It Only Takes One Person To Drive Down Rates And Lower The Bar

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Aspen is a small town, and the photo community here is small and fairly tight-knit. I was first in line for the job, and after I turned down the “job” the other local photographers gave the same response as me, except one, who accepted.

Which brings me to my main point, which is that it only takes one person to drive down rates and lower the bar. So instead of the chamber of commerce budgeting properly for this event next year, they will once again assume they can get free images.

via Chris Council Photography Blog.

There Are 28 Comments On This Article.

  1. Now you’ve learned the true lesson of a free economy. The person who offers a product or service is the one who determines its price, but not the one who determines its value.

  2. That’s a bit of a one-sided story line. As photographers in a small community they should be actively involved with their chamber of commerce, not just as a potential vendor, but as a member of the business community. It’s a prime opportunity for photographers to educate fellow business owner on the value of photography, why hiring a professional vendor makes sense, and why getting free photography undermines the mission of the chamber of commerce. So I call BS on this one.

    I’ve been a member of two small chambers of commerce in cities the size of Aspen, on the board of one of them, and I’ve given a presentation at a networking event on the value of hiring a professional. So this is first-hand experience for me.

    It’s all fine to complain about the deteriorating photography industry. But don’t bitch without a pitch as the saying goes. So go out and educate your fellow small business owners. And the chamber of commerce is a prime venue to do this professionally.

  3. I just got bit by this two weeks ago with a job I bid documenting the Google properties at the RNC in Tampa. Two day shoot for Google’s marketing agency and they wanted an all rights buyout. At the end of the day I was underbid by thousands because the agency found someone from NYC who they could pay $3k. That’s right $1500/ day for an all rights buyout for the largest media and advertising company on the planet.

    At this point I feel like the battle over usage pricing is over. There’s no competing with other photographers who are just good enough to get the job done and are willing to low ball everyone else. At the local market level it’s every man for himself with photographers willing to do jobs for next-to-nothing to get their foot in the door. What they don’t understand is that the only thing they’ve done is set themselves up for more low-paying work and an unsustainable future.

    • I think you’re totally right especially with the “…set themselves up for more low-paying work and an unsustainable future.” If you do the job for little money once, then why should a client pay you more the next time? You are already filed under “does it for little money”…

    • Agencies working for large corporations often have low budget jobs that they just want someone to do. These are always low value, short lived work.

      Every now and then these come down our way. We always turn them down because it puts you in the category of “the cheap guy there” that they look to when they don’t have any money.

    • Devin Shogrin

      Hi Bob,
      As a reader of these sites, and as someone involved in the decision regarding the Google photography assignment, I felt compelled to write in response to your comment above. Rest assured we took many things into consideration, but price was not the factor driving our final decision. Supply and demand works in such a way that we felt we got just as good, if not better, work from someone who offered a superior product and whose online and marketing savvy was perhaps a bit more evolved. Don’t be discouraged, as you were one of many eliminated in our early search, but from one who does this for a living (marketing and branding), do keep in mind the evolution of the marketplace and your place, if you have one, in it. . .thanks and best wishes!

      • Devin (if that’s your real name), that’s funny because I was told by the producer that she had been given a verbal OK to hire me and it was only after I upped my estimate due to the buy out that I was told my services wouldn’t be needed because the marketing agency found someone inline with the original budget of $2500. This was about a week before the start of the RNC. You call that early in the process? I’m not discouraged – I’ve been a working commercial photographer for a long time and I’ll be around for a long time to come. Have fun “marketing and branding.”

  4. I have the impression that only photographers with special skills will have a future. Skills that only a limited number of photographers have.

    A photographer who does not have these skills, cannot underbid jobs that require those skills, because he can’t do them. Photographers, who have those skills, will put in proper, sustainable, real world bids.

    • There is a grey space though – work that requires specialized skills, but a fact that may not be obvious to the inexperienced, who will still bid and fail.

    • Isn’t “photographers with specials skills” redundant? Conversely, wouldn’t “photographer without special skills” be an oxymoron?

  5. Alexander Karasev

    Digital technology and social media have massively increased the average person’s photo savvy. That created the influx of amateur/semipro/part-time talent who can execute several types of photography well enough, but have low expectations for rates or rights.

    The buyers’ question, “what can you do that my nephew with a D800 who googled `taking better photos` cannot?”, is entirely legitimate. Price fixing isn’t the answer in the free economy. Holding on to lash shreds of how business was done in 1980s isn’t the answer. Differentiation, evolution, creativity, and offering clients more is the answer.

  6. Brent Pennington

    This piece annoys me somewhat, because of the photographer’s seeming assumption that everyone in his town should follow his lead. He turned the job down, then several others followed, and how dare someone finally accept it!

    Now at the very end, it’s implied that the local chamber was looking for free images, as opposed to actually paying anything. And if that is the case, then fine, I understand the concept of turning down their request to shoot for free.

    But assuming or a moment that it was a paid job, and the pay was just lower than this photog wanted, who is he to determine what the “bar” is and where it should be set? Just because he has to (chooses to) charge X for a job doesn’t mean that someone couldn’t agree to do it for somewhat less while still meeting their own necessary profit margins, etc. I find the overall attitude very arrogant.

  7. jim benning

    Yes, that the bite of photographing bicycle racing and pro sports in general. ACCESS. There are only a very few photo motorcycle slots available and you just about have to beg to be allowed an opportunity to sit on one. Nothing to say of start or finish area access with any hope of a good shooting position.

    Alternative is to take up a position along the course and hope the race decides to make a move providing some dynamic shots at your chosen location.

    Not a great choice either way if you trying to actually earn some money from your photographs.

  8. It seems it was a missed opportunity. An investment of a bit more time could have resulted in a profitable event. Regarding image rights, definitely a sticking point and would be a reason to decline.

    I have to say his premise that the last photographer lowered the bar is incorrect, he was the first to contribute to the lowering process. I would have spent a bit of time to educate the people indecision circle. I bet a budget was available if a bit more effort was given.

  9. scott Rex Ely

    I’d suggest asking the chamber if you could administer a photo contest, for your day rate, and then have them accept only rights free submissions for their use. That way you could spread the free around to the more ambitious amateurs and then you maintain your creative fee for shooting and it takes away the chance for another pro from low balling the game.

  10. Chris, I feel ya. I am also in a small market. Lately, I have had several estimates rejected for being “way too high”, even after lowering rates to combat this phenomenon. Yes, “it only takes one”, but the reality is, there are many who are willing to work for incomprehensibly low rates. In my area, often these are housewife “professional photographers” who have real nice prosumer cameras and a 5x zoom lens, who know just enough to be dangerous. I have seen many local and regional advertising work done by these types, and I have seen just as many beet- purple skin tones, motion blur from using available light, etc., etc. I believe the bar has been lowered by the buyers, who have gradually become trained to always go for price over quality. This seems especially true in the client-direct arena. But alas, this is all just a “bitch without a pitch”, because this is simply the way it is now. There will still always be those that maintain a high standard, and either find a way to be successful, or move on to do something else.

    • You came closest to the truth in all the comments but you still reflect society educated against free market. Yes, people who may do job cheaper are likely to do it poorer too. But that’s why there is a free market. Someone is willing to pay X$ and is satisfied with quality Y. You can’t remove either demand for cheap or production of cheap. They are the fact of life. People who buy “purple skin tones” would not pay for your perfect skin tones. People who are willing to work on cheap are doing that by their own free choice. No one owes you a slice of the market. Nor success. You must fight for it. There are losers. What person in the original article wants is anti-free market collusion. Not only illegal but progress-through-competition killer. Shame on him for complaining.

      • I may “reflect society educated against free market”, but I do understand the principles you discuss. That’s why in the conclusion of my note, I tried to imply that it is not only a feckless argument to hope for collusion, but the end result would be much worse overall as well.
        You may be interested in this
        Best regards.

  11. I’m a portrait photographer and in the last three years, the market for professional photography has been reduced to ‘who can do it the cheapest’. I’ve given up on doing anything for anything and the challenge is to find, market to and keep promoting to the people with the knowledge and money to afford me. Usually, more upscale clients understand the difference between Sears, Wal-Mart, the soccer moms who shoot for fun and don’t have to make a profit to live and the truly good and gifted photo artist.

    The people who get a decent HDSLR and put the camera on ‘professional mode’ (P) that is, don’t understand that $25 8 x 10’s aren’t a profit making price. They are under the misconception that low prices and higher volume makes up for high profit and low volume.

    I’ve got good averages, but not enough volume to make a reasonably good income. It’s the catch 22 where I need employees to do the social media, answering phones, etc., while I do what I do best, make great images and sell.

    In 10 yrs., you’ll just point the camera, fire off 2 seconds of 5K video, out of the 50 images, pick out the best one…… background, fire off 2 seconds of 5K video, out of the 50 images, pick out the best one, etc. This way kids will use their iPhone 15 with high definition and do each others senior pictures. 3 minutes of video clips will yield 90 beautiful stills and they’ll just put them on their phone and no need for hard copy output…..Oh, if they want a 20 X 30 on canvas, they’ll just ship the high rez file to an online company that will make it and ship it back to them for $100 instead of having a pro produce tin for $1,000.

    Look at what’s happening in Hollywood. When will the Panavision camera be a relic from the past? What’s happened to Kodak………a sign of the times.

  12. Perhaps a class in basic economics is needed.
    There is no such thing at ‘the value of something’. You may think your house is worth 500,000, but if you are only getting offers of 100,000 that is the value of your house.
    Once upon a time, photographers were paid handsome rates to make images — market value had determined that. There are many professions who have seen their earnings decline – doctors being the most obvious. While others have seen astronomical increases in compensation – i.e. the insurance exec that denies coverage to a patient. That is the reality of ‘free market’ forces.
    As has been mentioned on this site, if a client is satisfied with a C image why should they pay for an A one. Many average photographers can deliver a C level image – that is what makes them average. The A+ shooters are finding themselves in a quandary – fewer and fewer can appreciate their skill and mastery of the medium. Its no one’s fault. You may wish to read what surplus labor and fetish value means in today’s economic climate.

    • Indeed. Maybe the correct title of the post should have been “It only takes one client to be honest about how much they really wanted to pay for your images all along” or “People will only pay for how much economic and/or emotional value they can derive from an image”.

      While clearly there have been drastic changes on the supply side, cameras of all kinds, even the instant variety, have been around for a long time. There really isn’t anything that new technologically that suddenly made it possible for every housewife to take pictures, or every direct client to rather just do it themselves. Yes, there is the cost of film and developing which falls by the wayside in digital, and yes with high-iso of recent cameras you can take an ok, but poorly white balanced product shot in available mixed light. But I don’t think that’s the entire truth.

      I think the change on the demand side has much more influence on the overall market than the change on the supply side. With everyone and their dog posting image to FB (10% of all images ever taken, have been taken in the last year, and many of them ended up the worlds largest image sharing side – FB), and with most media consumed via low res smart phones and web browsers rather than all forms of print, the standard of what makes an acceptable image has been lowered. Consumers no longer demand high quality images in order to engage with a brand. And with the bar lowered by the consumer, the small businesses (direct-client market) and even the marketing economy has quickly learned that spending lots of money on high quality imagery is an unnecessary expense. Kind of comparable to the brand-name prescription medicine, when the generic work just as well most of the time.

      It may just not matter the way the media landscape has evolved – but if anything is going to halt the slide, then it would be hard market research that would show that a high quality ad image, a high quality food shot, or whatever your specialty is, actually has a positive ROI on your business because consumers may not think they see any difference until you compare that BigMac on the menu board the the sad version in your paper sack.

  13. If they were willing to pay- they would only compare 3-5 photographer’s quotes & styles IMO.

    Not willing to pay- then google some more till you find one.

  14. As an amateur, who has been one and happy to be one for a long while, I have seen the number of more-than-adequate photographers just explode. Mid-level professionals aren’t being pushed by the moms-with-a-camera, they are being edged out by part-time pros with great gear who have taken to photography with a vengeance – and the work they produce is indistinguishable from that of the real pros TO THE COST HUNGRY CONSUMER.

  15. “Greed will be the downfall of Aspen,” I was told once by a former colleague of The Aspen Times.

    When I worked for your competitor (yeah, ask about me), the last few years I was there 07 and 08, the downward spiral began.

    It started with local business wanting the photos for ads and then complaining to the business manager if we didn’t give them away. I fought whole heartedly a couple of times due to the ethical concerns and won, but, it was a bad sign of the local industry.

    If the local business didn’t want to pay for the images, they did not get them. Pissed a few people off, but oh well. I find it ironic they’d charge big $$ and then want free stuff.

    Not only did the Chamber want free photos, but, SkiCo wanted free images as well. “We’ll give you a ski pass if you give us photos.” Not very ethical from a journalistic standpoint. One of the things they liked was the captured moments of life around the town. That is what they wanted.

    After discussing the ethics with the Publisher Jenna Weathered and editor Bob Ward and Allyn Harvey (Rick wasn’t there yet, he was still slaving at the DN), the AT eventually bought our passes as they agreed it was not ethical to be given such an expensive gift. Too many “perceptions” of favoritism.

    I found it incredibly ironic that a city which boasted having multi-million dollar mansions, multi-million dollar business, would spend a tiny bit of money for good photography.

    Tell Klanderud to pry open the Chamber’s wallet and pay the photographers.

  16. I was forwarded this blog from a friend. I find it interesting that many, especially in creative fields, feel as if they should be shielded from real world economic realities. If Mercedes Benz started losing customers when Chevy started putting leather seats in their cars, the problem is really Mercedes Benz. Of course that did not happen because Mercedes continues to present itself as ‘true High End”. Plus, Mercedes had to change their model quite a bit to include lower priced cars to compete with Acura, Lexus, etc. Why should photographers be shielded from the same realities? Should being an A-List photographer automatically make you A-List for life? If Typewriter manufacturers did not change their business to produce modern digital keyboards, should they be shielded from economic realities? The word CHANGE is here to stay. Love it or hate it, you need to embrace it