Unpaid internships?

18 01 2010

We have been suffering from a global recession and this means company downsizing and cutting expenses among other things. Let’s focus on cutting expenses.

One way to cut costs is to hire free labor, right?  There has been many job positions that have started to masquerade as an “unpaid internship.”

If you lurk in the ‘creative gigs’ section of Craigslist like I do, you will notice many people who want their photos taken for free.  They claim it is a great way to get exposure, build our portfolio and potentially connect with others who will actually pay.  Not only can some of these people easily afford it, but sometimes they have a team of other people with different skill sets who are paid very handsomely.  For example, someone might post a listing to look for a photographer for a photo shoot.  However, this person will also declare that he/she has a team of award-winning make-up artists and hair stylists already.  How can you afford to have such a team and not pay a cent to the person taking the photographs? Our equipment is not free. We spend A LOT of money on lenses, lighting equipment, camera bodies, storage cases, carrying bags, post processing software, digital media storage, etc.  We spent countless hours learning about photography.  Additionally, some people asking for free shots are VERY DEMANDING! They expect professional results and expect their pictures, retouched and processed, within a very short period of time – for FREE!

I think Martin McElligott said it best with his “10 Reasons Why Professional Photographers Charge What They Do!”

10. Professional photographers are in business, and as a business they need to make a profit. Since they make photography their career, they dedicate themselves to becoming the best they can be and share that knowledge with their clientele.

9. Professional photographers have to buy professional equipment. Nope, they don’t just pick up a point-and-shoot from Harvey Normans and declare themselves a professional. They spend thousands upon thousands of euro getting multiple camera bodies, the finest lenses, flash equipment for every situation, tripods, light stands, backdrops, props, carrying and storage cases. Then when you think you have it all – you need to get backups for everything to make sure you never miss an image.

8. Professional photographers always continue their education and learn as much as they can about the business. They join groups like the Irish Professional Photographers Association. They attend seminars and training by some of the best names in the business. They concentrate on becoming the best they can be. This is not free.

7. Professional photographers don’t just snap a picture, they create a photograph. They understand positioning. They understand lighting. They understand placement. You’re not just paying for the ability to place a finger on the trigger and snap a picture. You’re paying for the years of experience it took to create the perfect image.

6. Professional photographers can spend hours producing one professional photograph. Time can include:

  • Creating the marketing
  • Answering emails and phone calls
  • Meeting with the client to talk about the event
  • Setting up for the event
  • Drive time to and from the event
  • Time for the actual photographing
  • Running to and from the lab
  • Meeting with the client for previews and decisions
  • Processing the image
  • Retouching the image
  • Mounting the image
  • Framing the image
  • Packaging the image
  • Dropping off final images
  • Production work
  • Follow up work

Add it all up, and you can see why one portrait session may include hours worth of work. It’s impossible to stay in business if you only make a few pennies per client.

5. Professional photographers have to be more than photographers. They have to be CEOs and marketeers, accountants, salespeople, production workers, janitors, buyers, negotiators, networkers, drivers, organizers and photographers. That’s a lot of skills for one person to master.

4. Professional photographers will do it all. Want to get married at the top of a 14,000 foot high mountain where the only way up is a 30 minute ski-lift ride? A professional photographer will be there. Want a portrait running through the waves on a Mediterranean  beach? A professional photographer will be there.

3. Professional photographers aren’t just order takers, they provide total customer service. Professionals photograph dozens or even hundreds of clients a year. They understand what looks good, how to put together albums, and how to group multiple photographs together. Their goal is to provide you with what you need and what’s best for you – not just have you sign on the dotted line.

2. Professional photographers watch for the newest, most innovative, creative products available. They stay up to date on industry news, and find things that perfectly match their clients taste. They don’t try and fit you into something you don’t like – they find out what you want and search the world over for the perfect things. They are the professional.

1. Professional photographers have the knowledge and the skill to make you look the best you can be. I can buy a hammer for a few euro at the hardware store. Yet I spent hundreds of euro for a handyman to repair my deck. I can buy a needle and thread for a few euro at the fabric store. Yet I spent over €100 on alterations at a local tailor. It’s not about the tools; it’s about the outcome. Sure, anyone can buy a camera and take a picture. You can head down to your local discount camera shop, wait several hours and have a minimum wage clerk place you on an X and snap a few pictures. But they can’t get what a professional can get. They won’t concentrate on expressions. They won’t advise you on outfits and locations. They won’t provide 110 percent customer service. You won’t get a professional portrait.

I am not a professional but that doesn’t mean I can’t sympathize with them – after all, I am aspiring to become a pro.  There’s nothing wrong with portfolio building.  Aspiring photographers need to do this regardless.  It’s the people who ask for freebies (like the example I mentioned earlier) that irks me.  If a photographer wants to build a portfolio, they will look for someone.  Don’t demand the best and expect to pay for nothing.

NOTE: Please don’t take this the wrong way! If I asked you then I wasn’t referring to you in this post 🙂  After all, photo sessions with friends are a great way to practice portrait photography.




2 responses

18 01 2010

Good advice. I am always suspicious when the arrangement includes a claim of “free.”

25 01 2010
Henry Lust

I totally understand what your saying and you have to use extreme discretion if your going to do free work. I do free work as a bartering tool. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours at the end of day we all trying to succeed. But they are users and abusers tho!

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