I was recently asked if I would sell a photo I did of a model to a supplement company so they could use it on the product label as well as associated advertising and marketing materials for the company.

I submitted an estimate which was consistent with what similar companies have paid for similar usage terms. Unfortunately the response back from the company was that their budget  for the image was about 20% of my estimate. Their usage terms were not 80% flexible so we did not end up making a deal. I was not upset with the company; we simply were on different pages and I could not devalue my work.

Another photographer who photographed the same model took the deal.

Now, it is not fair to get upset at the photographer for taking what I considered to be a very low deal. It is impossible to know their situation – perhaps that money is the difference between paying rent or not. It is important to keep that in mind.

However, a few weeks later the model text me a photo of the product label to say “this could have been your photo getting this exposure.”

I won’t get into why they thought it was a good idea to text me that – but let’s explore the real issues here.

First; the overused expression of “exposure.” Let me be clear – very few things give any real exposure. When I was new in my career I did a low of low (or no) pay work thinking it would get me exposure to bigger projects. You know what it got me? Exposure to do more no pay work.

And with commercial work (unlike magazine work) my name is not on it – it is not about me. It is about whatever is being sold. No one is going to see that product label, know I photographed it and say to themselves “geez, well now I need to hire that photographer!”

So what really is the exposure here? Honestly – zero.

Secondly; every photographer (and model for that matter) sets a value to their work. If I agreed to the 20% offer (after my initial estimate) – that is the same as me saying “well, I don’t really think my work is as much as I said it was, I’ll take whatever you give me.”

I know the marketplace and I know where my work fits in as well as the value of the work itself.

Another lesson I learned early on in my career was the penalty of devaluing my work. A company approaches me with little (often no) money but say that there is more work and bigger budgets down the road. There is a 0% success rate on that actually panning out.

Once you accept that low to no pay job – you just became the cheap guy to that client. Suppose they ever do actually get money and have a bigger job – guess who they will hire? The more expensive guy that can now afford. You, on the other hand, will be called the next time they need the cheap guy.

The same can be said for a company who promises tons of work if you give a great deal up front – as if all we provide is a simple commodity. Our approach to that is quite simple. We may give a deal down the road if all this work actually starts to come in. It never has.

James Patrick
IG @jpatrickphoto