Lately, Social Media has been ablaze about artists in general, and photographers in particular, working for free. This subject has always been important, but I don’t think it was until photographer Pat Pope posted an open letter to the band Garbage, that got people talking. (You can view it here). Garbage responded, then Mr Pope responded. I’m not going to rehash the whole exchange, because it’s easy to find on the internet.
Call me niave, call me a ‘nitwit who pushes a shutter button’, and call me a hack. I don’t care. I clearly have a different definition of what ‘being paid’ involves and what being a concert photographer is. I’ve always defined myself on my own terms and realise my definitions may be controversial.
Here are some of my thoughts:
1~ If you think you can make a living from being a dedicated concert photographer, you’re fooling yourself. Granted, there are some people who are full time photographers who also cover concerts and there are some dedicated full time concert photographers. Most of them (as far as I know) either work for a wire agency (like Getty) or a record label and are salary. Getty photographers are given an assignment and sometimes that assignment isn’t covering a concert – it’s covering a store opening, or a fire. Label photographers have a little more freedom by covering promo shots and parties, as well as concerts, but again, they are ‘on assignment’ from the label. If you want to be a concert photographer and make a living from it, then perhaps you should rethink your career goals.
2~ There has to be integrity in concert photography. If you are asked to sign a release, and you do, you have to remember the terms of the release that you willingly signed, even if it’s years later. I sign releases for about half the concerts I cover. Though I will always retain the copyright for those photos, I agreed to let the artist, management, publication, etc, use those photos as they will. I may show the images, but I won’t sell them because I agreed via the release that I wouldn’t. To then complain that my images are being used without payment is ludacris to me. My financial agreements are generally made between the publication I work with and myself – not with the artist or management. If a publication isn’t paying me for the image, then that’s my problem and something that should be addressed to them privately.
Here’s the flip side (because my mind works in mysterious ways). If I don’t sign a release for the images, I feel I have a little more leeway with the distribution of the images. In these cases (again about 50% of the time), I’ll go social media crazy and display them and tag them. But I still won’t sell them. Because even though I didn’t sign a release, the photo should still be about the artist, and not about me. I want to show, by my decision not to sell concert photography, that I respect the artist, management, etc. The respect I then earn is priceless.
3~ People need to redefine what payment is. Everyone wants currency, because that is what pays the bills. But I think it’s time to redefine what a fair payment is. Yes, currency is probably the first choice for most but don’t discount travel expenses and gear as a form of payment. Photography is expensive. Professional photography equipment is very expensive. However, if a publication decides to pay me in gear, or pay for my travel across the country to cover an event, I call that payment.
4~ Concert photography is ‘niche’ photography. Unlike Wedding Photography, or portrait photography, or even Real Estate photography, concert photography has it’s own guidelines. There isn’t a lot of pre shooting prep. In fact, in concert photography, you’ll generally be shooting for 15 minutes at a time, maybe 30 minutes if you cover jazz. Yes, there is the editing process as with any genre of photography, but you aren’t scouting locations, hiring a second shooter or bringing backdrops or screens to a concert. It’s 15 minutes or so of dodging other photographers, paying concert patrons and their cell phones, and trying not to get the dreaded shoulder tap from securtiy. Yes, it’s hard work. But it’s also fast work. And one shouldn’t equate it with other forms of photography.
5~ Re-evaluate why you want to be a concert photographer. Are you doing it because it’s a calling or because your ego is calling you to it? It’s two different things and I’m not going to explain the difference.
I have a full time job outside photography and chose not to pursue full time photography because I want to shoot what I want to shoot. I like the freedom of saying ‘no’ to projects and being able to pick what I want to cover (most of the time). Sometimes I’m paid nicely, sometimes I’m paid with a photo credit. I gladly accept both. Yes, the music business often has more money than they know what to do with. Yes, there are assholes on both sides of the camera who make concert photography more difficult for everyone. But in the end, I take photos because I love it. It’s something I have to do. And if I don’t get paid for it every time, that’s OK. Because ultimately, for me at least, I do it for myself.
Image courtesy of Martin Cloyer of the Stop Working For Free Facebook group