I'm a photographer. That's what I do.
I've done other things in my life but, at this point in time, I'm a photographer. I enjoy being one, and I like to think I'm good at what I do.
I've practiced my art and honed my craft so that I can continue to improve. My goal, without exception, is to provide clients with my absolute best. Period. Anything short of that means I'm not only short-changing my client, but I'm being dishonest with myself, and I won't do that.
I've invested in my business. I upgrade my equipment periodically. I try to stay on top of new techniques and processes so that I'm always able to provide my clients with a product they'll enjoy having, and that they will happily pay for.
That's right, I said it: "PAY".
You see, there seems to be this belief amongst those who wish to "hire" photographers that photographers, for some magical reason, don't need to make money. All this time I thought I need to be able to earn a living but, thanks to the eye-opening opinions of potential clients, I've been wrong about that all along. How do I know this? Well, because there seems to be a growing potential client base which believes it should be able to be a client, yet not have to pay for it.
I look for work everywhere; I have to. It's how I make my money. One of the places I routinely check is Craig's List. Some will roll their eyes at that, but the fact of the matter is that two of the best paying gigs I've ever found were found on Craig's List. I'll never be convinced that it's not a viable source.
As I drank my morning coffee today, I came across a listing which was looking for a photographer to shoot a 25 year class reunion. It's about an hour and a half away but, hey, driving has never scared me away from a job. Since they're advertising in my local Craig's List, they must really want a photographer.
So, let's see... Let's read into the ad a bit and... wait, what's this?
"You would need to be available on July 5th in the time window anywhere from 9-2. The only compensations would be a bbq lunch as we do not have large budget."
A BBQ lunch for five hours of your time.
I've honed my craft and invested in myself and my business to make sure that I can provide you a professionally produced product; one that, years from now you'll look back on and remember the good times you had, and you'll compensate me with... lunch.
Look, unless Wolfgang Puck is doing the cooking, I think you need to consider some things. I think that you need to consider the fact that the photographer you're "hiring" (and, really, I think we're using that word in the loosest possible way here) has bills to pay. He has credit cards and rent and groceries to buy. He has to put gas in his car and maintain his equipment.
He does what he does so that he can have a life he enjoys living.
Despite what you apparently believe, the "photo credit" you give him is not going to put new tires on his car. They're not going to put food in his refrigerator or new shoes on his feet. Photo credits are virtually meaningless. To prove that point, let me ask you a question: Who took the photo that you last saw which contained a by-line. Don't go back and look at it; do this from memory.
Pretty much no one can. That's because no one ever pays attention to a photo credit. Don't tell me that it'll be good "exposure". I've been doing this a long time. People know my work. My exposure is fine. But, to be honest, people will see my work.
But let's turn the tables for a moment. Let me ask you: What do you do for a living?
Let's say you own a restaurant.
Well, howsabout you come to my house next Friday. I'm having a dinner party and I'm going to need food. You can take all of your equipment and expertise and produce a culinary masterpiece for us. You'll have to bring your own pots and pans because I don't have any. Oh, and you'll need to provide the food, too. I'll tell you what we want to eat, but you'll need to bring it all. You cook up a tasty dinner for me and 30 of my closest friends and, in return, I'll be sure to tell everyone I meet about your yummy food and your great restaurant.
Hey, it should be worth it, right?
For the "exposure"?
You want me to work five hours on a Saturday? Tell you what: Call a plumber and ask him what he charges per hour on a Saturday. Multiply that by five.
I'll give you five hours for half of that.
The reality is that I do shoot for free, and I actually do it pretty often. But, when I do, I'm doing it for friends and family. When I do it, it's because I've decided that I don't need to be paid for whatever it is I'm shooting, because I've decided that there's another value to be found in shooting for free. It's my choice. Don't ever presume that you're in any position to make that choice for me.
Expecting a photographer to work for nothing (and lunch equates to "nothing") is no different than asking a plumber to work for nothing, or a chef, or a surgeon or a truck driver. All of those people need to acquire a skill set that the general public does not have. Such a skill set has value, which is why you need to expect to pay for it.
So, the next time you find yourself in need of a photographer, truly consider what you're asking him to do if you ask him (or her) to shoot for free. You know as well as I do that you're going to want the best that photographer can provide. You're going to expect the highest quality results for nothing.
That begs the question: Why do you think that's okay?