An email requesting photographic work recently landed in the inboxes of eight Taiwan-based photographers. Seven of them accepted the gig. One did not.
The one who said “no” was me.
I’ll tell you the offer — and you can tell me who’s crazy.
The Music Promoter’s Email
The email was from a music promoter. He said his company was relaunching its website and that he was recruiting a select group of photographers to shoot events at nightclubs across Taiwan. It sounded like photography would be a central part of the site.
I replied expressing tentative interest and asking for a few particulars, like what events he had lined up, whether permits or passes to the events had been arranged, how many photos he wanted from each event, and what kind of licensing he sought.
His answers to my questions were a little vague, but not deal-killers. What most concerned me in his reply was that he asked where I was located.
My location is stated in the first sentence of the “About” page of my website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. It seemed that the promoter hadn’t bothered doing much research — and had instead just contacted every photographer in the country he knew about.
I responded to his email and then asked about fees. I also inquired about expenses, since I would need cab rides home from the late-night assignments. The promoter expected many of the events to go till 3 or 4 a.m.; he also expected the images to be processed and uploaded the next day.
His reply was as follows:
This is a no-budget project, and we currently pay all the costs from our private money. We’re giving ourselves time until Summer 2011 to make this profitable. Then we’ll gladly pay money to the photographers. Meanwhile, we’re willing to cover the expenses for basic things like taxis.
I was stunned.
How I Replied
I thought about how to respond for a little while. Then I replied:
I can understand the pressure of just starting out as a no-budget project. As you’re expecting the photographer to provide free images, I hope you’re also asking
- the electricity company to provide you free electricity
- the printing company to print free flyers
- Apple and/or Microsoft to provide you free operating systems
- other software vendors (e.g, Adobe) to provide free software for layout, web design, etc.
- computer hardware manufacturers to provide you free equipment
- the phone company to provide free phone calls and sms
Photographers, who will be responsible for creating content that attracts traffic to your website and the advertisers that traffic brings, are no different from any of these other vendors.
I make my living as a photographer. I have constant, ongoing expenses including equipment upgrades, workshop fees, continuing education and development to stay at the top of my game, marketing costs, website hosting fees, the normal costs associated with running a business, and so on.
Working for free doesn’t pay for any of these things. And it does nothing — nothing at all — to advance my career.
If you can prove to me that every other vendor, service provider and contributor is offering their services free for your project, then I’ll consider doing the same.
End of Story?
The promoter wrote back, apologizing if I was offended. He talked up the free exposure his photographers would receive, and said he was sorry we couldn’t work something out.
End of story.
Except that I later learned that seven other photographers had accepted the assignment on these terms. From what I’ve gathered, I was the only one contacted who did not take the job.
Taiwan does not have a huge nightlife scene. Seven photographers shooting it for free should effectively kill off any future opportunities for paid work in this area.
Sometimes photographers are their own worst enemies, aren’t they?