the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

October 23, 2009

What price a photo?

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , — danmilner @ 11:56 am

My (almost) trusty Leica M8 has failed. After 29 months of use it decided that it would no longer release its electronic shutter. Stuck. Right in the middle of a feature shoot for MBUK magazine at the weekend.

I am guessing that the repair bill won’t be mere double figures, considering it’s a Leica, and at over £3k for a new one, it’s not like I’m about to rush out and replace it.

Which brings me nicely to the concept of making a living as a pro photographer.

Now the profession of the photographer is as diverse a job-description as you’ll find, covering a veritable rainbow spectrum of professional expertise and styles. There are wedding specialists and food artists, there are those involved in the fashion world, those whose day job is shooting top models in underwear and there are others who spend the bulk of their time rendering into 2D images the sublime emotions that are felt when riding bikes and snowboards. They are all photographers. Neat isn’t it.

Diverse as it is, the one thing they all have in common, apart from having an eye for a shot and a monkey-like ability to grip a camera, is that they share a very diverse pay structure. Let’s just say that the artists shooting the Sports Illustrated swim suit issue or the last Hummer advert probably don’t file the same tax return as the those shooting for niche mags like mountain bike or snowboard titles.

Which brings me neatly to the question of what a picture is worth?

If you, as a viewer and reader of such niche titles, can accept that there is a certain skill involved in capturing the ‘feeling’ of such sports in aspirational imagery, then you’ll no doubt accept that such pictures should be paid for right? After all, apart from the cost of travel, essential and expected upgrades to equipment (megapixels are directly proportionate to price it seems), repairs (hey Leica M8) and insurance alone, there is the time cost involved in getting the type of shot that might make a cover or a full page gallery shot. Not every day is as productive as you might like, and let’s face it, with niche mags paying in the region of  £80-£100 for a whole page image, you need to land a fair few pages of pics to pay the mortgage each month once you’ve fielded the costs involved in the shoot.

So I was baffled recently when a pro-snowboarder I work with emailed me to enquire whether a certain image I shot of them could be used by a major commercial publication with a readership in the millions,  and that they wanted it free of charge. Yep, free. Not a penny to be paid, while they would use the shot on their website to promote a commercial venture they sponsor annually. A venture that makes them a heap of money.

Well of course, I should let them have it. After all they are offering a photographer’s credit on the shot and maybe even a link to my website. Nice. Okay you could be thinking “right-o, well your website link would be seen by millions. think what opportunities that might yield” and you’d be right. But after ten years full time experience working professionally with publications I know the ‘credit-as-payment’ deal rarely yields results and more often than not, the credit even gets missed off or typo’d (usually I’m called Miller). And that’s not to mention how FOC images cheapen photography and set a precedent that’s hard to go back on…. blah, blah.

So as you’re guessing by now, I said ‘no’. In this world of pocket digital cameras and instant Twitt-Book sharing, photography has become cheap. Everyone is a “photographer” now and professional photographers are increasingly lumped in with the digital mainstream, especially when they shoot specialist sports that are largely misunderstood by the mainstream press (hey, haven’t you got a mate that has a shot of a snowboarder we can use?). The same publications happily pay ridiculous amounts for ridiculous fashion shoots of ridiculously thin models, yet feel that specialist images should be handed out for royalty free use. Odd isn’t it.

Of course, I could just ask Leica to fix my M8 free of charge, perhaps in exchange for a link to their website on my blog.

there's nothing quite like a Leica.. worth a 700 euro repair bill?

there's nothing quite like a Leica.. worth a 700 euro repair bill? Leica M8 & Voigtlander 15mm/4.5.

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1 Comment »

  1. nicely put Mr Miller

    Comment by Lisa — October 29, 2009 @ 10:58 am


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