Devaluing Photography With Cheap Prices

There's been a bit of uproar lately around a company that claims it can produce advertising photos that would normally cost thousands of dollars for as low as $19. This great video rails against the temptation for up and coming photographers to take those gigs.

Coming to you from Daniel Norton, this thoughtful video essay talks about the devaluing of photography and how it's important for photographers to avoid contributing to that, particularly in the case of Catalog, a startup that claims to offer advertising photos for businesses at the lowest of low prices. Presumably, they aim to do so by preying on up and coming photographers, as no established shooter would touch those sorts of projects with a 39-foot pole. It can be an alluring prospect for a new photographer, however: make a bit of immediate money while putting down brand work on your resume. Nonetheless, it's terrible for the industry, and it promotes a business model that's simply unsustainable for photographers and creates a total lack of respect for the craft, including the time, cost, skills, and effort that go into such work. Check out the video above for Norton's full thoughts on the matter. 

Lead image courtesy of Nino Batista.

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Brandon Adam's picture

I kid you not, I got an email an hour ago from a nationwide company offering $550 for a shoot. They asked for a copyright buy-out, and said the images would be displayed in 1,500 stores and online.

Johnny Rico's picture

I hope that company burns from the inside out.

Alex Cooke's picture

You and me both.

Tim Ericsson's picture

I disagree. I hope they burn from the outside in.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

I'm wondering how many readers will be actually happy to take such shot... Hoping to start their portfolio this way and this they will be able to raise price later...

David Pavlich's picture

I've been getting similar garbage for about the last year or so.

user-156818's picture

I've been getting a lot of those requests, too. It's prevalent.

George Popescu's picture

Well everyone has a smartphone now, so technically everyone IS a photographer.

David Pavlich's picture

Saints fan? 8-1...Who Dat! Sorry for going off topic. :-)

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

No; Everyone can take a picture.
But I will define "photographer" in a different manner if it have to bring money to support your family.

Not exactly. Everybody also owns a stove and pans, doesnt mean we're all chefs. Photographer is an actual profession, meaning you are a professional who gets paid to produce work. Having a camera in your phone doesnt mean you get paid to produce work, any more than having a stove means you get paid to produce cooked meals

Photographers can also make yearly salaries, calm down

Rifki Syahputra's picture

$15/hr can make you rich.. if living in a 3rd world countries :)

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I guess it depends on your definition of comfort and what part of your country.

Robert Nurse's picture

I wonder if Nikon, Canon, Sony, Broncolor , Elinchrom, Profoto, et al are aware of this and will price their equipment accordingly.

GI PAMPERIEN's picture

maybe ur overvaluing ur-self...

Tony Clark's picture

I would not care to work with anyone that values images at $19 each. I turned down a couple new groups that offer $100 to go shoot menu items at restaurants, I think the Soccer Mom set would have second thoughts about accepting that rate. By the time you pay taxes and gas I don’t think you’d have much to buy lunch. If that is what the budget has been set at I would hate to see what their office looks like.

Kirk Darling's picture

And yet, so many photographers discourage membership in organizations like WPPI, ASMP, and PPA, which teach members the real-world economics of why they should charge enough money to get into business on a solid footing and keep it on a solid footing.

user-156929's picture

Your reactions remind me of factory worker's reactions to robotics or unskilled laborer's reaction to illegal immigrants. Very few people empathize with them. Just an need to reply.

John Dawson's picture

This concept is essentially custom stock photography with no rights for the photog. In other words, it's pretty much the worst mash-up of all possible scenarios for anyone who cares about the craft.

Earl Scheib, anyone?

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I would not get all upset about this as they will cash in on the VC money, realize the idea looked better on paper, buy a few Teslas and disappear in a couple years. Probably with a few Tbytes of other peoples pix. there's a sucker born every minute.

Dass Ala's picture

Its a company rolling nationwide called, somebody knows about it?

Same problem here. I was approached by a French company, who supposedly has ‘big international clients’, to shoot for them and they offered £45 for 25 RAW images. Their AI would do the editing. They didn’t pay any expenses or give details how long a job would take. You could end up shooting for somebody for a few days to get the right 25 pictures and they’d still pay you only £45 for all I know. Joke. Obviously I told them No and that they are devaluing not only my work but also every other photographers work. They replied they had plenty of photographers working for them and happy. So I guess you do get people who will take jobs like are willing to work for less than £2 a picture. Shame some photogs make Photography into McDonalds.

I’d say, there are not that many people who will be happy to provide 25 solid images for £45 even to the East of EU border... But, probably, people who can provide “some” images are always there.

Robert Nurse's picture

They must not have expected very much then. Models, MUA's, etc. don't work for free.

Brent Rivers's picture

Barriers to entry are low, the exorbitant amount of free workshops, tutorials, and college level courses being made available give the perceptions that the results of out efforts are a commodity at best. Create art, and let the volume low margin shooters duke it out with these ridiculous unsustainable prices and promos. Raise the bar, be efficient in all your processes, and wrap your craft in high levels of service. People are paying 1200 for a phone that lasts maybe a year, surely we can sell above that!

Reginald Walton's picture

But if the "client" is happy with the outcome, isn't that all that matters? Not everyone can afford $1,000 or more for pictures. I mean some pro photographers advertise that they shot an entire football game with an iphone. I'm just saying, if a person or couple is happy with their $500, $300, or $200 shoot, good for them. I get it, not every photographer who spends thousands of dollars on their photography equipment wants to do shoots at that price, but some will and more power to them for offering the clients an affordable option.

In any profession there are now companies which hire professionals at low rates to do cheap work. Don't take it personally. Get even with those companies by networking and marketing yourself in person to potential new clients. The more you do that the more in demand you will become and the more reasonable your rates will be. Leave the bottom fishers to photographers who sit behind their keyboard all day, every week, all year.

Chris Ward's picture

This is no different than any other market/profession/job...there will always be someone willing to do it cheaper than you. It is up to the customer to decide what they want to pay, and see who bites. If your value is above what theyre willing to pay, then feel free to turn it down...but don't get mad when another photographer picks up the gig. In the end, the client will either learn a (somewhat) expensive lesson in that they get what they pay for...or maybe they'll get a killer deal because the photographer knocked it out of the park!

You don't see Rolls Royce complaining that Hyundai is underselling them...but the people that pay the premium for a luxury vehicle appreciate smaller details and superior craftsmanship. That's not to say that Hyundai (or their customers) are somehow inferior because they don't demand the prices of other manufacturers.

There is a plethora of photographers out there. Some do it for fun, some for fun (but will take some money for it if it works), and some who do it professionally/commercially. If people aren't lining up to pay your prices, either you've overvalued yourself and/or are producing work that doesn't command the price. Simple economics will say theres too much supply and not enough demand...and therefore the supply side must compete in price/quantity/etc..

Either way, each person has to evaluate what their time and skills are worth and stick to that. But I wont be mad if I turn down a job, and someone else takes it for a lesser price. What someone else charges certainly doesn't devalue my work.

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