Defending photography itself

PHOTOGRAPHERS met on 16 June, planning to discuss how to set up licences for pictures so that they get paid fairly for all uses of their work. The discussion ended up being as much about how editorial photography will survive the advent of relatively cheap high-quality digital cameras. Sara Haq reports.

Experienced photographer Andrew Wiard opened the discussion: "We need to concentrate on the serious problem of organising 'unorganised' freelances in general - including writers. There are thousands of photographers willing to work for next to nothing, and as long as they are doing this, we professionals don't have a chance of establishing decent rates for ourselves." There will always be loads coming into the profession, seduced by the "glamorous image" of the profession.

"The NUJ organises a maximum of 20 per cent of editorial photographers in London. This is not enough. There is a need to fall back to saying no to badly-paid jobs."

We need to explain clearly and authoritatively to photographers, art directors and picture editors what licensing is and how it works. "The photography section of the Freelance Fees Guide needs a complete overhaul - to go into more detail on licensing agreements," he said, emphasising the need for a clear guide not just for photographers, for those using photographers. "This section needs to be authoritative and respected, preferably written by experienced photographers."

Molly Cooper suggested forming networks of freelance photographers working for the same publications - as many NUJ writers are currently doing.

Guy Smallman highlighted the problems of poor wages offered for images for the web, and of professionals who have invested in expensive gear being undercut by those with small-time equipment. Professional equipment, meanwhile, is getting more and more expensive, and this is not being reflected in the rates paid to photographers. There is a need for some kind of editorial photographers "digital manifesto", similar to that produced by the US-based network at

Sion Touhig believes that newspapers won't raise rates until they can no longer find people to take the pictures. "Photographers need to calculate the costs of running their business well," he noted, "just as mini-cab firms use Mercedes or BMWs and pass on the cost."

Before digital photography existed, it was much easier to monitor usage of images: a delivery note was always sent with the transparencies. Now there are no physical barriers to reuse of images sitting on clients' hard drives. It is up to the photographer to set up barriers: licences. If a licence is breached, there should be a financial cost to the client/abuser.

If you want to work as a freelance, you must think of your images being hired out every time someone wants to use them. The image can sit on the client's hard drive, but they must pay for each respective usage.

Jess Hurd drove home the need to educate ourselves: "The digital process has not eliminated the need to charge processing costs - on the contrary, we need to charge for processing the digital images, time spent in setting up contact sheets and PDFs and investment in fast, efficient equipment."

Sion Touhig went on to criticise the method of charging for half and full days: "We need forms and guidance notes for licensing that are simple and easy for clients to use, with tick boxes for the options.

"We need to stress to clients that this ensures they only pay for the uses they need. There should be no hidden costs, but we should be able to justify and charge for our time and effort - not forgetting administration and post-production."

It is important to recognise the cash value of "all rights" - currently the Fees Guide only says that we should not sign them away. The head of one of the big picture libraries calculates the earning potential of an image - for all possible uses for the lifetime of the photographer plus 70 years - say £350,000?

NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said that across the union people were beginning to understand the importance of these issues, and that there was a real need to try to organise freelances more effectively. It is important to target the colleges that churn out would-be photographers year after year. "Many people come into freelancing through non-traditional routes," he observed. More use must be made of the union website, more easily readable information, for exmaple check-lists and agreement forms. It is important to decide what is needed and implement it quickly."

Freelance Organiser John Toner has in fact already added a document to the LFB website on the importance of licensing. There are essentially two routes in tackling problems, he said: either through the courts or industrial action. He suggested that we might target a specific newspaper or magazine: photographers might well decide they were prepared to cut off its supply of pictures if it didn't treat them better.

Andrew Wiard pointed out that the UK government has ballyhooed its support for "the creative industries" for the past five years: we should capitalise on this by pressing government departments to implement "best practice" in dealing with photographers. The Ministry of Defence and in particular Wales, have been serious offenders in exploiting photographers.

Jeremy Dear and John Toner have raised this with the MPs of the NUJ Parliamentary Group. They would be grateful to receive any evidence from members (for example copies of letters, emails and contracts) of such bad practice.

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