Ten to One

Completely unrelated image, but for anyone taking offense to this post….have a beer. Relax.

I recently had dinner with a friend who is a “creative.” My friend makes things for people, creative things that blend several disciplines. As usual, we got to talking about work, about jobs and the industry. Probably not a good idea….He gave me the lowdown on a recent project, a complex, multi-layered piece, which is the backbone of what my friend creates. He has a long track record, a good education and much work to prove these things. The kicker…..the total fee was $2500. This got us talking even more and my friend went to his office and retrieved a similar product only THIS product was from a job he did in 2001. Same multifaceted, layered piece only better. The design was better, the materials were better, the images were better and the overall piece was just better. The kicker….the total fee was $20.000. Now you might be having convulsions after seeing that fee but people that is how it USED to be. Not always but often. Was this fee inflated? Perhaps, but what if afforded, ultimately, was better work. And what it afforded was for the creative group to be, well, creative. I find a fair number of people today who never knew this kind of arrangement, or fee for that matter. Today, we have a different story. In today’s creative world, budget is often times the number one concern, and speaking only from the photographic angle, the actual work has become far less important. Far less important typically means far less good. But, many clients are not looking for great work, they are looking for inexpensive, temporary images. I’ve heard clients refer to online images as being “mature” after two-weeks of life. So the mentality is, “Why spend money and make something great when we are going to replace it in two weeks?” Consequently, photographers, designers, etc are finding themselves having to do, literally, ten times the number of jobs for the same amount of money. This method of work typically doesn’t lend itself to making great work. And, the artist is so busy searching for the next job, or balancing several jobs at once, they don’t have the time that allows for critical thought needed for creating lasting work that matters. Because this has been the reality for a while now, what I’m finding is an entire generation of young creators who not only don’t know the possibilities of real budgets and times, they are simply thrilled to be getting work at all. Wait! For those of you thinking I’m bagging on the whipper snappers, save the hate mail. I’m only 42 and I might be the same way if I was 25. This is a very difficult position for anyone. Is it right to tell a 25-year-old “Don’t take that job” when you see them taking a commercial photography job for $2500 that requires to them sign over their copyright, spend three days in post, something that ten years ago might have fetched them a $15,000 or $20,000 fee? I don’t know anymore. A few years ago I would have said, “Yes” to saying “No.” But again, today, I see so many people who are seeing a $2500 fee and saying “Wow, that’s great.” People who have never been paid a “real” rate in their entire career. Oh, this is probably a good time to mention video, motion, hybrid, fusion, or whatever else you want to call it. Ouch. But what is churning in the background, what is truly important here…..the quality of the ideas and work. People tend to get touchy when I talk about this. I don’t see current work being better than it was ten years ago.

There are a lot more people doing it.
There is less grain.
There is more sharpness.
There is a lot more talk about it.
There is a lot more promotion going on.
There is a lot of new things that are supposed to be making it better.
There is more technology.
There are more viewing options.

But the concepts, the thought, the ultimate image…well, I’m not sure. Everyone wants to believe we are better today, just like we want to believe we are better informed and best of all, more efficient. But, I’m writing this on a plane with a pen and paper, YES A PEN AND PAPER, because when I write this way it slows me down and makes me think.

Do I write as much? No.
Do I write faster? No.
Can I send it out immediately? No.

But maybe that is the point. You’ve heard the expression, “speed kills.”
A few days ago a young photographer said to me, “I love the darkroom but it just takes too long to make a print.” I said, “Well, why do you think collectors value them so much?” You could see the light bulb going off. I’ve brought this idea up before, in mixed company, and there is always the person who gets ultra defensive, the premature aging lines around their eyes drawing down as they blast me for being a lazy, slacker who doesn’t want to work and wants everything to be like it was “back in the day.” No, sorry. I’m just old enough to have known something better. That’s all. At some point, certain things will return to a likeness of what they were, at least for CERTAIN people who have the sack to actually force these things to happen. And, I know how much more creative many of the younger creators will be when they get a taste of how good they can be given the time and access. This will take some doing. Clients. Clients aren’t stupid. If they can get ten things for the price of one, they will.

How great would it be to have some type of financed foundation that sought out great creators, gave them the time and access they needed to actually work in a way that produces a lasting impact? I imagine a space, New Mexico of course, out in the sticks, off the grid, except for water, where the artist could go for six months to a year and create, finish, dream, etc.

So, my flight is angling down toward the ground, so I must go. We have everything at our fingertips today, but what we do with it, well, that is what counts.

The beer shown at the beginning of this post is no longer available.

15 responses to “Ten to One”

  1. Marc says:


  2. Neil Holmes says:

    Hi Daniel, sadly I think it’s down to supply & demand, there are so many good creative professionals out there, and we all have to eat and pay the rent. I’m not sure their is an answer, I often despair at some of the concessions I have to make but I allways remind myself I’m very lucky to do something love but of course that doesn’t make it right. Cheers Neil

  3. Eric Jeschke says:

    Totally spot on post.

    I don’t see that there is a grass-roots answer to this though. Meaning, the industry has changed (due to whatever factors) and how can you make it go back? With the current supply and demand (including the lessened demand for “quality” or work), it won’t do to try and say “no”. There are enough bodies willing to take the quote.

    I believe there will be a wholesale change in the industry, but only when a career as a photographer (or “media” if you like) is no longer a viable option because it pays so little. We are almost there now. After a few years a balance will be reached were the demand for creative, original work rises again, budgets are better and most importantly, there is a smaller pool of creative professionals to draw from.

  4. Kevin Keefer says:

    Thank you Daniel, and Eric. There seems to be a growing dialogue along these lines, I hope it continues in the direction you two have outlined. One comparison, by Seth Godin, is to the transformation of the music industry. This is scary, but that is why I am here, I have hope in the ideas shared in this community and others like it.

    • Smogranch says:

      Good glad you are digging it. These type of conversations, in my opinion, happen all the time between photographers but there is extreme reluctance to talk about this stuff at risk of being labeled, black balled, etc,

  5. I don’t really care how much pro photographers earn or use to earn. I know this post is mostly for pros but I certainly agree that the imagery bussiness has a “Stock imagery quick standard look”.

    • Smogranch says:

      How much people earn is a huge topic amongst people who do this full time. It’s not like people are trying to up each other, it’s more of a legit rate conversation, especially today when working for free is so common, accepted, etc. If you ARE working full time as a photographer, this conversation is hugely impactful. But, can also be boring if you don’t care.

  6. Carl Peer says:

    The question I always come back to is where did the budgets for these projects go? I always wonder if the slashed budgets are a result of the execs sitting on huge salaries.

  7. Gerhard says:

    Hey Daniel

    Pen and paper! Yay! Love it 🙂

    I recently walked away from selling an image because the client refused to accept a reduced usage license for their reduced budget. My peers agreed that the suggested reduced license was fair. The client disagreed.

    To make a long story short the image was of a Young surfing champion and the client wanted to use it for advertising. The surfers mum even offered to pay me the difference between my quote and what the client was offering. I graciously refused and explained that it only perpetuates the challenge of receiving fair rates for images. Said client also told me never to contact them again after our discussion became heated, on their side I might ad. I remained polite all the way. I choose to believe that in letting go of these ‘bad’ clients I make room for ones with integrity.

    I was pleasantly surprised a few days ago when I came upon a blog post from another photographer who sold an image to Apple at a very fair rate.

    May all creatives have visionary clients like Apple who still value imagery.

    Best regards to all.

    • Smogranch says:


      Well the surf industry is a great example, unfortunately in many cases, of people being taken advantage of. So much of the work is done under retainers that just don’t provide a living for many of those in the business. I started to see this years ago, photographers giving work away, and it never works in the long run. The idea that being published will get you enough work to make it just isn’t real. When photogs cave in the client knows you will always cave in.
      A few years ago I had the same situation, an ad agency asking me to do a very large job for a budget that was just not even close to be being what it needed to be. We went through three rounds of negatiations and each time I had to keep saying, “No, sorry, can’t do that.” I ultimately told them there were probably a hundred photographers in LA who would do the shoot, but I wasn’t one of them. Ten years ago I might have made the mistake, but not now, I know too much.

  8. Derek Tipton says:

    Awesome article. I am only 29, but I can “feel” this in the industry. The more and more people put out (images, art, etc.) the less the consumers of this industry will value them.

    Love your post!

    • Smogranch says:

      Thanks Derek,

      I think the thing to remember is the idea of shooting images for yourself, or strictly for others. I think if you do the latter…you wont’ end up with the kind of work you are dreaming of.

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