Why On Earth Does Nobody Want To Pay For A Photographer?

In my time of running The South West Collective, I have had the opportunity to work with some fantastic individuals and clients. I have operated as a mini agency, finding clients for students and graduates while providing them with paid photographic experience. When I started this, my prices were too low, to a point where I was gaining nothing from it myself. After a period of thought and reflection, I decided that I would raise these prices and start a percentage-based system. One that is fairer to the photographer undertaking the work. However, with this price change, came a surprise. The interest was lower, the clients few and far between. Why is this you may ask? People just don’t understand photography. I had a client tell me that the price was too high and that her daughter who is at college could take the photos, or her brother who has a new iPhone could do better. Appalling I know. This attitude towards photographers left a somewhat sour, bitter taste to say the least.

So how did it come to this? How did it come to a point where a once thriving trade is reduced to rubble? The simple answer, the decline of the print industry, emergence of digital photography, the creation of the internet and economic crash. With this new era came change, paid photography jobs disappeared. Darkrooms closed while the internet brought a new way to work, a new way to send photos to one another. This is something me and Toby Glanville discuss in next week’s conversation piece. The rise of digital photography meant that you no longer needed to know how to use a darkroom, or what film or apertures to use. The camera did it for you with the most terrifying accuracy. The skills once needed to be a photographer are now lost. Those skills only live on within us, the students, the graduates, the self-taught and the old guard. A once majestic, tranquil way of working has been utterly destroyed, piece by piece, with the old faithful SLR soon to be replaced by mirrorless cameras, we are at the pinnacle point of change. The appearance of smartphones has now added to photography’s downfall. Everybody has a camera on them. This is great if a life changing, or global event happens, however for us, for the photographer, it is destructive and has changed the very notions of what a photographer is. We also need to remember that the cost of living has become so high in recent years, that some people simpily cannot afford the rates for a wedding or event, whetehr we like that or not, times are tough.

petar petrov giants above the cherries skier young boys standing for a portrait on path
Petar Petrov, Giants Above the Cherries

“News companies still employ photographers, right?”

Yes and No, more on the no than the yes. On occasion, BBC, Sky and whoever else do use images by professional photographers, however these are brought through platforms such as Getty Images, rather than being employed to take pictures through a company. It’s freelance work, where you get lucky if someone buys your image essentially. The second issue, is nowadays, people will do anything for attention, anything for that bit of credit that makes them feel meaningful in their boring day to day life. You see journalists on twitter creeping, watching for videos or pictures that people have taken of an ongoing event or crisis, then drop them a message saying “Hey, I’m a journalist from BBC news, if we credit you, can we use your picture” and then bam, it’s the front page of tomorrows paper. It is as simple as that, these companies get royalty-free photographs for free, just because somebody gets there five minutes of fame and it is the true middle finger to photographers of all kinds.

Of course, there are still paid photography jobs within these industries. A fantastic example being the Financial Times, who have commissioned several photographers I know of to take photos of a story or topic that they want to discuss. However, don’t be fooled, the pay for these commissions can sometimes be poor, but its better than nothing I suppose.

red tree dark room print fading away
Sara Marinangeli, Leaving a Mark.

“There are plenty of commercial jobs?”

Kind of is the honest answer. The problems that we currently face is a serious and unprecedented issue of pricing. Prices are too low or hyperinflated and I honestly cannot tell you what is right or what is wrong. I have made a few observations surrounding the matter. Every day on Facebook and Instagram I see another wedding photographer, each with a different price and slightly more cringy post about documenting “the most special day in someone’s life” or something like that. The issue is capitalism. Someone always wants something for free or for little money. New photographers often charge low rates and get clients, but don’t realise that by doing so they undercut everyone else. For example, if everyone has low prices, that one person who has higher prices may not get the clients, therefore forcing him to lower his rates. Therefore, everyone is charging less, but still competing in the same way, meaning that the overall value of the services that we offer is drastically reduced to somewhat unsustainable rates. Photographers use to charge £1000 a wedding, two weddings a month, or even one, is a month’s wage for a standard job. However, if you charge £200 a wedding, you need to work 5x harder to make that wage. We wonder why photographers suffer from mental health problems. Here is a prime reason. You wouldn’t ask your builder to work for free, so why would you ask a photographer?

Commercial photography is much like wedding photography. You are competing with everyone for the same work, and the pricing of this work is often too low or hyperinflated. In Devon, prices are absolutely ridiculous, some fantastic photographers charge £50 an hour, others charge £50 a day, which is confusing to say the least. There is nothing harder for a fresh graduate or student to figure out what to charge someone. My best advice to you is gather a strong portfolio and just work step by step. Build yourself up, build your empire and decide what you feel your work is worth. Without pricing guidelines or an official board or union, there is nothing to regulate the prices, therefore, we will always be faced with this issue.

wedding evening dancing couple bride and groom Devon first dance
Emma Booth, Evening Dance, 2018

In conclusion, not all people consider photography to be a real trade in the modern world. People think that they are somehow a qualified photographer because they have a smartphone with a camera, or they own a camera with a high megapixel count. It’s tragic how this artform and skillset has somewhat fallen into the abyss. Never the less, there are opportunities out there, nothing is impossible and there is money to be made, I just wish that I could find it for this Collective. If you want something, go out there and get it. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Don’t become complacent, follow your dreams. This life is too short, don’t live on past mistakes, look forward. Perhaps, this isn’t about money, perhaps, it’s about what we create. We are a united bunch, a group of us who bizarrely share similar views, beliefs and talents. We are not defined by gender, religion or race. We document the here, the now, stories of the past and the present. Stories that will be looked at in the future. The work we create now, whether it be commercial, wedding, documentary or whatever genre will be looked back on in hundreds of years, used as a way of educating the future generations on the period of technological advancement and development that we have been born into to.

Will McCleland Out of Step Photography documentary photograph story kodak portra 120 The South West Collective photo
Will McCleland, Out of Step

Article by Collective Founder, Samuel Fradley

If you enjoyed this article by Sam, check out another: https://thesouthwestcollective.co.uk/josh-adam-jones-launches-his-first-book-xo/