Time Thieves


The inspiration for this article comes from another that I recently read and identified with. I have had many conversations with people in the photographic, as well as many other industries related thereto. All of them came back to me with the result that the nail was hit on its flat, round head: time thieves are everywhere.

I am a photographer; not by profession, but by passion. I work for a large corporate company and I expect to be paid for the time that I spend wearing uncomfortable shoes in an office. I think that I can speak for many who go to work every day and know that they would never do it for free. So… my question is this: why do so many people expect photographers to work for free?

Did you know that it apparently costs us nothing to go out and “snap away merrily”? That seems to be a common misconception “out there”. I think that people also believe that a photographer’s bills and living expenses go “poof” with a wand too. I have yet to meet a photographer who has a “rock star” lifestyle. One of my assignments for a course was to work out start-up costs for a particular field of photography. It was an eye-opener. Let’s face it: no one will take you seriously if you “rock up” with a “happy snapper”.

*I will note my calculations at the end because that is not totally what this is about.*

What is your time worth to you? Time cannot be reclaimed; nor can it be bottled, or stored for a rainy day. People who expect photo-shoots for free are the time thieves to whom the title refers. If an agreement is in place – such as a simple trade off – or if I am the one who wants to, then I will give freely of my time. I am not a complete miser. I love photographing my friends and their kids, but those times are never formal and a cup of coffee, good company, and a laugh are enough.

I have experienced some insane requests and then some even more insane solutions; given in order to help make a shoot cheaper. My time is worth more to me than the wear and tear on the equipment, or disposable items. While I photograph your family, I am using time which I could be spending with mine. While I am helping you to build a catalog to make money off of your product, I could be creating artworks to make money for myself. I don’t think that this “beast release” is intentional, but one needs to take a step back and put oneself in a photographer’s shoes. The work doesn’t stop when the shoot is over either… There is post-processing – even if it is just a conversion from RAW to JPEG, or the colour-correcting of a few images – which again means more time as you move from a viewfinder to a computer screen.

After any work that I have done, I have always said that I will charge more the next time, and I will continue to do so until I find my “groove”. I recently photographed jewellery. I traded my time for one of the pieces I photographed. It took many hours to yield images with which I was satisfied. I can also say that whoever wants “bling” to be photographed better understand that the rate won’t be for “sissies”.

I cannot count the number of times when people have asked me when I am giving up my day job. When I hear that, I often think, “… when people start to see photography as an art and start paying for it accordingly…” My best response to questions such as: “So when will you do a photoshoot for me?” is, “When you accept my quote!”

Photographers often have many friends. I am able to pinpoint my real friends just by their reaction when I don’t take a camera out of my bag. I used to feel obliged to take my camera everywhere, but those days are decreasing in number. I want to enjoy my time and sometimes that time needs to be enjoyed without a camera in front of my face.

This is all I really have to say. This problem doesn’t only exist in this industry, but in many others where people are using their talents to try and make a living. Photographers don’t spend time playing. It is a real job and – in my opinion – deserves respect.

This is Isabel Jones, signing off! (I couldn’t help myself)

*I mentioned that I would note my calculations:

For the aforementioned assignment, I did some research for a wedding photographer and looked up the most common gear used. I then did a blue sky start up cost and then a cost for if you were to start with the lower grade stuff. The monthly costs included in this amount are only over a time period of 6 months. Included are costs such as: phone bills, internet connection, web hosting fees, marketing, storage devices (eg: hard drives and disks), computers, necessary peripherals, etc. (This doesn’t include any spare equipment, maintenance, or any necessary replacements if needed; nor does it include any rental, or payment on property.

The basic entry-level equipment, the lower grade computer, basic editing software, etc. all amounted to R43,000.00.

The Blue Sky total amounted to R131,750.00. (Please note that this was not a costing on the most expensive stuff either.) I was shocked at the cost of advertising!

Granted, I don’t believe that everything is bought “big bang” style, but one never sits down and works out how much was spent in total in order to “get going”.

It is very ambitious to say that if you take the photo properly, you won’t need PhotoShop. Unfortunately, in the real world, as soon as the image “hits” the memory card, human imperfections are not erased and decent software is needed. The “non-photographic” consumer should Google the cost of the software that takes the “bye-bye arms” (arms that keep waving when the waver has really stopped waving) away and makes the 55-year old appear 23.