The “Business” of Photography: Have I Lost Perspective, Or Simply Disconnected?

OK… Snarky Rant follows: You have been warned.

So there’s this photographer on Google +, Colby Brown, and he is writing a book about Google + and photographers. He decided to run a contest or something like a contest, to get some photographers who are actively working on Google + in his book.

This is a very normal, and quite common thing in the publishing industry. Someone is writing a book, finds someone who would help the cause or focus of the book, does an interview and includes some images, illustrations or what have you into the book. There is rarely a change of money in that. Very rarely.

It is usually considered an honor. It is usually considered a wonderful opportunity to discuss your work, and show a lot of people a few of your images. Even as a marketing tool, it is exceptional, as it gives one credibility, gravitas and the appearance of being an ‘expert’.

There is rarely an exchange of money in this relationship. Does it ever happen? Sure. Probably… But that is not the norm.

Magazines, especially photography magazines and design magazines that I get, all have featured articles in them. This great designer from Norway, and that wonderful photographer from Atlanta. Communication Arts does a featured illustrator, photographer, designer, design shop and ad shop in every issue.

Do you think the designer or photographer or shops pay for that?

Do you really?

If you do, you are wrong. And you need to get yourself educated on the business you THINK you are in. Do it now, before you go out and make comments like the ones I read at the G+ thread… “I will never give my work away…” and “…how is that different from being asked to work for free?”… and “…I am tired of being taken advantage of by people who are gonna profit from my work…”

Newsflash: No way in hell any of those comments came from people who are in the business or know any damn thing about this business. Maybe they read a lot of blog posts, and wish the kitty shots on Flickr would be picked up by Getty, or make a sheckle or two from microshitstock… but they are not goddam photographers.

Just imagine: photographer picks up phone:

“Hi, Tony Tog, this is Photo District News and we have been seeing a lot of your work out there. We would like to do a feature on you. It would be a few pages, and we need to set up a writer to come and do the interview. When would be good?”

Tony Tog to caller: “Dude, I don’t give my pictures away. If you want to do an interview with me, you gotta pay. You gotta pay, man. WTF.. you think I do this for f’n fun? I need money, honey… get the hell off my phone.”

Yep. I am sure that happens every day. Youbetcha.

Of course in the real world, not the online-look-i-gotta-pro-flickr-account world, photographers know that it is an honor to be featured, and they also know that it would be something they can use for credibility. (And before you start whining, I know – GAWD do I know – that these things do not necessarily turn directly to dollars. There is no quid-pro-quo relationship between doing the interview and hefty bags of cash. How could there be?)

And, since we are talking about buckets of cash here, go ahead and call PDN and ask them how much it would cost you, Tony Tog, to purchase 4 pages of the magazine to tell people about how cool you are… instead of having someone there, someone with a lot of credibility, tell people how cool you are. Go ahead, I’ll wait right here… hmmmm hmmmm…

Yeah – it costs that much.

Now, how much do you think they would pay you for the interview? Not very much, Bucky – it’s editorial. And if you are really in the business you know that editorial don’t pay crap. It is something that people in the business actually, you know, know.

Deduct what you would have gotten paid for the interview from what the four page insertion would cost (nearly $50K+) and you have the instant dollar amount it was worth to you.

No different in book world.

So maybe I am simply stupid. Or out of it… disconnected from the world of whateverthehell passes for ‘perfeshunul’ photography these days. Maybe all you need is a bunch of HDR shots and a Google + account to be a pro. That’s fine.

Of course the writer, and the photographer who comes along to snap the shot of the featured designer/photographer/ad gal gets paid. It’s editorial. It is a gig to them. Right? You see the difference, right?

Maybe the whole web thing changed it all up. Good is bad, up is down… who the hell even knows anymore.

But I will remain in the perspective of this: You cannot buy credibility. You cannot purchase reputation for any dollar amount on earth. You can only achieve it by being credible and having a great reputation. Editorial features, book features, mentions on blogs of note and on social media is what works toward that end.

I am not disconnected. I know what I know. And the world of professional photography is the same as it always has been. Just a hell of a lot easier to call ones self a pro these days. A HELL of a lot easier.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

And, then again….

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  1. This is brilliant. I got goosebumps. Especially at this part:

    “You cannot buy credibility. You cannot purchase reputation for any dollar amount on earth. You can only achieve it by being credible and having a great reputation.”

    I cannot believe someone wants to be paid for this. They seem to have the pay vs. “free” area of photography confused. Of course as a pro you book CLIENT work and the CLIENT pays you. But how is an interview or an editorial feature “client work?” LOL. Imagine if the peers who asked me to do interviews and features this year and last year got an invoice from me? LOLOL

    People are getting carried away with the word “professional” or as you wrote “‘perfeshunul’ photography” LOL.

    Again, great post.

  2. Heh, I look at it this way. Let them open there mouths and announce their foolishness so that we can easily remove them from the list of people to pay attention to.

  3. Don, your rants are so cooool!

  4. Nice rant. Totally agree!

  5. You…? A rant? That would be so (_Fill in Blank_).

    Fortunately you have the credibility to back it up. Maybe I missed it somewhere in your rant, but where can I buy some of that credibility stuff?

  6. Thanks folks.

    The thing is that so many photographers are out there trying to help and educate and bring the whole idea of being a professional photographer up to a higher level. And the noise that is generated by those who are totally out of the know who think that because they have a camera, that is all they need to be a part of the conversation is crazy. I am glad you have a camera, now listen and learn about the business.

    Wait… maybe I AM just an asshat….

    But I don’t think so.

  7. Ha! I love this post! I myself am a “learning” photographer, not a professional (or a “perfeshunul” as you called it) lol….I don’t claim to be perfect….I have a LOT to learn…but I am learning the business, and I am trying. I have seen a LOT of people just grab a “automatic” rig and say that they can take photos. And want to get paid for it. Learn the damn craft first. Read some books, take workshops, etc. Then you might be able to call yourself a photographer! My work might be sh*t but it’s my sh*t!! LOL!!

  8. This is a very informative and interesting post. Makes me reflect on my own way of thinking and the things that are happening in my life right now.

  9. Thanks for brightening my already busy and productive day Don ?

    Just finshed editing

    Love it!

  10. hehe …. hit the send key before I was done…

    Thanks for brightening my productive day editing a book or 2-week old baby and parent photos.

    You may me smile!

    Life is good and getting better and work is coming in.

  11. Spot on! Really liked the line “I know what I know” line near the end – problem is, there are way too many out there that “don’t know what they don’t know” yet it doesn’t slow them down when it comes to pontification on the subject. Sad truth is, this doesn’t just apply to the photography business either…

  12. Don, what are your thoughts on the other end of the spectrum? Where the publication contacts you, expresses interest in doing a feature editorial on you, then presents you with an invoice?

    I get the impression this has become quite common in many publication circles, and sometimes it may be worth it from the “go ahead and call PDN and ask them how much it would cost you, Tony Tog, to purchase 4 pages of the magazine” POV.

    Their “editorial” price is never anywhere near as high as the cost of purchasing ad space.

    But to me it also cheapens this – “You cannot buy credibility. You cannot purchase reputation for any dollar amount on earth.”

    • Marc, I have never heard of that, and would never be interested or advocate any photographer do that. If it is commonplace as you indicate, then I am totally ain the dark. None of the reputable magazines I know of and deal with do that.

      I do know that in some trade rags, they will do an “editorial” on your company if you buy a full page ad with thema, but never heard of it with photographers, designers and illustrators.

      What magazines are doing that?

  13. Hi Don, I won’t call out the magazines in question but I’ve been privy to it happening on two occasions – once to us directly and once to a company I’m familiar with. Neither of these were photography-related companies or magazines.

    After these incidents I consulted a few people in the magazine/ad industry and was told this is common practice. Mind you, this may be a regional thing – I’m in the Caribbean.

    To me it’s a damaging practice because it’s blurring the lines between editorial and promotional. But I guess the other side to it is many magazines have become essentially promotional vehicles with little or no editorial content of note. I can certainly think of a couple popular ad-filled photography publications fitting that description.

    • Yes, I know trade pubs will do that with “articles” about the company if advertising is done. I do not believe iris at all common in artist profiles and such. Agreed, the practice sucks… And no one is fooled.