Professional Photojournalism: Valuing yourself as a documentary photographer

July 25, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I had the opportunity to photograph a birth come and go in the last week.  I’m very interested in birth photography; however, I don’t feel that I have the bandwidth to pursue offering it as a service to my clients.  It seems that there is often a huge disconnect between potential clients and photographers when it comes to documentary photography.  Documentary photography is capturing any event in real time: parties, weddings, births, funerals, etc.  And the truth is there is a TON of pressure associated with documenting any event, but most especially the emotionally charged ones such as weddings and births.

There have been many blogs where wedding photographers, in particular, discuss the disconnect they experience routinely between perspective clients and themselves when it comes to pricing.  The summary of those discussions is that there is a disconnect between the client and the photographer as to the value of the total time and effort the photographer puts forth to capture the once in a lifetime event.  I’ve seen many breakdowns of the upfront and the (invisible-to-the-client) backend time versus resulting dollar per hour chart many times.  What I don’t see discussed as often is the value of photojournalism. 

No matter the style, any photographer who is hired to record an event is a documentary photographer.  A client asking a photographer to perform such a task needs to understand the value of the duty.  Paid photojournalism is not just a job.  It’s a responsibility.  The photographer is being tasked with capturing and recording memories that will only happen once.  Unlike a portrait, you cannot ask a couple to share their first married kiss again because you missed it the first time.  You cannot ask a mother to re-shed her first tears of joy as she looks at her baby for the first time.  As a photojournalist, you bear the great responsibility of recording life as it happens.  You must be able to both anticipate and recognize the moments of value, and capture them with skill.  Photojournalistic photographers dedicate hours of their time to be available to capture these precious moments.  Birth photographers remain on-call until mothers are close to delivering.  Then they must rush to the bedside and wait some more.  Many wedding photographers follow the bride and groom throughout their entire wedding day starting almost from the time they leave their beds until they are whisked away at the end of the party. 

I think it’s a photographer’s job to educate their potential clients as to the value they are getting.  A photographer should be rightly compensated for taking on the weight and responsibility that comes with a photojournalism job.  There’s also a large liability taken on by photojournalists in these circumstances.  Since you only have one chance to get it “right,” getting it wrong is a horrible failure.  Wedding photographers are the most litigated against type of photographer.  With the quality of a photographer’s work being subjective, it’s too easy for a couple to see their photos and be unhappy with the result.  Those moments are forever passed and so unleash the hounds of hell upon the photographer.  Secondly, it’s also very true that you get what you pay for.  Experience and vision are intangible values that should be compensated as much as time and availability. 

If you’re being haggled down by a potential client, don’t be afraid to champion your value.  And don’t be afraid to educate your client as to why you’re valued the way you are.  Speak to the time, the diligence, the artistry, and the expertise you bring.  And if in the end the client is still unwilling to recognize and pay for the value you bring; then recognize that they are not the client for you.  Your clients will understand, recognize, and properly compensate you for the services and skills you bring to capturing the special moments in their lives.

Gina and Jeff Wedding


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