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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I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

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