Let me start by asking you some questions.
If you had an urgent requirement for a heart bypass operation, or perhaps a cataract operation, would you be happy to use a friend who perhaps did a bit of nifty scalpel work on his corns on the side?
If you had to appear in court on a serious charge would you ask a friend who was an avid reader of 'Rumpole Of The Bailey' to defend you?
Would you be happy, perhaps, to use an 'amateur' accountant to check your business accounts, a spanner-owning mate to repair your new BMW, or ask your friend's child who happens to be really good with crayons to design an advert for your company?
Of course you wouldn't! Yet many of you, my potential clients, seem to be quite relaxed about 'commissioning' a friend with a really nice camera to shoot their wedding or their advertising shots for them, on the basis that everyone has access to cameras that the manufacturers would have you believe are capable of turning in perfect images regardless of who is pressing the shutter, so why trouble an expensive professional?
You'd never dream of using services such as these from people who did something else for their 'day job' would you? Yet when it comes to someone who has frequently invested well over £100,000 in equipment and who has decades of experience under their belts, you are often willing to toss that aside and chance everything on a cheap or free shot from someone with a passing interest in taking snaps on a £200 smartphone. That makes really good business sense. Yet, whilst nobody questions an internationally recognised artist about their paints, pencils and brushes when their work is selling for millions, everyone seems to be prepared to question the artist's equipment when he or she happens to be a photographer, with access to kit that 'only' needs a button to be pressed. This conveniently overlooks the vision that is needed to see the resulting image before paint is put on the canvas or a camera is prepared for a job - the vision that the vast majority simply do not possess.
Something that may come as a surprise to you is that even before I walk out of the door to go and take a picture my profession demands a serious investment, often a bigger one than many other professions. It's a business and like any business, the start-up and running costs can be frighteningly high. My equipment is expensive, frequently very expensive, and so is maintaining it. Photography, especially if you want to do it properly, is time consuming. It's not just about pressing a button; there's the initial planning and setting up, along with travel and hours of editing after the session, just for starters. Time is money.
Curiously, in the days of traditional 'wet' film, only ten years or so ago for many of us, nobody questioned the need, and associated costs, for E6 clip tests, Polaroids, rush processing costs, general film, processing and printing costs, the price of couriers to transport processed Ektachromes around the country or retouching prints and trannies, as all these were essential to the production of the final image. All these costs are still there in a way, but now they are hidden in the post-production mystique that is Photoshop and the internet. Anyone with a computer and a bit of spare cash can have access to them, so we are led to believe.
I am often asked by publishers if they can use one of my photographs in a book, frequently by an established author. When I quote a price they get annoyed that I am not offering it for free. “We can showcase you work”, they say, as if they are avuncular relatives offering to help me out. My answer is always, “You have a fund to pay the author, the editor, the picture researcher, the publisher, the printer, the binder, the distributor and the advertising agency and yet you expect the photographs to be free? Isn't that just bad planning?”
In this digital age, with every Tom, Dick and Harry carrying a digital compact camera or a smartphone, my profession has become a bit of a joke because everyone can take a picture. Yes, any fool can take pictures, just like everybody can drive a car and just like everyone can use a computer to browse the internet. Yet really there has never been an era in which there have been 'professional' cameras, only cameras with a higher than average price tag that have attracted the attention of the professional for a different reason - their strength, their ease of use and their reliability - not their ability to turn in better pictures! That is still solely the preserve of a skilled eye. The camera has always been merely the tool to convert vision to paper in the view of the professional, yet the myths built up around the Leica or the Nikon F or the Hasselbad have turned the heads of amateurs who think that by using the equipment choice of a professional they will be able to emulate their artistic skills as well. By extension that means that simply by driving a Mercedes I can be as skilful and fast as Lewis Hamilton, surely?
But why do you prefer to drive a BMW rather than a cheaper Vauxhall, or why do you prefer an Apple MacBook Pro over the cheaper Windows laptop? If you are serious about your business and serious about the clients whose interests you claim to have at heart; if you want to portray and market them in the best possible way, then you need to be serious about where you get your photography.
What stuns me and my colleagues the most about those of you searching for free deals is that everything these days is based on vision and image, far more than it has ever been before. We are fed and feed others an overdose of visual messages. More than ever photography is one of the main tools of communication, be it for promotion, marketing, packaging, endorsements, merchandising and so on. And then prospective clients have the temerity to demand such an important and moneymaking part of their business for free? Really?
Now that is insulting to me and my fellow professionals. I am a qualified professional photographer and I am trying to make a sustainable income from this profession; something that is becoming harder to do with each passing year. I do not want my name attached to any bad pictures, whether they are commissioned photographs or ones that I took for pleasure. Every picture of mine that gets published, whether it's in a newspaper or magazine, on a web site or in a brochure, is what my reputation rides on. I cannot afford to have any bad pictures out there. So that there is absolutely no confusion, I have no interest in working for free, or cheaply or to showcase my work or because the exposure will be good for me - all enticements I have had dangled in front of me like carrots to a donkey.
Somehow a misconception has been created that we - that is, photographers all over the world - get rich on the backs of our clients. Sadly that's just not true for the vast majority of us. It's doubly sad because many photographers have far more skill and morals that both the clients and the people they are asked to photograph - for free.
It's of course up to you to sort out the wheat from the chaff and not allow every Tom, Dick and Harry with a camera to supply your photographs. But please don't harm your clients, who pay your fees, because the day will come when photographers will neither want nor afford to have anything to do with you or your company - then you will have to send in your three year old to do the job.
So, if you have passed this hurdle with confidence, please read on.