Photographers, Are You a Whore? - Gary Ng Photography
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Photographers, Are You a Whore?

You know I rarely write anything on here, breaking the trend with some words from yours truly. There is a 100% chance of grammatical errors ahead. Proceed with caution.

Like it or not, all photographers started out the same way, the same goes for me, 10 years ago. I shot photos for free so I could get exposure to the industry which wasn’t very saturated at the time. My first wedding assignment was of not one, but two Vietnamese couples at a church (they obviously did not have the means to hire photographers or even hold a wedding ceremony, so the Church did it for them). I shot it for free with a couple of friends, got some great new experience and we felt that was the right thing to do.

My big break came when one of my friend asked if I could shoot her dancing performance for her, I accepted the challenge in a heartbeat. And of course I did it for free. Ever since then, all I could remember was myself shooting photos of the performing arts, to the point where I was invited to present my works at the Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival.

10 years was a long time, I felt that I have gathered enough exposure and experience to actually think of doing photography as my freelance job but the problem that persist is that… photographers are whores. We have been whoring ourselves for the past 10 years (at least for me) doing free jobs so we could get exposure and experience.

The industry had grew tremendously since then, it is now saturated with young people and incredible talents. There are always people with less experience looking to venture into your field, and they are whoring themselves to do that. This is a deadly game that we as photographers are playing as this is a cycle that will never end.

Dear fellow photographers, are we whores?


Over the past few years, performing arts have been blooming in Malaysia, there were so many great performances and new performers coming up on stage. Here is the kicker though, these showcases rarely have enough funding, sometimes not even enough for their own performers, hence, a performing arts photographer getting paid for his work is but a wet dream.

This is such a cancer in our industry that an open invitation to shoot a performance by organisers are perpetuated as a ‘payment’. Because it is supposed to be exclusive hence your ‘exclusivity’ to the performance IS your payment.

Photographers, social media fame – is not a payment

Normally organisers will credit your name for the photographs that you took but, when you think about it – what for? More exposure to get another invitation to another performance which is not paying anything either? I hope that organisers are not forgetting that photographers are invited to the performances to work, not to party. Not to mention the next few days worth of time we photographers spend on post production. Please note that these performances that I am talking about are commercial performances and not for charity.

I do what most photographers do, sort through thousands of photos and then putting them through post production, finally posting them on this website for everybody to see. Remember, up to this point, I still haven’t gotten a single dime for all the work done. Most of the time though, organisers would thank me for the great photos I shot for them and they would share the link on social media. And that’s that, the end of it.

I have ran into a few cases where the organisers requested for the high res version of the photos. They obviously wanted to use them in the future for similar productions, update their portfolio or for wherever applicable which is fair. I would then kindly ask if they would purchase them for future use at a minimal price. Most say they will think about it which normally ends up with no replies but there are few organisers who really bought them. Kudos to them.

If you were to put this into perspective, it is almost like I am doing an advertorial for a performance showcase, furthermore I am doing this for free. I hope people know that bloggers are actually paid to do these kind of jobs, how can a professional organiser ask for anything more from a professional photographer or anybody at all in fact whom they have not paid a single cent to? Isn’t that just greedy? Would you invite an artist to paint your portrait and without paying him anything, assume that he should automatically give you that painting for free? Yes, you face may be in the painting but the painting definitely do not belong to you UNLESS you bought it from him.

And for some organisers, this infuriates them. Below are some of the responses I got when I kindly asked the organisers if they would like to purchase the high res copies for their future use or for their portfolio keeping.

“The copyright of the performance belongs to us, please do not use images from our performances on your website, if you do not intend to give us the high res copies”

I am not really sure how the photographs that was shot by me actually somehow belong to the organiser. Yes it may be your showcase, but you had an open invitation for photographers to shoot the showcase, where the organiser have not stated any terms nor conditions. You wanted more than what was provided to you (online low res photos which may be shared with credit) for everybody to see from someone whom you have not paid or have contractual agreements with.

“We invited you to performance and hence we are entitled to the high res photos”

This again is the assumption of social media fame is enough to cover for the photographer’s payment. Likes can not actually feed the photographer.

“Why do you not agree to this win win situation where you get to shoot the show and we get to keep the photos?”

There is no win win situation in this. All the win goes to the organiser, but the photographer? Who travelled to the showcase location, sat there for a few hours to shoot your show, spent money on gear so they could actually shoot usable photos for your show and the time used for post production? There is only a lose lose situation for photographers.

“Don’t worry, we will credit you when we use your image!”

Crediting again, do not pay our bills. A matter of fact, credit should be given to the photographer even after the organisers bought the images from the photographer. It is afterall, the photographer’s work. You don’t buy a Toyota, then name it after yourself, it’s still a Toyota, the manufacturer’s name.

“We will not invite you to our next show”

How is this even sane? What have we done? To ask for payment for content we created and which the organiser would like to use?

“Gary, come to my birthday party, remember to bring your camera!”

Sorry, I got a little too carried away at the last one. Anyway, to get back on track…

You see, the industry is so used to whored up photographers that there is a pre-assumption, that photographers do not need to be paid and we had always been volunteer workers who are willing to give the organisers anything they want like we owe our lives to them, so we could ‘exclusively’ shoot another performance for them, free of charge later on. How does this business model even sound right? This is because the organisers know that if one photographer doesn’t do it, another photographer will whore up themselves for the slot. Seriously, my fellow photographers, stop being a whore.

In actual fact, whores get paid, we are worse than them.

  • Tian Chad
    Posted at 22:40h, 22 June Reply

    It is hard to stop the newbie from becoming phore (I’ve been there done that) but I think people only learn how to NOT shoot for free after feeling confident with own photography skill and realising self worth get paid =)

    I think the dance organiser should pay for all photography service and discuss properly with you before they give you this so called “exclusivity” photography opportunity. Sometimes photog just need to learn how to say “No”, we can’t get all good stuff from both side. But again, everything need to be discussed properly and deal with on what to do next with the photo later.

    • Gary Ng
      Posted at 22:54h, 22 June Reply

      All photographers have been there and done that, i’m sure. I guess it really does come to knowing how to say “No”, rather than be a whore to the system. But you can rarely beat the system right?

  • Àngel Hormigo
    Posted at 22:52h, 22 June Reply

    It’s a shame… Congrat for the post!

    • Gary Ng
      Posted at 22:56h, 22 June Reply

      It’s a shame. Does it happen from where you are too? Btw, do share this out 🙂

      • Àngel Hormigo
        Posted at 22:57h, 22 June Reply

        Of course yes… and also it becomes very common here… sad!

  • albertopr
    Posted at 23:14h, 22 June Reply

    Hey Gary I have always worked as photo assistant and freelancer and never worked for free as photographer. Creating compelling images is the way we make our living. If we give away our images for free, we cannot make a living. The primary rationale provided in nearly all requests for free photographs is budgetary constraint… Such requests frequently originate from organisations with enough money on hand.

    To make matters worse, it is apparent that all too often, of all the parties involved in a project or particular effort, photographers are the only ones being asked to work for free. Everyone else gets paid. Given considerations like this, you can perhaps understand why we frequently feel slighted when we are told that: “We have no money.” Such claims can come across as a cynical ploy intended to take advantage of gullible individuals. With some exceptions, photography is not a highly remunerative profession. We have chosen this path in large part due to the passion we have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matters in which we specialise.

    The substantial increase in photographs available via the internet in recent years, coupled with reduced budgets of many photo buyers, means that our already meager incomes have come under additional strain. Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant monetary investment. Getting “Credit” Doesn’t Mean Much. Part and parcel with requests for free images premised on budgetary constraints is often the promise of providing “credit” and “exposure”, in the form or a watermark, link, or perhaps even a specific mention, as a form of compensation in lieu of commercial remuneration.

    There are two major problems with this: First, getting credit isn’t compensation. We did, after all, create the images concerned, so credit is automatic. It is not something that we hope a third party will be kind enough to grant us. Second, credit doesn’t pay bills.

    In instances where I do agree to work for free is only on personal projects with collaborations of third parties. (or for the family) ;P But working for free is giving you no credit as professional, you have to sell yourself as a Pro photographer an act like one.

    Don´t misunderstand me I have always some “clients” who tell me that they would be happy to model for me if I need any portfolio work. The mentality is that a photographer’s time is worth less than their time as a model, they’re doing ME a favor. I should be grateful that they gave me their time and I should reward them by giving them my work for free, to include the RAW images (because they’re good with Picasa and can edit the images themselves). I also have “clients” that want to “negotiate” a better price that they “can get a better price”. That’s like going to your favorite restaurant and asking to pay a lower price for your meal. These people expect an all day shoot, an printed album, a DVD with all the edited images, and they want it all for less bugs…

    So you need to be a buisnessmen no favors only cash 😀 If you want to just do it as a hobby then do that. If someone wants you to shoot their wedding, baby, etc… then charge them accordingly. Don’t know what to charge? Do some research. Find out what the market looks like in your area, take some business classes, charge what you’re worth.

    And never I mean never feel sorry for asking to be compensated for what you do. Keep up the good work ;D

    • Gary Ng
      Posted at 23:26h, 22 June Reply

      Thank you so much for your enlightening comment. Yes, I do charge for wedding photographs and all the other sorts. But this just isn’t the case for the performing arts industry here. There seems to be no catalyst of change, and if you go against the paradigm, u get shot down and get dirty stuff on your face.

      Most of the organisers have told me the same thing, that they do not have enough funding to hire a photographer. This is because of the the paradigm that we created ourselves, the photographers in giving people the perception and assumption that photographers will work for free just because they are passionate about it. This has to stop.

      New photographers need to know that exposure and credits really do NOT pay bills. And credit should be given to the photographer even after the organisers bought the images from the photographer. It is afterall, the photographer’s work. You don’t buy a Toyota, then name it after yourself, it’s still a Toyota, the manufacturer’s name.

  • albertopr
    Posted at 00:05h, 23 June Reply

    Sorry about the long comment I did not wanted to sound enlightening XD I hope you can find a solution and it is a very sad shame.

  • sloppy buddhist
    Posted at 01:43h, 23 June Reply

    i read this…a few weeks ago…your post resonates for me…thanks for sharing and the comments…The Paradox of Art as Work

    Art is imagined to exist in a realm of value that lies beyond mere economic considerations, but money is a key measure of artistic success.

    • Gary Ng
      Posted at 15:54h, 30 June Reply

      Thanks for the great read. Art, is indeed a paradox…

  • pammyv02
    Posted at 19:33h, 23 June Reply

    Hey Gary,

    I love your article and I think you are right. I’ve did a friend a favour and it became almost a full time job. In this case, the images were not even credited and to top it all off, am constantly being requested to the point where I had enough.
    It is true that we need to learn to say no. When you offer helping hand, it is your entire arm that ends up being taken. It is up to us to know our worth and charge accordingly.

    Great article Gary!!!

    • Gary Ng
      Posted at 15:57h, 30 June Reply

      Sometimes, your arm is not enough for the greed of others. Never ever feed the greedy, after all, people do not appreciate slaves.

  • roblowephoto
    Posted at 04:50h, 24 June Reply

    Been there. Still doing that. But in a small town where nobody can or wants to budget for more professional shoots… one still has to work the proverbial day job whilst shooting for often (less than) peanuts if we want to continue doing what we love. Nobody except the photographer cares about a photog’s expenditure or time. And fewer want to pay what it’s all worth, either. Sad but true. And it sucks. Very poignant post that left me feeling just a tad teed off with it all. But this only means you have hit the nail squarely on the head. R.

    • Gary Ng
      Posted at 16:02h, 30 June Reply

      That is exactly why I say no to ever taking photography as a full time job. You are right, nobody appreciates a photographer and his time, apparently, we are worth way less than any other normal human being in terms of that. Because in most people’s mind, it’s all about just pressing the shutter and they could do that too on their iphone. We have to learn to say “no” from now on.

  • el_abe
    Posted at 17:39h, 04 July Reply

    Don’t let yourself get to the point of bitterness and resentment! I went through this phase a few years ago. Burned me out and I did not even want to shoot at all. Now I have taken money out of the equation (except for the occasional wedding) and I am much happier. I shoot what I want and do it how I want. Currently I am just hoarding all my photos and not posting as much as I used to. Maybe it is a bit selfish, but I have to shoot for myself in order to bring meaning and passion back into my work. Might go the art print route or book route, but the whore route just makes me hate people and worse, myself for being a push over. I used to think I want to be a full time photographer, but I realize I take it more personal than most other facets of my life. I can whore out other things. Currently I am a web designer and have no problem doing whatever is required for some good money. Personally, I rather protect what I love. More power to those who can balance art and business. Not sure what I will be doing in a few years but I’m sure I will always have a camera nearby and looking for whatever access and experience I can get without resenting people or money.

    • Gary Ng
      Posted at 23:45h, 14 August Reply

      Thanks for your advice. I will definitely not stop shooting photos but hopefully people could be just less greedy and stop exploiting us.

  • Allen Cook
    Posted at 09:47h, 27 September Reply

    Hello Gary. Browsing around, I came across your article. You do great work, by the way. Thanks for sharing. Value. Far too many people don’t see the value in what a photographer really does. If that organizer didn’t want to exchange money for the images, why did they ask for them? They must believe in the value of them in some form or another. Amazing. Technology, in view of the “instant-download-I-want-it-now factor”, has no doubt had an effect on some buyers (not all) failing to understand or think about the reality of the ‘big picture’ of all that’s involved in artistic productions (photos, music, etc). “Instant” has made all of us, in some form or another, demanding. We don’t even think as clearly as we used to because we don’t have to. We press buttons and touch screens, and there it is. The “human effort factor” is almost to the point of being synonymous with the level of “slave”, especially as the gap between upper and lower classes becomes more clear, with no middle to speak of. I had a similar situation in which I was asked to photograph “on spec” a concert of a vocal coaches’ students who were mostly singer/songwriters, with “hopes” that some of the participants would purchase something. The more questions I asked, I understood it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to be there for hours, for free. Other issues, potential problems, and misunderstandings began to surface during the query (too much to go into). I had to walk away from the “deal”. With that said, my friend, hold onto your photo passion. Hold on to your images – don’t give them away. Be well!

    • Gary Ng
      Posted at 22:39h, 01 December Reply

      Sometimes, sending a message means not taking up that so called ‘deal’ no matter how much you want to do it.

  • JPei
    Posted at 14:22h, 01 December Reply

    Wow, thanks for bringing this to my attention. I’m worth more than a free photoshoot!

    • Gary Ng
      Posted at 22:39h, 01 December Reply

      Hi city explorer. We are all worth more than that, don’t let it get to you! Cheers!

  • smugmanola
    Posted at 02:26h, 26 February Reply

    Having been a professional photographer and director in NYC for 15 years back in the day i feel confident with what i am about to say. YOU ARE SPOT ON. It is a ridiculous business. Just imagine trying to get tires for you SUV without paying for them for 60 or 90 Days. That pretty much sums up photography and advertising.

    • Gary Ng
      Posted at 23:32h, 01 April Reply

      Yes. It’s a pretty sad reality. And remember… There’s always someone else willing to do what you don’t

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