A Facebook forum for professional photographers that appears on my timeline is evidence of the title for this article. Many of those posting the questions appear to be hobby photographers trying to make a living from photography only to find that photography as a profession is more complexed than they thought.
Fees, usage, copyright and licensing are the most common areas that people seem to be most ill-informed about, but that is just the beginning. How much to pay an assistant, a make-up artist or digi-tech follow closely in the most asked questions league. Technical questions concerning lighting, monitors and laptops are also frequent, as are questions on working abroad, a situation complicated by Brexit and Covid.
Now you may assume that any decent photographic degree would ensure that any student that left them after three years of education would be ensuring that students leave with this information embedded in their knowledge banks. Many do, many don’t, but I don’t think that the photographers asking these questions are recent graduates. I get the impression that they may not have ever formally studied photography, but instead have started to pick up some small commissions locally, and felt emboldened enough to give professional photography a go! The issue with this of course is that anyone starting out without the foundation of knowledge needed is very quickly going to find themselves out of their depth.
Photography is not easy. Pressing a button is and so is reading a manual but photography is not.
Does it matter that these photographers are so poorly informed about the nuts and bolts of their profession? Especially when it is so easy to get the answer you need by asking others on social media. At face value, no, but if we understand the basis on which a professional photographer charges then my answer changes to the affirmative.
A photographer’s fee is based on their knowledge and experience in creating the images required, but also in the pre- and post-production of that image. The understanding of the legal standing of that image to the client and the photographer. It must take into account any ethical and financial responsibility the photographer has adopted with relation to the image. The client will be paying for a professional service in all aspects of the commission.
Remove all of this and the race to the bottom of commissioning fees is further accelerated.
This is not of importance to someone happy to be paid something as their hobby earns a little income, but it should be if they are serious about building a professional photographic practice. Some form of formal study is essential to the majority of professional occupations so why should photography be any different in this aspect?
We have all at some point suffered from some shoddy, over-priced work on our houses, cars and gardens I’m sure. We will have got burnt and not returned to that person or garage. I don’t want someone working on my car that gets advice on what to do from Facebook!
If you want to work as a professional photographer, before you start accepting commissions you should get informed. No one can know everything, but you should make an effort to find out as much as you can. That may mean studying somewhere that will give you the information you need or/and working as an assistant to learn from a fellow professional and a lot of research, but that should be an expected investment in time and money. An investment that you will be able to recoup in the future.
This is not a grumpy article by a grumpy man with an unrealistic expectation of photographers coming into the industry. The intention of my writing here is to shine a light onto an unrealistic expectation many photographers seem to have of working on a commissioned basis. In a pre-social media age you had to know your trade to practise your trade. To rely on social media as a crutch for that trade disrespects the trade and the work required to build a professional practice. And yes I have used the word ‘trade’ and not ‘art’ because commissioned photography is a transactional process. A trade of images for payment.
I know many people say that we are all photographers now, but the reality is that we can all make photographs now. That does not make you a photographer, and it definitely does not make you a professional photographer. That takes a lot more work than pressing a shutter.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019).
Grant’s book What Does Photography Mean to You? including 89 photographers who have contributed to the A Photographic Life podcast is on sale now £9.99 https://bluecoatpress.co.uk/product/what-does-photography-mean-to-you/
© Grant Scott 2021