Working as a photographer, filmmaker, and journalist means I’m always in a field where people expect to get my work for free or at almost no cost. This is a reality I am faced with on almost a daily basis and it’s exhausting. And I don’t know if it is simple ignorance to the cost of creativity or people simply not wanting to pay for art.
I understand that the free exchange of ideas, art and information is now apart of our culture because of the internet. There is nothing wrong with that, everyone benefits from this freedom everyday, including me. I watch and listen to many people on YouTube and Spotify. I use many free applications that I don’t plan to support monetarily in anyway. But I also actively choose to support people and products that bring some type of value into my life. And when I need to hire another creative or buy a product, I never go in thinking I’ll get anything for free and I expect to pay. If they are willing to work a deal with me, great, if not either I chose to work with them because they are in my budget or I don’t. But I respect their decision and pricing.
We as a culture need to get out of the mindset that everything artists do is for us and should be free because WE want it to be. Beyond that people need to stop getting angry and berating creators because they aren’t giving away everything they create and are asking for monetary support.
Stop expecting people to be starving artists!
Painters, photographers, podcasters, journalists, sound mixers, directors, filmmakers, singers – all have the exact same bills as anyone else, sometimes more because many artists are full-time freelancers without the safety net a job with benefits like health insurance, paid holidays off, 401K match, and paid vacation time. Artists pay for rent, utilities, health insurance, car insurance, food, clothes, childcare, emergencies, self-employment tax… I could keep going if you’d like, but I think you get the idea. Our time, experience, connections within our industries, and gear is not inherently free for people to take.
Artists, journalists, sound mixers, directors, filmmakers, singers – have the exact same bills as anyone else, sometimes more because many artists are full-time freelancers without the safety net a job with benefits like health insurance, holidays off, 401K match, and paid vacation time. Artists pay for rent, utilities, health insurance, car insurance, food, clothes, childcare, emergencies, self-employment tax. I could keep going if you’d like, but I think you get the idea. Our time, experience, connections within our industries, and gear is not inherently free for people to take.
For example someone who is a photographer, like me.
Some people think all I do is click a button on a camera and there isn’t much more to it than that. They don’t realize I’m constantly assessing the light, and framing the subject with each photo to make sure it looks the best. Want to know the importance of a photographer?
Hand a camera off to someone who doesn’t know what they are doing and compare the results.
Beyond that, there is all the pre and post production work that goes into photography.
I don’t just take a photo and be done with it. I have to go through all the paperwork and legal hoops to become a legal business, have contracts drawn up that protect not just me but my clients (and everyone knows how expensive lawyers are). I’ve spent hours creating a fluid workflow, research gear, possibly research clients. I take time to meet with a client or talk through messages and emails to hopefully book said client, prep for the shoot the night before, travel to and from location, offload and organize the photos, cull through hundreds of photos, edit the photos, export them in the best file possible, convince the client to purchase digital or physical products, handle issues the client may have before or after a shoot, keep my equipment clean and the best condition possible. I could keep going but again I feel like you understand my point.
Basic Costs for a Photographer
On top of the time we spend working with clients and honing our craft, there are also just basic costs that come with being a photographer. These costs can climb into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on your niche and what you need.
Now the list below are relatively basic line items that a photographer may buy to be able to do their jobs. Not every photographer will use every piece of gear even on this list.
A Simplified List of Costs as a Photographer
- Camera Body
- Camera Lenses
- SD Cards (lots of them)
- Batteries (lots of them)
- Color Cards
- Software Subscription
- Gear insurance
- Liability insurance
- Attorney’s fees to write up and look over contracts
- Tax professional to make sure the IRS stays away
- Cleaning Gear
- Office space and organization
- Screen color calibrator
- City fees
- County fees
- Federal fees
- Marketing costs
- Thank you gifts for clients
- Continuing education
- Hair and makeup artists
- Website domain and hosting
- Gear maintenance
No matter what an artist does – whether they are taking photos, interviewing community members and reporting on budgets for a newspaper, physically putting together that newspaper, creating a short film – they all take time, effort, connections, expertise and money.
Newspapers for example have a large amount of employees to pay. There are reporters who spend days or weeks sometimes collecting information, developing sources, talking to high ranking members in the community, sitting through community meetings that are hours long, and double and triple checking numbers and sources to finally synthesize the information to tell you what is important while you scroll through your phone in the comfort of a warm bed while drinking your morning coffee or getting your kids off to school.
Remember the papers you had to write in high school? Remember the time those assignments took if they were properly done with all your sources cited? Do that everyday multiple times a day and fill 16+ pages with those reports.
For a paper to be put on a rack articles have to be copy-edited; photos have to be taken imported, cutlines and keywords added, archived, and sized for print; pages need to be laid out and headlines need to be written; the press has to be managed and maintained; trucks need to deliver the papers; websites have to be updated and maintained; social media needs to be managed. And this isn’t including a whole slew of general business jobs that are needed to make it so the paper comes out on time and everyone gets paid.
Seriously, it is very simple, respect the work artists do.
If you know me and enjoy what I make respect me and the work I create.
Don’t steal it, don’t make a copy and give it away after you buy it, don’t screenshot a photo you’d otherwise purchase and post it on social media or print it out at Walgreens, and don’t post the full text from a story in the comments section of an article’s Facebook post.
Artists have had to adapt themselves to this new economy. Most artists had to move online to survive and remain competitive. But it is hard for creative to fight for our art and our copyright of that art. The cost for lawyers is often to high and not worth our time and money to fight it. Lot’s of people realize this and choose to take advantage to take our hard work and give us nothing in return.
Respect our work and pay for it. If you don’t you are taking money away from creatives, affecting our ability to survive, eat, pay back student loans, and take care of family, and plan for the future.
And if don’t think an item or product is worth the money, that is perfectly fine. Not everyone thinks everything is valuable. But if someone is asking for compensation on a product you want, don’t say “Oh never mind.” and then figure out a way to get it for cheap or free. It is shoplifting. You wouldn’t steal apples from a grocery store, so don’t steal the art from an artist.
And like I said earlier, our current culture is built on the internet – the free exchange of information that has created an economy where many artist give away some if not all of their work for free while asking for dedicated audience members to support them monetarily in some way. It is now an integral part of how artists survive, how we market and promote ourselves. We leverage it to build a personal brand that will hopefully help us support ourselves much easier in the future. There is nothing wrong with this giving, promotional, and personal branding nature that has taken over the creative portion of the economy. I honestly think it has had a positive impact especially for small or obscure creators that may have a committed audience.
People are are finally seeing the importance the artists and projects they love and want to see continue and sites like Patreon and Ko-fi have been developed to facilitate that connection. People don’t have to be starving artists anymore.
Just remember, if an artist wants to give content away that’s great, but if they don’t no one has the right to be mad at the artist for 1) protecting their art and 2) wanting to make money from their hard work so they can keep creating. It doesn’t matter if they take on advertising/sponsors, ask for funding from the community for projects, or are asking for money or some other kind of reciprocation. No one is not allowed to be mad at them as long as the artist fulfills their end of the relationship. No if, ands, or buts.
Stop asking people to be starving artist. Support them, even if it’s all you can give is a few dollars a year. Show the artist you care about their work. Not only will it probably make their day that someone wants to pay them for what they love to do, it also allows them to feel safe and make better art.