims the situation has arisen because we, the photographic neophytes out there, don’t actually know what a photographer really is.

Not to worry though, Dsvonko is going to set us straight, show us the life that “we photographers have, and what we actually do.” (emph. added)

Mr. Ptrovski says:
“In my personal experience I’ve learned that people often ask for photographers to work for free because they compare the profession to snapping pictures with their smartphone. Since that is a fairly easy task, the work that professional photographers do is devalued.”

Well, is it such an easy task? Yes, and no. Producing an image is easy enough, even for a complete novice, but producing a great image, or even just a very good one, is an entirely different matter. My contention is always that a good, professional, photographer is quite capable of producing better shots with a smartphone than the average non-professional with an SLR.

school kids in Orlando, Soweto, learning the basics of photography.
School kids in Orlando, Soweto, learning the basics of story telling with a camera.

If you don’t believe me, head on over to YouTube and do a search for “Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera”. You’ll arrive at a series of videos produced by Kai W of Digital Rev fame, in which he challenges professional photographers of varying specialties to use cheap cameras to see what kind of results they can produce.

Invariably, the results are surprisingly good. Because photography is more about the “eye” than the equipment. In fact, the eye is by far the most advanced (and valuable) piece of photographic equipment we posses.

photography is child's play
Unfortunately, the photograph used by Light Stalking to promote the piece on Facebook suggests that photography is child’s play and not worth very much.

Another quote from the article:
You might see photography as a mere art of pressing a button on a fancy camera, but if you (as a person who has no knowledge in professional grade cameras) were to wield that thing, you’d realize that it is not an easy task.

Actually, as a potential client, I have absolutely no interest in how difficult it is to “wield that thing”. You’re the pro, I expect you to be able to wield it competently and expertly, and not expect me to hold an increased idea of your value because of your ability to do so. (If you’re having difficulty wielding your equipment, may I suggest you look for something that’s maybe a little easier to handle, like a lighter, mirrorless setup, for instance.)

sports photographer with long lens
A sports photographer at Wanderers Cricket Ground for a test match between Australia and South Africa. Do you think he is worth more because he’s lugging around that heavy equipment?

He also argues that a chef is not judged by his “fancy pots and pans” but by the quality of his food. Exactly. But you don’t hear chefs moaning about how difficult it is to chop carrots with a potentially-lethal weapon, or wield heavy pots and pans, or stand in front of a dangerous open flame all day long. That goes with the territory. Can you imagine the hoots of derision if a chef were to suggest that because he works in a hot kitchen he is more “valuable”.

So it’s no use telling me about your expensive lenses and cameras, or your experience, or your ability. Just show me the shots. I’m not referring only to Dsvonko here, but any pro photographer who thinks he is “undervalued”.

Now, if you listen up,  I’m about to reveal the real secret to getting your full worth as a photographer, and it has very little to do with how good or bad a photographer you are, because…

YOU ARE WORTH EXACTLY WHAT YOU CAN GET

Nothing more, nothing less. If you feel you’re not getting enough, ask for more. If your clients won’t pay you more, find other, more appreciative, clients. I bet no-one asks Denis Reggie to work for nothing.

dennis regie
A Facebook post from Denis Reggie, one of many that come through my stream. Denis “gets” marketing.

Yet despite his well-deserved international reputation as  arguably the best wedding photographer in the world – a reputation won, I might add,  over decades in the game –  Mr. Regie never stops marketing his business.  And, funnily enough, I don’t see him writing articles about being “undervalued”. Could there be a correlation?

Simply put, marketing is the most important activity any business undertakes. Because marketing, good marketing, is about acquiring and keeping clients. Without clients you don’t have a business, you only have a dream.

wedding photograph in the analogue days
A wedding shot I did in the analogue days. I shot this friend’s wedding for no fee. He paid for the film and all processing. I had a fun time (I would have been a guest, anyway) and the couple got a few quite-nice pics. This was one I was very happy with.

Ultimately, the market determines your real value. If you can’t get what you think you’re worth, maybe you’re not worth what you think you are. In which case you might want to consider an alternative source of income.

Successful photographers – in fact, successful people in general – don’t have the time or the inclination to write sob stories about how undervalued they are, they’re too busy doing what it takes to be successful in  the first place.

To see this principle in action, take a look at the website of Alex Koloskov, as well as his Photogy site. Alex is carving out a successful business for himself because not only is he a superb photographer with a passion for helping others, he also “gets” marketing.

I only know of him through his website and online activities, I don’t know him personally, but I’d put a dime or two on my belief that when clients approach him for a shoot, they don’t quibble too much about the price.

However, if a client pressurises you into doing a shoot for no money, and you feel as though you have no option but to acquiesce, here’s a  suggestion on how to handle it: Agree to do the shoot, but show up with just your cell phone and no other equipment (do not forewarn them you are going to do this). If the client demands you use “proper” equipment, tell them that that equipment has to pay its way and can only be used for paying clients, but you are prepared to slot in a quick “freebie”  using just your phone.

Whether they then agree to pay you for a “proper” shoot or not is immaterial; in their eyes your value has instantly risen exponentially, because you have made a stand and not backed down. They are unlikely to ask you for a freebie again.

In closing, if Dsvonko really wants to know what it’s like having one’s work devalued, he should try writing for living! Do you have any idea how much word processing software costs!? Not to mention my expensive education, and the courses  I have to take to stay ahead of the game. Then there are the dictionaries, thesauruses, grammar style guides, my computer and on and on and on…

I would write a blog post about it but I doubt I’d be paid for it…and no-one cares, anyway.

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3 thoughts on “How Any Photographer Can Get Paid Exactly What They’re Worth”

    1. Thank you, for your kind words about my little rant, Heather. I find, as I get older, I have less and less patience with whining and whingeing. There’s a meme doing the rounds of the Internet at the moment that says “If you are not happy with where you are, change it. You are not a tree.” Although I don’t base my life on Internet memes, which I consider in the same vein as bumper-sticker philosophy, this one does resonate with me.

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