Photographer's Guide To stop F#@K!#G Ourselves up!
Updated: Dec 17, 2019
Let's begin with understanding a few key points that are extremely important whether you are just beginning photography or you are a professional photographer, whether you have a few skills in editing or you are an Adobe Guru.
I'm writing this out of RAGE after one too many posts that I "bumped" into only for free work. In particular a post on Facebook where a request of over 200 product shots needed to be edited for free in lure of a future collaboration, or the hundreds of thousands of posts on Kijiji, Craigslist, and unfortunately LinkedIn as well, asking for photographers to devote their time for free, promising incredible "exposure" and future collaborations.
This is F#@K!#G BULL $#!T. As a photographer and publisher of a magazine that promotes and tries at our best to elevate the status of photographers and to elevate the ART of photography to new heights, I have to fight against the insane amount of newbies and "professional-photographers-wannabe", that will simply do anything to work for free.
So let's get down to it. I'll give you my over 2 decades of experience and rage, so hopefully this will stop!
Rule #1 - Never Shoot For Free
This rule has been neglected for too long and there are too many amateurs that will shoot for any company, at any moment at zero compensation.
Your time is not free (if you knew that you were to die in 3 days, would you spend time shooting for a company that has money and that will not pay you?), You might be struggling to get to shoot for a company or brand, and that phone call projected yourself to being that great photographer that the company looks forward to for all its needs, where you can decide style, trends, composition, effects and be called a real photographer because you shot for "that company"...wake up you moron! If that company is not willing to pay you it simply means that they you will never be any of he above! That nobody that you think you are will simply become "that nobody that you are, plus, without a penny after working for free" and between the two I prefer being a "nobody" and shoot something for myself!
Your equipment is NOT FREE and it will never be less expensive! If you are shooting with an entry level DSLR, this means a small sensor and entry level cheap lens, no external lights, no flash (or maybe one), well how the F#@K do you think you will be able to afford a medium format camera like a Hasselblad or Phase One, or Mamiya Leaf, that equipment starts to average around the 200 Thousand Dollars! And please remember that your equipment is not simply the camera or the lenses, it's memory cards, batteries, cleaners, computer, hard drives, software, tripods, etc etc etc...and this is without going to a second camera! Yes, you will need a second camera if you want to do weddings, product shots, events, concerts or any sort of shooting that will require two sets of lenses at all times to speed up the shooting time and where you cannot take your sweet time to switch lenses back and forth! ...BTW did I mention that your time is NOT FREE...if you didn't get it, well go to point one and read again till it sticks in your head!
To understand fully this rule you must first understand the two different categories of shooting, TFP (stands for Time For Print, obviously here we are talking about files), and Paid.
TFP is allowed when we are doing a shoot to: 1) Improve our skills with a friend or model; 2) To improve our portfolio with a friend or model; 3) To feed our social media pages with a friend or a model;
TFP is NOT allowed when we are shooting for: 1) A company that will promise you exposure; 2) For a brand that needs your product shots or editing; 3) For a Company or Brand that promises you product in return for your services, they can implement your paycheck with product to increase their offer, BUT MONEY COMES FIRST; 4) For any one or any company/brand that HAS the possibility to pay you and simply asks for free shooting because you are "good"—they know that you are good, trust me, otherwise you would not be even asked to do a shooting for them—so get your $#!T together and "be" the professional photographer that you are meant to be!
If you do not understand why we should all do this well I'll make it clear.
If you shoot for free for a company/brand/anyone who can afford to pay, you are telling them that you do not value your art, your skills, your time, and as much as you think I might be exaggerating you are bringing down all the category with you.
Because other companies/brands/people that can afford to pay will simply decide that they can go with the "free option" (that should've never been an option to begin with).
TFP is a great thing when you are shooting with a model that wants to improve her portfolio, and isn't that more flattering when a person—that cannot afford to pay for a full shooting—asks you to shoot her portfolio because she/he loves your work. In this case there is a fair exchange and none of the two parties are taking advantage of the other.
If you are still in doubt of why you should be following these simple rules, think about your next goal, whether it's buying your new lens or new camera, whether it's being recognized as a Professional Photographer, or simply you are thinking of making a living out of your art...in all these cases, none of them begin with shooting for free and all those "success" stories that tell you that they did shoot for free and then became successful have all a twist that brings them together, and it's that they found someone that made them famous (lucky bastards), or they landed a huge contract (and that means that it's PAID!)
Rule #2 - Write the contract and help your colleague photographers!
This rule is as fundamental as rule #1 and these are the steps to be sure to not fall in any hiccups.
Make a damn contract, you will find thousands of template online and customize it for your needs, make 3 copies (one for you, one for the client, one for the model, obviously more if you have more models on the shoot).
Make client and models sign before the shooting begins, and be sure that the client paid a portion of the amount before setting things up. (the payments are things that make everyone comfortable, you pay the studio, the models and rentals with the advanced money, this protects you for a potential loss and the client will see the value of a linear process that will protect him as well by having that piece of paper and the confidence and trust will start building up!)
Help your fellow colleagues! Yes, it's great to have a paid gig because you can share with other photographers and have them come in as second shooter! They can film you for your behind the scenes and help you out if "$#!T" hits the fan! Remember that it may be true that you are loosing some money to pay the second shooter, but it's also true that you are getting back more footage, a different angle and a different creative approach, rights to all the footage and more value for the client, you will look like that Professional Photographer that you so deeply desire to be considered, and you will definitely get a call to be his second shooter and help him out with his gig, while getting paid!
All this can only happen if there is a movement of cash! I cannot obsess more about the importance of cash flow.
Rule #3 - Last but not least be sure to tag and get tagged!
This is for everyone! There is the copyright law in Canada that declares that who took the photo is the owner of the shot, no matter what camera he shot it with. To be more explicit, if you rent a camera and do a photo shoot, the rental company is NOT the owner of the photos that you took right? Right! so...if you are taking photos—no matter who owns the equipment—those photos are yours and the company/brand/person that you are shooting for are obligated to credit you by law, so please do not fall for the whole "I will give you exposure", the credit on each and every one of your photos is mandatory by law...is this clear? I hope so!
On the other hand you are obligated to credit the model that worked with you and the company/brand that hired you. Now, the law is definitely more complex and contracts are there to protect both parties and to be sure that all agreements are met. If a company/brand requires full rights on the shoot and wants you to delete all photos and never publish anything on your personal websites or social media pages, this is fair to ask, but there is a higher price to pay! Basically you must calculate how much will you be loosing by not having the possibility to self-promote yourself and your business.
Okay this last part may not be clear, so let's say that you are so lucky that you so a shooting with a VIP and that your shot goes on the cover of a huge magazine reaching a world wide audience, that is your chance to shine and say "Hey I shot that incredible shot", so if you released all rights, well...you pretty much screwed yourself because you cannot advertise that you took that shot, and obviously you cannot jack up your prices.
Congratulations, you made it to the end!
These rules will make everyone happy and improve your life giving you a better chance to live off of your talent and creativity. Photographers will be paid, camera stores will sell more equipment because photographers are paid, designers and make-up artists will buy more fabric and make-up products, photography studios will have more money to invest in their venue, again, because the photographers will have money to pay for the studio, clients will have better products because photographers will have better equipment, better teams, better knowledge and more possibilities to create freely and dedicate more time to each creation...and this is a fact!
Now be sure to share these rules and comment if you think that I left something important out of this short list. I'm not talking about the minuscule situations that concur on a daily basis, but tell me if I missed something in the big picture.
—Sergio D. Spadavecchia