Sunday, February 13, 2011

People Can Die From "Exposure." Think About It.

My friend, photographer, John Agoncillo and I recently participated in brief online discussion about publishers who want free use rights to images. John and I both find this ridiculous. But later on I was still shaking my head over one notion that was mentioned that seems to me to fly in the face of all common sense.

There is a concept that some think is key to getting a foot hold in the business of selling their images. That concept is that "exposure" will lead to sales and assignments. They seem to believe that having an image published in a magazine, book or on the internet is free and effective publicity.

Think about it. If you want to sell use rights to your images you want art buyers and photo editors to see your images. You want art buyers and photo editors with budgets to see your images. Publications that expect photographers to grant use rights for the "exposure" they will receive for having an image printed in their magazine typically don't have budgets. Publications without budgets typically don't have wide circulations and generally are not the types of publication art directors, art buyers and editors comb through for ideas and new talent. Art buyers and editors aren't looking for "cheap," and they don't look at "cheap." They may look for inexpensive or reduced fees based on quantity or the promise of future business, but they are not looking for "cheap" or free. They understand the need to pay.

If you give away use rights for "exposure" then you are establishing "exposure" as a currency. You are telling the publishing world that is your rate. You work for "exposure." That is what clients will expect and you will be attractive to only those types of clients and their publications are where your work will be seen. And the people looking at those publications are not the people who will help further your career.

Establishing yourself as a source of "free" images does not demonstrate that you are interested in managing a serious business. It does not demonstrate that you consider your work to be of any real value. It does not demonstrate that you have any regard for own experience or dedication to your craft. It also does not demonstrate that you have any respect for the publishing business and those who have devoted their careers to shaping it.

You can't establish yourself as a professional without acting like a professional. Being professional means you don't work for free. "Exposure" doesn't lead to paying jobs. It only leads to more requests to work for "exposure," and that means free. Working for free isn't competitive, it doesn't even get you in the ballpark.

"Exposure" is worthless unless you, the photographer, control it from start to finish. If you choose to donate images or work to a non-profit, or for an educational program, or to an international relief organization you are doing a wonderful thing. But only a well thought out marketing plan developed and controlled by you will turn that "exposure" into income. This is your opportunity to play the "exposure" game by putting together a quality mailer or portfolio with tear sheets and a few testimonials, and put it in front of those choice and potential clients you really want to work for.

If you insist on working for "exposure" make it part of a precise plan. Know who you will offer your work to. Work with professionals and present yourself professionally. Let them know you too have expectations and that while you may not be charging a fee you do expect something in return: references, recommendations, referrals, reprints for your portfolios, consideration to negotiate fees for future jobs.

Be smart, be professional. Demonstrate some integrity and self respect and you will be treated like a professional, with dignity and respect.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

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