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A few weeks back while thinking about this journal, I came across a forum for paid photojournalism jobs. I left it some time later in complete shock. There I found posting after posting about jobs paying nothing, next to nothing, or promising payment and then paychecks never arriving in the mail.   I sat there, closed the laptop lid, and thought for a long while.

I know I’m fortunate to be paid for what I do.   A big part of this is because I specialize in something very few photographers are doing at a professional level. But what most people don’t realize is that even at this level a large percentage of my workload involves pay negotiations.  There are contracts that took months of negotiation.  Some took weeks, or a single week, or several days, or a flurry of emails or texts in just a few minutes.

Every single one of those initially low-balled me; offering me starting contracts at 10-20% of my regular rate.  And despite publications threatening to walk (and at least half will threaten to), I often land the print run anyway...and at what I was asking for or close to it.

Why?

Negotiation.


The Myths of Freelance Photojournalism Pay



Myth: “The internet (translation: your photo) should be free!!!”   

Reality:  Well then cameras should be free too, shouldn’t they? Also, lenses should be free. And monopods. And filters. And batteries. And memory cards. And rain covers. And hotel expenses and gas and food and plane tickets and the various licensing fees I have to pay and any injuries I incur or damage to my machines.  It takes real time, effort, experience and money to get a single fraction of a second like this.  I'm a serious professional in my industry and my work is not and should not be free.  I contact every theft I find.  Sometimes I invoice them.

Myth: “No one pays for freelance work.”  <---this is bullshit. See it. Smell it. Touch it. Remember it.

The Truth:  Actually, yes, they do. All publications worth their salt have a photo budget and an established standard day rate or individual photo rate.  This rate will vary depending on how established a photographer you are, how unique your photograph is, and the terms of the editorial license itself (for example, do they want exclusive rights to print it, or first run only, etc.)

Remember these publications have been in business for decades. They’ve published tens of thousands of photos in that time.  They have a photo budget and a rate and they negotiate like pros. Negotiate with them. 

Myth: "Photojournalism is dying. Therefore, we can't pay you."

Reality: Photojournalism is evolving....like all industries (transportation, education, medical, etc.) as we make the switch to ever changing technology.  But it's still a profession, will remain a profession, and professionals in any industry, even in the middle of change, are compensated appropriately for the service they perform. 



But What am I worth?



That is the big question.  Most people fail because they have no idea. I was in that place very early in my career, but it changed quickly when I figured out I did have worth and I charged accordingly.

How do you determine your rates? First, there are five things to consider:

YOU.   How established are you? Are you an amateur? A hobbyist who got lucky? Are you looking to be pro?  Are you already professional? How long have you been in business?  Who are your typical clients? What is your typical subject?
THE CLIENT.  Is this a newspaper? A magazine? A book? Online? Print?  How long have they been in business?
THE PHOTO SIZE/COLOUR.   How big will the image be on the page? Are we talking a quarter page? A spot?  A half page? Is this the front cover?  Black and white?  Full colour?
THE CIRCULATION.  How many people purchase this publication? Do they have fewer than 1000? Over a million?  Obviously, the number of customers gives you an idea how much a company might be able, or not able, to pay for your image. Do your research.
THE PHOTO.   How unique is this shot?  How valuable is it? How quickly do they need it?  How difficult were the conditions to get the shot.  Did you have to climb Everest for it? Or could any joe schmoe on the street have gotten a lower quality but still useable photo of the same subject?

I have a sliding scale for all of my images based on that five criteria. At the lower end of the scale might be an image that isn’t entirely unique, feeling more stock-like, or where I know I have a lot of competition.  At the higher end of the scale, might be a unique image I know only I got or one I can tell they really want and for good reason.  If images switch to colour or suddenly become a front cover, that price goes up accordingly.  I also may lower my scale slightly as a courtesy, one that is purchasing multiple images, or one that is at a very low circulation rate.  Often we make up the difference in various add-ons that can be converted to monetary value such as advertising in the publication, tickets, or being forwarded to another potential client. Remember these are negotiations.  Negotiate until both parties are happy, and don’t freak if they don’t talk to you for a day or two. It’s normal.  
 
Second,  don’t be afraid to ask what their standard rate is.  Like I said before, if this publication is the real deal (and their answer to this question will give you either good flags or major major bad red flags) they can and will have an answer. But always ask and ask first if you can. They’re used to being asked this question, and they will have an answer for you.  And it’ll probably be lower than what you want to hear.  But just because they do have a rate, and it’s lower than what you’re expecting, don’t be afraid to mention what your own rate is and that you're willing to compromise.  You never know. :)


How much should I charge?



This is the worst question. lol. Hard to know without knowing you personally.  I will, however, forward onto you information that was given to me by fellow pros when I first started.  There ARE actual photo quote products out there. They are good and almost all decent publications are familiar with their invoices.  It’s an option.  

There’s also these free options, but they aren’t perfect:

National Press Photographers: nppa.org/calculator  
Editorial Use Calculator:  photographersindex.com/price-e…

Remember to always consider your unique criteria. And don’t be afraid to ask other photojournalists what they charge.  Some might tell you or help you find a honest quote.


Should I ever work for free?



This is obviously controversial.  For me? The answer is yes.  And no.  In my mind, nothing is ever free.  Everything is a negotiation.  Even if it’s “free”, it’s not. If I’m not receiving real money, there needs to be something of comparable value involved in terms of future work.  I typically only do one or two charity events per year for foundations that mean something to me personally. That’s it.

If you work for free...a lot....

1. You aren’t going to make any money.  That’s logic. Please accept logic for what it is. Logic.  Reality. Inescapable sadfest.

2. The tax service of whatever country you belong to is probably going to get involved within a few years of operating at that loss....so...stupid stupid stupid idea.  Or at the very least, unpleasant and completely unnecessary.

3. You really are undermining others and especially yourself.  Remember how much it hurts to be told again and again that you and your work aren’t worth anything? Why on earth would you ever agree with them?  Why would you ever agree with them on behalf of all of us?  And why on earth would you reinforce it?!!  

If you're going to work for free remind yourself you should be getting something of comparable value.  And never, ever, ever, take paid work away from another photographer. If someone has a bid that involves pay and you offer to do the same job for free?  Don't. Please.  It's unethical and it's cruel.  When no one is paid, no one pays their bills.  Not them. And not you.


What about AP/Getty?


For the average photographer with a shot to sell, their criteria are often very difficult to meet.  You have to have a very solid portfolio, a truly great image or a mega-useful one.  They WILL require a model/property release form for some shots.  Sure, the likelihood that you will be sued is very low without one, you don’t have the money, so you probably didn’t even bother at the time you took the shot, but these big firms do have money and they will want those forms to protect themselves. Sometimes even for editorial...just in case.   This is a pain.  Why? Because most people, especially strangers, freak out the moment you hand them a form with lots of legal mumbo jumbo. You will need to learn how to get these forms in case these agencies require them.

Second, if you’re a college student and you worked for a college paper your work might have been published with them.  Remember the college owns your work and they can and will sell it if the big boys ask.  It’s still portfolio points for you, but you probably won’t see a dime unless you’re lucky.


Respect your Potential Employer (even if they insulted you)


This will be a short section because it's common sense.  I always handle negotiations with complete respect. If negotiations get tense, it's okay to take a break.  Be firm in your value, compromise only where you're comfortable with it, but treat them with respect.


GET IT IN WRITING


Another short section.  Also because it's more common sense.  Get any agreed terms in writing, with clear statements and the words "I accept these terms" from both parties.  There are dozens of templates for editorial licenses online, please research them and use them. Don't release it until you are paid or a clear contract has been established. 


Lastly.....



So that’s really the gist of it.  I can’t tell you how to negotiate word for word, because it’s a craft and it varies.  But I can promise you that all negotiations, all successful negotiations, begin with knowing what you’re worth and committing yourself to defending it.   Yes, it’s stressful, but when that first real paycheck comes...you just might frame it.  After all, it’s the first one of many and you can cash those future checks instead. ;)

:heart: Like the information provided here? Please favourite, comment, and help spread the info! :heart:

Add a Comment:
 
:iconpierre-lagarde:
Pierre-Lagarde Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2014
As usual, very good advices ... thanks Pen :D
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2014  Professional Photographer
You're welcome, Pierre! And thanks for supporting the article.  :heart:
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:iconpierre-lagarde:
Pierre-Lagarde Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2014
You're most welcome too Pen :D
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:iconmaxlake2:
maxlake2 Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
P -
One of the best Journals I've read on dA in years! :nod:
:clap:
R
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2014  Professional Photographer
Thank you, Richard! :heart:
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:iconmaxlake2:
maxlake2 Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
P -
You're very welcome, dear!
:heart:
R
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:icontoha1k:
TOHA1K Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014  Student General Artist
very wisely and nicely written, thank you so much for your time and insight
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2014  Professional Photographer
Thank you for the feedback! I appreciate it! :heart:
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:iconyuuza:
Yuuza Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
i love that Editorial Use Calculator!!! I always wonder about editorial use and how to price, thank you :love:
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2014  Professional Photographer
:nod: No problem! I hope it helps! :heart:
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:iconjennystokes:
jennystokes Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014  Professional General Artist
I agree with Elizabeth.
:)
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2014  Professional Photographer
:aww: Thank you, Jenny!
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:iconjennystokes:
jennystokes Featured By Owner Aug 11, 2014  Professional General Artist
:hug:
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:iconandaelentari:
Andaelentari Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Oh this is so informative for photojournalists :la:
I think it can sort of apply to other disciplines as well :)
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2014  Professional Photographer
:nod: Thank you! I'm glad people are finding uses for it. :heart:
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:iconviralremix:
viralremix Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014
Can you elaborate what you mean with the tax authority statement and getting shut down? I don't believe that information is accurate - people are able to give away their services freely no matter what, and there is never any penalty to do so. Could you be more specific about what you mean?
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Edited Jul 29, 2014  Professional Photographer
Sure! :)

What I mean, in the super easy version of this that doesn't involve a panel of accountants, is that if you choose to operate long term as a business you have to prove to be profitable.  When you work for free, with no return on investment, you lose money and that will be recorded in financial statements.  In the United States, if certain small businesses in certain industries (like photography and art) show a loss for too long (meaning they aren't paying taxes, or pay a very small amount) it will be deemed a "hobby" not a business and they are flagged for review. Yes, you can give your work away for free, no one says you can't, even here in this article I'm not saying you can't I'm saying it's unwise.  My point in point number two is that the no-money-long-term thing (see point number one) means you are begging for an eventual audit if you don't go bankrupt first.  How can you explain to any tax authority that your annual operational costs were compounded by continuing to donate services even though you were hemorrhaging cash?  Maybe big companies can get away with it but most freelancers can't.  Not long term.  Obviously, I can't write an entire article on the tax code and how it works, but the reality is that operating without a return on investment means a loss. And long-term loss means an audit and/or bankruptcy....and both are not happy outcomes for a would-be professional. That's the simple version.  :)
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:iconviralremix:
viralremix Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014
To be honest, I don't think that many DA freelancers are familiar enough with the tax code to know that they can take their expenses as a loss for the first couple of years. Remember, that losing money isn't recorded unless you do it specifically by claiming your expenses for your business. If I remember correctly you have to show a profit at least 3 years out of 5. There's no issue with giving away your work to gain "traction" in the first couple of years, if that's what an artist desires. 

Anyway - as for an audit, that'd be the case whether they're giving away art or not when we get down to the solid numbers of expenses vs profits. IMO, giving away art has nothing to do with it (unless you're trying to claim the art you gave away has a value and take that as a deduction against your profits to lower your taxes, but that's another hornet's nest). The tax authorities aren't going to ask you why your business is failing or what you did to make it that way. They won't care. All they care about is disallowing the expenses you took in the previous years and asking for the tax % on the amount you deducted with their penalty.

If your point is that the time spent doing free work is better spent doing paid work to put profit above expenses, that does make sense. I just don't think a lot of artists know you can take expenses as deductions, so the point comes off a bit vague.
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014  Professional Photographer
All absolutely true and good points and I'm glad you've mentioned them here so that those who are interested in the details and the clarification you've provided can read about it.  You are right, I was vague and it was not meant to mislead, but to get a simple point across to freelance photojournalists in particular (the audience this article was intended for and who should be somewhat familiar with self employment and filing their taxes in that manner or are about to become familiar with it), trusting publications to publish your work for free with some empty promise attached is bad business, and potentially having the IRS involved later to disallow things and penalize you after the fact is just salt in the wound and completely unnecessary if they charge an appropriate rate from the start and get in the habit of putting profit above expenses.  I hope that makes better sense! :)  I do appreciate your input...I was not expecting this journal to reach the number of people it has.
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:icondream-cup:
dream-cup Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Very well written! Being a photographer (or any kind of freelancer for that matter) means having to put your foot down and set a value & standard for yourself... don't let others decide that for you!

feeling very inspired by this post.
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Photographer
I'm glad you're inspired! When I first posted this, my intention was to reach out to the photojournalism community which has been hit particularly hard by so many newspapers reducing staff and slashing budgets, but you are right...the general premise of the article can apply to multiple freelancing communities. :hug:
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:icontkeelah:
Tkeelah Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014
Well written, thank you.

Another dilemma may arise with the price point. Rarely do we get this correct. If they accept your price, its probably wrong because you may have received a higher figure. If they reject your price, its too high or they just don't like the work. So it eventually boils down to what you are prepared to accept after all the negotiations are done.

You can also use your price point if you don't wish to supply to a particular entity, by pricing very, very high, if you can afford to reject the sale.
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Photographer
Thank you. :heart: Those are fair points to make. 

I would suggest, however, that if they accept my offer, I'm generally pleased and rarely second guess it.  It means a quick deal for both of us with no stress. My price is set to where I am comfortable and to what I've researched out to be a reasonable rate.  I'm not out to fleece them or squeeze every last drop of profit out of them.  I'm out to be reasonable and competitive. Being reasonable, using common sense, and remembering that both parties have businesses that have to be operated within financial boundaries of profit and loss, will garner you respect and appreciation and future business.

Also, I wouldn't recommend pricing high just to avoid an assignment. Honesty and diplomacy go a very long way. If I don't wish to work for someone, I respectfully decline the work and express my sincere (and it is sincere) gratitude for their interest and close with a hope that a better opportunity will arise for us to work together.  :) 
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:iconmistchan488:
Mistchan488 Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I found this very useful  :D
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Photographer
I'm glad! Thank you! :heart:
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:icontempercaharin:
tempercaharin Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional General Artist
Very nicely worded!  Thank you for your time in that, :)
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Photographer
Thank you very much, I'm glad you enjoyed it!
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:iconcrystal-rain-fox:
crystal-rain-fox Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I will be sure to share this whenever it could help someone out. I don't do anything of this nature, but I am sure there are plenty of people who could benefit from it.
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Photographer
Thank you very much, I appreciate it! :heart:
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:iconcrystal-rain-fox:
crystal-rain-fox Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Not a problem. Support the artist is a philosophy I hold dear. I am sure this could be applied a little towards other art forms even. 
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:iconxthumbtakx:
xthumbtakx Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014
Thank you for this, Pen! :hug: I'm not freelance at the moment (I'm technically contracted, not really a full staff photographer at my newspaper), but hope to be sometime in the future - I still don't see myself as a "professional" even though I get paid for my work. I'm definitely keeping this journal for future reference, especially for the "What am I worth" section... Need some serious help in that area. :giggle:
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Photographer
You are super welcome!  You'll probably have an easier time navigating to freelance than most since you already have lots of editorial experience and a solid portfolio.  :hug:  And you can always note me if you have questions.
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:iconxthumbtakx:
xthumbtakx Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014
I absolutely will! :hug:
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Photographer
you on skype?
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:iconxthumbtakx:
xthumbtakx Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014
I am! But not very often, ha ;) spezzaroo is my username.
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:iconandersstangl:
AndersStangl Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014
Interesting, thanks for sharing ! :dance:
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:icon1pen:
1pen Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Photographer
You're welcome, Anders! :)
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