IS THE shabby treatment of photographers becoming an industry practice? I find it worrisome as a photographer that compensation is unjust as we tell stories through images. Sometimes, telling these real stories are more important to the young dreamers, journalists and photojournalists, that pay.

Photography has become a highly competitive field, especially with the advent of social media and advanced technology. Almost everybody has access to expensive phones and can take pictures that beat professional photographers. Others may have access to expensive phones and cameras, but not everyone can compose photographs well – that’s where professionals come in.

One of my early mistakes as a photographer was agreeing to shoot for a director and a singer. They flashed a contract that stated we would offer our work for free, disguised as “internship with free food.”

It was the worst kind of exploitation — cheap labor coming from a fellow creative professional in the same industry, clearly taking advantage of new artists. It is a seductive mistake that we must avoid.

Former senator Bam Aquino filed Senate Bill No. 351 or the Freelancers Protection Act and stated in his explanatory note: “In the event that an employer refuses to pay a freelancer for services rendered, the aggrieved party can file a complaint to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and can expect the agency to investigate and, should the complaint be considered valid, a penalty of up to P250,000 shall be imposed on the non-compliant employer.”

“With more and more freelancers in the country, we are confronted with an urgent need to protect this new sector and empower them with ease of doing business,” he said.
Free meals and exposure will not build a house or provide necessities, or medicines when photographers get hospitalized, knowing how overworked most of us are.

Our industry treats photographers and artists lightly. For decades, schools and society at large taught art as a hobby.

Artists were made to feel that their field was at a lower level and not at par with Math and Science courses. Our country is still far from understanding the creatives’ needs and still treats artists, including photographers, as hobbyists.

We are still not seeing the bigger picture that photographs may not save lives like doctors do, but can give them meaning and allow us to think deeper than usual to solve societal problems.

The client should only expect a certain level of quality if a photographer is forced to
work for very little compensation or none at all. We are not being paid because the job is easy; we are paid for the years we spent to make our work look easy. Great clients who politely ask for our rates even come back as they see the value of the work we do.

Demanding pay is a right and photographers must stop doing it for free or settling for a lower price. Photographers and creatives in general must ensure that contracts cover work.

Unpaid work for VIPs and celebrities might bolster their portfolios, but will only undermine the industry and cause fellow photographers to lose paid work.


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