Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to explore more of the commercial side of photography (not my area of expertise) and to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.

Established Photographers

Photographer 1:

I don’t think photographers could ever pull off a Union type situation. Never in a million years.

It is like trying to organize a million man march of independents. They are too much the loner mentality.

Many can’t even follow loose guidelines for rates or usage.

Photographer 2:

I would even love it if we could just get some standard licensing language and standard estimating forms like the film industry uses. Art buyers are already use to standardized forms from the film world. Why can’t we at least do that?

I am a member of the Director’s Guild, and the company I work through is a member of the AICP, which is a very strong and effective union. They have fantastic representation, and they are well respected by the Advertising agencies. They have a very strong voice, and they are quite successful at getting their voice heard and their agenda’s addressed. Witness the whole dust-up when a few of the agencies announced that they were no longer going to approve advances and they were going to go to a third party payment guarantee. The AICP President immediately announced that they would not support it, and that their members would not abide. Photographers on the other hand did nothing. In short it is a very good model, and there are many benefits for their members. Most of the (National) commercial on air … are Union spots. Most of the advertising agencies are Union Signatories, and therefore CAN NOT shoot non- union spots. Usually, only very small shops, and local companies can get away with non- union. So that said, I have no idea of the history, or how it got started. But one of the reasons that photographers are always dealing from a point of weakness is because they have no good solid representation. Here is a quick, off the cuff summary of issues that are already resolved by the AICP:

1. They have a standardized bid form.

2. Mark-ups are accepted and the norm- therefore when the scope of the job is increased, there is some additional profit, even if the fee is not increased.

3. Billing for Payroll tax and Insurance are standard.

4. AICP looks at and approves contracts.. No weird indemnities and other issues being passed off will nilly by the agencies to the backs of the photographers.

5. Payment is customary advance and final payments are scheduled.

One issue for sure is shitty purchase orders with indemnity clause, and work for hire clause written in. Which I ALWAYS STRIKE, I might add successfully. I have two previous employees that have recently struck out on their own, bad timing huh? But even though they were worried about being a small fish, they are usually successful at getting amended p.o.’s

Another huge issue as you know, that I have been railing on about, it is how hard it is to get insurance, how expensive it is, and how many people in our industry go with out it. If photographers were banded together they would have more clout in this area. Health insurance too…

Well off my soap box for now. I feel real compassion for those starting out now.

Photographer 3:

Only employees can form and be represented by unions.

Independent contractors can be members of unions but cannot be represented by unions. No collective bargaining by independent photographers. Illegal.

The one way around it is for photographers to work as employees. But if photographers work as employees, their employers are the “authors” and copyright owners of any images created.

Short answer: unions are a not the answer.

Art Buyers – International Ad Agencies

Art Buyer 1:

I’ll be honest with you. I would be against a union for Photographers. Right now, print is in a precarious place. We fight to convince clients projects need a print aspect as well as web and broadcast. In my experience, unions bring fees that would deter our clients from entertaining print. I’m not referring to photographer or crew fees. We know what the industry standards are and do everything we can to ensure they increase with the changing times. The fees I’m referring to are union dues, insurances, 10 – 20% production costs.

Unions would also create an uneven playing field. Photographers of different calibers would have the same fees. This would eliminate work to those photographers whose skill set does not match the norm.

This could also negatively impact our local market. Sorry to ask this, but how could I keep some jobs local? My local photographers allow me to of bringing work to the area because they’re fees are less than a New York based photographer. The proper term for this is not “under cut.” It’s “lower cost of living.” I’m fortunate to have amazing talent in my backyard. If they had to meet a National Rate, my creative would ask to see all National photographers right for a project instead of me being able to convincing them to stay right here.

Art Buyer 2:

This would be a terrible mistake. Unions within the Broadcast industry are having a terrible time keeping members. Agencies all over the country are dropping their union signatory status and actors are taking non-union jobs just to stay alive while unions look the other way. This is NOT the right time…

Amanda and Suzanne:

To Summarize, a union would not be approved in our current times. But believe us, something needs to be done to encourage talent to charge appropriately and to be taken care of properly on the client side. We need Insurance for our talent (I “Amanda” paid $2k a month for a family plan under a group plan – Highway Robbery). Photography is a demanding career and takes a toll on the body, emotionally and physically. Union is not the answer, but comradery and other creative collectiveness is. Standardized forms and usage and creative fees across the board verses underbidding fellow photographers. It is crucial to understand Agency Advances and fee structure, to know the tax laws in the city you live and the cities you shoot in as tangible property has become very grey. It is important to understand payroll services, since freelancers are not true independent contractors and the potential liability to the photographer on taxes and workman’s comp. The question we have to ask ourselves: “Are we print photographers running our business as if we were in a Union, are we running our business not only effectively but lawfully to protect ourselves?”

Call to Action:
Brainstorm with your colleagues, organizational groups and create ideas that can be shared and eventually (possibly) manifested.

If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.”

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  1. […] Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to explore more of the commercial side of photography (not my area of expertise) and to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity. […]

  2. My understanding is that photogrpahers i nthe United States are legally prohibited from unionizing and that if therewas a chance for it it passed back in the late 1940s around the time the ASMP was created. I’ll see if I can get some follow up or motre detail on that, but I’ve heard it from various ASMP bigwigs for years.

  3. Super interesting question. Some sort of collective cohesion could greatly help the industry as a whole. But, modern photography covers too many spaces – art, trade, business, hobby, stock, assignment, editorial, gallery, museum, webspaces, etc. – the rule book to govern all the uses, ways of selling, imputs and outputs would never be able to cover all the issues.

    1.) Personally, I think there is a HUGE lacking in mentorship these days from the older generation of shooters on all levels when it comes to business practices. They have a huge amount of knowledge that is not being transfer to younger start-ups. But, then again it’s not business as usual anymore.

    2.) Clients need to have more respect for creative services – across the board. Way to many clients whether they are agencies, fortune 500 companies, or small local businesses NEED to have way more respect for creative business – especially photography – they also need to understand the difference between different types of creative business.

    Last year I had conversations with clients/potential clients that in other industries would never happen. I had to tell way more people than anyone should ever have to that a competitors pricing was actually very fair and that I’d charge more for the same project. One art director told me, “If I had your camera I could shoot this.” A medical device company told me, “We don’t think you’re rates are reasonable.” After they explained to me that they were going to hire a wedding photographer whose whole portfolio was natural light images for a 52 image 4-day product shoot for 2k, when their cheapest medical device started out at just over that. All I could say was, “good luck.” I think somewhere in the digital transition many clients/people everywhere made some sort of mental transition that photography is no longer a trade or even an art & thus worth a whole lot less. And scoff at the idea of business expenses.

    One clients said, “You have business insurance..? That’s a good idea!” He said it like he never even consider photographers have overhead. Sigh.

    We as individuals can try and do our best to raise the general level of respect for our industry, but I think there has been a real perception shift in how people view photography as a whole and in reflection of that the business itself.

    • @Clark Patrick, These are great comments. I have seen since the digital rise, clients are not appreciating what the commercial photographer offers and I think that photographers need to stand together and not under sell themselves.

      Mentoring is so important- I have several photographers that I have and currently mentoring.

  4. Unionized or not a BAD deal is a BAD deal, JUST SAY NO!

  5. In theory a Union sounds good .In fact Unions have been wonderful for giving workers a voice against big business that would have children mining coal or sitting in sweatshops making sneakers for 16hrs a day. Without Unions big business would take advantage of workers as witnessed at the turn of the last century or any third world counrty . One of the big reasons we in this counrty have lost our manufacturing base is because of Unions . Big business does not want to play by any rules just exploit.
    On the other hand Unions have been as corrupt and exploitive as any big business. I would not be comfortable sending my union dues to some group of “Jimmy Hoffa ” types. Who do you think once we photographers unionize would run this thing. Photographers ,I don’t think so. A photographers Union would be just as exploitive and corrupt as any Union existing today. At first I’m sure it would be a positive for all but as soon as the money starts pilling up the greed factor takes over. I would love to pay dues for lobbyists,politicians and big parties for union fat cats.
    There are arguments for both sides but in my opinion Unions or any other type of pooling of resources ends up helping a few but leaves many out in the cold. Many of the same people who were loyal and paid there dues over and over got screwed.
    In my humble opinion rather than concentrate on how to get everyone on the same page or putting money into the same piggy-bank how about being real. If you are a photographer and you can not sell your product or nobody wants it then…….?? If an ad agency , art buyer or magazine is gonna rip you off ,why work for them? If photographer want’s to work for free to get exposure then it is their right. Trying to get this person in some organization to explain how they are screwing up for the established photographer is pissing into the wind.
    Maybe just maybe there are too many people calling themselves photographers . Maybe just maybe there are too many folks taking advantage of this. It’s called the free market.

  6. I am not a plumber.

  7. My opinion is based upon my fifteen years as a member of ASMP and subsequent fifteen years as ASMP’s executive director. We made a thorough inquiry into the legality of a union for photographers. Federal law limits the establishment of a union to employees, a term which is defined by a set of established legal criteria. Four prevalent criterion are:
    1. Can the worker refuse an assignment to do work?
    2. Does the worker supply his/her own tools, etc?
    3. Is the worker free to set his/her own hours of work?
    4. Is the worker under the direct supervision and control of the employer?

    If the answers are yes to the first 3 and no to the fourth question, then the worker is not an employee and not entitled to unionize. So independent photographers are not employees.

    ASMP made a valiant effort to form a photographers cooperative in the 1990s to circumvent the union issue. A cooperative is an organization of businesses that join together to buy or sell. For example, ACE Hardware is a cooperative as is Ocean Spray and Associated Press. A cooperative can negotiate for its members and thus effectively set rates (within reason according to market values). The effort failed. Of 5,000 ASMP members less than 1,000 signed on. That small a number would not be a market force and therefore would be ineffective because non-cooperative members would not have to follow the guidelines of the cooperative. That meant that the cooperative could not exert enough collective force to make a difference. The program was ended.

    I have been in the business since 1965. The fierce independence of photographers has always been the main reason they have no real power in the marketplace. I do not think that will change.

    • @Richard Weisgrau, Thank you so much for your valuable information and your years of wisdom!!!

      • Suzann and Amanda.

        First, I love your names. Second, years of wisdom is just old age expressing itself. The price is gray hair and arthritis. Best to you!

  8. “1.) Personally, I think there is a HUGE lacking in mentorship these days from the older generation of shooters on all levels when it comes to business practices. They have a huge amount of knowledge that is not being transfer to younger start-ups. But, then again it’s not business as usual anymore.”

    that’s no more the case now than it was 25 years ago. The problem is you have to have people willing to listen.

    “I am not a plumber.”

    If you were, you’d probably be making more money and getting more respect.

    • @Ellis Vener, I agree that there is a huge deficit in mentorship. You can’t lay the blame for that on the old guys like me. Someone has to be willing to hear you if you are going to be a mentor. I am amazed that today;s generation of photographers is more concerned about workflow than it is concerned about rights versus value.

      • @Richard Weisgrau,

        What new photographers need are not more associations or unions or guilds. What they need are mentors.

        I think that is true of some older photographers as well. (Example: I really want one for marketing frankly. Not a guru; not a consultant; not a rep; not a seminar; a mentor.)

        it is easier to talk about the mechanics of iamge processing than it is about business.

        But the business side has workflows too. Some are more efficient than others. Some are more savvy than others.

        But we’d rather talk about the physical mechanics of the business instead of the wetware stuff like business skills a or actual iamge content.

        • @Ellis Vener,

          Ellis, theoretically you are correct, but practically it would not change much. There are not enough mentors to go around in an era when the population of pro photographers has grown to levels previously unimaginable. Many photographers are not interested in being mentored.

          A few week ago, I offered advice to a photographer (who asked for the advice) on a business topic. My advice was based on 40 + years in the business and as the author of four books on the business of photography. Oddly enough the person asked for marketing advice, which is your expressed concern. My advice was rejected out of hand as being old world. The recipient had read otherwise on the Internet. He did not understand that the principles of marketing have not changed since thew first business was created. Only the marketing tools have changed. Still he thought that the tools were marketing instead of seeing them as a vehicle. When I focused on cause and effect, all he wanted to do was talk about Websites, which are the end of the marketing chain while he read that they were the marketing chain. Mentors can open a closed or simple mind. Simple and closed minds are hurting the business because they do not understand the basics

  9. Who would want to join something called the PU?

  10. I make more money, have better insurance, and am better supported now that I am IATSE Local 600 as compared to working as a stills shooter in the waning days of the dying print industry.

    I’m just sayin’.

  11. “This would eliminate work to those photographers whose skill set does not match the norm.”

    Isn’t that the whole point? To make fees based on photography skill rather than something entirely unrelated to the finished product.

    “I would even love it if we could just get some standard licensing language and standard estimating forms…”

    This is where our Photography advocacy groups seem to fail (along with mentorship and a lot of other things…) and perhaps a greater or more encompassing photographers’ union could work.

    • It would be great if things worked that way (skill). In reality, the buyers is setting our price because it can pit one photographer against another to get the price down. Photographers’ association’s have dropped the ball. A union is illegal. A cooperative is not.

    • @nabbott, we think standardized licensing language and estimating forms would be great. Kat Dalager wrote up the terms and usage that we will give to Rob to post for you all. Do you all like this idea?

      • @Suzanne and Amanda, That’s the most positive and helpful idea I have yet seen here. Thank you!

        • @Gordon Moat, We sent it to Rob to post for you all. Hope it helps!!

          • @Suzanne and Amanda, Thanks so much for sending that. I’m already learning and adjusting from what Rob posted (and thanks Rob for prompt posting). It’s much more concise and usable than PLUS has been for me.


      • @Suzanne and Amanda,
        One problem with standardized forms is they usually have standard terms and conditions. The Federal Trade Commission and Dept. of Justice considers it a possible violation of antitrust law as an attempt to set uniform terms. ASMP had that problem with the FTC while I was executive director. We had to make sure whenever we published the forms we included language that they were sample forms and photographers should modify them as they saw fit.

        How serious is an FTC inquiry – in 1989 it was about $80,000 in attorney’s fees to represent us. That was an inquiry. An investigation would have bankrupted ASMP. However, ASM has published its forms for decades and made them free for the taking. How many photographers adopted them? I don’t know, but I’ll bet it is a small number compared to the pool of photographers that would benefit from them.

        • @Richard Weisgrau, Thanks so much for your insight. I reached out to the President of the ASMP and APA for this thread and did not get a reply. So I appreciate your insights. I would like to estimates, model releases, property releases to be standard so buyers and talent wouldn’t be confused. Just our opinion having been on the inside.

          • @Suzanne and Amanda, While I am not surprised that ASMP and APA did not embrace your desire because of anti-trust exposure, I am disappointed to hear that neither ASMP or APA saw fit to provide their point of view. It is a sad day when the leading photographers associations choose not to communicate to photographers when given the opportunity.

  12. Certified and standardized, not unionized. While the GAG (Graphics Artists Guild) does have union support, I think a better idea to take from illustrators is a guidebook to pricing and ethical practices. Base price suggestion ranges on surveys, like they do in the GAG Handbook, and develop a model for photographers. It’s not price fixing, because it would be a guide based upon surveys.

    The other part is certification, and that might be tougher. There are so many realms of photography, that it might be tough to define knowledge. Years of experience might help, but there would also need to be a quality review. I think this might open up another opportunity in education, in that training would be needed, but something more than software prowess.

    • Certifiaction does not work well. ASMP made 3 years of substantial publication its membership criteria because that makes clients the certifier. The GAG guidelines are a joke. Graphic artists are in more trouble than photographers. Education is great, except an educated but powerless photographer starves, Photographers need power not platitudes.

      • @Richard Weisgrau, Then a different process would seem to be a better approach, rather than repeat what ASMP already tried. What do you suggest? Or do you simply think all creatives are fucked?

        • @Gordon Moat, no don’t feel this way but if more photographers were unified and not giving away their rights and usage for reduced fees we can stand up and get what you all deserve. I (Suzanne) got into this business in 1989 and have seen fees stay the same or get lower while inflation and the cost of equipment increase. We have to stand together and make sure you all are appreciated for what you offer!

        • @Gordon Moat,

          We are not “fucked” unless we do it ourselves, which has been the norm in since the mid 90’s. Prior to that time we did get the editorial day rate up every other year, and that is like a raise in minimum wage. Other rates go up as a result.

          When I left ASMP in 2002 it was with a written recommendation to its Board that ASMP ought to move forward in Congress to get an exemption from antitrust law so that it could set minimum not maximum rates.

          That plea could be supported by this logic. We are granted copyright by law, and copyright is a legal limited monopoly that is supposed to motivate us to create more. However, market forces have worked against us so we have no power to exercise our limited monopoly, and therefor we are discouraged from creating new work.

          What did ASMP do? Nothing! iIt prefers to educate photographers about workflow and negotiating in an environment where workflow is an unreimbursed expense and negotiating is a game between the powerful and the powerless.

          It is not hopeless if 10% of the real working photographers in the land rise up. That segment has been turning the business around since the early 1940s. ASMP used to organize it. Since I left, it has failed to do so.

  13. Photographer 2 wrote: “…Photographers on the other hand did nothing….”

    I believe what you’re referring to is sequential liability.? The matter was discussed on APAnet and I’m rather certain action was taken by APA National leadership to put an end to so called “sequential liability.”

    There were at least two threads on APAnet discussing sequential liability.
    Message #32776 Fwd: Omnicom Passes the Buck
    Message # 32763 [APAnet] Re: Financing your clients … now this is scary

    On another note… There was discussion back in ‘02 about seeking an antitrust exemption from Congress. If I remember correctly, the exemption would allow photographers to collectively bargain. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) was a champion of the proposed legislation. H. 4643 “Freelance Writers and Artists Protection Act of 2002

    The I Spot . com discussed it here:

    Maybe it’s time to revisit the antitrust exemption?

    • The Conyers Bill was unworkable and was submitted to keep the UAW, of which the National Writers Union was a part, happy. It had no chance of getting to the House floor, and it was submitted to keep the UAW happy.

    • @Steve Skoll, The insurance industry has an anti-trust exemption dating from 1945 in the US. I have to wonder how mechanics, plumbers, attorneys, and countless other professionals charge nearly the same rates in the US, yet none of them have been in front of Congress testifying.

      Every time these discussions come up, someone screams anti-trust. Really it is ASMP, APA, EP, et al who have no balls in this. Photographers need pricing guidelines, especially those of us newer to the profession.

      • @Gordon Moat,

        As does MLB and the NFL. I’m sure there are others as well. Why not one for us?

        Gordon wrote: “…EP, et al who have no balls in this…”

        Lets keep in mind the work done by EP to get Forbes and Business Week to negotiate contracts very favorable to photographers. Those 2 deals are probably the best in the editorial business world.

        • @Steve Skoll, I agree, why not one for photographers. I still think more could be done, even without an anti-trust exemption.

          Photographers organizations are beneficial, and have accomplished a great deal. I am happy to support them. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have done enough, and seem to back off too readily to legislative challenges.

    • @Steve Skoll, @Richard Weisgrau:

      The ‘real world’ seems to go against the paper world here. In the ad and ed worlds, we have GIGANTIC holding companies (Omnicom, Interpublic, Publicis, Conde Naste, Clear Channel, etc.) that get to dictate prices, policies and usage. We (collectively) are handed a contract, told what we can charge if we want to get the job, and told the contract is not negotiable in terms, usage, etc.

      I know my rights and abilities, and I do cross lines out, counter their terms, etc, and do all I can to negotiate from the strength of “saying No”.

      It’s the upside down relationship that bothers me. Photographers cannot work together against these giant companies and their policies because that would run afoul of anti-trust.

      So let’s say that photographers are all scary evil people, and would happily collude to set prices. What exactly would happen then? Would Omnicom and Conde Nast end up on skid row with a begging cup because the photographers have robbed them blind? Would photographers get together in the top floors of Manhattan skyscrapers and dictate world (photography) policy in smoke filled rooms?

      It may not be a true monopoly if there are four gigantic advertising holding companies – but from the position of an independent owner/operator photographer, the perspective feels very similar.

      • @andy batt, Andy wrote: “…I know my rights and abilities, and I do cross lines out, counter their terms, etc, and do all I can to negotiate from the strength of “saying No”.

        “Saying NO”. Is that all we are left with? We can’t collectively bargain, we can’t unionize, we can’t come together as a guild, the idea of a co-op has failed. Eventually the client finds someone who will say YES. And that’s because for a great many clients “good enough” is all that is needed. And maybe therein lies the answer. But even if someone is better than “good enough”, and there are many of us who fit that category, I fear it’s as you wrote: “…GIGANTIC holding companies dictate prices, policies and usage. We are handed a contract, told what we can charge if we want to get the job, and told the contract is not negotiable in terms, usage, etc…”

      • @andy batt, Exactly why I think photographers should band together and take those steps. I would gladly testify in front of the US Government on why those steps were necessary, and vigorously defend what I feel are basic needs for sustaining photography as a creative profession.

        Collective or cooperative actions are not happening out of fear, which is total crap. Fear ruins good work, and in this situation can ruin a great profession. My feeling is that it is better to do first, risk getting noticed by the government, and then scale it back (if needed). Where’s that great independent spirit of creativity and desire for challenges?

  14. I think that there was a time and place for unions. They served to eliminate exploitation of workers and from what I have seen of late they are really no better than the big employers. Unions diminish the free market place.

    On the other hand I think that being a member of ASMP, ASP, PPA, PMA, etc,… is important. The associations can provide mentorship not only in the trade but also in business practices. It is the American dream to have your own business, own a home, have 2.3 kids. To do it as a photographer is a bigger challenge, there are so many genre’s one might choose to pursue.

    I think that mentorship and education should be a requirement for full fledged membership such as ASP uses. It doesn’t take formal education all of the time. I think it would help in establishing balanced fees commensurate to membership level and give the individual something to work towards especially if they are just starting out. It wouldn’t limit either.

    There are a lot of things that can be done, it just takes an understanding of how all can benefit from inclusion versus being on the outside. Individuality would still be kept but having a bigger voice in the world today would be helpful for many, to include the well established names.

  15. I’d like to see assistants form a union.

    • @Phil, assistants would probably pass the test for employees. If so, they could form a union. That does not mean any or every photographer would have to hire from the union ranks. Is there solidarity among assistants> There was not 20 years ago when ASMP set up assistant membership (since abandoned). Assistants tried forming their own organization, but it failed too. The supply demand equation works against assistants as it does against photographers. If the supply was cut in half we would all be making a lot more money.

  16. “Right now, print is in a precarious place. We fight to convince clients projects need a print aspect as well as web and broadcast.”

    That’s a pretty scary statement from an art buyer…

    • @Young Photog, Print is in a scary place and it will get worse. The iPAd and other tablet computers of similar capability will do to print what the iPod and iTunes did to music on Cds. They won’t go away, but they sure will be less purchased and available. We are facing the back edge of the digital paradigm shift that started 30 years ago.

      Years back we said content is king. We were wrong Distribution is king. Digital wins hand down in any distribution comparison. The iPad makes digital content enjoyable.

  17. I hate to tell you, but the ‘free market’ doesn’t really exist. and exploitation continues.

    is not an art buyer pitting one photographer against another to reduced their fee (which is simply another expense for the ad agency’s client) a kind of exploitation? is this not exploiting market conditions and photographers’ fears and paranoia of losing out on a job unless they reduce their fee?

    is it not exploitation when a well respected, world-renowned publication of rupert murdoch’s giant globe-trotting media empire refuses to pay a measly $20 for a lens rental? and claim they’re being generous because they pay for travel expenses, even though they have an already low day rate? (the editor’s a wonderful guy, but this did happen to me.)

    we are being shit on, and take it because there is no other recourse, no collective body to back us up. everyone is so scared that they won’t be able to pay the bills that the ‘free market’ turns into survival of the fittest, or more accurately, whose survival of the lowest. it’s a race to the bottom.

    i think some kind of unionization is a great idea. and if the law says it’s illegal, then change the law.

  18. I agree something needs to be done. I can attest living and trying to work and progress in NYC as an “emerging commercial photographer” things have become quite insane and the industry as a whole changing so rapidly. For example, I have to fight for every minor payment, when I do actually get to invoice, from clients. Clients who are now just trolling craigslist for what I like to call “no fee” photographers to do what used to be those entry level $500-$1000 jobs newer commercial photographers need to live and keep progessing to better and higher paying work. Now it’s all “great book building”, “great exposure” as compensation for real work. I know this isn’t happening at the higher levels but this foundation that used to be there even 5-6 years ago has eroded and this will have a PROFOUND effect on the entire industry and the devaluing of photographers more and more.

    Of course it’s also getting even worse when you are now seeing people already in the fold (ie. fashion editors, art directors and the likes) who now realize you can hire 1-2 “lighting assistants” and a digital tech and a retoucher and now they can be the “photographer” on set. Pretty soon photographers are going to have to make a career choice. Either you’re going to be: 1. Camera Operator or 2. some sort of Director. I can’t tell you how many magazine shoots I’ve been on as recently as just over a year ago as an assistant where clients and editors are watching the digital tech’s screen and deciding when the shot has been “gotten” and force the photographer to move on to the next setup. They will also go through images right on set and pick the edits regardless of any concept the photographer might have for crop and other post work. Photographer are slowly losing control of content and losing respect of having a high skill-set and decision making skills when it comes to what is a good image and what isn’t. There are many reasons for this. Content, composition and artistry is in less demand nowadays and being passed over by style and perceived “sexy-trendy-hip-coolness” for a lack of a better descriptive. Also social networks where a new form of digital candid has become a style and TV content being mostly reality TV has dumb-down expectations of content and I think clients are starting to realize this. Also maybe because the mystique of not seeing film until it’s developed is gone and having to rely on the photographer to know what they are doing and having to be trusted in having gotten the shot is no longer. It’s sad to say but I truly believe many clients are starting to take an attitude that anyone can operate a camera now and a synergenic lightbulb is going off in marketing meetings of what better then to get a “name” as the photographer, since they perceive photography as a craft is fast becoming moot. Bring in a “name” to add a sort of exclusivity to content. I will predict you will see in the very near future someone you know isn’t a photographer,for argument purposes let’s say Johnny Depp, and it will be ads like: Hidi Klum for Jorache Jeans as shot by the creative eye of Johnny Depp. And what your going to have is what used to be a photographer as a camera operator (better yet camera settings “”setter then handing it off to “photographer talent”), grip crew to set-up the scene and production with digital tech, etc. all very much a moving film set. It’s already happening where film directors like Brett Ratner shooting campaigns and Tyra Banks walking around acting like a photographer when obviously she has an entire support system setting everything up and doing post and she becoming a glorified button masher shooting enough to get at least one shot. I truly believe we are heading this way unless photographers can somehow reclaim the importance of artistry over style and coolness and clients believing they are hiring a skill set over we can fix it in post. This is why a union would be one way to protect this and force the industry to hire experience and skilled talent, just like in the film industry does with having all those unions protects various members of a film crew.

  19. A plumber is not an artist…at least not most of the time . Also, a plumber is doing something more akin to work for hire, as far as I can tell, in the sense that once a job is done, the plumber cannot claim it as his own, and cannot charge more if you flush more.

    “I would even love it if we could just get some standard licensing language and standard estimating forms…”

    Our current trade associations like APA & ASMP offer standard forms for members to adapt to their individual needs, they, plus SAA & EP are places to share information & knowledge to better educate their members, and the PLUS system is an attempt to standardize licensing terms & language across our industry, as well as for our clients & end users.

    Union or not, if photographers don’t stand up for themselves, really be willing to say no and walk away from a job, then we have no power to help ourselves.

    And as long as there are too many “photographers” for too few clients/jobs, as now pretty much anybody with a sub $1,000 digital camera & a copy of Photoshop is a “photographer”, it is a buyers (i.e. clients) market. The advent of digital photography & huge leaps in technology has seriously lowed the bar for entry to becoming a photographer, with little to no technical expertise required, little to know knowledge of the history of art or photography learned, and an aesthetic vision shaped by television commercials & video games.

    All we can do is be as good as we can be with what we do, have our own unique visions so we are not competing only over who can do the job for less, educate new photographers & assistants about business practices, share information and experience with our peers (and don’t just think of them as competitors), and support our chosen trade association(s). If it is not doing what you want it to do, volunteer, get involved and lead it in the direction you want it to go.

    As a National VP of APA, as a former local board member of both APA & ASMP, I know firsthand how hard it is to get people involved, and how we need leaders, not complainers, people with vision instead of hindsight, people willing to go that extra bit, with no immediate quid pro quo in the hopes that down the line we can squeeze a few more years out of this profession we all love (most of the time ).

  20. The enemy is not the inexperienced photographers with Canon Rebels, ignorant business owners, lack of unions, ASMP, APA, Congress or Joe the plumber.

    The fault can be squarely placed on technology.

    Most anyone with minimal training and a camera can create a good image – the mystery and magic of film is gone. Due to this fact we have a supply and demand problem and the photographer is not on the winning side.

    Even if we unionized that would not stop the even larger number of photographers working part-time, free or for the exposure from continuing to flood the market.

    I do have hope that new technology such as the iPad will turn the tied toward a profitable publishing market. Spurring a new race to out do the other guy with creativity rather than good enough content and cutting more to survive another year.

    Basic photography for a living is about dead and will not return.

    Only photographers offering something new, unique and exciting – including multimedia – and can market well (build great relationships and reputations) are going to be the winners.


  21. Times now reminds me of the dot com explosion. Then it seemed that every fourth person you spoke to did web “design”, often at ever lower price points. When I got my BFA in 1998, I knew many other artists who jumped on the web design bandwagon, only to fade away. I stuck with illustration and print design, and a few year later transitioned to photography.

    Oddly enough, I was reading Photo Icons: The Story Behind the Pictures, and in that book is a reference to Nadar, indicating he was abandoning photography in his studio in the early 1860s, precisely because the kits to do photography were so readily available. Photography in the early days succumbed to mass market saturation, and only some portrait artists, and those with connections, kept the revenues coming in. Sound familiar?

  22. “I know firsthand how hard it is to get people involved, and how we need leaders, not complainers, people with vision instead of hindsight, people willing to go that extra bit, with no immediate quid pro quo in the hopes that down the line we can squeeze a few more years out of this profession we all love (most of the time ).”

    Robert – I could not agree more ! Photographers love to complain and it’s annoying and not helpful to the industry. We are not the only ones whose industry has been changed by the digital revolution. It is up to us to adapt our businesses to the changing marketplace.

  23. I always found Richard Wrisgrau to be most WISE, HONEST, on top of issues and great Exac. Director of ASMP.

    Would Richard please draw bottom- line- picture , in one line form, his thoughts of how to move forwards in today’s markets to get back on track, to an honorable profession of Artistic Image Making.

    Thank you.

  24. Hi.

    I want to address PHOTOGRAPHER 2…and what he/she wrote about the AICP.

    1. The AICP is not a “union”….it is a “trade association”. If you’re DGA and working with a company that is an AICP member, you should quickly recognize this important difference.

    2. The “voice” is…fractured. Ad agencies do not necessarily abide by AICP “guidelines”. There is NO contract between the AICP and ad agencies/AAAA.

    3. Over the years, the AICP has tried all sorts of things with its members. Funniest of all back in 1984/85 was the idea of charging for bidding. It was going to be $125 per bid. All members agreed. That is, until the first agency storyboard came in the door and the bidding frenzy was on…and no one charge. So much for solidarity.

    4. The major ad agencies are signatory to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), but not to DGA, IATSE or any other union. And the agencies are getting around using SAG actors (using SAG actors requires paying use fees and residuals) by shooting out-of-country (Canada, Australia, South Africa, etc). When they go international, they simply pay the day rate. Plus reap the benefits of lower labor costs as well as a fun trip (for both the ad agency and the advertiser/client).

    5. The standardized bid form evolved from Proctor & Gamble imposing their weight on the production companies back in the 1970’s. Before then, it was all budgets-on-a-napkin! And boy, did production companies make money back then. Now…cost controllers review line-item after line-item…and squeeze the production company.

    6. There are fix-fee and cost-plus bidding situations. Mostly now, it is small-fee and smaller-fee bidding situations. Every production company is complaining about this…and there is absolutely nothing the AICP can do about it. It’s free enterprise…and the ad agencies are push-push-pushing margins down.

    7. Timely pay? Forgetaboutit. The trades have reported that production companies are suffereing 60, 90, even 120 day payment schedules.

    8. Yes, billing for payroll taxes is standard. That was imposed first by the IRS back in the mid-1980’s…before that, production personnel were paid as independent contractors…or with cash. The failure to file 1099’s back then irritated the IRS, and they came after the commercial production community. Employers and hirers are the surrogate tax collectors for the IRS.

    9. The AICP does NOT look at any contract between production company and ad agencies. Never has, never will. Again, the AICP is a trade association and has no power. All it’s supposed to do is represent – to the AAAA/major ad agencies, to the big advertisers (P&G, GM) who drive the agencies to do whatever (client is always right!), and, in theory, to state and Federal legislatures. The latter – lobbying to government – has been EXTREMELY WEAK – and it’s been weak forever. Congress has never heard of the AICP. They have heard of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), but AICP? Nope. Most states have never heard of the AICP either. Just check out the tax incentive programs….the vast, vast majority don’t even recognize TV commercials.

    So….when you are considering an organization for photographers, well…bear in mind what the AICP really does…and what it’s effectiveness really is.

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