I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now. I’ve been into landscape photography for a relatively short while really, just coming up to three years since I bought my first full frame camera system, a 5D mark II and 24-105 f/4 L. It has been a steep learning curve not just technically, but also mentally.
When you first start out you have so much enthusiasm but no experience, low technical or processing skills and certainly no experience of the commercial aspects of photography. As you improve, gain experience, you start sharing your work around and things get noticed on social media. Being in the right location and the right time mean businesses start to become interested in your work, friends and strangers start to say things like “wonderful shot” or “great image”. The thing is when you start out you take this as a great compliment (although I still find it hard to receive them). For me I started to think I was good perhaps. You start sharing your images more and even sell a few prints, print a few off at home. Perhaps you also branch out and do weddings and commercial jobs etc. for not a lot of money.
I think when you start out you try to achieve the shots similar to your peers or people you admire. Even going as close as to copy the compositions and works of others. Nothing wrong with it rally, it’s part of learning. But after a while you gain enough experience that you start working things out for yourself.
However there comes a point in your journey though photography, when you realise that maybe your stuff ‘aint that great. You take stock, maybe go into a bit of a dip, but perhaps this makes you try harder to find a niche, your own style. This is the more exciting part of photography where you can experiment more and you have enough confidence to put your work out there hopefully with its own style.
This leads me onto the commercialism of it all. I think, like me, many photographers start out thinking they “could make some money out of this photography lark”. Pushing out your work out to private buyers, maybe doing a gallery, fayres, pubs etc. No problem, and the more you push the more sales you get. As long as you value what you are doing and ask a reasonable price for your work, to the standard it deserves, why not? No different to any other art or craft. In the law of averages you get what you pay for. If your work is very desirable, you have made a good name for yourself, you have interested parties that enjoy your work then you should do OK.
The flip side to this story, perhaps, after a long preamble (sorry), are the people and businesses that have ulterior motives. Perhaps they believe that exposure by them really will help you – I don’t always think they are being deceptive but perhaps very unrealistic? But I know some are as the interest in your work dries up when you mention payment. There is no one particular situation I can think of here, I’m just talking generally and also from friends telling me their stories too. When you start out these persons or companies make you feel good. They share your work, they are always complimentary and you think you have a rapport. Then they ask that question:
“Can we use or have one of your photos for our website/magazine/paper?” – Wow you think. They say “This will be great exposure for you but we can’t pay you anything – we don’t have it in our budget”. But you think hey, who cares, I’m gonna be famous! You send them the work, they use it, you expect great things but……. Not a lot happens. You try again, the next request happens and…. Not a lot happens.
As you progress though your journey in photography then you start to become a bit self-aware. People start telling you in their experience, unless the exposure is pretty significant, like a national newspaper or similar, that they have never seen much come of it. You think nah can’t be true. You carry on giving work away for free thinking that it’ll get you on the rung. But in truth, I think mostly, for me, it hasn’t. Sure you got to speculate to accumulate, build your portfolio, and giving away work, for exposure, can work. The selective bit is the difficult bit however. I am sure that some professionals have done that from time to time, but I think when it becomes routine, it does start to devalue photography. More people have access to good cameras, digital processing has become very accessible and people are more proficient.
I think, from my aspect, after starting to ask for money for submitting images, I have noticed perhaps less interest from commercial areas, also noticing new talent getting more of that “exposure”, knowing, in some instances, they are also submitting under-valued or free images and then cycle continues; A kind of honey pot effect. I guess that is the thing I find rather saddening, not from an ego point of view, but you feel perhaps those people were being a bit disingenuous?
I picked up from another blog, about searching Google for “submit your photos”, and finding many, many businesses and organizations willing to use your photos for free. In these times of profit-making and austerity can you blame them? Crowd sourcing is becoming the norm for many companies and I’ve even entered a few competitions previously to be used in a calendar, win a prize etc. It seems a great model for everyone except someone trying to break into the market but to what cost and also your usage rights? Crowd sourcing feeds on many otherwise-employed, talented people whose real payment is seeing their photo used commercially from Facebook to Twitter.
However to some hobbyists the financial side does not interest them. I know quite a few friends that are happy to shoot for fun and not really make any money. Being a hobby, is that really bad of them to give away their work? For a professional that opportunity might have once earned some money and then it might be a problem. I guess I fit into the group where I am full-time employed (although many might say different 😉 ) and use my spare time to shoot. I have some funds available for equipment and some free time to shoot, therefore bagging the shot is not crucial (although it is obsessive).
I think you have to personally value your own work. Only you know its intrinsic value but I think also it is good to listen to those more experienced in the industry. Talk to others maybe before saying yes or no? They have probably been through exactly the same and are sharing valuable insight. You do have to remember that you have bought the equipment, you have spent the time shooting it and you have spent the time editing and processing. Why should you not ask for a small amount of money for your trouble and time even if you are starting out – Don’t feel bad by saying no but if you do feel it is worthwhile don’t feel bad by saying yes but realise it may not be the exposure you expect or wanted?