What is the value of a concert photo?

Rafael Saadiq © Per Ole HagenThere are many problems in concert photography today. One is the ubiquitous photo contracts, specially the right grabbers. Another problem is all the editors, web sites and bands who expect photographers to just give away their photos for free. Why is photos supposed to be free, while the same people expect us to pay for music and magazines? (Above: Rafael Saadiq at the SXSW – are there too many concert photographers?)

Kampfar © Per Ole HagenKampfar – wanted for a fanzine – for free

There are two parts to the ”free problem”. Both the ones who expect to get free photos, but equally the photogs who give away their photos. This has become a major problem for those who want to make a business of concert photography. There are too many people with cameras and camera phones around. The prevailing feeling seems to be that if you own a camera, you can also take pictures. But to become a good concert photographer, you have to practice, you have to have some feel for the music you are shooting, you have to have knowledge about light and composition, and you also have to have some sharp equipment.

Free request for photoI don’t know how many emails I have got like: ”your pictures of this or that band is awsome, and we’d like to use it in our magazine/on our website. Could you please send us high resolution files at 300 dpi? You will get credits.” I usually answer something like ”Thank you for liking my pictures. Of course I can send you high resolution pictures, but what kind of payment are you offering me? Credits is a given, so that is no compensation.”

Walter Becker Steely Dan © Per Ole HagenWalter Becker from Steely Dan

The usual answer goes this way: ”I am sorry, but we don’t have any budget for photography, so we can’t pay you.” This often comes from an editor who is paid for his job in a magazine or for a website with advertising and which makes money. And they use the phots to sell the magazine. Since I personally have a day job, I am not dependent on my photography for a living. But I feel wrong for giving away my photos and undermining other photog’s business.

Metallica in Oslo 2009. © Per Ole HagenLars Ulrich from Metallica was the spokesman for the anti piracy movement against illegal file sharing, which I agree to

Another side of this problem is that both the photogs and editors devaluate the photography as art. The worst is when managers or record companies present photo contracts that literally takes away the photogs copyright and lets them use the photos as they like without paying and often also without crediting the photog. They seem to have forgotten the way they just recently sued high school kids for downloading and sharing music without paying.

Guy Forsyth @ Per Ole HagenGuy Forsyth is a friend who are allowed to use my photos on his FB site

Of course, when friends of mine who play in a band ask to use a picture on their FB page, I say yes. But I think it is important to be conscious about not to make this for everyone. I can understand photogs who start out and want to build up a portfolio who let websites and magazines use their photos. It looks good on their CV. But the sad thing is that often when they start to ask for money, the editor just goes to the next one who does it for free.

Do you have any thoughts on this?

All pictures are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used or shared without written permission.

2 thoughts on “What is the value of a concert photo?

  1. I constantly have situations like those described above and I find it far from easy to live on photography incomes.
    We are put in the situation when we have to diminish the value of our job ourselves or watch it diminished by others… really sad. We have to respect ourselves and what we do.

    The only way out I see is choosing your clients wisely. You won’t be rich with that kind of philosophy (but we are not about getting all the money), but at least you have business relationship with people who value your work.

  2. I fully agree with you. We are destroying and devaluing the art of music photography by giving away our work for free. It’s becoming harder then ever to make a living from it. I often get the same requests as written in the article to contribute my work for me and always get the same response, sorry we a working with a limited budget. I always reply, sorry I don’t want my work associated with an underfunded project. Best of luck!

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