A Penny Saved…

24 05 2010

A couple of months ago I bought a new toilet. It cost me $120 to have a plumber install it.

This month, I bought a new faucet. After crawling under the sink in a contorted position that must have qualified me for the Cirque de Soleil, I installed it myself. It was at least as difficult as a toilet, so I figure I saved at least $120. To celebrate, I cooked my husband dinner (chipotle lemon salmon), saving another $40. I even managed to take care of a little business while under the sink.

This is proof to me that my cost-of-doing-business is not just related to my business expenses. This tells me that anytime I feel like taking an assignment for an absurdly low fee, I can think about how I earn money when I don’t have work to do. Considering I end up re-investing about 50% of what I bill, I would have had to earn at least $320 to make up for the time I spent at home today. I rarely, if ever, accept an assignment for that low, but now I have good evidence of what my non-photo time is worth.

I also consider my time studying for law school to be enormously valuable for what it will earn me in the future, as well as helping me actually get the benefit of all of that tuition money.

So this is my new mantra:

A penny saved– by not having to call the plumber/electrician/landscaper/maid/ babysitter (someday)/restaurant/etc.,– is a penny earned — by not taking an assignment that devalues my work and my time.

Other ways to save/earn money while idle include:

  • researching new marketing opportunities (groupon anyone)?
  • contacting old clients to see if they have any upcoming needs
  • standardizing forms and contracts
  • updating my website
  • working on SEO
  • finding discounts on things I need (I could have saved $20 if I ordered that faucet online)
  • sending in my lights for repair

How do you earn money when you aren’t shooting? Feel free to comment below.



Is your Internship Illegal?

7 04 2010

You need an internship. Companies love having interns because it lightens the work load, they get to nurture and identify young talent and it supports the industry to train future photographers.

Tea pickin' is probably not eligible for unpaid internships. Photo by Alicia Wagner Calzada

There is an interesting article in the New York Times about the expanding trend of unpaid internships and the reality that some unpaid internships violate federal wage laws.

I also found a useful evaluation at this link.

One of the big concerns is that unpaid internships are being used to replace paid workers in this economic recession. This is certainly true in the photojournalism world.

Some states require that an intern receive school credit in order to be eligible as an unpaid intern.

The Department of Labor has provided a set of guidelines to determine whether someone is a trainee, entitled to not being paid (this is relevant for Fair Labor Standards Act- i.e., whether or not minimum wage laws are being violated).

There is also a report by the Economic Policy Insitute on the trends and need for reform for internships.

According to the DOL, there are six factors used for determining if someone is an employee or trainee:

1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the
employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic
educational instruction;
2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees;
3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the
activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually
be impeded;
5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training
period; and
6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to
wages for the time spent in training.

“If all of the factors listed above are met, then the worker is a “trainee”, an employment
relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the worker.”

This does not affect non-profits using volunteers.

You may think this is overkill when you have a student willing to work for free in exchange for valuable experience, but this is extra important for photographers because the consideration of whether someone is an employee is also important for consideration of who owns the copyright. Also if there is an on-the-job injury or a sexual discrimination case, employment status is extremely important.

Wedding photography disaster- protect yourself

6 10 2009

This story about a wedding photographer in England who was sued for providing “shoddy” photography holds a few lessons, for both photographers and brides to be. For brides, do your homework and get a decent, and professional photographer. These photos, and the video as well, make me wonder if the couple looked at any examples of the photographer’s work before they hired him. Was this just a bad day? I can’t imagine.

For photographers, the lesson is that an important element of your contract is a determination of what happens if something goes wrong.  Disasters happen. Car accidents and family emergencies happen. Even good equipment, on rare occasion, fails. My contract, regardless of the client, has a limitation of liability that says if something does go wrong, my liability is only the amount paid to me. I guarantee my work, but I am not willing to foot the bill for a second wedding if someone doesn’t like my style. To have such a guarantee would force me to raise my prices significantly.

This is important, not because I expect my client to be unhappy- on the contrary, I have very happy clients. But photography is subjective. For example, the judge in the above article found that the photography was bad based in part on the fact that some heads were cut off, and some horizons were crooked. Some photos were out of focus. From a stylistic perspective, you might have award-winning images with heads cut off, crooked horizons and soft focus.

This brings up another point. I don’t know whether the photographer in the above case gave all his images to the bride, or only a selection, but as a rule, I ALWAYS provided only an edited selection. I learned the hard way to never provide my entire take to someone who is not a photography professional. Doing so is an invitation to be judged by your outtakes, which by definition, stink.

You could certainly take my worst outtakes from any event I have photographed, haul me before a judge, and get a judgment that I am a bad photographer. But that will never happen, because my job is not to make every frame I shoot perfect. My job is to to provide a selection of wonderful, unique images. That is what the client wants, and that is what the client gets.

Bankrupt Tribune Co. paying freelancers and stringers

14 01 2009

Despite its bankruptcy filing on Dec. 8, 2008, Tribune Company appears to be paying freelancers and stringers for work done during the bankruptcy period (before Dec. 8). A memo on the Tribune bankruptcy website states that payments should arrive in mid-January. Some payments have already gone through.

In a memo on it’s bankruptcy website, Tribune wrote,

“After a careful review of the outstanding invoices submitted by the freelancers/stringers at Tribune’s business units, the company has determined that it will be possible to begin paying these individuals for work done prior to Dec. 8, 2008.”

According to the memo, payments have a statutory limit of $10,950 per individual.

Work completed on or after December 8, 2008, is not affected by the bankruptcy filing and should be paid as normal, according to Tribune.

We have confirmed that some pre-petition invoices have already been paid.

Photographers with questions should check with the publication with which they have done the work for. Those who still have not been paid by the end of the month should file a Proof of Claim Form, available at this link:

A creditors meeting is being held on January 16, 2009 at 10:00 a.m., at J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building, 844 King Street, Room 5209, Wilmington, Delaware 19801

More information on the Tribune bankruptcy, including the memo about freelancers can be found at:


Bankruptcy and Copyright

30 12 2008

Seeing as how one of my clients has filed for bankruptcy, I plan to be researching the issue of bankruptcy more and more.

It is a dense issue. Here is something I have found

Although the bankrupt company’s assets can be re-distributed, intellectual property is different in that the IP rights cannot be assigned to another party unless the IP owner has consented, according to In The Red business bankruptcy blog, (to make the information in this link more understandable, replace the word licensor with photographer and licensee with client/newspaper/magazine):

Also, this discussion on Patry Copyright blog about bankruptcy and patent. (be sure to read the follow-up comments)

Definitely this is complicated. My guess is that this will develop more over the next few years.

As an aside, I think this means we need to watch out for terms in our contracts that would allow IP rights to be assigned to a third party in bankruptcy.

Deconstructing a Bad Contract

7 11 2008

After taking two semester of Contract Law in law school, I feel much more confident negotiating contracts with publishers and other clients. But perhaps you don’t have that kind of time.

Luckily for you, ASMP has a great new feature it just added. It is basically a look at a really bad contract, an explanation of what the legalese really means, and suggestions for alternatives.


Be sure to wave your cursor over the highlighted areas, to take advantage of the pop-ups.

Some confusing terms that are explained: royalty-free, in perpetuity, sublicensable, pre-agreement, exclusivity, liability, indemnification, embargo.

This is a great educational tool for photographers. I highly recommend taking a look at it.

Learning what these clauses means helps you to recognize them and make good decisions about whether you can live with them. Furthermore, having alternative suggestions for your clients eases the negotiation process.

Just don’t get too depressed. ;o)