You Don't Deserve to Get Paid for Your Photography

You Don't Deserve to Get Paid for Your Photography

It really doesn't matter if you make excellent images that make your clients look their best, or that they're using your creative brain and technical mastery to sell their product. Clients deserve massive discounts, and, sometimes you just need to give them a load of images for free because they feel that they did you a favor that one time — conveniently forgetting all the other free and massively discounted commercial images you gave them.

You're Not Worth It

That's right, all you full-time professional photographers — you're not worth as much as you say you're worth. Why? Because image makers are a dime a dozen, and the concept of a fair wage doesn't matter when you're a freelancer in a world saturated in freelancers. You don't have rights, so, either you just get over it, or become a corporate lawyer if you want to make some decent money. Failing that, you should have just been born into wealth, so you then also develop an unhealthy disrespect for people who don't make as much money as you, who you can exploit for your own financial gain.

"Um, Actually, You Should be Paying Me for the Privilege"

As we all know, wedding photography is super easy. All you do is turn up and take a few photos. How handy a number is that? You get to dress up, eat some free food (maybe), and you have the absolute honor to document the most important day in the lives of two complete strangers; who, coincidentally, also don't respect what you do for a living, despite going to the bother of hiring a professional photographer. You see, their nephew has a "professional camera" and an artistic mind — he would have done it for nothing. $3,000 for just one day?! Who do you think you are? Frida Kahlo? A weeks worth of editing the faces of people who are the personification of love, should be more than enough to cover the rent for your one-bedroom apartment situated next to a cabbage pickling factory.

bride and groom walking down the street after wedding

"Here's a shot list. Make sure you get everything, or you're not getting paid"

Image courtesy of David J. Fulde

"You Need an Hour to Photograph a House?"

Listen buddy, you were just offered €118 to photograph a slightly above average looking home for an Airbnb profile. Those clients have the right to demand that you shoot the property on an absolutely perfect day, in the middle of Spring, on the west coast of Ireland (note: Irish Spring is wet; real wet). You should probably put all your other clients on the back-burner because, let me repeat: they're paying 118 whole Euros. Disregard the fact that you need to pay for fuel, tax, rent, camera depreciation, food etc., or that a single night's rent of that property will net the owner three times the amount that they will pay you for those professional photos, which help them make more sales. Yes, the images will earn them money, but how good will that slightly above average semi-detatched, with a sliver of a sea view, look on your portfolio? 

professional photography of a contemporary kitch

Pictured: The lovely kitchen of a person who appreciated good photography, and paid me well for it.

"Think of all That Tasty Exposure, Bro."

Yeah, you took the time to scout a location, find and hire a professional fitness model/athlete to photograph performing complex stunts, and used expensive gear to shoot high-paced scenes, but this shi**y clothing company needs to sell some merch, yo. You don't expect them to pay you for your work, do you? Give them a break, man — they're just a small business trying to bring people together with positive vibes (by freebooting images on Instagram). I thought you were chill. Here, have a cheaply made cup with a generic inspirational phrase and some ClipArt on it. "Love your content! *many inane emojis*" 

professional sports photography of parkour athletes jumping over rooftops

An awe-inspiring shot from the king of Instagram articles on the internet.

  Courtesy of Andy Day

You Are in Fact Worth Every Penny

To be serious for a minute, I don't have a problem with a little quid pro quo. What really gets my goat is people taking advantage of hard working, often struggling, freelancers like me. I've learned the hard way to say "No". It's not easy to refuse any work when you're starting out, but don't let people use you. You deserve to paid fairly.

Do any of our readers have a story about a tight or manipulative client. We would love to hear about it in the comments below.

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48 Comments

Previous comments
Michael Yearout's picture

It takes me 2 hours or so to photograph a 3,000 sq.ft. home and the same amount of time in Lightroom and Photoshop to process the 25 photos. I charge between $300 and $399 depending on the client and use. So, let's say I spend a total of 5 hours (none of my shoots are more than half an hour away), so let's make it 5.5 hours. That's $55 to $73 per hour. And yes, there are a lot of run and gun photographers in my area that charge half my rate, but my clients know I will produce images that sell the home or rent the home, and they are happy to pay my rates.

Will Murray's picture

The industry needs to organise and standardise prices. I can only think your professional organisations are worthless (beyond networking and pro tips).

Jon Kellett's picture

The trouble is that:
a) In many jurisdictions that is pricefixing and therefore illegal;
b) Unless the pricefixing is formalised with penalties for non-compliance, undercutting will continue.

Frustrating for sure, but what can you do?

Julian Ray's picture

"there's an app that can do that now!" is one I'm hearing more and more.
Great article Mike. Thanks

Terry Poe's picture

That's a good one! Hilarious, satirical and so true!

Fair wages is an oxymoron. Those who hire labor intend to exploit those they hire. Exploitation occurs when someone pays out value that is less than the value created. Exploiters may be unsuccessful. But that was not their intention.

Capitalism sucks. It sucked in the past; it will suck in the future.

dale clark's picture

At the end of the day it’s up to the photographer to make their way regardless of a saturated photo provider market. We’ve dropped about 50% of our RE clients over the last couple of years to focus on a select few. This has allowed us to really grow our non RE commercial and Architecture side of things. We now have a group of non RE clients, that continues to grow, that use us regularly and we get paid quite a bit more. Plus, a fantastic group of the best RE agencies. I love my job more than ever and could not be happier.

dale clark's picture

Look above at the comments. Organizing, Standard pricing, anti- capitalism, blah blah blah. Throughout history, especially modern history, industries have always faced competition. The ones who work thru such will hang around. The world has had hair dressers/stylist, etc for ages. However, great stylists still charge big bucks and are booked weeks in advance. Even with the big chain $3.99 haircut places opening all over the place, the same great hair dressers maintain and add new clients. If the $3.99 hair stylist can't break out and eventually gain higher end jobs, that is a problem they need to work out for themselves. If a photographer cannot get jobs beyond super cheap or work for free clients.....thats a YOU problem.

throughout history one thing has never changed: "Non Performers despise performers"

Absolutely agree with you. But a lot of artists choose mediocrity in place of hard work and desperation in place of business savy.

If they ask me for discounts or freebies, I always ask the client what they consider cheap or free; if they know and can explain, I simply give them the telephone no. of the local technical arts campus. "Exposure"?; again what exactly is exposure and how do they envision exposure translated to dollars. If they explain their position, I simply walk away. As a client, you need to pay for services rendered, not the other way round; it's called business. It's one thing to feel sorry for the client, but who feels sorry for you when you need to pay the rent? That's why I choose my clients, not the other way round. Not being arrogant or snobbish, but if you make a profit from my skills without reimbursing me, you are a cheap-ass crook! I'll do a lot of free shoots for those who provide a service to the community, like poor schools and clinics, whose budgets are tight, but don't come to me as a "professional" and cheat me out of what is owed to me.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and shoot a wedding for free, LOL just kidding, I have to PAY for that privilege... in the hope that no-one notices me!

dale clark's picture

You are 100% correct. BTW, I love the cartoon. Someone actually made a youtube video a few years back with actors saying the same thing.

Scott Mason's picture

"A weeks worth of editing the faces of people who are the personification of love, should be more than enough to cover the rent for your one-bedroom apartment situated next to a cabbage pickling factory."

Love it. And I enjoy the playful sarcasm, as dark as it is.

We have a new clothing company pulling that kind of crap here in Arizona. They want models to buy their clothes so they can then use photos of the model for commercial purposes. Why do so many businesses want to get something for nothing. It's okay for them to want a profit but not the talent

Vaidotas Darulis's picture

Every business is interested in saving costs. If they are not looking for high-end professionals to do what they need then it will be their problem eventually due to lousy marketing and lack of good visuals. Although, some companies might not do very well financially and cannot afford a proper shoot. So what do they do?Hustle for freebies. In my country, everyone is just looking to save a penny no matter what, they say it's good business, a cultural thing, entrepreneurial spirit. So you stand your ground and negotiate. :)

Vaidotas Darulis's picture

I don't think it's fair to blame the clients that don't really know much about photography, how much it's worth etc. It is kinda of our duty to educate the clients, communicate to them on why it is what you are offering is worth much more compared to amateur work etc.. Those clients are the ones who help us make a living in the first place by doing something more interesting than working in a corporate environment, doing presentations on ,,sustainability'', editing excel sheets all day or reviewing business KPI's. It's ok to know what you are worth, but don't feel entitlement all the way through, try to put yourself in the clients shoes. If the client is not willing to pay you much money, just go away from that and don't get smug about it. Focus on getting the clients that DO pay.

user-245040's picture

Saying No, and saying it boldly, can be a beautiful thing. People will always try to take advantage, comes in all industries and jobs. Just say NO and keep moving forward.

Ian Aberle's picture

I've seen teams in my own area move to use sites like Unsplash – which I still don't understand the business model as I cannot see how they make money giving away everything for free – for photography resources as opposed getting new photo assets shot.

"These are good enough AND they are free!"

Free stuff... It happened to me to make and give free images, but only when i considered them as a gift, of my own free will, not when asked (that erases the whole meaning of a gift). Many a times those brought back payed jobs and long lasting friends. Little gifts once in a while can be a cheap way for publicity, but done properly, you have to keep a balance...