The Beer-Quay?

At the risk of sounding defensive, let me emphasize to all my students:

Your photography is valuable – do not give it away.

Photography is at least as valuable as, say, dental hygiene, or plumbing, or sewers, or garbage collection. Yet people will pay for the latter, and pay well, and often not for the former.

Case in point. An art festival contacted me a few days ago: they wanted to use my photo of Jazz great Peter Appleyard, which they described as a “stunning photo”:

Peter Appleyard. Photo © Michael Willems, All Rights Reserved

Note that this is a significant art festival, which:

  • Charges up to $50 for admission per guest, for each event. Plus HST.
  • Is sponsored by the Ontario Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Foundation, the Canada Council for the Arts, and  the Canadian Heritage ministry.
  • Is sponsored by The Cooperators and various other commercial organizations.
  • Undoubtedly pays for its venues, food, drink, permits,
  • Undoubtedly pays its performers.
  • Undoubtedly pays its taxes, office costs, hydro, water, sewerage.
  • Most certainly pays its printer for the brochure I was going to be used in.

And yet for the photo there was no remaining budget.

I would have let it go for a very small fee (my way of subsidizing the arts), but “”free” is a no-go. You see, I too am expected to pay the bills.

Why is this happening? I see a few reasons.

  • “Uncle Fred has a Digital Rebel”. This makes the perceived value of photography zero, even though there’s no way Uncle Fred can produce a photo like the above.
  • New photographers fall into the trap of “doing it for credit”. Don’t do this, new photographers, if you ever want to do it for a living! Instead, calculate the hours you really spend on a shoot (including talking about it, getting there, shooting, waiting, and post-editing), and multiply that by the wage you want to make (hint: you are worth at least what a dental hygienist or a plumber are worth!).

It is what it is – the Dutch have an expression that translates as “you can’t fight the beer quay” – i.e. if people want beer delivered, it WILL happen. Calligraphy went away, and if quality photography is no longer wanted by society, so be it. We’ll all just shoot weddings. Although – even those: I have recently been asked to shoot several weddings for “a few hundred dollars each”. Which is at least 20 times below my normal fee.

There will of course always be quality photography, Ads in magazines, art shows (like mine coming up: Never Not Naked – Natural Nudes) and more will always need competent artists. But it will be a market where 1% of photographers get paid, and the rest do it “for credit”.

So – a parting thought: be part of the 1% and come to me to learn how to really do it!


6 thoughts on “The Beer-Quay?

  1. Michael, be sure to get one of the brochures and make sure they don’t use the image anyway. Could be a nice financial windfall if they do!

    Good for you for sticking to your guns. NEVER EVER give your work away, unless it is something special you want to give to. A good rule of thumb is to never give it away if asked, yet, if you find a charity worth giving to, go ahead.

    It is interesting to note that this organization *could* be a non-profit but in NO WAY could it be considered a charity. BIG BIG difference.


  2. Usually hiring a plumber is not discretionary, unless you are handy and understand plumbing yourself, when the pipe bursts or toilet clogs many people have no choice but to call, and pay.

    Visiting a dental hygienist is more discretionary, though some corporate health plans pay, and some even pay the full amount, those without a plan can skip the hygienist, brushing and flossing at home on their own. I had grown children before I heard that a hygienist even existed because all previous dentists did not have them.

    Hiring a photographer is completely discretionary for most people, most of the time. You may want one for your wedding, but for most of history, people got through life without a photographer. Kodak helped make photography available to the masses. Digital has increased accessibility even more. I have taken thousands of photos with a digital Rebel T2i, it gives excellent results. The masses are not that discerning so it may be increasingly difficult to earn a living just taking photos.

      • I agree with your response and approach. (I, too, have a Rebel )but I don’t make my living as a photographer.
        I have spent years learning and practicing as a musician. People are always surprised when I tell them I’ll pass at “the chance to sing” at their wedding. I have a standard fee. They aren’t paying for my guitar. They’re paying for me knowing how and being able to use it.

        • Exactly, Fred. Your years of leaning mean a greater performance, greater safety, ability to handle issues, speedy delivery: you name it. I’m not paying the plumber for a few hundred bucks in tools… I am paying him to solve my issue.

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