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How to Never Let Your Employer Exploit Your Passion For Photography

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Most photographers are not professionals. Some do photography as a side gig, while the majority are hobbyists. Meaning most people who practice photography also have a day job. That’s not to say they’re bad photographers. I know many talented photographers who decided not to transition to being a pro. And when their employer becomes aware of their skillset, they may choose to exploit it. Sadly, it happens too often. And if it happens to you, here’s what you should do.

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Taking Advantage of Your Photography

If you’re a photographer, there’s a strong chance your day job is in an unrelated field. But no matter what sector your company is in, it will always need the expertise of a photographer. Marketing materials, employee headshots, team events, you name it; businesses always need a photographer. Let’s take headshots as an example.

A company wants to update its website to include all its staff members. The decision-makers are conversing about getting some quality headshots to accompany each employee’s bio. One bright spark says, “Claire in sales is also a good photographer, let’s ask her to do it.”

“Great idea,” the rest of the important tie-wearing decision-makers say in unison.

So, the suits tell Barry (the middle manager who likes to send his staff emails at 4 am) to ask Claire to make photos of all the staff. Of course, Barry obliges. He will do anything for decision-makers. Barry loves the decision-makers.

Barry takes Claire into the meeting room, sits her down, and says, “Claire, we need you to do us a favor…” And let’s stop right there.

Photography And Working For Free

Whenever an employer asks a member of staff to do them a favor, what they’re saying is, “Hey, here’s some more work we need you to do for free.” Barry, Claire, and the company they work for are not friends. Friends do each other favors, not those in professional relationships. What’s happening here is that the company Claire works for is trying to skimp on paying for a photographer. And they want to use the fact Claire already works for them as a form of emotional manipulation to get her to do some photographs free of charge.

“It will be good for your portfolio, Claire,” says Barry. But what Barry doesn’t understand is Claire already has a strong portfolio. She doesn’t need to add to it right now. But Claire is in a little bit of a pickle. She either tells Barry to take a hike, or she caves in and works for free. The first option is difficult because she sits opposite Barry for eight hours a day, making things awkward. The second option means she sells her soul to “keeps the decision-makers happy” and offers her skills for free.

When I had a “why am I not dead yet” day job back in the day, I too found myself in the same position as Claire. Compared to most, I’m a little bold. I agreed to make photos on the condition they paid me. My employer at the time seemed shocked that I would ask for money. “But we’re already paying,” they said. “Yes, to look at spreadsheets and ponder where my life went wrong,” I thought.

I told them to go get the services of another photographer outside the company “you can even get Barry to ask them to do you a favor, see how far you get.”

Make a Stance

Just because you work for someone doesn’t mean they can exploit you. If you’re a photographer, and your company asks for photographs, it means you’re skilled enough to offer a professional service. And just because they pay you for one job, it doesn’t mean they don’t have to pay you to do another.

So if they ask you to make photos, treat it as any other side gig. Tell them how much you charge, strike up a contract, and handle it professionally. Sure, you can drop your rates if you have a good relationship with your company. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But too many industries continue to disrespect the importance of photography. We’re already dealing with the exploitation of photographers inside the industry, with the likes of Unsplash. We don’t need companies that are not related to the craft doing it too.

And don’t feel bad or guilty about asking to be paid for your skills. Everyone in the capitalist market wants to earn a buck for what they do. Photography should be no different. That applies whether it’s a hobby, side gig, or full-time job.





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