11.26.2017

Re-thinking what it means to work as a freelance photographer/videographer.


Deep Eddy Pool. November 25th. 2017

I think the very nature of freelance photography work has changed. The process of making a good, or at least effective, photograph has become much easier and quicker than it was. The projects that used to take weeks now take days. The projects that used to take days now take hours. Since the time required to make images for clients keeps shrinking it long ago made sense to jettison the idea of billing by day rates, or by the hour, because one would keep delivering a finished image which has equal or greater value to a client but at an ever declining rate because of ever increasing efficiency. 

For years now we've looked at projects and bid them based on the value they'll provide to the client. And honestly, we also bid based on how convoluted the client's internal processes are. In many engagements it seems we spend more time on conference calls and in meetings that we do actually shooting the images. And then there's the time we spend ensuring that we get paid......

It makes more sense to bid the creation of images as a compound process which takes into consideration the amount of time spent meeting, figuring out the creative direction, shepherding the idea of collaboration, pre-production, scouting, post production and administrative nonsense into one fixed price instead of trying to break it out into line items for some linear thinker in someone else's accounting department. 

e.g.: Three minute video interview, in town, on a client location, with two cameras and two production people = $3200  Add in editing and it's $4,800. We don't break down the numbers. We say, "It will cost $3200 or $4,800." If there are no line items then there is nothing to squabble about. The client can either afford and approve the project or walk away. 

On another note, there is a tendency for people to bring an employee mindset to the freelance field. They may offer their services at rates that are not particularly profitable but try to make up for under charging by attempting to work as often and for as long as possible. If what you do doesn't require any real problem solving and involves the same basic routine done over and over again than I guess it all boils down to how much boring, repetition you can stand? 

But if your idea of being a photographer means that you are a creative problem solver or a creative collaborator, or a translator of marketing concepts into high quality image content, then I think the idea of trying to cram 50 or 60 hours of work into every week is very counter productive. 

Creative people work best (at least from what I've seen working in the field for a long time) in spurts. It's like being a sprinter in the swimming world, you might be able to crank out a good, sub-minute 100 meters on a good day, at a race, but you can't step up to the blocks hour after hour and crank out the same stellar swim (unless you are Michael Phelps or Jason Lezak), and you certainly can't perform at that high level day after day as you get older and your endurance diminishes (as it will for everyone --- ). 

Good creative work, and the creation and implementation of evolving styles, (like swimming) requires down time, recharge time, unencumbered time to ponder and the time to look around at things that are seemingly outside the myopic world of photography. Recovery and re-imagining. As an example, to be able to take better landscape photographs of 18,000 foot mountain peaks you'll probably need to spend more time learning about mountain climbing and practicing mountain climbing rather than focusing like a blunt laser on which camera to use or which lens might deliver the sweetest bokeh. 

If you want to be a better video interviewer of CEOs it would certainly pay off to spend a bit less time experimenting with V-Log and to spend a lot more time reading up on the world of business in which your target clients are engaged. (To do this you must incorporate your experience and continuing education into your overall pricing!!!).

But most of all, if you find, or are finding, that photography is taking up every minute of every day you may want to consider that you might be in danger of becoming photo-rexic and need to dial down the compulsion to a safer level. You could spend all day, every day, reading about photo stuff on the web. Some from people who probably know far less than you already know. But you'd be isolating yourself from valuable social networks while narrowing down your focus from the things that might have once made you an interesting person into a person who.......can operate a camera.

As I age up from my long, long adolescence into "middle age" I find that dialing back the hysteric need to be "all photography all the time" is healthier. If I can clear my mind of the endless internal chatter about photography I can better see actual (non-viewfinder) life swirling around me and refreshing my ability to look at the world in a happier and more comprehensive way. If I step away from the computer my life is enriched even more.

I've been thinking about the time I spend swimming lately. I swim for a number of reasons; one is to stave off the ravages of aging and the inevitable (but slow-able) decline of physical endurance. I swim to maintain good health. But I also swim because the process of spending time with my fellow swimmers builds or reinforces social community. 

On Friday evening I got several texts from fellow swimmers as we jockeyed to find a time to meet up yesterday so we could swim as a group. We ended up at Deep Eddy Pool at 10 am Saturday morning. We all jumped into empty lanes and, after a decent warm-up, took turns suggesting sets to swim. We interspersed short sprints with long endurance swims. We kicked some sets to build overall speed. We commiserated about the (cold) water. 

But once out of the water the sense of community and connection remain. On most Saturdays we'll head off after a swim for a group coffee. We'll share stories and news. We'll find out what other people do and how their slalom through life/work/family is going. We'll offer sympathy, humor and genuine friendship. 

One of my fellow swimmers is a restauranteur. Sometimes he and I will swim in the middle of the day on a weekday. Sometimes we depend on each other for the discipline we need to get out of the office or restaurant and make it out for a swim. And sometimes, after the swim we'll head out for a ramen lunch or to grab some sushi from some place good. We can eat early or late. We own our schedules. 

But free time is valuable not just for building friendships but conversely for spending time lost in thought. Meditating. Seeing the world from someone else's point of view by taking time to read.
I find that reading novels; anything from Tom Clancy to J.K. Rowling, makes me think differently and gives me a richer visual palette to work with than when I am too busy to read anything at all. 

Would I trade time with my dog for more time with my cameras? Hardly...

So, this afternoon at 1:30 we've arranged for another swim. We all agreed yesterday that today's swim would be a physical recovery swim. No heroics. No long sets. Just a joyous batch of yards in the bright clear, natural spring water of Deep Eddy Pool, under the warm and chromatically brilliant Texas Winter sun. 

After that maybe I'll get around to tossing out a few more trash cans of older photo work I never want to see again. 

If I prioritize my life for fun/engagement/curiosity all the necessary stuff seems to come along for the ride. It's when I prioritize for work/fear/routine that everything falls apart...


I have heard the mermaids singing; each to each.
......................
                                        .......................        
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

-T.S. Eliot

7 comments:

ODL Designs said...

Hey Kirk,
I often tell the designers I work with to take an interest in the world, it will make you a more interesting person and a better designer as I see a designer as a communicator.

I have found that often my processing work is quite meditative. I put on my headphones, find an interesting talk or debate and start clicking away. It is a welcome distraction from the more challenging work of lighting that new product photo, or the brand and packaging for a new line of crisps. I also don't really see it as a part of the photography portion (probably why so many farm that work out)... Maybe you feel differently.

Recently I have found many of the usual photo sites become more tiring than usual. Every now and again I will foray in to try to offer my opinion, but it doesn't tend to go anywhere. For example as a regular user of the HR mode on the Olympus cameras I keep reading comments like "it offers very little real advantage", "the output is very soft". "it increases the resolution, but doesn't compete with the higher MP FF bodies" etc etc. However I have found it to out-resolve (with fewer IQ artifacts) even the most recent 50mp MF bodies. It takes a new approach to processing as we have been trained over years of low AA filter strength to now no AA filter to be very reserved with our sharpening steps. Recently I realized what you mention in your article, that I am now reading photographers who are less experienced or able than I am, and that it is a huge waste of my time so I am slowly checking out.

On my studio floor (yup, I am in the studio on Sunday making more sound panels) is a new Basketball as I just got back and active after a summer of injury followed by illness, so I am looking forward to that exertion again! I think our minds can have very different "states" and one of them kicks in when our bodies are being pushed (as opposed to our minds).

Hope you had a great thanksgiving!

Justin Blakie said...

Thanks Kirk for a calming and thought provoking post. It was a great counterpoint amongst all the Black Friday deals posts in my feed.

TMJ said...

"you might be in danger of becoming photo-rexic and need to dial down the compulsion to a safer level."

Burn out. I almost had it, but a big problem with clinicians.

I am involved in a systematic review on palliative care: we all need time off.

Anonymous said...

Words of wisdom in a season of compulsive salesmanship. Thanks!

typingtalker said...

I avoid using the descriptor, "freelance." "Photographer" or "Contract Photographer" sound more like someone with a profession and a business. Now that video is in the mix "Multimedia Producer" or "Multimedia Imaging Creator" might work.

"Freelancer" sounds like someone between jobs.

Kirk Tuck. President, Kirk Tuck Studios.
Kirk Tuck. President, Kirk Tuck Multimedia.

Sounds better.

Gary L. Friedman said...

Congratulations! You've stumbled onto what the experts call "Work-life balance". I view photography as an excuse to explore, travel, meet people I never would have met otherwise, and do things I never would otherwise do. But it's a means to a greater end.

Jerry said...

My photo work is very static (guitars) compared to what you do, Kirk. I'm not a pro photographer by any means, but I spend entire days every week photographing and editing. Slowly I'm adding video to the mix. Your columns have been incredibly helpful to me over the last 10 years and I just wanted to thank you for continuing to write them. We are the same age and have similar exercise regimes (mine is crossfit and running) and I enjoy your musings on life/work/exercise/community balance.

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