On photo credits, or how I’m learning to advocate for my creative work

In high school, my dad passed down his college camera, a Pentax K1000, to me, and that kicked off a passion for taking pictures. Being able to capture a specific image, a moment in time, is intoxicating. Since then, I’ve invested in that part of myself: taken classes in high school and college, bought equipment, and spent time-so much time- honing my craft. There have been times when I wanted it to be the way I made a living, and that feeling still comes and goes. There is still so much to learn, and imposter syndrome creeps in all too easily. I’ve mostly done portraits for friends and acquaintances, some landscapes for work, and various other odd jobs.

Last year, I took a few bigger steps. Thanks to local soccer coming to Greenville, I had the opportunity to learn about sports photography, both on and off the field. I called myself an “embedded photographer” with a supporters group, I had my work shared on social media, and a few pictures even showed up on local news (mostly because they were of a cute kid)! I was published on a website (shoutout to Soccer ‘N’ Sweet Tea for paying attention to me). I shot my first wedding (!) The opportunities were wonderful, and confidence-giving; they were also things I wasn’t ready for. I did not have a real strategy for keeping tabs on my work, for translating the hours of knowledge and shooting and editing into a solid way of growing my brand. I flew by the seat of my pants, and it often showed.

What I asked of people who wanted to use my work was photo credit, basically to be paid in exposure, and for pictures not to be used commercially without my consent/some kind of payment. I think I was worried about not being worthy of anything more (and the pains of figuring out logistics and taxes if I charged-jeez, you’d think a liberal arts degree would have better prepared me for adult financial plans!) I will be frank: I did not always even get what I was asking, and felt terrible about asking people to simply mention me while using my hard work. And honestly, it probably hurt other photographers-devaluing my work could set expectations for others. This brings me to a wonderful tweet by a local entrepreneur I respect:

Oh, Josh. You’re cutting to the heart of my issue:
1. I didn’t feel like I was charging a “good price” because I was shy about my product.
2. When I was confident in the “price”, and it was ignored, I would just lower the price (to “no credit”)
The problem is that I felt like it was the only option-I did not feel like I could advocate for myself, or change my approach. And that’s not good-it led to feeling resentment (when I was happy with the pictures) or unsure of my skills. As it turns out, sports leagues and teams are also sometimes bad at this from their end:

I would love to wrap this all up with a pretty bow, and say that I have it all figured out. That would be a lie. I’m still currently working for photo credit, opting to make my work available for download in order to get my name “out there”. I’m paying for website hosting and renting lenses and putting miles on my shoes and actuations on my shutters, all while giving away free content. But I don’t believe that it has to be that way forever anymore. I am (working to be) more confident in asking for credit where it is due, I have looked at paid positions shooting soccer, I am (maybe) finally seeing what I and my work are worth. And I will not apologize for that anymore.

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