What’s your value? 

by simonrleach

We all have our own value of ourselves, the trick is not to undervalue what you know, or bring to the table. It doesn’t benefit anyone.

All the arguments against working for free have been made before, most I agree with, but I want to go a step further because I think it’s important to not just talk about whether you charge, but also about the importance of making sure the fee is at a viable level to provide long term sustainability to your activity. I am more concerned that some sort of legal minimum wage is seen as sufficient payment than by the complete absence of a fee.  

Before I go any further let’s clarify, you will produce work ( images in the case of photographers ) for free. It’s called testing or personal work, it’s done to your own creative brief, with or without collaborative input from supporting creatives, but with no external client involvement. You and your collaborators are the client. To sustain a career this is vital development for you and it should only stop when you reach your end. 

In all other cases there should be clear and defined benefit to you and the expertise you bring. It’s quite simple: you have to value yourself. I know it something that’s not cool to think about when your 20, creative, doing something fun and enjoying it, but if you don’t have some thought for the future not only do you screw everyone else that’s in the creative industry, you resign yourself to having to get a “normal” job at some point in the near future. 

Let’s be honest; it’s very difficult to walk away from work if you’re not busy and there is all sorts of exposure being offered. But how much value does it really offer? You’re going to have your name in print… Well if the letter of the law is followed and you assert your moral rights, as you should, then they are legally obliged to print your credit. I know most of the time it doesn’t happen, but the odds of them remembering do not increase because you did them a favour. I am also sceptical of Magazine submission. If you were doing the shoot anyway, maybe you’ve not lost anything, but what is the readership, do they represent your market, will they see your value in being associated with that publication? Certainly don’t be tempted to compromise your vision in pursuit of a successful submission and be careful you don’t compromise the shot in terms of what it could offer you if it had not been licensed to a publication. 

So what should you charge? Well, it’s difficult to be specific because there are so many variables and value can be so subjective. Industry wide price setting is also illegal in the UK unless you’re a Trade Union. Whatever you do, don’t just think about what you need to earn to survive. Digital being cheaper is a myth. It’s harder to translate the costs, but an analogue body that is well maintained and serviced will last 20-30 years, its digital equivalent will perhaps last you 3-5 years and cost you twice as much. Computers, storage media, software are all extra costs that your client will not want to see on your invoice, but the idea of business is clients in someway pay all the costs and “a little over”: your profit! There’s also the personal development we mentioned earlier, it benefits the client eventually and it strengthens your brand for the long term. 

In short there are three ways you can be a successful photographer: earn from it, rely on some else’s income, or win the lottery. Either of the latter two will enable you to work for free, but then why are you giving away you’re good fortune as well as you creativity, passion and hard learned knowledge?

There has been lots of discussion over the years about the benefits of working without reward. Most recently, The Freelancer Club launched a campaign against the pervasive use of commissioning for free. More discussion and links here:

The freelancer club

And more on the photography business including value and charging here: