Saturday, December 13, 2008

Free photos part 2

This is my second post on taking photos for free. In today's economy lots of people are looking for free, especially when it comes to photography. We have sites like craigslist, myspace, and flickr, which are mostly about posting content for free. Craiglist, with everything it has to offer, let's people list items they have but no longer need. Sometimes they give the items away for free. Myspace attracts many musicians who post songs that can sometimes be downloaded for free. Flickr lets people share their photos with others for free.

I've received plenty of requests to work for free ever since I've become a photographer, even my mother asks me all the time to shoot family photos for free. And even she usually gets declined. I think so far I've only given into her request once. It was Christmas, my lighting gear was still pretty new. If I recall correctly, I bought the gear the month before. I made a family Christmas portrait.

Sportsshooter.com, a web community I belong to recently had a poll on free. The results were almost 50-50. The question was phrased "As a photographer, do you ever work for free?" Of the 292 votes so far, 53.08% said no and 48.92% said yes.

For college I went to Boston University. Tuition there was over $40,000 a year - far from free. That education was part of my growing and being able to do what I do. I also spend sometimes about 6 hours a day studying photography online or in magazines and other sources. As they say time is money. I'm trying to make myself the most talented photographer I can be, and essentially adding value to what I do as a photographer. How can I afford to work for free?

One of my favorite musicians, Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind, recently wrote a blog about music and it relates to the idea of free. He's attempting to adapt to the changing environment with online content and free music downloads, etc.

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WHAT IS AN ALBUM

My life is measured out in albums I have loved. We try to make those albums.

On November 18, THIRD EYE BLIND is going to release three new songs from our up coming album, Ursa Major. It’s been five years since we put out our last album. Since then, the options on how to release music have exploded. Yay!

All of these options made us ask: What’s an album? How does one want to encounter it? Reaching people with music is our challenge and purpose—how should we do it? Here’s what we think.

Albums are the most vital and compelling art form in my life. Bohemian Rhapsody is my favorite opera just by virture of brevity! I grew up with headphones and liner notes, finding my identity through albums, and I have spent my life making them.

Led Zeppelin, every album (cept presence!) sounds dangerous and compelling to this day. The Police's first three albums are still liberating and exotic. The Velvet Underground, Prince, Cat Stevens, The Clash, Joy Division, Tribe Called Quest, Jane's Addiction, and most influential to me, Camper Van Beethoven—their albums owned me probably more than I owned them.

I spent last year getting crushed by the raconteurs, justice, the foals, MIA, and the kings of leon.

I can’t wait to put out Ursa Major in hopes that others will feel about it the way I do about bands I love. I personally won’t feel like Ursa Major is done until I put the vinyl on the turn table and until I’m holding the CD in my hand.

I prefer albums to singles and mix tapes and playlists. I still put vinyl on my turntable and freak out about how good Icky Thump sounds recorded on 16 track tape heads.

However, the album was created by the limitations of vinyl--about forty five minutes and then expanded to the cd--about eighty minutes. Artists like The Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Pink Floyd made cohesive pieces of art from these limitations.

Albums were also created so that record executives could make cash. Albums require huge time commitments and budgets and then lots of promotion and album cycles and of course key tracks and hit singles, and payola, and getting signed and getting dropped, and 360 deals, and a very few people at the top of corporations who are interested in quarterly statements and ameliorating risk and who know what's best for your band.

We love albums, we also feel limited by them. All i am saying is your website can now be your album, an ongoing ever-changing one that grows and morphs and reflects your creative impulses as you have them. Grab the moment of a song and share it the night you finished it. Make art that you have for it and post it. Then go play some shows and record some more. Physical and digital releases can interconnect and enhance each other.

The album cycle is endless, the connection between band and audience is unbroken. How fluid and creatively freeing. And the best part is, you don't have to get permission form a boss in order to do it. Yay!

This all seems so much more democratic to me. Fewer people at the top will become billionaires this way, but more people will make a living making music. More bands who must be heard but couldn’t make a physical album have a chance. More music is available to kids like I was whose very identity depends on finding it. These are the days!

And while we are at it, I think the hit single is arcane as well. The songs that have resonated the longest with 3EB's audience sometimes haven't even been on our albums (see "slow motion").

Oil paintings require oil paint in order to exist, it's true. Music can exist and thrive in all kinds of formats--not just albums or singles. Maybe your best canvas is a website. Still friends?

I know that 3EB is launching a new website soon and we are giving it a lot of creative attention. It will be a device to engage our music, find, and share with others around music. We see it as one big digital album that will also go with our physical albums.

Finally, this is not an "us against them" argument. Majors continue to support hugely entertaining albums and I have worked with a lot of people at majors (like WEA) who care passionately about music. They are not going away and neither is the album.

I'm saying that choices are exploding. Albums are not the only way, and perhaps not even the most creative and effective way. Then again, they may be the way for you. Third Eye Blind is going to keep making records because we like them. But we are also going to put up songs like the three we are putting out on Nov 18th for download.

We might also in the future post a song when we record it and then maybe put out the album later.

WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT WE ARE DOING! We don’t think anyone else does either and we love it. We consider these to be exciting times to be lost in. I hope you have the choice and I hope you continue to find yourselves and each other through music.
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I do think that I will have to adapt to the changing climates. We have to engage our consumers in new and exciting ways. Sometimes this may be with free content, but I caution everyone to be very cautious and think long and hard about any free assignments.

Also related to free is working for less than you are worth. This is also a tricky one. I recently got a call about a wedding. I could sense that they were really trying to save money on the wedding. After speaking to the potential client, he mentioned to me that he found a photographer who was willing to do their wedding for $500. I regularly shoot weddings for over between $2000-$3000. At that point I knew I was never going to be hired for this wedding. This guy apparently also shoots weddings for a higher price, but the potential client I spoke with said he was getting a discount because the wedding was on a Tuesday, BUT it is the Tuesday before Christmas. Discounts are fine, but in this case I think the guy should be charging more and not less because of how close it is to the holiday.Also, $500 for a wedding is ridiculously low. I have to wonder how good or professional this photographer is. I can almost guarantee that the photos will be of low quality and they in the end will probably regret not having hired a "real" photographer. I've heard it countless times from people who say, "I wish I had spent more money to hire a better photographer, we hate our wedding photos" or something along those lines.

I only hope for this couple's sake that nothing goes wrong on their wedding day. And out of all the things that can go wrong on a wedding day, that's hoping for a lot. I also really hope he has a backup camera system, and lighting system as well. What happens if and when he drops his camera during the wedding and doesn't have a back up to finish the night? I know I've dropped cameras before, even during a wedding. That time the lens broke on me. Did I worry? No, I had other lenses at my disposal, and other cameras too.

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