There is no doubt we live in a ‘get what you can for nothing’ world these days. From clothing so cheap you can’t imagine how anyone is making a living from it, to graduates having to do unpaid internships to get enough work experience to be taken seriously. We live in very competitive times. More and more recently I’ve been hearing from professional people in my industry being asked to work for no pay.
And this is having a catastrophic effect on business. For every professional earning there are 50 wannabe’s willing to do the same job for nothing. The difference in results is huge. You get what you pay for. And somewhere along the line you will come across no shows, inexperience and invariably very dubious results at the end. To stand out from the crowd you have to be the best and if you want to get noticed you will have to invest. If you are talented you will get noticed and you will be able to charge rates.
But that doesn’t stop many companies, as well as individuals, from only ever collaborating with people who will do the job without pay and dig into their own pockets for travel as well. Sometimes it is to be expected, it’s the nature of the beast but it’s happening all the time now. It seems everyone wants to be a model these days or thinks they can pick up a camera and call themselves a photographer. And it’s killing the industry for those of us who are trying to make a living.
I’ve spent most of the last 3 years of my University education nurturing my business, doing endless TF and building up my reputation to prove I am good at what I do, so that once I was out on my own and earning was paramount, I didn’t have to accept freebies. Establishing my business early on has paid off. I only have to work with the best these days and can afford to turn things down. Of course, the most interesting and creative of projects are often also the non-payers. This is a sad fact and sometimes you have to make a judgement call.
So yes I have been on the other side of the TF argument for quite some time. But it was a means to an end. Now I am a full time professional and business owner.
I’m fairly sure that after my current round of shoot bookings are completed (all TF or charity projects I have had scheduled for some time) I won’t be doing any more styling work for a while. I simply cannot afford to turn up for nothing, lose hours spent travelling and on set and pay for my own travel on top of that. One TF shoot of say 4 hours will lose me £80 based purely on my hourly rate. I don’t need to earn a lot to break even each month (thanks to some careful stream-lining in my day to day life), but I need to leave room for manoeuvre. And stock, equipment and investment in new projects are all things that need taking care of.
Thankfully I’ve never had to do any design work for nothing and I wouldn’t consider it. Come to think of it, I’ve rarely been asked which is interesting. But the industry is saturated to capacity with people prepared to work for images. Many of them are working day jobs. I realise that sometimes this has to happen, that the industry isn’t always going to pay to keep you. I am also aware that often there are other rewards apart from the cash – press, publicity, publishing, a great name on a portfolio, a runway or media opportunity – hence most of my free styling work this year.
Certainly, the bigger your port the more picky you can be. Your standards improve and you realise you don’t need to accept just anything that comes your way for results that don’t get you noticed for the right reasons. Time is money and money is a necessity.
Are things likely to change? Who knows. Certainly in industry in general employers have started to see the benefit in taking on staff with experience rather than grades. But whether this will have a knock on effect in other industries who knows. We live in hard times. In the meantime, do respect those who command cash for their services. The results will always be far better than anything you can get for free.