Recently, a special delivery unexpectedly arrived for me. It was a trophy from the Telly Awards for a Cape Town guide that I filmed for Expedia. Winning awards has never been a motivation for me, but this one felt really good. It made me consider all the different forms of payment we can get from photography.
Last week, I shared a talk by Colby Brown. One thing that Colby Brown said really stuck with me. He mentioned that he gets paid several times for the same shoot. When I heard him say that, I thought he was referring to monetary payments. This recent experience of winning an award from my Cape Town guide made me realize that there are many forms of payment for photography and most shoots include more than just the monetary amount.
1. For the Money
If making money is your primary motivation for a career choice, photography is a poor choice. Compared with most professional services, the fees you can charge are on the low end, while the risk is high. We choose to do photography for other reasons.
That said, once you’re a working photographer, the fee you get from a shoot becomes an important motivation. You cannot survive without this fee. When Expedia commissioned eight days of photography and film work in Cape Town, the photography fee was certainly an enticing factor.
2. For the Access
Someone has said that photography is a passport to great experiences. As a travel and architectural photographer, this proves to be the case on most shoots. Working for a client opens doors to places that I could not visit in my private capacity or budget.
During this Cape Town shoot, I had numerous experiences like this: private tours of high-end vineyards, access to national parks after hours, and a pass to return down from Table Mountain in the last cable car, with the staff allowing me to capture the sunset.
Experiences like these are treasured memories. They’re worth more to me than the fees from the shoots. I certainly consider the access I get from photography to be a form of payment.
3. For Reach
Almost my entire body of work has been for clients in a commercial capacity. In most cases, I’m limited with what I can share. As a result, my social media influence is relatively small.
When I last checked, the Cape Town guide had over a million views on YouTube alone. This is way beyond anything that I would be able to achieve in my personal capacity.
You may be wondering why view count is important to me even though my name isn’t attached to the guide. It centers around my original motivation for becoming a travel photographer. When I first started photography, it was to document my excursions in the Eastern Cape of South Africa to encourage my friends to get out and explore. Doing this shoot for Expedia was an extension of my original motivation for photography, only with a much larger reach.
4. To Give Back
Consider for a moment the number of people who have watched the Cape Town guide on YouTube. I imagine that most people who watch a guide, especially one that is almost 18 minutes long, do so because they're interested in visiting the region. If just one percent of the people who watch the guide are influenced to visit, the boost to the local economy will be more than if I donated my entire year's earnings to the region.
The thought that my efforts may increase the level of tourism to an area in some small way is a powerful one. It causes me to work a lot harder than if I were simply working for money. The knowledge that through my efforts, I'm giving back to the local community is another form of payment.
5. For Recognition
I've never considered that my work in travel photography could win any sort of award. It was the team of people behind Expedia's destination guides (Tourism Media) who entered the competition and who posted the award to me.
Considering my indifference to awards, I was surprised just how powerful the feeling was when I got one. There is a feeling of validation to realize that industry professionals have deemed your work worthy of an award. For someone like myself who constantly suffers imposter syndrome, it provides a massive confidence boost and can be considered another form of payment.
6. For Education
In the last few months, I have reentered the world of employment as a full-time architectural photographer. Originally, my job was supposed to be all about photographing buildings. Happily, that is a large part of it, but another part of the job has become photography education. The techniques and knowledge that I picked up after seven years of filming and photographing all around the world have proved invaluable in my new career. Being in a position to share this experience and knowledge is another form of payment.
Focus on the Why
Most content that I consume on photography and business tends to have a negative slant. People are constantly pushing for more while always looking to pay less. It sometimes feels like there is an obsession with how much we get paid. While writing this article and looking back on my Cape Town shoot, I realized that I've been paid many times over. Taking a broader view makes me feel incredibly grateful to be a photographer. This article mentions six different forms of payment for a photography job. I'd love to hear from you if there are any other forms of payment that I've left off the list. It goes a long way to making this art form even more enjoyable.