CAMERA MONEY USD by ANNETTE KIM
CAMERA MONEY USD by ANNETTE KIM

Dear photographer,

Your labor is not free. Your time, life, and energy and resources are not free.

Then, why do you give up your precious labor for free?

Thank you Cindy

Cindy’s ghetto standing desk. At Ryokan in Uji, Kyoto 2017.
Cindy’s creative boostrapped standing desk. At Ryokan in Uji, Kyoto 2017.

This essay is inspired by Cindy Nguyen and her essay, “My Labor is Not Free”.

DOWNLOAD PDF: Your Photographic Labor is Not Free

What is Labor?

EURO CAMERA MONEY by ANNETTE KIM
EURO CAMERA MONEY by ANNETTE KIM

Okay, so to me… “Labor” is generally physical movement that is kind of “unpleasant”.

For example, it might mean having to do taxes, commuting, doing expenses, or anything else you don’t like doing.

The tricky thing:we don’t use the word “Labor” anymore. We just use the simple term, “work”. “Work” is used all the time, to denote both “Creative Labor” and “unpleasant labor”.

For example, as a photographer, I enjoy my creative labor. I enjoy interacting with my subjects, I enjoy composition, I enjoy clicking pictures. I enjoy choosing my favorite images, and post processing them.

Things I do NOT enjoy in photography:having to deal with fussy clients with all these “opinions”. I don’t enjoy having to send lots of “back and forth” emails. I don’t like to commute. I don’t like to having to “photoshop out” “physical imperfections” in my pictures, like getting rid of pimples, acne, or moles.

What do you value an hour of your time?

CAMERA MONEY GBP by ANNETTE KIM

Anyways, a lot of photographers don’t see their Labor as costing them anything.

Consider, the time needed to commute to do a “Free” shoot. Let’s say you drive on the 405 in Los Angeles (the world’s largest parking lot). It might take you an hour to get somewhere. Then an hour and a half to get back home. That’s 2.5 hours. What do you value an hour of your labor? Let’s say the average person earns $20 an hour at their 40-Hour workweek ($40,000 USD a year salary). That means the cost of your commute cost you 2.5 hours x $20 = $45.

Lost opportunities

What is money? Fiat currency. ERIC KIM
Fiat currency. ERIC KIM x THE MONEY TEAM

Also consider the time you already invested in “communicating” with your client. You might have spent a few days, messaging and emailing your client back and forth. The actual time isn’t important… the bigger cost is the INTERRUPTION COST or the “opportunity cost.” For example, wasting your focus on this “free shoot” for two or three days TAKES AWAY from your focus to do more important things, like spending time with friends or family, building your personal portfolio website, or contacting other clients (who will actually pay real money for your photographic services).

Do you like looking through thousands of pictures?

YEN CAMERA MONEY by ANNETTE KIM
YEN CAMERA MONEY by ANNETTE KIM

Also consider, if you do a “Free” shoot, all the time needed to look through all the pictures, choose the “best” ones, and having to post process them all.

For myself, I’ve shot a few weddings “for free” for friends, family, and people I like. I really enjoyed shooting the weddings. But having to sit down at a computer and choose the best pictures from 2,000 Images is stressful to me, and not fun. And it is hard to post process pictures, especially to make skin tones look good. And when you have mixed lighting, or when you use flash.

One tip: to reduce the time needed to post process your pictures, shoot RAW + JPEG, and for 90% of the Images, just use the JPEG images. If the jpeg image looks really bad, then refer to the RAW file and fix the white balance, or the exposure.

Show me the money

Suits in front of currency exchange. London, 2014
Suits in front of currency exchange. London, 2014

Anyways, also, realize that the danger of doing “free work” for this arbitrary “building your portfolio” or “for potential future collaborations”— it is all bullshit.

I don’t work for free anymore, when it comes to photography, unless it is for friends or family that I really really want to help, or for non-profit or charity things I care about.

Back of Japanese suit. Tokyo, 2012.
Back of Japanese suit. Tokyo, 2012.

The simple rule:

If someone or a company is making money from your pictures (either directly or indirectly), you MUST CHARGE MONEY.

Also,

Choose cold hard cash, over “uncertain future prospects.” Choose a CERTAIN GAIN (money) over the fake bait, that somehow you will get “future clients.”

The problem of selling your photographic labor for free:You will only attract more leeches, who will want your labor for free.

Practical advice

Suit with newspaper. Beverly Hills, 2012
Suit with newspaper. Beverly Hills, 2012

I’m not against doing your creative labor for free.

For example, it might be a good idea to do Free creative labor for VERY BIG and high-end luxury companies, or prestigious brands. If you play your cards right, your photographic Labor might lead to you charging $30,000+ for your labor.

But my biggest suggestion is to ALWAYS BE SKEPTICAL. Don’t be a sucker.

Suit Istanbul, 2013
Suit Istanbul, 2013

That means, know that when you’re making a decision in your photographic services, never get strong-armed or forced to do creative labor against your own free will.

Don’t let friends, family, or anybody pressure or guilt you into making pictures for free. YOUR LABOR IS NOT FREE. Every hour you spend on your photographic labor, is one hour SUBTRACTED from time doing what you might really want to do… like reading a book, writing a poem, enjoying an espresso at your favorite coffee shop, or reading a bedtime story to your kid.

SUIT with phone in London
SUIT with phone in London

When people try to force or pressure you to give away your photographic labor for free, you don’t need to “explain” yourself.

My suggestion:Just smile and say, “I’m sorry, I cannot.” And change the subject.

Woman and suit.
Woman and suit.

Nassim Taleb says in his book “The Bed of Procrustes”:

Don’t say “no” more than once if you really mean it.

“NO” is the most powerful two-letter word in your vocabulary.

Say NO to shit you don’t wanna do. Say NO to toxic people, toxic relationships, etc.

eric kim street photography - suits - color - kodak portra 400-2
London, 2012. Suit and French fry.

Above all, say NO to giving away your photographic labor for free. Charge money.

I always trust money more than “reputation”, “potential opportunities” or “respect”.

Always put more weight in shekels than “exposure”.

BE STRONG,
ERIC


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Table of Contents

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Photography Business 101

How to Make Money with Photography

CAMERA MONEY USD by ANNETTE KIM
CAMERA MONEY USD by ANNETTE KIM

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