Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Value of Photography

I recently read a post on a fellow Shutterchancer’s blog ranting about “Free is Killing Me

And I must say- I do agree with the majority of it.

One of the things about photography is it (like most arts) is very expensive and pays very little. And yes, I have succumbed to the pressures of the internet age and I went digital, so I no longer must pay for film every time I want to take the camera out- but it’s by no means a cheap hobby.

To give you a rough idea
My first entry level DSLR was a thousand with a kit lens, and no memory when I bought it in 2005. The 2 Gb I bought then was another two-fifty. The first external hard drive was another few hundred. The next hard drive which died was another six hundred, the two bought to replace it and be backups of each other so I could prevent data loss in the future were five hundred apiece. I now have over a dozen CF cards which depending on when they were bought were between forty and a hundred dollars. The first camera I had died and so I bought another used DSLR for another five hundred. My tripod was eighty. The zoom lens I bought used for two hundred. The camera bag was forty. And that’s all just for my digital stuff. I also still shoot film which averages four bucks a roll, the developing of a black an white roll with prints is another fifteen bucks with color it’s seven. If I want scanned copies of the film add on another 10. And of course there was the cost of those cameras and lens and so forth...

Back in 2005 I was looking at the cost of hosting a show, I went so far as to organize a series of photos, meet wine bar owners look at venues etc... And doing cost benefit analysis it was very easy to see there was no value in doing it. If was going to do film the cost of paper, printing various copies in the lab, the time investment etc... would be more costly than digital. But looking at digital each print would cost $4 initially per shot, add on about $8-20 per shot in test prints to make sure they were accurately color corrected to your monitor, $15 per shot for matt boards (assuming you want archival boards which most people want.), and assume you want to have about 2 dozen photos hanging in the show, plus some box prints to show off and make sales easier. Add in buying wine and snacks for a reception, the cost of sending out mass invites and promotional flyers and when you do get to the show... most people expect the prints to be popcorn buys if they don’t recognize your name. So you can sell them between $25 and $50 but more than that and no one will buy. By the time all the math was done (these are guesses based on what I remember- we actually worked it out properly at the time) it basically worked out that I’d be paying someone $10 per shot if they bought it, simply due to the materials cost going in. Assuming every shot was sold, I’d still not break even and I’d have put a lot of labor in to have mainly friends show up and nod at the walls before leaving. Obviously I didn’t bother doing such a show.

I enjoy shooting events. I take my camera and recreationally shoot them all the time. But I honestly am not a fan of shooting events for other people. Because generally people look at your shots say, we like what you do with candids etc... and then try to outline exactly what they want. Nothing wrong with knowing what you want, but if you’re hiring me because you like what I do on my own then don’t try to micro-manage me because the results will be pathetic.

The other thing which irks me is when I’m asked to volunteer my time and I find the project interesting so agree only to have them suddenly demand, “When can I see the pictures? When will you have CD for me? Why are they taking so long?” I have a huge backlog of photos. Huge. Literally thousands of shots. And if you’re paying me you have the right to ask for them sooner. But most wedding photographers takes weeks and months for a reason: it takes time to do good work. And I try- and going through the images takes time. But even if you don’t want them post processed, it takes generally and hour or two to upload. An hour to back up. If you want CDs each of those will take an hour. And in case you forgot- you’re not paying me for my time and I still have a full course load, my own projects and I’d really also like to have a life. Occasionally people also say they’d like to pay me for the service after having asked me to volunteer and they’ll propose a minute sum. At which point I must admit, I feel cheapened. While one part of me rejoices at the idea of more gas money and a cup of coffee- the other half says ‘Why are you selling yourself so cheaply?’ At least if I am not paid I’m going in with the expectation of volunteering purely out of my interest in the project and that is the value I gain for my labors. If I’m paid a small amount it feels like I’m not in it for the project I’m in it for the money, and if that’s the case I’d rather be paid fairly. Oh the other thing which irks me is when the same people who can’t wait to see the photos can wait to reimburse me for gas, film expenses etc...

And I know some days the quality of my photographs is not worth paying for. Some events I go to and my head is in the clouds and my mind and eye are just not connecting the way they should and the work is not really worth anything. But when left to my own devices I’d like to think I’ve got a half decent eye for photography. I’d like to think some of my shots are original and noteworthy. Obviously I still have a lot to learn, but I’d like to think that’s worth something to have my photos. And even if I’m not a professional, don’t act like one, don’t have a studio or proper portfolio to share, don’t own my own lighting equipment etc... I think there is a lot which goes into getting a good image which can get taken for granted.

I also believe in the perks of a creative commons copyright. If you like my photos and want to use them for your facebook photo, myspace, blog, computer background, print a low res copy to post on your dorm wall, use for class, send to your family, save to your hard drive so you can remember it, use for creative inspiration or a photo-montage - go for it! You have my full blessing. But if there’s a place to credit, then please credit me. I’ve seen my photos used without giving me credit and that somewhat irks me. And I hate seeing my photos somewhere and thinking, I don’t remember them ever even saying they liked that shot. There’s someone who used one of my photos on a myspace as I later discovered and got over 20 comments praising it and I appreciated the feedback of the comments, but I would have liked it if prior to the photo being used I would have at least known and been credited underneath the photo. Nothing fancy, just a comment on the photo “Hey, I like this and I’m making it my facebook pic.” or “this is on my wall” whatever... It might sound vain, but If you’re getting the positive feedback I’d like to hear it too. If I’m not being paid I’d at least like to know which shots are being appreciated. If you want to use an image as a desktop I’d rather you tell me and I can recrop from the original so anyone who sees it, sees it as I intended rather than disproportionately stretched.

I know this rant went long, but there have been a lot of days in the last quarter where I felt like what I was doing was being taken for granted and thus when I read the post it struck a nerve.

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Anonymous Suby & Sinem said...

Very well written rant Urvi, we sorta of liev in a world where anyone can buy a camera and stick the title "Photographer" in front of it and think they can be a s good as the best of them but charge next to nothing, Photography is an art, a skill that takes years to learn like any other profession. We encourage the amateurs with all our hearts, all we ask is when it comes to those who seek the professionals to undertake commissions for them they do not stick us in the same brackets as the amateurs and ask us to work for nothing or almost nothing.

It's an insult in the first place to be asked to work for nothing, we have to pay our accountant amd lawyer everytime we use their services, wonder if we will try the "we will put your name on our website" trick on them next time they ask for payments :)

Anyway, keep the fantastic work going :)

3:13 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Hi Urvi,
(You almost certainly don't know me by name, or even by my face, but I'm in FLMST 70 with you, you gave me one of your cards)

As an avid photographer and cinematographer, I can understand the deflating feeling of being disconnected from your work when people don't want to pay a decent sum, it makes me feel like an automaton that is simply doing a banal / mechanical activity. I also know that when you do want to work professionally, you need to be selling YOURSELF as an ARTIST, not your photography. In fact, you aren't even selling a product, you are selling a service, a service that is uniquely URVI and nobody else. Otherwise, you are just selling photos.

-Stephen Lewis

6:39 PM  

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