Overcoming PLH — Photographer Learned Helplessness


(The following is excerpted from Best Business Practices for Photographers, Second Edition, by Black Star photographer John Harrington.)

There’s a concept called Consumer Learned Helplessness. The Consumerist Web site notes about this “affliction”: “After getting shocked from every angle for so long, with credit cards’ shrinking due dates, flagrant violations of our privacy, rebate scams as acceptable business models, and ‘it’s company policy’ as the magic wand to excuse it any time a company screws us, we just lie down and accept it.”

So too does this apply to photographers. Thus, PLH.

Simply lying down and accepting egregious terms results from PLH. It’s as if there are no clients out there who you think respect you, and so you just have to take whatever scraps and morsels of assignment work this client has.

When your client or a proposed client says things like:

  • You’re the first photographer who’s ever raised a question about our contract.
  • We require original receipts for all expenses.
  • Our contract is nonnegotiable. We haven’t modified it for anyone else, so we can’t for you — sorry.
  • Of course we own the reprint rights to the photos and article. We paid you for the assignment.
  • We can’t pay in 30 days. I know your contract that we signed says that, but we pay in 90 days.
  • We can’t promise adjacent photo credit or that it will be accurate, but we’ll do our best.
  • We don’t pay a digital processing fee. Don’t do any processing; just burn the photos to a CD and send it to us. My assistant can pick out the photos and work on them.

Don’t believe these things. I have drawers full of contracts from clients that counter the above. I have FedEx receipts from clients who paid in 30 days (and I have collected administrative fees from those who have not paid within 30 days).

I have clients who respect me and what I bring to the table. Did they take time to become my regular clients? Sure. And I surely declined assignment offers where the deal did not show me the respect that a reasonable person should expect.

Avoid PLH. Don’t accept deals you know are bad. Sometimes it’s easier than others. But in the long run, it’s what will sustain you.


5 Responses to “Overcoming PLH — Photographer Learned Helplessness”

  1. Excellent advise, very timely. Thanks for all your good work.

  2. What a great article! It's so true and the sad fact is that I have indeed been having to pick up some of these types of assignments to exist.

  3. Hi, This is a nice article and I liked it a lot. Thanks for your useful advice.

  4. Hear hear. Someone once said: "bad clients know the cost of everything and the value of nothing". I let the "incidental photographer" take the bad clients. My business plan is based on taking (and keeping) the good ones.

  5. I totally agree, it's hard sometimes to realize that you're running a business. But that's what I constantly remind myself. While I'm friendly with clients, I'm not friends with the clients. I'm not going to just roll over because they don't want to operate within my terms. That's how you build a set of clients that are worth your time, respect you, and ultimately value your work and your business.

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