Five Things Every Photographer . . .

Tips from a guy who has made more mistakes in photography over the last 20 years than most would like to admit.  

Why my work isn't free, and yours shouldn't be either.

Never sell yourself short.  The world does it to you all the time, don't give them anymore reason to.  

I don't care who you are, most of us have dealt with this before.  I may be a photographer, and this is written from a photographers point of view, but most anyone will deal with this.  We all have our stories and the words are always different, but the message is the same, "I would love to use your work for this, but I don't want to pay you."  

A month or so back, I got into a spat with a gallery, and it hit a nerve for me.  I was asked to reduce a price on a Wildlife Print I had with them to give them a better chance of selling it.  I have sold work up to $2,500 without so much as a bat of an eye on price, but at $2,200 the gallery took issue.  Now these are large prints, finished, and not cheap to produce for display.  I don't cut corners, and often before my final print is ready for the wall I have gone through a minimum of 10 test prints to make sure the final product is of the highest quality.  

The gallery's exception to my price was that it was likely not to sell to sell within their target market.  So being one for an honest conversation, and wondering if I was missing something so I ran some numbers.  The gallery's take on any sale was 40%, standard for a gallery.  My total print cost all said and done (print, frame, time effort, energy was $600, again, this was a large print and framing was not cheap).  Additionally, it was the gallery suggestion to frame the image for a better chance to sell.  The gallery's suggested price was $1,650.  So here is the breakdown:  Sales Price - Gallery Commission - Cost = My Profit (1650 - 660 - 600 = $390).  When I did that math out loud I, I had had enough.  

Lets first start by defining the parameters of this rant.  I am not directing this by any way at any conservation or charitable organization out there.  I will rarely shy away from helping in any way I can to a cause I care about, so this is not directed at them.  I am happy to donate images or prints to causes that I believe in, I never mind being asked and I will typically do what I can to help. Be it WildAid, World Wildlife Fund, Boys and Girls Club, Panthera, Big Life or others . . . I believe in giving back.  I will always support organizations like these.

But there is everyone else, the remainder of the world that believes because it is cheap to reproduce, our work should be cheap, if not free for them to use.  To these people, I have something to say.  

I went 21 year or taking photos before I shared my first with anyone.  I deal with insecurities around my work, stress over it being of the highest quality, and struggle to constantly improve.  I don't see this stopping anytime soon.  I lay awake at night thinking of work, and I wake up on weekend earlier than necessary to tick away at things I still need to get done.  I have hundreds of thousands of photos that I will never share with anyone, pictures only used to make me better at what I do.

I travel for my work.  A lot typically, and in fact I have since I was little.  I have flown the world many times over.  I put thousands of miles on my truck each year and spend more days in the field and on shoots than I like to admit.

I have been bitten, stung and swarmed.  I have been chased and charged.  I have had more than one close encounter and I know it was not my last.  

I have been burnt and frozen.  I have had heat stroke and concussions.  I have had my hands smashed and my eyes blackened.  I have worked in some of the worlds most extremes from 115 degrees down to -30.  

I have suffered from anxiety and depression over my work.  I have lost sleep over bad reviews and developed thick skin from rejection.  I have been rejected, a lot.  

I have lost more gear than I choose to share, broken even more and flat out destroyed somewhere in-between.  I have cameras at the bottom of the ocean and images lost in deserts and forests.  My earliest memory of a camera is actually breaking one . . . I was 10.  

But more importantly, I have 25 years perfecting the process.  I know where to go.  I also know not only where to wait but also when to wait, and when to move on.  I know what to capture, and how to do it.  I know what gear it takes, I know how much of it it takes and I know how to use it.  Not only that, I know how to take care of it.  I know how to travel with this gear, how to get it through airports, security checkpoints and customs. I know how to travel with 35 extra pounds of stuff, and what its like to have 3 changes of clothes for a 14 day shoot because the gear is more important.  

I plan each shoot rigorously.  From gear to location to time in the field, it is all broken down piece by piece.  And then when it is all over, It is analyzed to find inefficiencies and areas to improve upon.

I am willing to wait while others play, taking it as a passing hobby.  I have laid motionless on for so long my body doesn't function property upon standing.  I have had a hard time seeing straight after shoots and I have had to hold my nerve on more than one occasion.  I have a hard time sleeping while in the field, as each image and missed shot dances in my head.  

I love my images.  I stress over them and I care for them.  I nit pick over details most would't care about.  I may pour over thousands to find one.  I may try 30 different edits before moving onto the final stage, and they are likely only changes I would notice.  If someone is going to hang a photo in their home, or use it for a magazine, I want it to be of the highest quality, not something that was quickly thrown together in order to push it out the door.  

So you see, these things people want for free, they cost me something.  The cost me a piece of myself.  

People treat photography like it is a simple thing that can be easily shared and passed along.  Something they could do if they spent a few minutes practicing.  You want to use my work, great . . . lets chat about a price.  You want to hang a photo on your wall . . . please, let chat.  You want to commission me for a project, lets talk.  But if you expect I will do it at cost, or worse yet, for free . . . go do it yourself.   And when you get back lets chat about how free that really was.

If you put a little thought into it, I promise you your work isn't free either . . . so stop treating it like it is.

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