If you’re good at your job, you should be paid properly

That sentence, unremarkable in its state-the-bleedin’-obvious sort of way, came from the mouth of Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations. Suddenly, knowing who uttered that sentence makes it rather more remarkable because in many cases the charities which his organisation represents believe that photographers should be made to feel less of themselves if they refuse to work or supply pictures for free. Pictures which would help the charities raise funds far greater than the cost of paying someone to take or supply them.

Sir Stephen was on the BBC defending the high salaries paid to some charity chief executives. Salaries which in some cases are over £180,000 per annum. He was rather cross, putting it mildly, that The Telegraph had made a story of these high sums and said categorically that the charity CEOs should not be expected to work for free. Why, then, are photographers so often expected to work for free? Are they not professionals too? Do they not have families to support? Mortgages to pay? (Voluntary) charitable donations to make?

It goes without saying (usually a prequel to “I’ll say it anyway”) that I do believe charities, on the whole, do a good job. It’s also fair to say not all professionals working for charities get large salaries, even at chief executive level, but this story is extremely timely as I was chatting to an old photographer friend the other day who told me that, yet again, he had been asked to take photos for a charity for free. When he checked on that charity’s website and discovered that they did indeed have paid staff he declined on the basis that he shouldn’t be the only professional working for free for that organisation.

And his story isn’t an isolated incident. Charities tapping up photographers for freebies is a regular gripe on forums. I’ve also been asked to work for free or been told that my fees far outstripped the budget. Quite who sets the budgets is never clear; presumably a monkey with a broken abacus, because the budgets never make any sense.

The Telegraph story raises a serious question for charities: Do high CEO salaries damage the credibility of the charities they work for? Could this damage donations? I’ll answer one question for any charity which cares to listen and that is you already do a great deal of damage amongst large groups of photographers by constantly rattling your tin for free, highly skilled professional services by people who often live precarious lives themselves.

It does a charity no favours to make a photographer feel guilty for turning them away or by making them feel they’re being arm-twisted into making a donation often worth hundreds if not thousands of pounds in the form of free work.

And I’ll add that it upsets me that I even have to speak up on this issue because many do difficult and good work, but good images should not be expected for free and asking for them does very much harm the credibility of a charity.

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  • Martin Cameron August 7, 2013   Reply →

    Excellent observations on an all-too-common occurrence. In this digital age I find myself spending more on equipment upgrades than ever before while dealing with the common misapprehension that taking photographs digitally “doesn’t actually cost anything does it?”

    • Glass Eye August 7, 2013   Reply →

      Thank you, Martin. I would add that what charities miss is that many talented photographers would happily work for them, even going above and beyond the call of duty, if only fair rates were offered. They really do miss out on a huge pool of talent.

  • Innes August 7, 2013   Reply →

    A common problem covered well. My recent experience was a charity that insisted I jump through hoops filling in piles of paperwork before they would kindly grant me the status of qualifying as a low-paid supplier.
    This was a month AFTER I had done the job and presented my expenses-only invoice.
    They did well, they managed to combine the two great pillars of poor business practice – meagre fees and delayed payment, into one undignified package – all wrapped up in a beancounter-inspired, redtape-wrapped bundle of nonesense. I was nearly impressed. 🙂

    • Glass Eye August 7, 2013   Reply →

      Innes, I can imagine just how very almost impressed you would have been.

    • Emily August 11, 2014   Reply →

      Your answer was just what I needde. It’s made my day!

  • Nick McGowan-Lowe August 7, 2013   Reply →

    If there were eight or nine magic words which, when uttered, might just knock 10 or 20% off the price of a tank of fuel at the counter, we’d probably say them too. The reason some charities ask is that because sometimes it works.

    The bigger problem, I feel, is not in the asking, but in our reaction as photographers when asked. The salesman trying to shift a hundred pallets of baked beans doesn’t lie awake at night worrying or complaining to his peers that he’s been made an offer which is 5p a unit below cost. He just turns down the sale.

    We as photographers should be doing the same – the problem being that we consider our work to be an extension of our value to society, and when we’re offered a price which is unreasonable, we take this as someone’s opinion of the value of our work, and take it as a personal slight. It isn’t, and we shouldn’t.

    • Glass Eye August 7, 2013   Reply →

      Thanks Nick, I largely agree with you though I’d add that for the manufacturer of cans of beans it’s probably a little easier to work out a unit cost than it is for a photographer to work out the value of one (or a collection of) their images and this is often where photographers get in a tangle.

      It’s also tempting for a photographer to take the view that some money is better than none or that working for free is good for exposure, neither of which would stand scrutiny in many other business sectors.

  • robertday154 August 7, 2013   Reply →

    i was able to make this point (in 350 characters) on the BBC News version of this story on their website. I may well have been the only person to make it (at least, in the 300 or so posts between mine at around 620 to the close of comments at c.935).

    • Glass Eye August 7, 2013   Reply →

      Ah well done. I read a couple of the BBC reader comments and there seemed to be a mixture of viewpoints which I thought was at least healthy!

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