Ask an Agent / Student Exploitation?

Ask an Agent is a regular monthly column that answers all your dilemmas about the business of photography - a sort of photography agony aunt. Whatever area of the industry you are in, if you have any questions you’d like to ask please send them to Lisa

Dear Ask an Agent,

I’ve just been approached at my end of year show by a business who would like to commission me to shoot some images for their advertising. Whilst I find that very flattering, they are only offering minimal expenses (travel,subsistence etc) and no fee, should I at this stage of my career accept something like this? The end usage is quite extensive and includes packaging, brochures, point of sale and web, but not only that they actually want ‘outright ownership of images’. I’m worried if I say no I’ve blown my chances of having them as a future client.

A Photography Graduate 

Thanks for getting in touch about that and congrats on your photography degree. This is pretty cheeky and not really on.

Very occasionally it’s worth accepting a job for no fee, for example if it’s an amazing brief that’s perfect for your book, full shoot expenses are paid and there’s a really good reason why there is no fee ( maybe it’s a charity or a very good cause or a test shoot for an unlaunched company). It doesn’t sound like this is one of those occasions. Aside from that you should never assign ownership of images (see an earlier Ask an Agent on Copyright). And that old chestnut of the promise of more work in the future rarely comes off in my experience.

Reading between the lines someone in the marketing department has come up with what they probably think is a genius idea, ‘Hey I know what, we can headhunt graduate talent at the final degree shows, and they’ll be so excited and flattered to be given the opportunity to work with a big brand that they won’t want a fee, it’s a win win situation’.

AAA © Andy Smith

Well the thing is, it’s unreasonable to the point of being exploitative. Even though you have only just graduated and may not have a long list of clients (yet!) your work still has a value, which is why they want it all over their marketing communications. I’m sure the marketing department aren’t working on this for free, neither are the graphic designers that have designed the packaging or the web developers, not to mention the printers who are printing the brochures or the point of sale material. And we haven’t even gone onto the fact that your amazing photography might end up being integral to their sales and profit, and they don’t feel that you should be paid?!

So I would advise you politely telling them how you intend to run your business professionally. Pointing out what is standard industry practice - to be paid a fee that reflects the usage and not to assign copyright. Inform them that you want to protect your business and integrity, establish a standard and only accept fee paying jobs. Offer to prepare a full and professional estimate for shoot fees including usage, plus all shoot and production expenses. And ask them how they would like to progress.

At best you may educate them, at worst you may need to walk away from a job that’s not worth doing and I’m sure there will be plenty more to come.

Keep me posted, but if any students are reading this in a similar situation, don’t sell your self short!

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This advice should be taken as a guide only. Lisa Pritchard and LPA take no responsibility for any omissions or errors. Please seek professional legal advice should you require it.