Wednesday, December 31, 2008

You Are What You Think

My issue of Picture Magazine arrived today, and at the end of the issue is a piece by consultant Selina Maitreya about affirmations, so I thought I'd take a minute to use the article as a jumping-off point to discuss the notion of affirmations as we depart 2008 and prepare for 2009.

The article cites Deepak Chopra (at right), who I've made a portrait of in the past. In it, Chopra is quoted "It is not 'you are what you eat', rather it is 'you are what you think'." (single quotations added). The article goes on to encourage you to use affirmations as a way of marketing yourself.


(Continued after the Jump)

She's right. Affirmations put you in the frame of mind that you want your clients to think of you in. If you don't believe in yourself, how do you expect your clients to?

The critical key is that your affirmations must be positive ones, stated as if the situation already is. Maitreya notes "The word 'affirmation' is no accident. What you will be stating does exist in the potential of being. stating your affirmations simply brings your wish into your sphere."

You shouldn't be saying "I am not a crappy photographer". Instead, the affirmation should be "I am a talented, creative photographer who is an asset to my clients' project." Laura Bonicelli, a national agent based in the mid-west is cited using affirmations before pitching a photographer "John's style is a perfect fit for this particular project". (she's not referring to me, by the way.)

Everyone's affirmations are different. Some are about professional efforts, others about personal goals. Then, there's affirmations about balance in life between the two.

As you contemplate your 2009, take a few quiet moments to determine your own affirmation. Here are some photo business centric affirmations:
My creative talent is of value and I deliver it to clients who recognize that.

I am worthy of a $7,500 wedding booking.

I am a bargain at twice the price.

I am capable of booking 40 weddings this year.

My family portraits are moments in a family's life and will be a lifelong cherished heirloom.
These, and many others, are what will help you move forward in your career, and in your personal life. By reading these things - maybe printed out and posted next to your dresser, bathroom mirror, or bedside table, you will consciously - and subconsciously - see the message. The benefits of speaking it to yourself outloud increase the effectiveness.

Consider this - have you ever tried really hard to think of something, and couldn't, only to have the answer pop into your head a few minutes (hours, or days) later? When you stopped consciously thinking about it, your subconscious continued to work on it. That is a simple example of how powerful your subconscious is. Now harness it to change your life with positive thoughts - as affirmations.

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Talent On Loan From God

I listen to a great deal of radio, from NPR, to Bob Edwards, to Air America, to Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. I spend a lot of time driving around, and those are among the many things I listen to.

One of the things I chuckle about is when people get all up in arms when Rush Limbaugh says "talent on loan from God", which is one of his catch-phrases. "What do you mean - your talent is from God? How pompous!" Or some variation of that sentiment.

(Continued after the Jump)

Yet, when actresses, sports figures, or the like stand before a microphone, often times you hear "I'd like to thank God...", recognizing that their skills are a gift from God. When Limbaugh says it (usually with tounge-in-cheek bravado) he is actually acknowledging that whatever talent he has is God-given, and it's on-loan, so that whenever he dies, it returns to God.

I am often asked by liberals why I listen to Limbaugh. From conservatives - why I listen to Air America, and so forth. It's to see things from as many perspectives as possible.

I believe that all our talent is not only God-given, but also scheduled for a return at the right time. Some of us use our talent, hone and refine it, and others waste it away. Some make a difference with it, others use it for all the wrong reasons. All of it is on-loan therefore, and it is up to us to build upon it.

What are you doing with yours in 2009?

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Seasons Greetings from Photo Business News

Seasons Greetings from Photo Business News. May your new year be prosperous and full of joy.

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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Monday, December 22, 2008

"I Forgot" Is Not Acceptable

At the core of the housing crisis right now is one simple fact - people were buying houses they could not afford. Now, you can lay the blame on the banks who told people what they could afford, or the elected officials who bent the bank executives over and got them to loosen credit requirements, or you can lay the blame on the people themselves.

Consumerist (Former Treasury Secretary Says He "Forgot" That People Had To "Afford Their House", 12/22/06) cites the New York Times article:

“The Bush administration took a lot of pride that homeownership had reached historic highs,” Mr. Snow said in an interview. “But what we forgot in the process was that it has to be done in the context of people being able to afford their house. We now realize there was a high cost.”
How does this apply to photography?
(Continued after the Jump)

Before you can know what to charge, you must know what it costs to be in business. If you are charging $X and you don't factor in costs like depreciation, or the fact that you will be paying between 40 and 50% of your profits to the government, the sentence "I forgot to include the cost of my cameras in my cost of doing business", or "I spent all the money that came in. I forgot that I had to pay half that to the government."

Forgetting these things is unacceptable. Here's a re-wording of the quote above:

“John Doe Photography took a lot of pride in his photography and how so many people were hiring him for assignments,” Mr. Doe said while in line for his welfare check. “But what I forgot in the process was that the business of being a full-time photographer has to be done in the context of charging more than it costs to be in business. I now realize there was a high cost that wasn't reflected in what I charged my clients.”

Do not be like a starry-eyed Doe in the headlights. Determine what it truly costs for you to be in business, and take that into consideration when setting your rates. Check out the NPPA Cost of Doing Business (CDB) Calculator to get a start.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

When It Gets Slow

I spent a good portion of November being much slower than I wanted. In fact, I panicked a bit. Not the January/August panic that happens despite almost 20 years of photography that tells me that those are my slow months. It was a "oh my God the phone isn't ringing, I need new clients" panic. A scheduled rate increase set for January I was rethinking, and I gave serious thoughts to accepting lower paying assignments, and, I looked at my bank account to see how much longer the business would run if the phone didn't ring again.

(Continued after the Jump)

I started with an aggressive marketing campaign, directed at both short-term clients, as well as long term ones. I did A LOT of research (with all my spare time) on exactly the clients that fit those descriptions, and I began a targeted campaign to these prospects. (I have been espousing this solution at each of the places I have given presentations over the past few years). One of the things I haven't done a lot of in recent years is marketing, because we are at and exceeding our capacity to service our existing client base via word-of-mouth referrals.

One of the things that people in the know in marketing will tell you is that you should always be marketing, and I was concerned I'd fallen into that trap. Yet getting "cold" clients has a significant curve to it. Teaching the clients why you're worth what you are, explaining the rights issues, and otherwise just prooving yourself means a lot of effort for a potentially diminished return. This is why, for example, I wouldn't put myself in a pool of 10+ photographers a bride is considering, and when I get a client who wants me to do a site visit to the National Press Club days before the event (I have done hundreds of events there) I give pause to that assignment. These are among the downsides to "cold" clients. When you come via word-of-mouth, you're their photographer, if you're available, and when I get to an "exceeds capacity" situation, then that's not good.

As late November rolled around, a few calls came in for December, and now December assignments this year exceed our average, and last year as well. Further, January is booking up - unusual for a clientele that, 90% of the time, books a week or so out.

What I concluded as I considered why this happened, was that it was all about the election. No one wanted to do anything in DC until they knew what was happening, and the election din had died down a bit. I had thought of that when doing my research, and I looked back at the assignment data from 2000, and realized that that was bad data because that was right around when the dot-com crash was, so it wasn't really useful.

We are now back on track for a normal 2008 (overall), and, armed with many many prospects for 2009, I expect we will be growing our business once again, and we'll maintain the marketing outreach as well. Our rate increase is no longer a question mark, and January is filling up.

I know that people get this idea that doing it free or slashing rates is a solution, but I did not succumb to that. In looking at the bank account I concluded I had 3-4 months worth of operating revenue to sustain the business even if the phones never rang again, and that was before considering things like selling gear, getting a loan, or any of the other solutions. I was committed to maintaining my rates (which are a fair value) up until I shuttered the business. If you're a restaurant and you've determined that it costs $10 to make a dish that you serve for $16, just because you're slow you don't slash the price of the dish to $8 in order to get business. Doing so attracts the wrong clientele (i.e. a non-sustaining one) and then when it gets busy you can't raise your rates back to where they were. The old adage "we lose a little on each sale but make it up on volume" doesn't work for them, and it won't work for you.

One of the clients that came on during the pause was one who, for them, price wasn't a deciding factor, it was just a detail. They booked coverage of a one-hour press conference, wanted rush services and duplicate CD's and proofs, and the entire estimate exceeded $2k. Then, they added on a separate portrait session with lights for $2k+. There wasn't any debate about if the price was too high. When the call for that assignment came in, it was slow, and I thought about reducing the estimate, but I did not, thankfully.

Resist sliding backwards to a client base you might of once had but have now migrated upwards (price-wise) from. Re-group and re-think your marketing outreach. Reduce operating costs, and remain focused. Your business isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. Think long term.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Stock Industry Declines, Long Live Assignment Work

I can honestly tell you that 10 to 15 years ago, I was making images that, as I was contemplating the work being done and efforts made, I was considering it nearly the same as putting a few dollars into my retirement account. "My stock is my retirement" I said more than once. Thankfully, I also have a real retirement account with real dollars growing in real time that will pay my real bills when I get older.

Fortunately, there will always be assignment work - that much I can be sure of. As faces, styles, trends, and subjects age, new products announced, new and fresh images will need to be made. Clients can easily be convinced that they don't need "all rights forever", when you tell them "you (and your boss) won't want to use this portrait after two or three years. You'll be tired of seeing it, so why pay for a license that extends beyond what you really need?" That tact - an honest and true assessment of the real likelihood of the situation - is a very convincing one. True too as buildings are built and need to be photographed, news breaks and needs covering, and plights and despair need documenting.

Stock photography, on the other hand, as operated by corporations bent on record profits every quarter, is in decline. That does not mean that photography is in decline, just one aspect of it. Segments of markets decline over time. Consider albums to cassettes, to CD's, yet music and musicians live on.

(Continued after the Jump)

Dan Heller does an excellent job (almost all the time) of writing treatise after treatise on the business of photography. Long and detailed insights are a worthwhile read, yet every time I write a piece that's a bit lengthy, I get comments privately that the piece is too long, or needs to be broken up. Studies have shown that articles in USA Today, Time, and so forth can't be too long for todays reader, as they will tune out. So, this is more of an overview and light commentary than anything else.

Alamy reports in their latest quarterly statement that revenues are down, which will no doubt be offset by their increase in the percentage of each sale they take from you. a21 filed for bankruptcy, and Jupiter is being acquired by Getty for a fraction of what they were worth just a year or two ago. And, Getty is worth a fraction of what it once was, hence it is now in the hands of private investors, and the shoe will likely drop on staff cuts in January, as the ramp-up to a breakup follows in the coming year.

To continue the slashing of overhead, as PDN reports, "Newsweek, NPR Cutting back", and they are not alone. PDN also reports on New York Newsday with this piece about everyone having to reapply for their jobs - no doubt at a lower salary, and NPPA suggests that the department will be slashed by two-thirds from 20 to 7, and in the PDN piece there's a link there to a previous piece about other cuts. Staff jobs everywhere continue to be slashed, and you can expect cuts from Tribune, and others, as bankruptcy looms and cost-cutting devastates once robust newsrooms.

So, what to do?

Rely on yourself. Freelance, my friends. If you fail, you will have no one to blame by yourself. Is it hard? Absolutely, from time to time. But once you get the ball rolling, it is highly rewarding. There are short-cuts, but they are losing propositions. Using someone elses' work and pawning it off as your own, licensing images as work-for-hire without really knowing what they will do with the photo places you in such a disadvantageous position that it is 99.9% of the time, a really really bad idea because, invariably, you get the short end of the deal. Having a poorly done website is the same as walking into a business meeting with a conference room table full of suits, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and expecting respect. You won't get it, or, you won't get a chance to demonstrate your genius which, if you could have, would have overcome your wardrobe selection for the day. No one will click on the "Contact Us" link if your website looks like crap. These, and the many other short-cuts are all along the path to failure, littered with the evidence of highly talented photographers who failed to heed the warnings of solid business and marketing practices as being an integral and critical part of longevity in this business.

To succeed, you must arm yourself with the knowledge you are currently lacking. Step 1 of a well-known 12-step program is to first admit you have a problem. So too, in this instance, you must admit there are certain things you don't know. You don't have to admit them in a circle at a meeting - just to yourself, and then commit to learning what you need to. "Know what you don't know", I say often to people when speaking on this subject. Get my book, or ASMP's, or Dan Heller's book. Read any of the books on the right-side of this article, and head off in the right direction.

Assignment work - for those that remain in business - will be around for a very long time. In a race to the bottom, stock licensing will continue to decline not just on a per-license basis, but also in the revenue per image category, as categories continue to be flooded with imagery, watering down the marketplace even further. While my day-to-day operating budget has never been based upon revenues from stock, I do re-license my images. Earlier this week, an existing client extended a license from a PR rights package to a marketing use, generating $1k in additional revenue from the assignment. This is not unusual. But remember, it came from an assignment.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

UPDATED: The Curious Case of Fink Photography

(updates exif revelations illustrating validity of claim of infringement - image at end of the post)
I get a great deal out of my reading of the various photography organization listservs. Todays gem came from Chicago photographer Joe Pobereskin on APAnet*. It wasn't curious because Joe was reporting that he'd found a food photographer in New York City willing to do 30 dishes, four portraits, five interior/exterior shots, and 2 CD's for $1,500. Sadly, that's the extent to which people will under-value their work. Joe remarked "This has got to be the worst example of under-pricing I've ever
seen. Anyone know these guys?" Well, it didn't take long for someone on the opposite side of the planet to respond. Only the response wasn't what I expected. James Lauritz, of Melbourne, responded: "Well well, the plot thickens." James wrote:

"I am an Australian photographer and all (bar 3) of the photographs on their entire site were taken by me about 2 years ago for Convent Bakery here in Melbourne (for a lot more than they would quote)."
Indeed, James, the plot thickens.
(Continued after the Jump)

So, we did some research. First, we went to the ConventHouse bakery site, and had a look around. Sure enough, the photos on the Convent House site are the same.

Here's the "samples" section of the NY Food Photography site, that is alledged to be all (but 3) of James' photos:

Here's a closeup of the samples:

Then, we had a closer look:

A closer look at this example shows that the icing and lighting highlight are identical. Check this link to see the Convent image large.

In fact, the image from their home page is a tight crop of one of the berry cheesecakes from the Australian bakery too.
So, where did the other 3 images come from? Here's one that wasn't from the bakery:

The above image is one of three non-dessert images. The other two are shrimp and a beef dish that are on the sample page. So, we entered the URL of the above image into TinEye, and here's what TinEye returned:

Thus, there were 122 other TinEye-located uses out there, several of them royalty-free CD editions. While I could not locate the other two with TinEye, a safe bet would be that the other two came from the same source as the one above.

So, we've established that the images that are on a New Jersey photographers website, purported to be samples of his work, are, as evidenced by the URL from a photographer in Australia, from an assignment for an Australian bakery. Curious indeed.

So, who IS "New York Food Photography"? to start with, we did a WHOIS search, and found the owner, Fink Studios, in Rockaway New Jersey. According to the contact page, where Dave and Alon are listed, Alon Finkelstein is the owner. So, who is he? We located his myspace page here, where we learn that he's 20 years old, and he identifies himself as a pro photographer. He writes, of himself:
I have a love for photography, art and an even greater love for creating it. My passion for people, art, and the creative process consistently comes to life thru my work...I have begun to create work from the talent that I have grown into through both exposure and experience. I want to make yours as well as my photographic visions come true. With our creativity and the help of my professional staff our visual dreams can be realized. Our connection with some of the top professionals in the industry allows us to create pictures that are certainly worth more than a thousand words.

I work my very hard and it shows in my work. I love what I do and I will continue to do what I love. There is no stopping me now. I have been published about hundreds of times in the U.S. and Overseas in places like People Magazine, Us weekly, Ok, Star, In Touch weekly, and the New York Post and many others. I now strive to continue into the future and prove to my self that i can do it.
Which got me to thinking - celebrities too? Then, further down the page, he lists that he's currently a freelace photographer for Star Tracks photo agency, which is in New York City. So we looked him up on Star Tracks, and found that he has done street photography of celebrities like Sarah Michelle Gellar here, and Debra Messing here, and yet, he goes by Noah Fink on Star Tracks? Here, he matches himself up with the nom de photograph as both Alon and Noah.

Also on his myspace page he indicates he is co-owner of the website "NY CELEBS." A visit to that site - - has an ad which contained a headshot of another photographer in it. While we had that ad here and were commenting on it, it turns out that even that headshot wasn't theirs, and it's been taken down. As such, while we had it posted here for commentary, we too are removing it, so it's no longer in this piece.

The above ad lists a phone #, and offers - "$100 gets you 50-100 pictures on a waiting - you leave with your DVD - bring 3 Friends who buy headshots and gets yours free." That phone # matches the phone # on the food site, so Dave must be the other co-owner.

How to Stop This?

James, as laid out here, by all appearances is the actual copyright holder of the images, unless he transferred copyright to the bakery, who, in turn, licensed them to a clip-art disk, and then, Alon/Noah/Dave bought that disk and are now representing the images as samples of their photography. Possible? Not really.

There are a number of solutions. In determining your best course of action (and remember, I am by no means a lawyer), you need to determine what you can expect from your efforts. Alon/Noah/Dave are likely judgement proof, so the best you can hope for is to get the images taken down. A 20 year-old and his pal from Rockaway New Jersey are not about to be writing checks for copyright infringement.

To do that, first find out who owns the place where the images are hosted. In this case, that can be found on Network Solutions, here, and it's Go Daddy. Next, head to the Library of Congress' online service providers listings, here. This is what the listing is all about:
The following service providers have filed designations of agents for notification of claims of infringement pursuant to Section 512(c) of the Copyright Act. The Copyright Office’s current directory of agents consists of this list, with links to copies, in PDF format, of the designations filed on behalf of service providers.

Clicking the "G", scroll down to Go Daddy's information, linked here. In it, you'll find the name and e-mail address to submit a copyright infringement claim. This is you sending the company that hosts their site a "take down notice", and provided they comply, the hosting service almost always cannot be found liable for infringements.

Most service providers request you submit a claim to them in a specific manner. You usually can find the information on how/where on the "legal" page that every hosting provider has somewhere, in small type. Here's Go Daddy's page on how they want the claims to be submitted via e-mail.

This site is an example of alleged copyright infringements and a wholesale lapse in ethical behavior. What started as an example of the reasonable outrage at the rate that was being charged for the amount work being done has turned into much more. The lessons learned here are: 1) do not steal other peoples' work; 2) do not then take that stolen intellectual property and represent it as your own; and 3) charge reasonably for your work.

UPDATE: It has been suggested by those purported to be the owners of the website in the comments below that they own the rights to the photos. Yet an asute observer found that not to be the case. Below you will see a screen grab (click to make it larger) showing the image of a strawberry chocolate mouse cake, as it appears on the website. That page is in the background, and the image is viewed in Photoshop in the foreground with the EXIF metadata viewed, showing that the image they have on their site is Lauritzs' image. That's pretty damning evidence against them. Further, they didn't even bother to re-name the file. It's the same "strwaberry-white-chocolate-mousse.jpg", as you can see, both have the "a" missing from strawberry.

Right about now would be a good time for Lauritz to file that paperwork (as explained above) with GoDaddy, and for the owners of to give up, wipe their site from the face of the internet, and move on to some other business. Whomever does it first, that site should be without food images (or the entire site) pretty soon.

Note: we got Joe's and James' permission to use their posts from APAnet here.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Your Own Worst Enemy?

I don't watch the Tonight Show much, but as I was doing some office work, it was on in the background, and Jay's Monday Headlines feature was in full swing. I was only paying minimal attention, when he mentioned a photography business (that, by definition, when they're in his headlines segment, is about to get skewered, so I did a full-stop. He then said:

"Now this person, this is a photographer, she does pets and weddings and portraits. You know, I'm sure she's a fine photographer - just the business card. Women, you find this attractive? Brides to Bitches."
And with that, an example of what is quite possibly one of the most memorable photography business names in my opinion - and for all the wrong reasons.
(Continued after the Jump)

First - I sure hope that the proprietor, Cathy Farabaugh, has a model release from the woman on the front of her card. And I don't mean some simple model release. I mean a full-blown all rights including possible defamation clause model release, because the photo that is on her business card and on her website (as shown above), is potentially very problematic from a legal standpoint if she doesn't. Further, I think she's got it all wrong - like marketing gone mad.

Cathy's "About Us" page reads:
Cathy Farabaugh has been a professional photographer for over 25 years in the Columbia area. In her studio, located in West Columbia, she photographs everything from “brides to bitches” as she calls it. She has a large portfolio of her work and has been published nationally and internationally in magazines and on calendars. Her business, Cathy Farabaugh Photography (aka Photos by Cathy and aka Brides to Bitches), has been a respected name in the area for many years.
Really? "Brides to Bitches" is a respected name? Perhaps maybe if your planet is in orbit around the Dogstar! I did a Google Maps search, and found that their StreetView car had been through, so I half-expected a double-wide, but a combination of beat-up pickup truck, new pickup truck, and late-model BMW grace the streetview images. I am finding that very hard to believe that "Brides to Bitches" is considered a respected name in any community. What do you think - is she her own worst enemy with a name like that? And do you think that that's her BMW in the photo? Stranger things have happened, but this one boggles my mind.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Professional Photographers vs. "Hobby" Status (i.e. Working for Free)

I spent some time Friday night yelling. First, I went outside, with my bullhorn, and facing east, started yelling at the top of my lungs. Then, I turned Northwest, and I continued to yell. You don't want to know what I was yelling, but I was yelling at London, and I was yelling at Seattle, because that was where David Hobby and Chase Jarvis were at the time, and I was yelling at them for their posts about working for free. (Strobist - Four Reasons to Consider Working for Free; Chase Jarvis - Will Work for Free?).

After these posts gained traction and the genie was out of the bottle, Chase posted a comment on David's blog that is worth echoing - "Some readers get it too (although a good chunk of the discussion online today misses the point)."

Too late.

(Continued after the Jump)

Yes, friends, 99% of the people that read David's blog will miss the point. that same 99% will use this blog postings' approach and theory to bolster the "work for free" concept. The problem is, my yelling was in vain, yet their message came across to the tens of thousands of people reading their blogs. And the message that came across was 'it's ok to work for free to build up your portfolio!' That's what people took away from what they wrote. By midnight, David had 211 comments - and that's moderated. Who knows how many he opted not to publish, and how many were in the cue for consideration, since it was 5am in the UK and he was likely fast asleep.

Let me make myself – and the intent of this series PERFECTLY CLEAR – this is not about discouraging you from trying to “break-in” to the business. I am not a bitter pro-photographer fearing the encroachment on "my domain". To the contrary, I have, since shortly after I started, been committed to helping people become successful photographers with a sustainable business. I have traveled the country giving seminars for little or no money trying to help people do it right. I wrote a book and donated the advance from it to photo foundations to help people and to avoid any suggestion that when I say “buy my book” I was just trying to sell books to make me money. There is a right way to “break in”, and a wrong way. There is a responsible way, and an irresponsible way. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people mis-read what David was trying to say, and are now on the verge of not only doing it the wrong way, but in a very irresponsible way too. You can do it responsibly. You can succeed as a professional photographer even if you are not one now and have a “day” job. That is what this blog is all about, and, as you'll see as you read through this series, I include links to numerous other blog posts I have done on the subject.

So, here’s my feelings about ‘working for free’. I should start with putting forth examples of work I have done for free, and pro-bono, just so we're clear here.

  • I photographed my sisters wedding for free, about 15 years ago.
  • About 13 years ago, I was doing an assignment for the DNC, photographing a fundraiser with the Vice President, and the lab ruined the film (I have a letter to proove it!), and only 1/2 of the film shot was usable. I ended up doing that one for free (in the end.)
  • I am Native-American, and when my tribal council came to Washington for the grand opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, while the Smithsonian hired me to be an official photographer for the event (resulting in my image being their Christmas card that year), I shot images of my tribal leaders participating, and shipped them a CD for use in our tribal newspaper, gratis.
  • I got corralled into donating a family portrait session to my daughter's school for the charity auction. Despite my gut feelings, I agreed to it, and I should have listened to my gut. That won't happen again, it was a bad idea.
  • I made a portrait of my office manager's family last year.

  • About 10 years ago, two people I didn't know took their savings and rainy day money and started a magazine. It was a great idea. We sat down and I put together a schedule of what the assignment fees should be, once advertising started coming in, since it was a free magazine distributed around town, and they were comfortable with those rates. To begin with, they couldn't pay. I agreed to contribute to the cause, and I shot assignments for them, pro-bono. Despite a valiant effort, they folded after about 18 months, but I was paid for all the expenses associated with the shoots, which averaged $200+ at a bare minimum.
  • I volunteered several years back, with one of my best corporate clients - to become a sort of a partner. Since I was billing upwards of $20k a year for them for various clients, I committed "if you have a client you've deemed worthy of doing pro bono work for yourself, I would be happy to discuss how I might be able to partner with you to do pro bono work for a worthy cause of yours...".

And, that's about it.

So, I recieved not one but three calls from David who was under the weather in the UK. We had a nice conversation, and he offered several good examples of working without pay. In an early call, I commented to him "yeah, you cite valid examples where it might work (more on that later), but almost all your readers will think that you've painted with a broad brush and won't comprehend the discretion and the distinctions you've drawn. They'll just hear 'we can't pay you to shoot that concert, but we can get you a credential and will give you a photo credit...' and they will think you encouraged that 'for portfolio purposes', when that's not what you meant." Then, in a later call, he noted "the comments run the gamut, and yeah, there are people who took off in that 'shoot the concert for free' direction", which supports Chases' point - "a good chunk of the discussion online today misses the point."

Let's take David's example in his blog of shooting for free for the food blog. David is right - that food blog will NEVER hire a photographer. First, if David was looking to do some awesome portraits, or get into food photography, he could contact the chefs and restaurants, and ask them if he could do their portraits. When they ask "for what?" and he says "oh, just because I want to", the chef isn't going to let some guy come in with lights and all and take up the chef’s time for no good reason other than because the photographer wants to. The chef might say "ok, but I want to use the photos myself", and, at first blush, that sounds ok, but what the chef is really saying is "ok, but in return, I want to use the photos on my website and in my brochures, menus, and advertising", and then that doesn't sound so good. Enter the food blogger. If David were to contact the blog author, and make the offer to shoot the subjects the blogger is writing about, for free, then the chef is getting something for free (publicity), the blog author is getting great images for free, and David is getting experience and portfolio content for free. Here's the downside - were that blogger to become an writer/blogger/editor at Food & Wine, their mindset is that now they're thinking photography is free - if they can just find the free-workers amidst the money-grubbers.

Sportsshooter had an interesting piece - Free is killing me, as did the Houston Chronicle - (Biochemist gave away work, others got Nobel Prize), where some sad sap gave away his knowledge for free to two others, who, in turn, won the Nobel Prize with it. The guy now drives a courtesy van for a car dealership in Alabama. Maybe he can become a photographer?

Let's take the supposedly altruistic "make a difference" mentality. Try this one on for size - kids with cancer. Of all the victims of cancer, none are more of a heart-crusher than kids who come down with cancer. If you got a call from, say, "Cure Kids' Cancer Now" to go up with the kids to the State Legislature to testify before the states' healthcare board, would you do it for free? 

Ok, so, if you did, how would you feel if, at the end of that event, two different people approached you and gave you their cards, and said "I know you're sending the photos to the head of Cure Kids' Cancer Now, and we're getting a copy of that disc, but if you could just send it directly to us that would be best", and the company names on those cards read "John Smith, Executive Vice President for Government Affairs - Pfizer", and "Joe Smith, Senior Vice President for Marketing - AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals", and then you went to your contact and asked about this, and he/she said "oh yes, this presentation was all about getting these kids' cancer medication covered by their health insurance, and those two companies have the best medication to treat these diseases, and they fund our organization."

If you're curious about the contrary value of this type of situation - the New York Times wrote - "Claritin's Price Falls, but Drug Costs More" back in 2003, as drug companies forced Claritin to be removed from prescription drug status, to over-the-counter status. For a drug as simple as Claritin, switching it to become a drug that's no longer covered by a healthcare prescription plan, one healthcare company alone "Wellpoint itself has certainly benefited from the switch. It used to spend $90 million a year for its members' Claritin prescriptions and doctor visits." That's a $90 million dollar savings from one simple drug, for one company. How much money do you think those pharmaceutical companies would be making if the expensive kids cancer drugs were paid for by insurance? And, they're going to use your photos to help make that happen. They'll profit, you won't. You should get your $1k in photo and usage fees out of the millions they'll make when the drugs are covered. Thus, beware the client who comes across as altruistic and fully deserving of your free work.

I think it's of value now, to return to the New York Times. Early last month,they had a piece - "When to Work for Nothing", by the author of the book "My So-Called Freelance Life", and it has worthy insights. She closes with "When you agree to work free, you reinforce people’s misguided ideas that the self-employed are independently wealthy hobbyists. Don’t degrade your profession by letting a cheap client take advantage of you." I know that what David and Chase were talking about was NOT the concept of agreeing to do assignments for free. I KNOW THAT.

The problem is, as I said in the beginning of this piece - the message that came across was "it's ok to work for free to build up your portfolio!" That's what people took away from what they wrote, and Chase acknowledges that most of the commenters are missing David's point. It's like the difference between murder and manslaughter. In both cases, someone is dead, but in the case of manslaughter, it wasn't intended. Yet, it still happened. 

Neither David nor Chase intended to encourage people to do free "assignments". Yet that is what almost everyone that read their pieces took away, as evidenced by all the comments to that effect, and that is why I was yelling towards London and Seattle at the top of my lungs - unintended consequences.

Here's a well-spent 3 minutes with Harlan Ellison to wrap this up. I am purposefully putting it at the bottom of ALL THREE pieces to improve the chances that you watch it at-least once:

PART 1 - Professional Photographers vs. "Hobby" Status (i.e. Working for Free)


From several perspectives, I've written extensively on this subject. Here are several links to those pieces:

A Triumph of Hope Over Experience
A Collection of Inconvenient Facts
Free Not Working for Thee?
Businessweak - Amateurs vs. Pros?
Just Say "No" Just So Oversimplified
Speculative Photography - An Introduction

We also wrote all about working for free for places like US Presswire - US Presswire - Introduction.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

[More: Full Post and Comments]

Working for Free – Interns and Apprentices

(This is the second in a three-part series)
One of the messages that arose in David’s comments, and was echoed with a contrary perspective on Vincent Laforet’s blog (Work for Free?) was the notion of working/interning for free. This gets into some sticky situations with those little things called laws.

(Continued after the Jump)

Next year marks the 10th year I have run an intern program in my office. During that time, we have had over sixty people come through the business, and every full-time intern has been paid for their contributions to the office. There have been a few part-time interns, and a few of them have had a specific requirement by their schools that they were precluded from being paid. I believe that having someone come into my business and working full-time for free sends the wrong message to them, so we just don't do it.

Thus, I take a contrary position to the sentiments shared in David’s blog comments about interning for free, and I am not alone on this subject. Vincent wrote on his blog - "I’m very very much against working for free. In fact I don’t like people working or interning for me for free. It’s just not good business. Period." What struck me was one commenter on David's blog wrote ""i've been working for David Tejada for free for a little over a year now. it's the best decision i could have made...and working for free with a servants spirits is one way to open doors." FOR A YEAR FOR FREE? Are you kidding me?

First, Tejada should be careful. People working for free is a big U.S. Department of Labor violation (i.e. against the law) unless it's done within strict educational guidelines (and that means in conjunction with an accredited educational instutution, where the person is an actual student at that institution, and the institution is coordinating the learning with the place where the intern is working).

Second, this is a good article titled "Hiring interns for free labor is a no-no" from back in the beginning of the Summer - "Summer interns are ripe for exploitation. They're desperate for real-life experience to help them land a permanent job, at a time when the economy is slowing and positions are scarce. Many are willing to work for free or below-market rates, just to get a foot in the door." The article quotes a lawyer, Rosemary Gousman, from a Murray Hill, N.J.-based regional managing partner at Fisher and Phillips, a labor-law firm. ""Unless you're part of a formal school program, if the intern is doing anything other than strictly shadowing one of your employees, they need to be paid at least minimum wage,". Heck, even in China, the last bastion of Communism, working for free to get your foot in the door is against labor laws (Working for free against labor law, 4/18/06).

Chase commented on his Facebook status that he’d gotten an email from Seth Godin on this (if you don't know, that's a big deal). So, I did a little research on Seth’s approach, and what I found was surprising to me, and more importantly, Seth may get into a little hot water with what he wrote if he's not careful.

Seth too, is making an offer that, on its surface might be attractive, but may very well run him afoul of the same labor laws listed above. Seth invites (Instead of getting an MBA, consider spending six months in my office) for free. Yes, you get to work for Seth for free, and he equates it to an MBA. The problem is, he’s not an accredited institution. Yes, what he offers has value, but not a sheepskin. Will the Department of Labor come a calling? Likely no. If the intern/apprentice/free-worker decides they are unhappy, they will likely have a case and can then file with the Department of Labor then against Seth seeking back wages. On top of that, Seth requires you to cover your own expenses while there, so you are actually paying for the privledge of working for Seth. Word to the wise Seth – be darn sure you get a labor lawyer to look over your paperwork, otherwise you could run afoul of more than a few laws.

Here's a well-spent 3 minutes with Harlan Ellison to wrap this up. I am purposefully putting it at the bottom of ALL THREE pieces to improve the chances that you watch it at-least once:

PART 2 - Working for Free – Interns and Apprentices


From several perspectives, I've written extensively on this subject. Here are several links to those pieces:

A Triumph of Hope Over Experience
A Collection of Inconvenient Facts
Free Not Working for Thee?
Businessweak - Amateurs vs. Pros?
Just Say "No" Just So Oversimplified
Speculative Photography - An Introduction

We also wrote all about working for free for places like US Presswire - US Presswire - Introduction.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

[More: Full Post and Comments]

Working For Free - Commentary and Responses to Selected Comments

(This is the third article in a three part series)

Since so many people have come into this discussion on David's site, I thought I'd highlight the sentiments of several posts, and respond to them/what they've written.The reason for this is that there are many perspectives to this, and almost all of them are either flawed, or fatally flawed. So, I'll show quotes, and then provide a response:

(Continued after the Jump)

"...4 or 5 bands have called and asked for pricing and ... and I said "...its on me", ... it would be a great way to get a couple done to get into that market...."
Yes, you'll get into that market being known as "free". The record labels will use your work in all sorts of marketing, PR, and advertising, CD labels, and so on and so forth, for free. More profits to the music labels - don't you think musicians have screwed themselves enough over time and given the farm away to the music companies? If you're not sure, read this blog post I did and listen to how Elton John fought to fix his early career mistake.
"Free is good (for now)! I just did a free shot for a young actress who is trying to make ends meet as many starving artists do...It was great to practice my Strobist techniques and not feel super pressured. It was a valuable experience for for me because the lighting was challenging."
As to that starving artist thing, I wrote a few pieces - The Proud Starving Artist ; 10 Ways to Remain a Starving Artist. Romanticizing being a "starving artist" isn't really a good thing. It's nice when you're sipping a chai tea latte with your beret in the local java house listening to beatnicks recite their slam-poetry wearing Birkenstocks and having not showered in 8 days, but other than that, it's a bad idea. Doing a trade-for-prints/trade-for-CD deal is what c-grade models and photographers do who almost never become pro-level photographers, unless maybe you're in Los Angeles, where there are thousands of models.

One commenter said it well in response to the concepts outlined above:

"In my world for example, the idea of TFP (Time for Photos) is a joke. "Models" don't value your skill and think the equation is stacked in their favour. Photographers don't grow in the one area that matters most - the confidence of knowing what they do is inherently valuable."
"Before reading this, I had actually thought of the idea of shooting portraits for my neighbors for some Christmas portraits on my time."
This isn't such a bad idea, especially since having good neighbor relations is a good thing. BUT, next might be the invite to the wedding/mitzvah, and the suggestion "hey, why don't you bring your camera, we'd love to have some photos, and since those that you did of the family were so great, we thought we could save some money - did you know how expensive these things are? - by just asking you to bring your camera." Now, you're working that day, and some wedding/mitzvah photographer in your community is out a few grand. And, when you say "gosh, that was a few years ago, I charge for these things now..." the lame response will be "come on, we're neighbors, and you're going to be there anyway." Yes, being there as a guest is one thing, as a working photographer it's completely different. Make absolutely certain that you tell your neighbor that this is a one-time deal, or, better yet, knowing what your neighbor does for a living, ask for an exchange of services.
"This is exactly the push I need to go ahead and do something I've been thinking about doing, but was worried about the hit my perceived value as a photographer would take."
Yes, your perceived value will take a hit. I PROMISE. More importantly, your own feelings of self-worth and self-respect may take a precipitous dive, and it will have a (possibly sub-conscious) effect too.
"This is a great back door business plan that I for one plan on implementing."
90% of all businesses fail in the first two years. This business plan all but ensures you'll be among that 90%. Since unemployment is at a 34 year high (Half-million jobs vanish as economy deteriorates, 12/5/08), you might want to head down to the unemployment line and see about filing in advance of your plans' failing.
"I had also thought of approaching the local humane society not too long ago (have you seen most of the pics on ...taking photos of dogs and cats that nobody owns -- man, talk about NO pressure!"
Ok, I think this idea falls into that of one of the few that might work. However, this suggests that you might want to go into the field of pet photography (a lucrative one) (check this link - for information on how it can earn you $110k a year shooting twice a week), but that would be a part of that/a photographers' "giving back to the community" efforts. Or, the local humane society should/could have an arrangement with a place like PETCO (Pet Photography At PETCO) that would be a part of PETCO's giving back.
"Recently, I offered to shoot one of my company's employee celebrations for fun, and the results were very rewarding -- I got access to shoot a major corporate event (300+ people) for a Fortune 500 company, got recognized for my photos on a national level throughout the company w/ over 25k hits on the site the pictures were hosted on, and even got an award and free photo printer for my effort. All for only wanting some event-shoot practice. Not bad, considering I could have just gone and shmoozed instead like everyone else (I hate shmoozing.)."
A free photo printer? Let me guess - it was probably one of the dozen printers that the company got for free when they ordered the last batch of CPU's from Dell or HP? "I got access" ? Weren't you going to go there already? As someone who has shot for over 1/2 of the Fortune 500 companies, I can tell you that I've earned $1k (and more) shooting company picnics, holiday parties, and so forth. It's not glamourous, but it helps pay the bills. That is, unless you have someone willing to do it for a clip-art-inkjet-printed award and a free printer. And who insured your personal gear against spilled sodas or any other accidents? Sorry to sound so grumpy here, but this is just a bad idea.
"Exactly what I've been doing. I have a lucrative day job but I can't do it forever...I've been picking and choosing photography projects ...and get me some much needed experience...and I've been doing them for free. And loving every minute of it!"
That lucrative day job that you can't do forever? Guess what? You can't do photography for free forever either if that's what pays the bills, regardless of if you're "loving every minute of it"! It's called "You could be doing 'self-assignments', where you go out and try things out in your evenings and weekends."
"Every job I've ever gotten through photography has been through word of mouth or from someone seeing my work personally... and all because I usually did something for free."
This would then, have people passing the word "hey, that's the guy that will shoot for free. /Congrats! You’ve become the guy that works for free. Expect to hear from buyers who know: “Call him - maybe you'll just need to buy him lunch!"
"I've been doing some portraits for friends for fun, helping people get new facebook pictures and getting to experiment with lighting, new techniques, new gear, and so on...Plus when you start putting up shots on facebook, you start workin' the connections and offers may start coming in, friends of friends wanting shots done too, but like you said, that's just gravy."
Here's a video piece I did on this subject (From Intern to Executive - Your Corporate Photo ) that talks about doing this, and it's something to bill for. Otherwise, the offers will be for or come from people who want things for "fun" and "for free". Yes, then friends of friends will want them - again, for free. This type of work, for many people, is meat-and-potatoes bill-paying work, not the "gravy" for someone with a day job.
"I always cringe a bit when I hear the notion of doing solid work for free because, if done in mass, the law of supply and demand indicates that number of paid gigs will be suppressed and exacerbate the current recession."
"I am by no means a great photographer, although I can create images that help sell my clients goods. One of the reasons that I was able to build up a client base was my own feeling around the essence of the work, that I was being hired to perform a service and not creating "art". My intuition in this has built my business, as keeping the costs low for my clients has enabled them to increase their advertising placements, as the per ad cost was lower, which in turn has led to more work for me. "
Hmm… Not sure about your general answer here, since this dude might actually be making a good living, given his geographic area and what his costs are. He might be like those furniture studio shooters in the South who have so refined costs that everyone is making money, but it sure isn’t “art”, but it does take imagination and effort! Yes, more low-paying work for you, and in turn, the business has more money to buy more ads (at going rates, of course) and grow their business since they don't have to pay you much. What you're talking about - perform a service - is akin to the commoditization of photography that has taken hold of the stock photo industry. Your intuition is off, and I am guessing you're not interested in turning it on and straightening it out. Why bother? The businesses you are doing cut-rate work for are more likely to prosper at your expense. That's akin to the sentiment 'I take a small loss on every job, but I make it up in volume.' I wrote A Triumph of Hope Over Experience, where I write "Remember when the client said 'I don't have much money, but if you'll do this one at this price, I will make it up to you with the next one'?" When they can afford a great photographer (since you state 'I am by no means a great photographer'), they won't call you, they'll call a great one, and pay them accordingly.
"I'm also volunteering my services for my church. Easy stuff - little events, staff photos, etc - but with a 1000+ member church, somebody's bound to ask somebody for a photographer sometime, and I'm hoping somebody remembers my name."
I see the value in this point - if it's done from a marketing standpoint. Perhaps you should ask for a trade in the church bulletin, where pictures of the last coffee klatch after services has a "Photos by John Smith -", and a small ad that parishioners can read on the back page of the bulletin during the pastor’s rambling sermon, "for family portraits, or wedding photography like that in this bulletin, consider John Smith -".
"I am an amateur who is now the company’s in house photographer...I got this because I shoot some corporate-charity work for fun, the company and charity liked the pictures, then I was asked to photograph a Director (which I decided to do for free), and on the back of that I became our in-house photographer...I suspect many people could blow me out of the water photographically, but the guys I beat off the role for the company pictures might have been ‘pros’ but they were also ‘poor’."
Nice. You're essentially admitting that you've cost a professional photographer assignments, contributing to, as you put it, they're being "poor." Corporate charity work is lucrative work, and many a photographer earns a living doing just that type of work. Then, you're doing a free portrait of a corporate Director, thus costing another photographer a portrait assignment.
"Two days ago I made the same deal, since I love having my day job (IT freak) and my night work (Photo freak). I am passionate with photography and I prefer working without constraints (meaning that 99,9% of my projects are self funded) , this attitude gave me the opportunity to gain "access all areas" and make backstage photos,"
Fortunately, one of the things about location photography is that you can't outsource it. "IT freaks" on the other hand? They're a dime a dozen and being outsourced faster than you can say "f8 and be there." When India's night work takes over your day job, and you're left with empty server racks and a personal budget that limits your bandwitch/Internet connection to dialup, don't bother trying to get into the field of photography, especially trading to "gain 'access to all areas'" and so on, since that's already been ruined by others (The Business of Rock & Roll Photography - 5/30/08).
"I'm a young amateur photographer, still in school, and I'm just about to start doing this: take photos of the people I want to for free to have fun and build a portfolio I can be proud of. Money? Later. Reading your writing made me more secure about what I'm about todo."
Excellent. One more amateur student photographer emboldened to care not about money. That's a nice "starving student/starving artist" badge of honor, but about 6 months after graduation, when Sallie Mae comes a callin' for the beginning of the payback for the student loans that got you that degree, money will become much more important to you. Then again, when you have to buy a home and start a family too, "evil-money" will rear its' ugly head. That security you feel for what you're about to do is only because mom and dad are/were paying your bills during school and you can afford to work for free. That's nothing to be proud of - a portfolio built upon free assignments that may well have cost others the monthly rent.
"this summer and fall shot Metallica, Mastodon and Status Quo amongst others. Still free (well kind of, free for myself as my day job would have been the client), but now I'm published in major magazines with a credit for shooting Metallica."
"will work for photo credit" is one of the more asinine mentalities that is pervasive today. This is the type of post I told David he'd be encouraging, and thankfully, it made it past his moderation for all to see. Last July I wrote - Spec Comparative to Salary, where I detail that for many years, I was hired by Rolling Stone and it’s sister publication Us Weekly to cover concerts and celebrities on Capitol Hill and at the White House. Then, along came a “photographer”, who also had a design business where he did some of the graphics for concerts in town. He would then frequently shop them around, because he wanted to see his photos in Rolling Stone. After a year or so, when one of the annual festivals came around and I called about my regular assignment, the editor said “I am not assigning it this year, we’re getting spec work from {so and so} and we won’t be needing you.” Poof – away goes a $250 guarantee against usage, plus expenses, plus my ability to generate revenue off those images. Had I said “oh, I’ll do it for spec, just get me a credential”, I would be not only subsidizing a media conglomerate with between $250-$600 in expenses, where they would only ending up paying the $150-$175 for the use of the one image, meaning that, in a best case scenario, I would loose $600 minus the $150 for the “privilege” of shooting the assignment, IF they used mine. He continued to work this way, and among his poor decisions, was one to drive over a hundred miles each way to a concert near Richmond, Virginia, for free.
"I agree with what you say. I'm recently graduated from a photography school here in Paris and since graduating have been shooting like crazy, mostly for free. What do I get from it? Experience. I'm still learning, every single shoot without fail I do I come away with some lesson learnt. My book improves on an almost monthly basis, I'm making contacts, working on an exhibition series and know that once the economy turns around I'll be in a much better place than had I sat on my ass waiting for the phone to ring with paid assignments."
That’s some great school in Paris where you DIDN’T get experience!!
In order to get clients, you don't "sit on [your] ass waiting for the phone to ring with paid assignments", you market yourself to people who are willing to pay. Yet, contributing to the mentality of shooting for free as a good thing means there will be far fewer paying assignments to go around. Those contacts you're making? They're contacts that know you as "free and cheap", and not someone worthy of investing in valuable/assigning an important and lucrative assignment photography. C'est la vie.

Again, more broad-brush mis-interpretations of what David and Chase intended when they wrote their pieces. Not much more to say about that:
1) "I'm an amateur photographer and as such see that I have no choice but to work for free if I am to progress in photography. To hear that you as a pro feel it beneficial is refreshing. "

2) "As a student who plans on entering the business in the next couple of years, I Find your post to be very inspirational...This post has been another nudge in the right direction, and personally I give much more weight to what I read on this blog and Chase's as well..."

3) "Between your comments and chase's about really shooting WHAT you want and worrying about the immediate cash payback later on is very inspirational...Personally, since I'm just a beginner, I NEED the cash, but it's always important to not forget why we take photos: cuz we love it."
Then there's:
"PIXELS are FREE!!!!!!! I just shot 13 guys from High School , all for FREE to help them out in a "Man Pageant" . The Pageant is to help raise money for a high school junior with Lukiemia. I did all their individual portraits in a tuxedo , shot on black. Then I designed the poster for the show. I had my printer donate them for FREE. They are selling them to raise more money. Tonight is the show and yes I'm shooting it like a fashion show. I will post the poster on flicker for everyone to see. FREE PIXELS & WARM FUZZY FEELINGS. PRICELESS"
No, actually, pixels are NOT free, but thanks for contributing to that mis-information campaign that clients always promote,(ie: "can't you just copy the files to a CD and give it to me?" No, I can't, unless you can handle huge raw files on your office computer, which you can't.) Further, cameras/camera shutters have a lifespan of a few hundred-thousand frames. Divide the number of frames you shot for the 13 people by the cost of the camera, and you'll see they weren't free. Digital cameras have a lifespan of about 18 months. Two $3k cameras during that time equates to a depreciation of about $333.33 a month. This doesn't factor in the massaging (otherwise known as ‘post-production’) of those pixels in that computer of yours with Photoshop. That's not to say that doing work for a pageant for a junior high school with the proceeds going to a cure for Lukiemia isn't a good thing, it is, and while you likely did not take work from a local event photographer (but you might have), to say what you did was "free" is, in point-of-fact, inaccurate. What's "PRICELESS" is your misguided beliefs about what it takes to be in business. Oh, and what's also "PRICELESS" is the amount of money you can deduct from your taxes for your charitable deeds - zero.
"in today's digital world, your up-front costs are close to nothing. 10 years ago, shooting for free meant eating the cost of film, processing and maybe 'Roids unless the client paid your costs. Today, all a free shoot costs you is your time."
See above - no need to repeat myself.
"I just recently asked a local Congressman if I could do some free potraits. I don't have a lot in my portfolio, and would like to do something like that. I just have to wait for him to get out of session in DC. Then, everything is a GO, they loved the idea."
Let's see - a little research tells me that, If you're zip code is 61115, and you're speaking about your Congressman, and that would be Rep. Donald Manzullo. I see from your profile photo, you are posing with a 4x5. You know those cameras aren't cheap - but they're also antiquated and used by just about no one these days. That portrait, used by Manzullo, will be a part of his brochures, website, and campaign ads and so forth. You can see here that in the 2007-2008 cycle, he raised $1.3 million dollars, with $79k coming from the healthcare sector, $56k from insurance groups, $56k coming from the banking industry, and top contributors like United Technologies ($14k) and AFLAC ($10k) all ponying up, thanks, in no small part, to the smiling face of the good Congressman you depict in your free photo. Congressmen (and Congresswomen) pay all the time for professional portraits, but now there's one less paying portrait, and more money in his/the Congressman’s coffers to help out the banking industry, since he is on the House Financial Affairs committee. Well done.
" I have been a free photographer for some time now....As soon as I quit trying to earn money I had offers and requests coming at me from all directions. It has always been my intent to use my abilities to bless others and help those who could use my photographs to benefit the world or their business.... So often money is the measure of success and I really need to to work on getting my thinking away from that."
"...As soon as I quit trying to earn money I had offers and requests coming at me from all directions...." OMFG. Of course you did, just like a drunk girl in a bar who hops up onto the slippery oak bar-top with a low skirt and no underwear and says "if you see anything you like, I'll be in the back offering it for free..." and then she has a line-up for the back room. No surprises there. You're not "bless[ing] others" in the photo community, it's your approach that is a curse on the photographic community and the scourge of much of what is good and right with the mission of photography. What would you say to the 500k+ folks who lost their jobs last month?? And where are those new cameras, computers, printers and supplies coming from??
"I am a photo student and we get the "this would be a great experience for you and will help you build your portfolio...and we will even...(just wait for it)...give you a photo credit," offers all the time. We get them from people who can and should pay, but someone usually takes it for free. "
Yes, there will always be someone willing to do it for free. Check into "How to Do It Without Ruining it for Others" for some insights. Just because the bar girl above is giving herself/’something’ away for free, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. It appears your perspective is that you're not interested in doing free work like that, and that's a good thing.
"You can see why this can very easily get very complicated - and dangerous. Some people - such as Chase Jarvis - know how to navigate these things. And make sure that if that “free” awesome assignment somehow become a hit - he’ll be able to profit in it - and not get caught feeling left out. "
Yes, Chase, and a handful of others, do know how to safely navigate these waters. Chase, et al, are the ocean-going vessels out in the stormy seas, and the vast majority of people reading and LEARNING from David's blog post are the cabin cruiser/rowboats out on choppy seas, ill-equiped to weather the storm or navigate the waters. Yet, with bravado, they will set sail, Gilligan and the rest of the crew.

Here's a well-spent 3 minutes with Harlan Ellison to wrap this up. I am purposefully putting it at the bottom of ALL THREE pieces to improve the chances that you watch it at-least once:

PART 1 - Professional Photographers vs. "Hobby" Status (i.e. Working for Free)
PART 3 - Working For Free - Commentary and Responses to Selected Comments


From several perspectives, I've written extensively on this subject. Here are several links to those pieces:

A Triumph of Hope Over Experience
A Collection of Inconvenient Facts
Free Not Working for Thee?
Businessweak - Amateurs vs. Pros?
Just Say "No" Just So Oversimplified
Speculative Photography - An Introduction

We also wrote all about working for free for places like US Presswire - US Presswire - Introduction.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

A Two-Party System: PACA and the Photolibrary Debacle

It continues to be a head-shaker for me that the purveyors of stock can take such a disdainful position towards the actual people making the images. They seem to not realize that without those that produce the images, they have empty filing cabinets and idle servers with nothing to sell or license.

First up is Photolibrary(PL), and one of the companies they acquired - Index Stock. What doesn’t seem to be in dispute is that Index Stock had money problems and was possibly going bankrupt. When Photolibrary purchased Index Stock, they didn’t do so in bankruptcy, and further, didn’t do so with any attempt to preclude assuming all of Index Stocks’ debt, and there remain large portions that still need to be paid. What is in question is if PL acted ethically and honestly with regard to the debt. While I don’t have answers, per se, to those questions, I do have some insights that are worth sharing. If any of the accusations are true, this puts in question whether PL is run by ethical people at all.

We received numerous internal PL documents from sources, which detail the behind-the-scenes maneuvering regarding PL, PACA, and the thousands of photographers who have not been paid for the use of their work.

(Continued after the Jump)

When PL acquired the stock agency Index Stock in October of 2006 (as announced here), not only did they acquire the entire collection (whether wholly owned images or the right to continue to license the images of photographers that were represented by Index Stock) but they also acquired the accounts receivable (i.e. the money that people who had licensed images from Index Stock but had not yet paid) as well as the accounts payable (i.e. the money that Index Stock had collected for image licensing but had not yet paid to the photographers whose work was licensed).

After about a month on the job, a Controller hired by PL, after having had an in-depth look at the accounting systems, found information and documents that appeared to point to massive potentially illegal and unethical activities on the part of PL leadership. At the time, the Controller determined his best course of action was to become a “whistle blower.” He wrote an e-mail outlining the problems and blasted it out to hundreds of PL photographers along with detailed individual statements of what they were owed, as reported on by Photo District News here – “Letter To Stock Contributors Is Instant Classic”.

The Controller also sent substantial documentation and information to
the Picture Archive Council of America (PACA) and the Stock Artists Alliance (SAA) asking for their help in getting the contributors paid, and in bringing PL’s accounting practices to light.

SAA tried to engage with PL directly but after they were dismissive of the allegations and unresponsive, SAA issued a press release that laid out their detailed concerns that “about whether Photolibrary has met its contractual obligation to pay Index Stock contributors all past commissions.” ( read here).

A week later SAA was joined by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), Advertising Photographers of America (APA), Editorial Photographers (EP), and the Canadian Association of Photographers and Illustrators in Communications (CAPIC) calling on PL to “seek full accounting and payments of any monies owed to contributors”, according to an SAA press release.

Four days later, PL issued their own press release, where they characterized the Controllers' e-mail as containing “inaccurate and ill-founded reports in the media and elsewhere, drawing on unauthorized and misleading information”. The controller was summarily fired days later.

At the request of PACA following inquiries by the whistle blower about filing a grievance, he handed over further evidence and documentation and wrote in his grievance that he would testify in court to the validity major accusations of:

1. PL’s attempt to write off 2 million dollars they knew was supposed to be paid to photographers for the images that clients licensed, on their 2006 tax forms. Internal emails from PL’s CFO John Smith directed the whistleblower to alter tax forms to move the 2 million from debt obligations to misc income, seeming to subvert the monies that should be paid to the photographers whose images generated that revenue. Attached to this email was PL’s Tax form supposedly in the handwriting of John Smith directing the change.

2. A PL email from Tim Moore ordering employees to tell artists that KPMG completed an audit and all past debt was paid. PL now states that the audit was not complete, but KPMG clearly wanted to distance themselves when they told SAA “KPMG LLP (US) was not engaged to perform an audit or review of any financial statements of Photolibrary”, as reported here at Photo Archive News.

3. PL incorporating an applet in their Australian accounting system that purposely under-reports 20% of sales. If true, this action affects all PL photographers and distributors, even those outside of Index Stock.

4. PL was accused of knowingly selling out of contract images and purposely keeping all revenue. This is something no one has talked about to this point.

Re-enter Stock Artists Alliance. SAA has been all over the Index Stock debt that PL acquired with the purchase of the company in late 2006. SAA's principal obligation is to protect the interests of rights holders, and they have been a champion of those issues from the beginning. As a part of SAA’s last investigation, 9 months after PL stated most artists were paid all or part of their debt, SAA contacted 93 of the top 400 highest grossing artists using PL own records and most had still not been paid (or even contacted) on the past debt. If PL is not paying their highest grossing artists on their own after two years, then who are they paying? After SAA’s sustained public pressure, it appears many artists are now being paid.

PACA's Grievance

Here is where the story gets murky, so I scheduled a call with Cathy Aron (LinkedIn: Profile), the Executive Director of the PACA. What we found was that she had invited their lawyer, Nancy Wolff (LinkedIn: Profile) onto the call “just to be sure I don’t say anything I shouldn’t”, said Cathy. That would make sense, especially since we have heard from more than one source that she is privately appalled at the whole Photolibrary situation. During our call, Aron, who I’ve worked with on other issues, was all business, and any allusions to her private sentiments were not in evidence.

PACA has a grievance process, whereby someone who has a problem with a member company can bring a grievance to PACA, and PACA will work to resolve the problem, saving everyone lawyer fees, and lots of hassles. Since PACA has no legal position, it’s more of a courtesy than anything else. According to Aron, “The process is in our operating manual, and if a formal complaint comes in and contacts the member, they have six weeks to decide whether it should be investigated or not.“ Aron continues “The most PACA can do is ask for a meeting. We don’t have the authority to audit. It’s sort of an informal free mediation,” and concluded “All we can do is take a complaint and present it to our agents.

What kind of grievance would occur? The most common one is when a photographer under contract with a PACA member, determines that the member company has either failed to report sales and thus, pay the photographer, or the sales have been reported, but no payments have been made. While there may be others, these are the most likely to come before the PACA Grievance Committee.

PACA has, in the past, facilitated grievances that have resulted in a member company being expelled from the organization. When I asked how many, Aron responded “Two that I know of, since I’ve been involved, which has probably been fifteen years.

PACA may be taking a lackadaisical approach to resolving the problems with Photolibrary (PL), and the non-payments of Index Stock.

Photo District News, a year ago, wrote - PACA Investigating Ethics Complaint Against Photolibrary - based on information sent from the whistle blower, yet that investigation, a year later, still remains open. Just as SAA is looking out primarily for individual rights holders, PACA's principal obligation is to the photo archives (formerly referred to as photo agencies). PACA’s Mission Statement (as seen here on their website) that lists as item #1 “To develop useful business standards, and promote ethical business practices”. Yet their actions as it pertains to the PL issue and their delays in responding to complaints (or even a resolution) suggest perhaps an unwillingness to resolve the PL issue once and for all.

10 months ago, PACA received evidence, testimony and alleged internal PL documents from the whistle blower, as well as SAA’s separate 6 page grievance detailing dates of artists statements, payments and other evidence showing vast portions of PL’s PR defense and many private statements to SAA to either come across as false or be flat-out false. Included in SAA's grievance are artists who PL had accurate contact info that had new sales record in 2007 over the $250 threshold yet never receive payments at the time. This would suggest PL recorded new sales but selectively paid artists.

Now to the conflicting obligations, with SAA serving photographers and image producers, and PACA serving the photo archive/photo library community. SAA’s last PR offered compelling evidence that that the majority of artists never received their past due debt after 9 full months. There is no public evidence that PACA responded or acted on the grievance against their member company, nor has effected payments to photographers, yet still they remain solid in the belief that PACA’s procedures are comprehensive.

What remains to be known (among many answers that should still be forthcoming) is what did PACA actually do?

At the helm of PACA's grievance committee during the grievance being raised, and current Vice President, is Christina Vaughan (LinkedIn: Profile), founder of Image Source. Interestingly, a search of PL's web site reveals that Image Source is in business with PL with over 70,000 images that are currently offered for licensing on the PL web site. As the owner of Image Source, Vaughan’s livelihood relies at least in part on payments received from PL – the very company that Vaughan has been charged with investigating, Can you say “CONFLICT OF INTEREST?”

One does not need to dig too much deeper to understand why PACA hasn’t been critical of PL. While the proceedings of the grievance committee are supposed to be confidential, some sources suggest that the board was well aware of much of the details surrounding the grievance. That said, a majority of the board members don't seem likely to be critical of PL, since many members' companies have business relationships with PL. Getty Images (Photographer's Choice, PhotoDisc, Digital Vision, Footage, Stock Byte); Jupiter Images (Banana Stock, Comstock, Creatas, Brand X, Botanica, etc) ; UpperCut Images (approx. 5,000 images); and Corbis (over 145,000 images). Of note Patrick Donehue of Corbis was president of PACA last year during the initial "investigation”.

Other PACA leaders - committee heads – with Blend Images, with over 4,400 images; Grant Heilman (via Index Stock); Look Photography, and others also have images on the PL platform. Thus, it would seem that the deck is indeed stacked in favor of PL. So sure of a positive outcome, PL CEO Tim Moore, according to sources, is reported to have said “I made her [Christina Vaughn] several million dollars last year, I’m not worried.”

So, could the PACA board act separate from the interests of the companies that employ them? We put the question to Aron, and she said that sometimes the board members wear “their PACA hat”, and other times, their employers’ hat, and that sometimes they vote in a manner that is right for PACA, but not best for their employer. She emphasized her belief in the boards’ ability to be impartial “I feel that if someone felt they couldn’t be fair, they wouldn’t vote, but it didn’t come to the board”, said Aron. And therein lies the problem.

The grievance never made it to the board, because the Grievance committee headed up by Christina Vaughan at the time. While the grievance board's other members are supposed to be confidential, according to sources, the two other members are reported to have been Jeff Schultz of Alaska Stock, and Miles Gerstein of Uppercut Images. They collectively seem to have decided that the SAA grievance did not meet the test of a valid grievance.

Come again?

So, we put this question to Aron. Regarding Photolibrary “We had several photographer complaints, and a complaint from SAA”, she said. “There’s no complaint from an association, it can only be from a photographer of an agency.” She went on “The problem with that, is the SAA, as an association - it doesn’t make sense for an association to file a complaint.

We then talked to Betsy Reid
(LinkedIn: Profile),, Executive Director of SAA. “PACA describes its grievance process as set up to investigate any complaints made against their members regarding violations of the PACA Code of Ethics. That’s precisely what we asked them to do in the case of Photolibrary. We filed a grievance to ask for their help in addressing serious allegations made against one of their most prominent members, and we provided ample information, documentation and specific examples to establish the validity of the allegations. Clearly, this was an unprecedented case for both our associations, and a challenge to PACA’s grievance process which we expect had previously dealt with more easily handled individual complaints.

According to Aron, SAA was told “Come back with individual photographers, and we can bring those issues to the member” yer in their grievance SAA delivered a spreadsheet listing over 1,000 photographers and distributors (including PACA members) to PACA, many with contact information, and all of whom, to varying degrees, were allegedly not paid by PL, but that wasn’t good enough. The defense then turned to “There’s no signed complaint from any of those photographers, we can’t just use names on a spreadsheet” Aron said during our call. Yet we have reviewed several emails and written letters addressed to Aron and PACA’s ethics board clearly from individual photographers. To date, none of them have received a response to their e-mails, but somehow, they were finally paid.

It’s a learning process for us too. We’ve never had a situation like this before, and we had to go back to our bylaws”, said Aron.

Could Vaughan of Image Source be impartial in this PACA investigation/inquiry/grievance?

We asked Aron, and she said “We had asked Christina If she could handle the possible conflict of interest, and she assured us that she could.“ PACA Attorney Nancy Wolff commented during the call that she kept an eye on the proceedings, and felt that it was being pursued. So, the question remains – is there a grievance, or isn’t there? According to whatever was investigated, Aron’s stated position on Vaughan was clear “She treated it with no bias.

We were monitoring this because it was such a huge issue, and the few photographers – the last thing we heard from Christina was, after her meeting with SAA in New York - she never heard from SAA with individual photographer names” said Aron. Wolff reiterated “We requested specific photographer issues to be dealt with, and we never heard back. It’s back in SAA”s lap.

SAA’s 2007 President Roy Hsu (LinkedIn: Profile) was at the New York meeting with Vaughan and stated in response, "Christina was our sole source of contact and this is the first time I have heard that SAA's grievance did not qualify. Christina rep
eatedly referred to our document as a grievance, and repeatedly promised a written response in our New York meeting. We stated that SAA's intention was only to see that PL fulfilled their contractual obligations which we felt, given the massive information passed to PACA, was not happening. Christina agreed and confirmed that PACA had put PL on a ‘watching brief’. She asked us to submit a clarified 3 to 5 questions for PACA/PL to directly respond to and end this case, which we promptly provided in an email and never received any response. At that point, we decided that the process did not produce much fruit and moved forward to contacting artists directly and keeping our focus on getting everyone paid.

With many of the leadership of PACA (in the form of the companies that employ them) having a financial interest in PL, continuing whatever methods of revenue collection they have, and maintaining a good reputation for PL, it is understandable (but not acceptable) that they would want to maintain the status quo, if that is, in fact, what they are doing. While Aron stated emphatically on the call as it regards the grievance “it’s confidential, and doesn’t go to the board. The only reason it would go to the board, is if there was a recommendation for expulsion”, yet sources suggest that the board was well aware of the allegations.

So what were the actions of Vaughan?

In Vaughan's member update dated 5/22/08 she states that the PACA grievance procedures are to expulsion, probation or dismissal of complaint. " In all cases, copies of the decision shall be furnished to both parties." This is required within 6 weeks, and Vaughan’s correspondence with the whistle blower suggests she was treating the complaint as falling within the guidelines of a valid PACA grievance when she noted to him via e-mail “As per our Protocol, I have 6 weeks to examine the case and report back to the Board”. Yet she has yet to respond to the whistle blower of the outcome of probation, dismissal or expulsion. In an email sent to him, she only stated that PL is on a "watching brief", which would imply that Vaughan at a minimum acknowledged wronging by PL.

As part of Vaughn's 'comprehensive' investigation, she never once talked to the whistle blower over the phone, and she limited her communications to several emails that were initiated by him. When she asked for all the evidence, she then handed all of it to PL, stating that that was a part of the grievance procedures, so that PL could provide comment. While resolving a dispute over a sale or a minor contractual issue would require such an action, it is rather odd that someone would hand over all the evidence of alleged serious financial fraud over to the defendant for a response. PL created their Dec 2007 PR ”separating fact from fiction”, which was a point-by-point response to the accusations and evidence handed them by Vaughan. This response was a part of a PDN article “Photolibrary Explains Index Stock Problems, Calls Reports "Inaccurate", and they issued a five page statement defending themselves, readable here.

Vaughn’s statement to PACA members could well come across as misleading to the many honest PACA members, and could have been properly adjudicated within PACA’s guidelines, or, if not, given the alleged widespread non-payment (and alleged under-payments by 20%) treat this situation as a special circumstance and handle all the issues in a similar format that a class action lawsuit might be handled. I can’t square what has happened, to date, with any fair and thoughtful interpretation of PACA’s bylaws. It would seem that, at best, Vaughn ignored the entire situation, at worse could be complicit and aided PL in their defense.

Many times the truth lies in middle and sadly in this case If only a fraction of these allegations are true, PL leadership could easily be seen by many as unethical. If the extent and evidence of the PACA grievances filed is not enough to raise the real possibility of expulsion based upon timely actions by PACA’s board, what does a PACA member need to do?

In the end, what does this mean to other PL contributors outside of Index Stock?

Current artists payment statements can only be considered correct if you believe that PL is and has run an honest business. In this business where artists and distributors have to rely on the honesty of major distributors like PL, that honesty appears to broken, whether by accident or nefarious action, and that distinction remains to be seen. Is anyone sure that they aren't only receiving a fraction of the sales due them? Even the many companies that are represented on the board of PACA?

One of the big questions is whether or not current PL statements are in fact accurate. Despite a PL letter to artists stating KPMG was hired to perform an audit, PL now states it was incomplete, and KPMG went out of their way to stipulate that they never performed an audit, as noted above “when they told SAA ‘KPMG LLP (US) was not engaged to perform an audit or review of any financial statements of Photolibrary' ". Only if PL artists, and distribution partners come together for a real and formal audit can anyone really be sure. And it should be a formal audit looking for the sundry accounts and exonerating any charges of unlawful activities as claimed by the whistle blower to PACA.

Steps for Photographers, Distributors and PACA Members not yet Paid:

Aron noted “We want everyone treated fairly, and to be paid and that seems to be happening.” She went on “Individual photographers who filed a complaint – the case was closed and they’re happy.” And she stated “The offer still stands for any SAA photographers - if things haven’t been taken care of, we’re happy to look at their complaint.

So, if you are among the 1,000+ photographers and distributors who have allegedly not been paid, PACA is more than happy to hear from you, and more than happy to look at your complaint. A group complaint about an alleged pattern of wrongdoing by one of their members isn’t something that PACA has the bylaws to cause a member to be considered for expulsion. As far as what you’ll need to provide to PACA - They’ll want a copy of your contract, and any other information you have pertinent to your claim.

For the most immediate results we would recommend the following:
1. Provide contract or information
2. Provide information regarding your situation (outstanding debt, withdrawn images still being marketed, etc) SAA is likely more than happy to provide you with a copy of the evidence they have specific to you.
3. Email PACA (and cc’ing SAA couldn’t hurt) with the complaint will probably expedite things like the photographers who initially contacted them and listed in their grievance.
You can contact Cathy Aron at PACA at, and CC the current grievance chairperson Laura Dives at Whatever you write to them, you might also want to CC to SAA’s Executive Director Betsy Reid, at:, and SAA has more information about PL at this link.

To date, Photolibrary remains a “member in good standing” at PACA.

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