Thursday, August 29, 2013

Exposure/credit lines do not pay bills

Editor's note: This will be a long post as I get on my soapbox to rant!

When I moved to Georgia, I decided to join the local photography club in hopes of meeting up with some local professionals and getting a feel for the local area's needs. I thought this was the best way to see where my skills might benefit local businesses and other organizations. The club, however, is made up of enthusiastic people most of whom have never derived their total livelihood from photography. At most, it has provided supplemental income to the members who do weddings and/or portraits as a sideline. Many of these people also have some of the latest bodies and lenses that I, as a working photojournalist, did not have.
When I was forced out of the newspaper business in 2008 (after being a working pro for a decade) due to the economic recession, I returned to a previous career field to pay the bills. That career field ended with another layoff in 2012. With the Georgia move, I had decided to go back into photography fulltime.
With my background being in documentary photography/photojournalism, I still was hoping to land a fulltime staff job or, at the very least, pick up some freelance work. But with no one returning emails to job submissions (I turned 65 in 2012), I finally gave up when the Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire 28-person photo department.
I then decided to try and break in to doing some work for local non-profit organizations (NPOs) as a way of making a few bucks. I was not looking to make a killing. I just wanted to make a few dollars to supplement retirement income.
Through the photo club's network, I learned of a workshop for local NPOs being done by a successful photographer who makes a living through supporting NPOs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In fact, she travels the world doing shoots for these type of organizations. I attended the workshop and introduced myself as a photographer new to the area looking to support local organizations.
Several weeks late, I happened on an opportunity to support a local NPO that was producing a play as a fundraiser. I thought doing it pro-bono would be a way to get my foot in the door of the NPO house. It would benefit the NPO with free promotional photos and me with some word-of mouth recommendations.
Shortly after I began documenting the rehearsals, the monthly meeting of the photo club was held. The club president mentioned he had been contacted by same organization that sponsored the workshop to see if the club would be interested in providing photo services for local NPOs. Our club president said there was no mention of any payment for these services other than credit line. There was some discussion at this point but I voiced some opposition to the proposal. The matter was discussed a little but was tabled as there were just a few members at the monthly meeting.
A few days later, I put together my objections to the proposal and emailed it to the entire club membership.These objections included the effect on local FULLTIME photographers whose profit margins could be impacted and costs associated with doing pro-bono work (all of the overhead costs associated such as equipment (both cameras as well as computers), internet, vehicle costs, time spent shooting and post processing, etc.) as well as the professional skills required. I think the last one offended some people but shooting flowers, sunsets, and the occasional wedding/portrait is not the same as documenting an NPO's mission and cause in a way that is both creative and ethical. In the end, I believe the club will take on the proposal to support the local NPOs. AND that is ok if that is what the majority wants to do. But, for me, this kind of effort by a group of concerned amateurs, while noble, further devalues photography as a profession. With digital photography, everyone believes they can do professional work but very few have had to produce professional work day in and day out because their very survival depended on it.
Don't get me wrong. If you want to support a local organization with whatever your skill set is as a pro-bono effort, I am all for it. But on a personal level and not as club that is saying it is providing a "service".
Like the title says, exposure or credit line does not pay bills.
OK, enough on my soapbox and on to the images.
During the documenting of the NPO's theater production, I sent a number of images to the director to use as she saw fit in promoting the event. All I asked for was photo credit.
And it was great when the local newspaper ran the image and did give me photo credit. But the image that was used was not one I would have chosen. This is the image the paper was sent:

This image was one I considered the least creative of the bunch. While the expressions are good, I felt the image was too balanced and static to really grab the attention of the viewer. I would have much preferred this one:
 or this one:
 In image #2, I like the dominant figure (one of the leads) and the trailing line of cast members because of the diagonal line created that helps draw the eye across the image. While the spacing between the dominant figure and the next actor is a little more than I would like, I still believe that #2 is one of my stronger images from that particular night. Image #3 also projects a diagonal line though not as pronounced at #2. But there is still a diagonal relationship from the tall guy to the shorter woman and, due to the fact they were further back on the stage, the shorter women on the right.
But, as with all creative viewpoints, it is strictly the eye of the beholder that comes into play. I think the director went with image #1 because it showed all three leads on equal footing.
And, as always, make a comment!! Let me know what you think! Until next time, keep on shooting.....


  1. You would make a great teacher, Rich. I understand and agree with your point about the pro bono work, and I personally like the two photos you preferred better, too!