Join 3,564 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Peter Parker is underpaid
March 16, 2013 7:21 PM   Subscribe

Guilt, gratitude, music photography. Freelance Australian music photographer Leah Robertson writes about being underpaid, and how pervasive it is in the industry. Check out rates from around the world at Who Pays Photographers?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (20 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

Like many industries and professions altered by technology, music photography is suffering because:

a) It is far easier for the average person to take quality photographs than it once was
b) Young people in particular are eager to take pictures of musicians for free because it's cool and fun

Considering the above, it's a wonder that anyone gets paid to take pictures of live shows at all anymore.
posted by jet_manifesto at 8:16 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Being a freelancer means you are the boss, you set your own rates, you decide what gigs to take. Don't like it? Do something else.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:27 PM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Meh. Some photographers pay their models.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:30 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Like many industries and professions altered by technology,

Altered by technology...? In what fucking way?

Photography has always been infested by gearheads and dilettantes who think their mastery over an arcane bit of kit, purchased with hundreds of hours of hobbyist time, makes them a "professional."

This was the case in 1913 and 2013. At least a century of hobbyists who think they can go pro, and evil editors who use them to wale away at real pros who can actually produce saleable images three times a day everyday.

You think digital changes this shit? You think your fancy DSLR that you walk around the park with gives you the power of a pro photog? No. The power is always in the eye - a sense of the moment, an instinct for image, an analytical sense for what works and what doesn't for the assignment. Pixel-peeping doesn't come close to cutting it. You need to understand composition and light and color on both a natural and a learned level.

All of this wonderful tech, that allows a photographer to take a photo under miserable circumstances and polish it into a publishable piece, is available to hobbyists - but the pros got their first, and their stuff looks better on a consistent basis than your baby pics snapped with a full-frame Nikon and imported into Lightroom, I guarantee.

But it's the threat of "advanced amateurs" that Editors use to keep the real pros in the poorhouse. This was true in the early '90s when I was in art school, it was true in the '50s when Weegee was in his prime, and it's true now. You think your fancy, all-powerful camera makes you a pro?

Here's John Wendle. He uses an iPhone. He works for Time Magazine. He's a better photographer than my Fuji X-E1, Lightroom using, pixel-peeping ass ever will be.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:33 PM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have to say I first got seriously into photography by shooting musicians when I was a teenager. Then I realized no one could ever make a business out of that, and pursued the kind of photography amateurs will never be able to do.

Everyone is a photographer now.
posted by bradbane at 8:42 PM on March 16, 2013

You think your fancy DSLR that you walk around the park with gives you the power of a pro photog? No. The power is always in the eye - a sense of the moment, an instinct for image, an analytical sense for what works and what doesn't for the assignment. Pixel-peeping doesn't come close to cutting it. You need to understand composition and light and color on both a natural and a learned level.

Yeah, and that's something you need a Masters degree to learn. *eyeroll*

The only thing that is required, beyond mastery of the technology, is talent. Talent doesn't know a professional from an amateur. There are plenty of professionals without it.

Here's Julia Margaret Cameron, one of the earliest masters of the medium, and a complete amateur. She became a photographer because her daughter happened to give her a camera as a present. (The original Momtographer!)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:52 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

The only thing that is required, beyond mastery of the technology, is talent. Talent doesn't know a professional from an amateur. There are plenty of professionals without it.

Talent don't mean shit without the discipline and dedication to apply it to your work daily. Anne Landers, the famous advice columnist, was once asked by a fan, "What do you do when you feel you can't write a column, that you can't do it right and to the best of your abilities?"

Anne replied, "I write a column."

(I don't know if this is true, but our first semester lab instructor loved to tell it as if it was. Yes, we were all fine photographers who could make the silver colloid dance to our tune. It wasn't enough. We were all visionaries with an amazing and innovative eye. It wasn't enough. You gotta produce even when you can't produce.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:02 PM on March 16, 2013

Well, fine. Tenacity doesn't require an Official Certificate of Authentic Professional Photography either.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:13 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

The power is always in the eye - a sense of the moment, an instinct for image, an analytical sense for what works and what doesn't for the assignment.

This sentiment is perfectly illustrated, in my opinion, by the selection of Leah Robertson's work linked above. She obviously has an eye for event photography—she gets work, however underpaid—but most of her street photography wouldn't be accepted in the average curated street group on flickr.
posted by Lorin at 9:14 PM on March 16, 2013

Times have changed, and so has the business. Having lived in the "golden age of editorial" where we could pick a place in the world, shoot a story, come back, publish an exclusive in one magazine and make a profit, now we must cater to different clients. We still shoot some music stuff, but instead of doing it for bands, we do it for festival sponsors and other companies. For those starting out, shooting music is great practice, but not a significant source of income. Everyone IS a photographer now (and this is good), but not everyone succeeds at making a living from it. It wasn't easy in the past, it isn't any easier now.
posted by ig at 9:27 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Man, I wish we could have just one post about the business of creative work (writing, photography, music, what have you) that didn't devolve into "Fuck you, you don't deserve to get paid." Or the corollary: "Fuck you for getting professional training in your trade." (There are some shitty pros, yeah, but proportionally fewer of them than shitty amateurs. Saying "Anyone can be a photographer" or ragging on masters degrees is missing the point of the essay, and it just makes you look bitter.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:45 PM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Allow me to bring in a personal dimenstin to this as a mans of venting. So its a major anniversary for my parents. The one thing my mom wants is a picture of me and my siblings and the grandkids together. I wanted to get a professional photographer to come and shoot the picture. Others disagree for all of the reasons cited above. Please validate my worldview that we shoud get a pro in there to shoot it. right?
posted by humanfont at 10:19 PM on March 16, 2013

A pro who does family photos will know how direct and arrange people. They'll know what to look for with lighting and watching for tree branches sticking out of heads. A pro will have done this before and be able to handle billing and printing and such in a timely fashion.
posted by HMSSM at 10:29 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need to understand composition and light and color on both a natural and a learned level...

Goodness, that screed comes of as a little snobby, you know? As if photographers, or anyone for that matter is owed a profession as a matter of course. The fallback to mythologising about intangible qualities is always a sign that a majority of people have great difficulty telling the difference between the special and unspecial thing - and there's no shame in that.

The rebuttal to your thoughts - and their converse - is basically in the pudding. There are plenty of pro photographers out there making great livings. Better yet, the web and their profiles on it enables them to run workshops with, produce dvds for, and write books educating those hobbyists you're so keen to take a dump on.

And of course, there are plenty of terribly shit "professionals" and gifted amateurs as always there was and will be - in almost any creative field.

I know what it's like, I used to be a professional freelance writer. But you know what? These days, I think that obsessing over "professional" status or pay grade as a cosign of quality is what's dilletantish. I use to do it when I was freelancing, but then I realised I was writing some utter horseshit for well-paying gigs and some of my best work practically or actually free, for publications with editors that cared and the lattitude to inspire my best.

Did I think those editors were disrespecting me, or the field of non-fiction writing? Of course not!

I love seeing so many people taking great pictures, inspired about it, and having fun doing it. Lower barriers to entry push everyone to be better, and you know, in a lot of cases you don't need the best, anyway.
posted by smoke at 10:38 PM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Thank god it's still as hard to write a good story as it ever was.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:48 PM on March 16, 2013

I think that ranty dude's pompous rage should have been directed at no-talent photographers, not unlearned photographers. I'm an amateur and I know I'm better than 95% of the people out there who think they're doing photography-but also nowhere near as good as a good photographer. I think I have an eye for it but I'd rather kill myself than talk shop or have some douche ask me what 'glass' I use. (Kit lens, eat it.)
posted by legospaceman at 1:59 AM on March 17, 2013

The most important skills in being a pro photographer are turning up on time, being a nice person to work with and getting the job done efficiently and quickly.

Its just like DIY, anyone can theoretically do it but if you absolutely need that shelf to last a lifetime then you hire a professional to do it.

Music photography has always been the nichest of niches though, people got paid terribly when the music industry wasn't collapsing. No one has ever been forced to be a music photographer, it's something you do out of love and the faint possibility you might hit it Anton Corbijn big by hanging out with the right band at the right time.
posted by brilliantmistake at 2:46 AM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Actually, what I took from the piece was not that the author felt owed something because they were simply a photographer but that the author felt owed something because a publication felt that the work was good enough to be published. It seems to be that in the creative industry (both photography and writing) there is a disconnect: You are deemed good enough to be chosen to fulfill an assignment yet not good enough to be paid a decent wage for doing so. What the hell is that?!

Example: I wrote a press release for a band a couple weeks back. This band commands a pretty penny for even showing up for shows (I was quoted at least $15,000) and yet, do you know what I was paid for that press release? I got a ticket to a show and my bar tab comped, which totaled out to about $30. Obviously, I was good enough to write something that the band will use over and over throughout the coming year and publish freely at their will with magazines, newspapers, etc. but I was not good enough to be compensated more than $30 for what the band and their management deemed totally stellar work. That's nice. I feel like the piece's author has the same gripe.

Granted, I could have turned the job down. But as Dave Greenwald (who, admittedly, I'm not sure I particularly like) says: Work for free [or in this case, nearly free] if it helps your hustle. I guess the press release will indeed help my hustle but the monetary value of that assistance to my hustle is likely zilch.

If The Vine deemed this particular photographer good enough to publish their work, they ought to compensate the photographer fairly and from the numbers lined out in the piece, they didn't do that.

Klangklangston: RIGHT ON YES THANK YOU.
posted by youandiandaflame at 6:24 AM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I quit my staff position to freelance in 1987, I was approached by several small local publications and offered work. I remember clearly that the offered rates were about 20% of what I'd make on an equivalent commercial shoot, so I declined.

I did shoot a few jobs for a very well designed Washington DC based regional magazine; because they not only paid my commercial day rate, but also all expenses. Not only did they do this without any negotiation required, but they actually paid upon acceptance of the photos; not upon publication. All they needed was first time rights. They had high standards, respected photographers, and a few years later their operation ceased.

Over the years I have watched editorial rates plummet across the board. That's why I usually only shoot one or two editorial jobs a year for a publisher who is among that tiny minority of those who still think somebody whop shoots for them has a right to earn a living.

Face it, when you have amateurs and part timers clamoring for even relatively un-glamorous jobs shooting events, concerts, or posed sports team pictures, for next to nothing, it's unfortunately not surprising that big time entertainment and major league sports can get excellent, established pros to shoot for very cheap as well.
posted by imjustsaying at 10:37 AM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a freelancer in entertainment. I never work for free. I answer ads asking for interns to do what I do, and usually point out what a bad idea that is. Sometimes, I get the gig. Sometimes I get a snotty reply. But, in work, as in so much else in life--if you don't value yourself or what you do, how do you expect anyone else to do so? Want to shoot photos for your own pleasure? Be my guest. Want to be a professional? Then act like one. I sympathize with Leah (the writer of the piece) but this

I’m ‘happy to’, also, because in some ways I’ve been trained to be

You don't have to be who they want you to be. If you've been "trained" to work for cheap, at some point in your life, you have to ditch the lessons that hold you down.

I think her photos are better than her reviewing, though.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:35 PM on March 17, 2013

« Older In Celebration of a Scar: 25 Amazing Mastectomy Ta...  |  Radagast's racing rhosgobel ra... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments