With Jobs Like These, You’ll Need A Job !

Photographers who are beginning their careers feel that they must work for low pay or no pay to prove themselves. As a photographer we prove ourselves with our work.

The only thing you prove by working for little or no pay is that you’ll work for little or no pay.

During this evening’s class the conversation turned to the postings on the “jobs” board at the school. Most of the postings are for freelance work and many of the postings have low budgets or offer “exposure” in exchange for the photographer’s work.

One of the jobs posted was nine hours of shooting for a magazine, and the magazine wanted high-res files. No mention of usage or usage fees. I think the budget was somewhere around 300 bucks.

Good thing the class did the assignments to help them determine what they should be charging for their services because the 300 bucks paid would have amounted to a LOSS of money for the photographer.

If anyone in the class took this job, they would be losing money and, in effect, they would be subsidizing the client’s project.

I asked the class what they thought of this “opportunity”.

They all thought it was a horrible deal, one person even called it “egregious”. I’m glad that the class could recognize a bad deal !

In a nutshell, as a freelancer/independent contractor, If you aren’t meeting your cost of doing business and covering your related expenses on a job you’re losing money.

If you continue to lose money because you’re working with clients who aren’t paying you what you need, you’ll need to get a job to support your expensive photography hobby.

Here are some links that I think are related to this post.

http://toddanthonydirect.typepad.com/the_bullshit_observer/2007/07/creatives-every.html

http://www.no-spec.com/

http://itgrowsontrees.typepad.com/it_grows_on_trees/2007/10/yahoo-fights-gl.html

 

 

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6 thoughts on “With Jobs Like These, You’ll Need A Job !”

  1. Below you’ll find another comment from “Another Photographer”.

    My responses are indented and in italics.

    Although “Another Photographer” has made valuable contributions/comments to this post, “Another Photographer” continues to comment without a valid e-mail or URL. Since “Another Photographer” continues to comment without a valid e-mail or URL they will no longer be allowed to post comments.

    Sam,

    I think you sum up your point in your initial statement that if someone takes “one of the jobs, that are not a “staff” position, they are working as as independent contractors. They’ll need to pay taxes on the money that they are paid. They are now doing business as a photographer.”

    You’re certainly correct… technically, if you apply the letter of the law, any person who takes a job is an independent contractor. But we both know that a student who takes a $300 job to get some experience is not an independent contractor, nor are they a pro running a business. They’re going to walk away from the job with a check (or maybe cash) for the day’s work, and they’re probably not going to enter that into an accounting system, nor are they going to pay taxes on that transaction.

    They’re not an independent contractor? What are they then? What if the person paying the photographer reports the payment to the IRS and the photographer does not report that income on their tax returns? I think that’s an experience a photographer can do without. I think that if anyone does work and gets paid, then they are a professional. In addition I suggest that emerging photographers should begin an accounting system as soon as possible. Not only for tax purposes, but to begin to get a handle on their income/expenses and to help evaluate their financial position.

    If you’re standing on principal, I can understand your position: if someone generates some intellectual property, such as a taking a photograph, writing an article, etc, they deserve to be paid for that work. But standing on principals is a good way to lock yourself out of the real world.

    principle |ˈprinsəpəl|
noun
1 a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning : the basic principles of Christianity.
• (usu. principles) a rule or belief governing one’s personal behavior : struggling to be true to their own principles | she resigned over a matter of principle.
• morally correct behavior and attitudes : a man of principle.
• a general scientific theorem or law that has numerous special applications across a wide field.
• a natural law forming the basis for the construction or working of a machine : these machines all operate on the same general principle.
2 a fundamental source or basis of something : the first principle of all things was water.
• a fundamental quality or attribute determining the nature of something; an essence : the combination of male and female principles.
• [with adj. ] Chemistry an active or characteristic constituent of a substance, obtained by simple analysis or separation : the active principle in the medulla is epinephrine.

    I think that NOT standing on principle is a good way to get in trouble. The real world includes people who get paid fairly for their work and people who do not. As people who are running our own business’s, and depending on the principles which serve as the foundation for our business, we choose to get paid fairly or not.

    As a student, it makes perfect sense to take a low paying job, especially if you think of it as education. After all, a student is willing to pay for classes such as yours. Why would that same student NOT be willing to pay for real-life experience? A day of shooting for a magazine is worth at least as much money as sitting in a classroom for a couple of hours. The fact that the magazine is willing to pay $300 is just gravy. Many students would jump at the chance to shoot a day for a magazine, or shoot some corporate portraits for an annual report, or even shoot a friend’s wedding, FOR FREE!

    I don’t think it makes sense for ANYONE to take a job that makes them pay for “real life” experience by losing money on the job. People take a business of photography class to learn about the business of photography, just as in any business, the idea is to make money. If the photographer has any “gravy” left after their expenses are deducted from the $300.00 fee, then the photographer must decide if the job is worth it. FREE – expenses = LOSS. I’d be doing a disservice to my students to suggest that they operate this way. Why should the person who works with the photographer get all the benefits and value of the photographer’s services and the use of the pictures created by the photographer while the photographer, takes a loss?

    I also agree with your question/statement that “If you’re in business, is there any other way to look at this other than financial?” You’re correct, if you’re in business then everything comes down to money. However, most students are NOT in business. They’re LEARNING to go into business. And just because they take one day of work for $300, they’re still NOT in business. I know, I know… technically, you’re correct that they’re working as an independent contractor and owe taxes on that $300. But as I said before, we all know that’s not really what’s happening, and we all know that they’re not really in business.

    We seem to disagree on what defines “being in business”. Again, I contend that if anyone takes a freelance job, sells a print or even licenses/allows the use to one of their images, they are in business. REALLY. Based on principle, I think the IRS would view it the same way.

    Finally, I agree with you that a student can gain skills and experience through all the different means you point out. A student can learn interpersonal skills in an artificial way by dealing with models at the school. And they can get experience dealing with artificial clients by treating their friends as “clients”. They can even make contacts by picking up the phone and spending hours cold-calling people they’d like to do business with. But that seems like taking the hard road. The really hard road. If they’re given the opportunity to do all this in one day by simply showing up to do some work (and making $300 out of the deal), then why wouldn’t they take that opportunity? If I was a student (and I was), I’d say that passing up a day of shooting for a magazine, passing up all the experience, passing up the contacts, and yes, passing up the fun, and replacing all that with cold-calling companies, bugging my friends, etc was pretty stupid.

    Unless the model is a mannequin, there’s nothing artificial in dealing with a “real” person. If a friend wants a portrait/event covered or needs some things photographed for e-bay, this is a perfect way for a budding photographer practice their craft and to polish their business skills. They can do this without getting taken advantage of by someone who promises them nothing but “exposure” or who offers a fee that is so ridiculously low that it winds it to be a loss for the photographer. I think getting taken advantage of and losing money is a MUCH harder road. Again, when considering this “opportunity” how much of that $300.00 is left after expenses? When considering what’s left, it may be better to pass up the “fun” and spend time NOT losing money.

    I think Brook really nails it when he says that “at some point – you have to turn a corner and make a couple bucks”. The “at some point” comment is the key. Nobody wants to do $300/day jobs forever. At some point, you need to start paying the bills. But while you’re just learning to become a photographer (or a writer, an actor, an artist, or any other profession) you have to start somewhere. And internships, apprenticeships, and shooting small jobs at the begining is a great place to start.

    Why can’t that “some point” be NOW?

    My very last point is… I don’t know about you, but $300/day is nothing to sneeze at! As Brook pointed out, that’s $33/hour. If you were to be able to do that full-time, you’re looking at a cool $66K/yr. Even if you did that only twice a week – 16hrs/wk or 800hrs/yr, you’re looking at $26K/yr. PDN just had a big article called “You Earn How Much?” (it’s not available online unless you’re a subscriber). I don’t have it in front of me, but the photographers interviewed were in the $30K range and paying for their own benefits. Only art buyers and editors were making over $50K. And if you look at PDN’s 2008 Wedding Photographer Survey Results
( http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/features/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003800970 ), you’ll find (in figure 4) that the AVERAGE pre-tax income for wedding photographers is less than $42K. And that’s for WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS – wedding photography is a relatively low-overhead, high-profit sector of photography and the work isn’t hard to get. When you take that into account, shooting for a day at $300 isn’t all that bad – especially if you’re a student trying to get some experience.

    You’re right $300.00 a day doesn’t sound bad. But again after expenses what’s left? You may not have enough “gravy” for a french fry.

  2. Sam,

    I think you sum up your point in your initial statement that if someone takes “one of the jobs, that are not a “staff” position, they are working as as independent contractors. They’ll need to pay taxes on the money that they are paid. They are now doing business as a photographer.”

    You’re certainly correct… technically, if you apply the letter of the law, any person who takes a job is an independent contractor. But we both know that a student who takes a $300 job to get some experience is not an independent contractor, nor are they a pro running a business. They’re going to walk away from the job with a check (or maybe cash) for the day’s work, and they’re probably not going to enter that into an accounting system, nor are they going to pay taxes on that transaction.

    If you’re standing on principal, I can understand your position: if someone generates some intellectual property, such as a taking a photograph, writing an article, etc, they deserve to be paid for that work. But standing on principals is a good way to lock yourself out of the real world.

    As a student, it makes perfect sense to take a low paying job, especially if you think of it as education. After all, a student is willing to pay for classes such as yours. Why would that same student NOT be willing to pay for real-life experience? A day of shooting for a magazine is worth at least as much money as sitting in a classroom for a couple of hours. The fact that the magazine is willing to pay $300 is just gravy. Many students would jump at the chance to shoot a day for a magazine, or shoot some corporate portraits for an annual report, or even shoot a friend’s wedding, FOR FREE!

    I also agree with your question/statement that “If you’re in business, is there any other way to look at this other than financial?” You’re correct, if you’re in business then everything comes down to money. However, most students are NOT in business. They’re LEARNING to go into business. And just because they take one day of work for $300, they’re still NOT in business. I know, I know… technically, you’re correct that they’re working as an independent contractor and owe taxes on that $300. But as I said before, we all know that’s not really what’s happening, and we all know that they’re not really in business.

    Finally, I agree with you that a student can gain skills and experience through all the different means you point out. A student can learn interpersonal skills in an artificial way by dealing with models at the school. And they can get experience dealing with artificial clients by treating their friends as “clients”. They can even make contacts by picking up the phone and spending hours cold-calling people they’d like to do business with. But that seems like taking the hard road. The really hard road. If they’re given the opportunity to do all this in one day by simply showing up to do some work (and making $300 out of the deal), then why wouldn’t they take that opportunity? If I was a student (and I was), I’d say that passing up a day of shooting for a magazine, passing up all the experience, passing up the contacts, and yes, passing up the fun, and replacing all that with cold-calling companies, bugging my friends, etc was pretty stupid.

    I think Brook really nails it when he says that “at some point – you have to turn a corner and make a couple bucks”. The “at some point” comment is the key. Nobody wants to do $300/day jobs forever. At some point, you need to start paying the bills. But while you’re just learning to become a photographer (or a writer, an actor, an artist, or any other profession) you have to start somewhere. And internships, apprenticeships, and shooting small jobs at the begining is a great place to start.

    My very last point is… I don’t know about you, but $300/day is nothing to sneeze at! As Brook pointed out, that’s $33/hour. If you were to be able to do that full-time, you’re looking at a cool $66K/yr. Even if you did that only twice a week – 16hrs/wk or 800hrs/yr, you’re looking at $26K/yr. PDN just had a big article called “You Earn How Much?” (it’s not available online unless you’re a subscriber). I don’t have it in front of me, but the photographers interviewed were in the $30K range and paying for their own benefits. Only art buyers and editors were making over $50K. And if you look at PDN’s 2008 Wedding Photographer Survey Results
    ( http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/features/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003800970 ), you’ll find (in figure 4) that the AVERAGE pre-tax income for wedding photographers is less than $42K. And that’s for WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS – wedding photography is a relatively low-overhead, high-profit sector of photography and the work isn’t hard to get. When you take that into account, shooting for a day at $300 isn’t all that bad – especially if you’re a student trying to get some experience.

  3. Teacher – A person who gives lessons to a student.

    Missy and Sam. A really great discussion, with excellent points all around. In some manners the crux of what brought me to school – how do you build a business that fits you… and how do you make money from it? I really think this type of discussion (and varying view points) is helpful – it’s always nice to have varying perspective and sometimes I’m not sure we get enough.

    A couple thoughts:
    Certainly, while most students don’t have business expenses yet, there should be some expectation that they’ll not just continue going in the hole. Ie. at some point, there has to be some real profit – somewhere. And the amount of investment most students have put in for schooling (at this point) is at least the equivalent of a brand-new EOS 1DS MKIII, not including their actual photography gear and software, etc. Now I’m not bemoaning the “plight of the student”, I’m just making a point that while I understand starting a business takes investment, at some point – you have to turn a corner and make a couple bucks otherwise it’s just a very expensive hobby (or you wash up for lack of funds.) I haven’t turned that corner yet, but I certainly am looking forward to it. Along the way, I’ve done a lot of jobs for a lot less than $33/hr and I’ve learned a ton – but I’ve also learned that there’s always someone who’s habitually looking for someone who’ll give them great work for nothing. And I’ve done my best to challenge those people to give me a better deal that I can live with. I need to keep working on that and this conversation has made that clear.

    On another note, every student is not the same in terms of experience or skill or business acumen… so there’s really no standard approach for each student – particularly when there are limitless career aspirations within the field.

    Thanks again. Looking forward to more discussion.

  4. Sam,

    I agree with your comments. I can’t imagine a professional photographer ever taking a job for $300 for 9 hours. However, you’re not teaching professional photographers in your class. The people in your class are not freelancers or independent contractors. You’re teaching STUDENTS who are LEARNING TO BE professional photographers.

    I also agree with you that when you figure out the cost of doing business, a professional photographer would actually lose money taking this job. However, these students have no cost of doing business because they’re not actually operating a business. They have no studio, no marketing costs, no accounting costs. Your students bought a camera, a computer, and a few other pieces of equipment to take your class. Your students are not looking to recuperate their costs by taking this $300 job. Instead, they’re looking to use the equipment they bought for their classes to learn photography.

    You’re right that $300 for 9 hours of work is a very low wage if you look at it solely from the financial point of view. But you forgot to account for the experience. They will be building their portfolio, defining their style, learning about shooting an event or being on a set, learning interpersonal skills, gaining experience dealing with a client, finding out that 9 hours of shooting is actually WORK, making contacts, and applying the things they’re learning in their other photography classes. All that, and they’re earning $300. Sounds like a great deal to me!

    Students almost always have the opportunity to do an internship – a job for a low wage (or no wage). They take these internships to get experience in the field or industry they’re learning about. It seems to me that students at your school are lucky to have these opportunities. The student that takes this $300 job for 9 hours will certainly not be making a top wage, but they’ll be learning the skills and gaining the experience they need to earn a top wage AFTER they graduate.

  5. You’re welcome Todd.

    Speaking of the lack of respect, understanding, and value that the business world has for the art form, I think that the pending Orphan Works Bill is a manifestation of that.

    Any chance of you giving this bullshit piece of legislation some attention on the Bullshit Observer?

  6. Hey, thanks for the link.

    I’m ever surprised not just by the creative person’s willingness to whore for free, but also the lack of respect, understanding, and value that the business world has for the art form. I think the two phenomenon must be related (though far from interdependent).

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