Today I saw an interesting and timely article in Horse and Hound – read it here – the topic of which has been playing on my mind recently, and I feel I have some valid points to make …
Firstly, when you budget for competitions, you have to make a specific allowance for any official photographs. They do cost a sizeable amount (which I`m not quibbling about) but this does mean that unless you win this particular competition or the photo is particularly outstanding you are not going to purchase a print at every event. I think that it`s important for photographers to understand that in the long list of things a horse owner has to budget for, photographs unfortunately do come low down on the list of priorities. That doesn`t mean stealing images from websites is right, but I think the fact photographs are a luxury encourages people to “borrow” images when they are expensive.
While we`re on the subject of cost, let`s talk about what you can buy. Photographers offer mounted prints of varying sizes, and are increasingly offering jpeg images. I do have a bone to pick with the mounted prints; the prints are always in unique sizes, which means you cannot go out and just buy a frame for them off the shelf. Luckily for me, my uncle owns an art gallery so I can have frames made up fairly easily. But it is frustrating. I`ve heard that photographers are doing this so you cannot go and just have your photo copied on a generic printing machine for a couple of pounds. I kind of understand this, but when copies are another £20 from the event photographer it is a little bit unfair. I’m sure there is a way around this. After all, buying the first image is the main cost to the photographer in terms of taking the image and editing it.
Moving with the times, most photographers now offer jpeg images. They sound expensive, often being slightly more than the basic print, but you then have endless opportunities to email the images with your proud grandma, or to choose the size that you would like to have printed, or perhaps more importantly (depending on your generation) share on social media. I know, this is the bane of a photographer`s life and probably the reason why so many images are now being stolen, but social media does seem to be the way forward. People often want to share an image from an event, perhaps whilst considering buying it, with their friends online. I`ve seen some photography websites offering a “like” button which links to your Facebook, thus allowing you to share the webpage rather than the image – which at least is a form of advertising for the photographer and increases traffic to their website. Other photographers offer a low resolution image with their logo on purely for social media use. Again, another way of customers feeling that they are getting their money`s worth and another way of advertising. Some photographers include this image when you order a print. I think there`s a fine balance here between customer satisfaction, advertising through social media, and earning enough money. After all, happy customers are the best adverts!
Let`s do a quick bit of maths. Last weekend there was a very busy photography company. There were six members of staff, eight computer screens to view the images in the gazebo, and instant printing available, as well as the hidden costs (transport, materials, insurance). There were four cameras in use and the main computer. I’m not even going to hazard a guess as to how much the equipment costs, but if you say that each of the 450 competitors bought one print, because some will buy more and others none, then the income of the photography for that one day is £8100. Now I`d be interested to know how this compares to actual sales and actual costs, but it does put things in perspective. I guess unlike many professions, photographers take a risk with their art, hoping the final proof is good enough for you to purchase, otherwise they have wasted their time and effort, so they have to find the balance between pricing their products so that they sell enough to cover costs and make a living, and having high standards.
I won`t talk much more about event photography, because I think the above article covers many of the main points; all of which are valid, and I think that there are several routes photographers can go down to protect their industry and products.
I`m going to move swiftly onto my main gripe. Usually my blog is full of happy thoughts, positive lessons, light hearted topics, but today I have a complaint.
At the dressage qualifier at the end of last year, Matt unexpectedly won a prize. I was happy enough with the red rosette and qualifying ticket, but I followed up the prize, which was a photoshoot. Now, Otis has won an equine photoshoot a few years ago and it entailed hair and makeup, the shoot, a viewing and a print. The other images were available to purchase at an additional cost. In the end I think I swapped my print for a digital image and purchased another five images. They came in a swish leather CD case, with both high resolution and low resolution files of each image. I can`t remember the exact cost, but I felt it was affordable. Well, I was only an apprentice at the time so it would’ve had to be affordable.
So I looked on the website and emailed the photographer about Matt`s prize. Organised a date and then invited my Mum over to join us in the shoot. The shoot took place in December and in February I had to chase up viewing the photos, which I eventually saw last week.
I have to say that I feel conned. I totally understand that photographers need to make their money somehow, and that the cost of a photoshoot only really covers their time and a bit of editing of the photos, and the real money comes in the purchasing of the images. But last week I was offered a host of extravagant artwork, with the cheapest option being in excess of £100, with no option of digital images.
I can`t imagine many people being able to take out a small mortgage to purchase the prints that were offered to me, which surely means that the balance between affordability, making money (because surely its better to sell one image for slightly less than not to sell any), and getting happy customers.
Given the world of social media and technology, not selling digital images is in my eyes, very shortsighted of a photographer. Let`s say that I put a digital image from a shoot as my profile page. Five hundred of my friends see the photo; some like the image, others comment on it. Their friends see their activity. All it takes is for one person to say “Lovely photo, who`s it by?” and for me to give the company name and all of a sudden hundreds of people know of a photographer who produces high quality work.
Digital images are seen by far more people than pieces of artwork hung up in a home. I mean, I have a few hundred friends on social media, yet I doubt I`ve had a hundred visitors to my house in the last twelve months. And I`ve gotten married in the last year, which brings it`s own callers. So in terms of a photographer getting their name out there, they are actually far better off selling digital images, as much as it goes against their will.
Furthermore, I came away from the photoshoot with not one piece of evidence. No low resolution images, no complimentary print, zilch. Nada. Now, If I had decided to gift this photoshoot to a friend, perhaps a special birthday, I would be mortified that they didn`t have any prints from the present. This also makes me think that it is shortsighted because by not giving any complimentary images they are leaving a bad taste, and a feeling of being ripped off, with no physical form of advertising, and no positive word of mouth advertising. If you’ve received a photoshoot as a gift or prize then you are not financially prepared to spend wildly on the images, which can make you feel uncomfortable and self conscious. It`s almost like me giving a free lesson but then telling the client that they have to pay my petrol money, or that they have to pay for me to give them feedback.
Like I said earlier, I know photographers have to make a living, but it does strike me that recently the world has gone a bit mad over pet photography and photographers are shooting themselves in the foot by pricing themselves out of the market of the masses. I know for a fact that the only reason we could afford a wedding photographer last year is because we used a friend who is starting up her own business, very successfully I will add, and I wouldn`t hesitate to use her again for any photos. I also have other friends who are photographers and find that they offer far more competitive shoots and products, who I would recommend to anyone who asked me in the future about it. I don’t have the answer to this conundrum, but I definitely feel that the balance needs to be found between affordability for customers and photographers making money.