Disadvantages of being a Freelance Photographer in Singapore
The greatest benefit of being a photographer is that photographers generally love phototaking (this is pretty obvious) and doing something you are passionate about is definitely something many people are dreaming of. For me, I also love getting to know good people. Generally, most clients are kind to photographers since they need the photos from the photographers. So, it seems not so bad right?
However, we have to face reality that things are not always sweet. To be honest, there are plentiful of disadvantages, whether insignificant or critric, of working as a photographer. In this article, I'm listing the cons and problems of being a photographer, which most non-photographers and amateur photographers cannot foresee nor understand.
Imagine you are a photographer, unfortunately, these are likely to be the problems you will be facing...
Exploitation from friends
Some friends are more than willing to invite their photographer friend to their parties because he's able to help them to capture the moments, for free. It doesn't mean all these friends are being super cheapskate but, for sure, they don't know the actual cost of professional photography (cost of equipment, energy and time required for post-production work).
The most insulting thing some friends can do to a photographer is to, out of goodwill (and/or cheapskateness), suggest him to help them with some shoots for free so that he can "build up your portfolio". They obviously belittle his existing portfolio and/or think no client is engaging his photography services.
Of course, all these are probably unintentional and may actually benefit a photographer if he's really new to the trade.
Exploitation from clients
The most common thing is that some clients will try to help a photographer to determine the duration he will need to do certain photography jobs. For example, some clients may approach a photographer to do an one-hour interior or product shoot.
In fact, many things are do-able, depending on the quality of work. There was once, a staff from a big property website approached me to shoot both the interior and exterior of a property, telling me that they would only require half an hour of time from me. When I went to the website, the few albums that I randomly clicked onto were all poorly done. Given the quality of the work, no tripod stand was even required; besides, given half an hour of time, there's no time to use and adjust the tripod. Well, I could have worked with the property website, despite having to provide substandard work, on a long-term basis in order to secure a regular income so that I could continue to produce masterpieces outside the "working hours". Eventually, I couldn't get over my passionate in producing good work.
This is the reason why many professional photographers will charge by the number of photographs for non-event shoots, so that they are able to do their work properly to create excellent photographs without rushing to meet the (short) timeframe.
There are also various other ways clients will try to exploit a photographer, such as asking him to turn up early for event shoots, instead of booking his timeslot earlier.
Clients and models set their own ridiculous expectation
Clients may be on purpose or not, by not reading the service agreement. They may then end up throwing ridiculous expectation during or after the shoot, which may sour the relationship.
For example, some clients will request for the raw files that most professional photographers would not provide, unless it's agreed upon for a commercial shoot. There are two main reasons why they want the raw files. Firstly, they want to have "memory of the actual shoot", which is common but unfortunately, will likely tarnish the reputation of the photographer somehow in the short or long run. Secondly, they know that professional editing is expensive and thus they want to either do the editing work on their own or send the files to some cheap editing services to do a cheap work since non-professional photographers couldn't really tell the quality anyway.
There are many other misconceptions and myths in professional photography that will lead to all the wrong expectations.
There are nasty clients
A photographer may be lucky most of the time but not always. Sometimes, there will be nasty clients who are ridiculous. Some of those who have low IQ or/and EQ may even try to spoil the photographer reputation via social media even though he has done nothing wrong at all.
For instance, there was a return client who hired me to do a wedding shoot for her brother. For event shoots, as mentioned to the client and also stated on my service agreement and throught my website, there's only basic enhancement (colour, exposure correction) and not skin-retouching (advanced editing) that would require huge amount of time for professional work on every photograph. After sending them the photographs, her sister-in-law then requested me to do additional editing and I quoted her my usual rate for professional editing. She didn't reply and started a false accusation on a Facebook group for budget bridal, saying that all my photographs were "bad angle" and "wrong focus", without posting any of my work as evidence.
There are nasty co-workers (models and HMUAs)
Many photographers do collaboration work with talents to produce good art work for the passion or to do marketing. Many talents have approached me after seeing my work and thus I have encountered some very nasty ones.
For example, an aspiring model was pissed off with me because I didn't want to do any free shoot for her. She then sowed discord between me and a HMUA, by twisting words (and tone) from the stories I had shared with her, which involved the HMUA. She continued badmouthing me while working with others when I had done absolutely nothing wrong to her. In fact, I had already helped her with two albums of professional work before I realised something's wrong with her character.
The mentioned HMUA who I used to work very close with, in return, started sowing discord between me and other mutual friends. The first time I realised she was backstabbing me was when a model confronted me after they spoke in private. It's normal for co-workers (photographers and HMUAs) to have a debrief or discussion about the shoots and models, to make improvement and judge whether if they should work with the models/talents again. The HMUA asked the model about the shoot suddenly, to arouse her curiosity, and told her that "Skai said don't expect too many good photos". The model didn't even realise the HMUA was intentionally trying hurt our relationship.
Many clients don't know what they want
Most event shoots are usually quite straightforward. However, for others like editorial shoots, the clients may not know what they want exactly, even though they can tell the photographer "this and that". Eventually, the photographer will be confused and not know the focus, and there may be many unforeseeable problems, especially if the client isn't easygoing.
Some clients may have doubts in paying booking fee
While it's essential for clients to place a booking fee (deposit) to secure the timeslot of the photographer, some of them will hesitate to pay upfront. They are afraid that the photographer would "run away" with the money even though the photographer has a good reputation to maintain after spending so much time, effort and money to setup the website and social media profiles, and also have large portfolios and testimonials from previous clients. They are likely not going to think in the photographer's position that they (clients) are actually unknowns who may find another (probably cheaper?) photographer after confirmation, which will waste the photographer's time and causing lost of income due to rejecting other clients' requests.
Unfortunately, there are stories of photographers (and service providers in other related fields) who have spoiled the market and the trust of clients. They are very rare but they still exist.
Awkward relationship with clients and models
The tone a male photographer uses with a female client and model can be very sensitive. The person may misinterpret the photographer if he sounds too flirtious or she may find the photographer too boring, which may both affect the shoot.
Keeping in touch with a client or model as a friend may also give her the wrong impression that the photographer is doing it for the sake of getting more jobs.
Photographers get weird requests
If a photographer were to reply to all messages/emails, it will definitely drain his time and energy. Not replying is bad while replying with a short "yes/no" answer may be harmful. Somehow, a photographer may just receive too many weird requests that he's unable to reply or reply appropriately.
A photographer may be approached by people to ask him to retouch their photos so as to be "rewarded" by having the permission to add the edited photographs into his portfolio, which he doesn't need. In fact, the copyright of the photographs obviously belongs to the original photographer who has captured them and not the retoucher or the subject inside the photographs. It is also an indirect insult that the photographer's portfolio isn't good enough.
Random strangers may approach photographers for advices or even doing surveys regarding photography. The photographers may want to help but are likely to be overstretched.
Many models/clients cannot handle truth
The job of a photographer is to make sure the models look nice in the photos. One way to make the models look nice is to rectify their flaws. However, not everyone is open to unflattering comments no matter how harmless the photographers try to phrase their sentences. The worst scenario is to work without a makeup artist and yet the model is too full of herself to fix her flaws.
Photographers can get backstabbed easily
For a photoshoot that more than two people are involved, such as the photographer, model and HMUA, it's easy for the photographer to get backstabbed.
For example, in order to improve on the photoshoot, the photographer will be discussing everything about the model with the HMUA, including the flaws in terms of both physical and character. Therefore, it's easy for the HMUA to tell the model "honestly" about the negative things the photographer has mentioned, taking content out of context. In reality, no matter minor the flaw is, delivering from a third person (probably in a bad way) will only make the photographer seems like a villain.
People do malign professional photographers with fake stories
You can't please everyone, so do photographers. No matter how detailed or naggy the photographer can be during the discussion, the model can cry foul months or years later, probably due to someone (a hater of the photographer) instigating her.
For example, I did an implied nude art shoot with a girl. I confirmed with her thrice during our discussion that she wouldn't be wearing her underwear during the shoot although none of her private parts would be shown. She was very open-minded and enthusiastic. In one of her replies, she even made it sound like I was a bit dumb to be clarifying with her again, "Cause we already discussed that it is gonna nude, put panty for what". She was very friendly towards me throughout but I didn't keep in touch with her after sending her the final photographs. However, she worked often with a toxic HMUA who had been sowing discord between me and other mutual friends/models. A year later, I realised she was spreading rumours about me and even bluffed everyone that she didn't know she had to be nude until during the shoot.
Other "photographers" do get jealous and toxic
If you've established yourself a little after doing years of photography, you might be inviting jealousy from other "photographers" who can find all ways to backmouth you just to make themselves look better in front of aspiring models.
I've heard from a freelance model friend that a few "photographers" were critizing me in a Telegram group because they thought I had shared too many photography related things online. I didn't even know them. They also talked about my Instagram account that I didn't have time to manage (interact with other users). Thanks to them, I might have enjoyed some free publicity, except that that Telegram group likely wasn't going to generate any client for any professional photographer. They probably made a fool out of themselves when people start comparing the qualities of our work.
Models may doubt a photographer's judgments in their looks because the photographer is not a HMUA
No matter how experienced a photographer is, models may not believe his judgment in their looks as long as the photographer isn't a renowned hair and makeup artist (HMUA). Not being able to draw their faces does not mean a photographer cannot point out flaws on their faces and it can be quite insulting to doubt the photographer who has great experience and has also worked with various makeup artists.
Many models and HMUAs don't cooperate fully
There are chances that the photographer has to work with inexperienced models and HMUAs and some will definitely be full of themselves. Some of them may have done a few photoshoots with random photographers who usually don't care much about the procedures as long as the models can show some cleavages during the shoot. Eventually, the newbies are being led to think that photoshoots can be done easily without much planning. The most common problem from models is that they don't think it's necessary to show the outfits to be used for the photoshoots, in (usual) cases that they are supposed to provide the outfits. Whereas, new HMUAs may have their preferred comfortable environments for doing their work, even for outdoor shoots.
Many models/clients waste the photographer's time
Many models and clients who approach a photographer to collaborate or engage his services are actually much less enthusiastic than they sound initially. Most people will eventually change their minds soon because of the Chinese's saying "three minutes of heat" (directly translated). Some people may suddenly realise they are too shy for portraiture shoot while some think they do not need to spend the money to get professional photographs taken for their events. When the person asks the photographer for ideas and somehow doesn't go ahead with the shoot, it's certainly wasting of the photographer's time and effort.
Ideas may be stolen
Most people don't realise that ideas are important assets of a photographer. Photography services do providing ideas (or solution), which many photographers may have overlooked. When a client or model approaches a photographer, the photographer may propose a special concept for the photoshoot or even come out with an unique idea that suits the model. The photographer's ideas may be stolen, such that the person can use it, with or without modification, with other cheaper photographers.
There was once when a staff from big brand approached me, she requested me to come out with an idea for their commercial shoot so that the company would decide whether to use my photography services or not. I turned her down.
Most people think photographers make a lot of money easily
Most people think paying photographers hundreds of bucks per hour is ridiculously expensive. They don't know the cost of the equipment and their lifespan, the effort to carry the heavy and bulky equipment for shoot, the experience, knowledge and skill of the photographers... and they choose not to know that for every shoot, it may take hours just to edit one photograph. They just don't know the actual cost of photography.
It can be hurtful when people unintentionally make wrongly remarks on photographers they are still struggling with their art, especially for those photographers who always make extra effort to produce the best photographs possible.
There are many new or inexperienced photographers out in the market who are charging very little amount for their work. Most clients do look at prices rather than quality of work and will skip a professional photographer if they happen to come across photographers who charge much cheaper rates.
Of course, photographers who undercut the market are usually being hated by other professional photographers while they are likely not able to sustain their photography business for long, unless they have other full time jobs and simply taking photography as a hobby.
I have witnessed a photographer, with at least a year of experience, charging my friend less than half of my rate, which was even lower than my starting rate. There's also a hobbyist who was paying models money to shoot them and had charged my model friend $30/hr for her actual day wedding photography.
Black sheep have spoiled the market
There are quite a number of blacklisted photographers who have spoiled the reputation of all photographers. Potential models and clients are quite wary of being taken advantage of during the photoshoots. There are also many types of photography and modelling scams that are scaring people.
Even after displaying a huge quantity of quality work online, there are still many girls who may be slightly wary of me when it comes to solo portrait photography, even for outdoor photoshoots.
Excess useless enquiries
Most people who approach professional photographers are mostly interested in finding out their charging rates. These people are likely to be sourcing around only for cheap packages. Therefore, photographers will get lots of enquiries that are wasting their time replying, unless the photographers are going to undercut the market too by quotating a low rate.
Most companies and organisations require their staff to get at least three quotations from vendors, including photographers, for every project. Therefore, many staff have to approach different photographers in order to hit their quotas, such that there's a high chance that the enquiry for a photographer would led to nothing.
Even after stating my charges on my website and without listing my number inside, so as to reduce people from casually approaching me for price-checking, I was still bothered by people every now and then. Quite frequently, I would receive enquiries from people who would sound very keen in getting my photography services. They would even sound satisfied with my rates and request me to provide them with an official quotation that would require some time for me to prepare and email to them to their official email addresses. After that, they would go MIA. It's very likely that these people are just looking to hit their quotas for quotations as a standard operation procedure (SOP) in Singapore.
Photographers are targeted by spammers
Having their contact details on the web means the photographers are very vulnerable to being spammed. Photographers will get all sorts of spams for SEO services, printing, stock image and directory companies.
Not everyone appreciates the photographer's photography skill
Most people are looking only at prices and not the personal touch of the photographer. Many people also think photography is solely about clicking of the shutter button. Most people cannot tell quality of photos and they only want photographs to be taken. Eventually, most photographers have to get used to the fact that their work is not being appreciated.
Some people think photographs don't need to be edited
Since not everyone can tell the quality of photographs, most people are clueless about post-production work. They may suggest that the photographers not have to edit the photographs before sending them. DSLRs are really powerful tools but they are not smart enough to know what setting the photographers want. Even the auto flash using the technology, known as through-the-lens (TTL), may fail to produce the "correct" exposure. Therefore, most photographers' work will need to be processed to be "perfect" before sending to the clients.
Photographs straight from the cameras may have their own colour tones added. However, the raw photographs won't look as good as what professional photographers will produce. They require as least basic enhancement by the photographers in order to look professional and unique.
Photo-editing requires time and effort and if someone thinks it's not necessary, then he or she will never appreciate the photographer's talent and likely not willing to pay the reasonable price for the photography services.
Many people think post-production work is easy
Some people expect photographers to return them the photographs soon after the actual photoshoot. They do not understand that photographers may have even taken duplicated photos sometimes for backup purpose (for example, in case one of the subjects brinked) and thus will need extra effort to choose the best out of the photos taken. They also don't know that photographers will need time to do other adjustments like cropping, colour correction and exposure adjustments.
Many people think that post-production work, including skin touch-up, is simple, probably due to the availability of many phone applications (app). They don't know the differences between working with high and low resolution photographs, partly because they usually view photographs only on small screens, such as screens of mobile phones. They also don't know how to appreciate the quality (natural and detailed) of photographs, just like how they know nothing about professional skin retouching.
Therefore, they may belittle photographers, their skill and effort. It can be insulting. Unfortunately, the belittling would also lead to the low rates clients are willing to pay for professional photography.
A small percentage of people do complain photographs are too well edited
Most people are vain and will push photographers to edit away their flaws in order to make them look "perfect". However, there are some weird ones who complain behind the photographers that photographers make them look too nice that they "look different" in the photographs, when in the first place, they don't state any preference, even after seeing the portfolio.
A thick girl approached me to work with me in my personal project. Instead of doing boudoir shoot, I proposed doing an art shoot with black backdrop so that I could make her look slimmer. I did low key shoot to shape her using my lighting, played with angles and props and taught her to pose in a flattering way. She looked much skinner in the raw photographs and I finished it in post-production to shape her furthermore, including removing her bodyful of scars and stretch marks. She didn't sound anything out and continued to interact with me months later. However, she suddenly started grumbling about me making her look too good that "the photographs didn't look like her".
The facts are: (1) Everyone can still recognise her in the photographs, except when viewers zoom in, they can't see the stretch marks and she also doesn't look fat - I made her look a little meaty still. (2) She looks slim in the photographs she uses on her comcard, which are taken by other photographers.
People edit the professionally edited photographs
With the availability of many phone editing applications, it's easy for anyone to do basic editing on a photograph using her phone. However, many people start getting over-confident and think that they can do the same or even better job than professional photographers who have years of experience working on large resolution (to the extent that even tiny flaws are visible) and sharp photographs on their large monitors. After the professional photographer sends them the professionally edited photographs, they will edit them before posting online.
People think photographers can do wonders
Some people think photographers can turn black duckie into a swan without engaging the help of a hair and makeup artist. Many others, including some models, may think photographers can produce great photographs for outdoor shoot under bad conditions like shooting near noon time. Photographers will get lots of unreasonable demands that will force them to provide bad quality photographs, or at least, much lower quality than they could provide.
The usual remarks are "you're the professional photographer and I trust you!", after giving really bad constraits for the photoshoot. On a side (happy) note, these clients usually won't have a high expectation of work, or at least, not at the level of a professional photographer.
Irregular meal time
As most of the event shoots, such as gala dinner or wedding, are held during normal meal time, photographers are likely to take their meals at weird timing (early or late) on days with on site jobs.
Even though many clients are very nice and would want the photographers to take some food during the shoot, most responsible photographers would not want to miss any good moment/shot during the event. Will a responsible photographer sit down comfortably and enjoy the food together with the guests when he's being paid to capture good photographs? Of course, in special situations that the corporate clients have, without the photographer's knowledge, caterred food for him and when all the guests (not many kids) are busy eating (can't snap any photograph), it will be a different story. Then, the photographer may be busy throwing food inside his mouth and risk having indigestion. For example, I may take 45 minutes for my usual meals but during event shoots, I will likely finish it within 10 minutes.
As for portrait photoshoots, the golden hours (sunrise and sunset) are crucial. It takes time to set up and dismantle the equipment after the photoshoots. Therefore, meal time would be irregular as well.
Photography equipment are expensive
Camera bodies are expensive but many lenses are even more expensive. Even the lens filters to protect the lenses cost over a hundred bucks. "Good things do not come cheap" usually does apply to photography gears. Other than common items such as rechargeable batteries, there are many equipment that are required to be purchased in order to produce better photographs like light modifiers. To sum up, a photographer would need to spend a lot of money before he can produce very good and unique photographs.
Photography equipment will wear and tear
Equipment easily get worn off over time or can be dropped accidentally. Even the shutter button of a DSLR has a lifespan. Replacements of parts may not worth the money and thus photographers may need to get a new set. It's about money again. Replace and replacement of parts can cost hundreds of bucks easily.
Photography equipment are heavy
A basic set up for event shoot like a Canon 6D (lightest fullframe body at a period of time) with Canon 24-70mm F2.8 II lens and a Canon 600 EX-RT speedlite can weigh near 2kg. Imagine you have to hold it up for long duration and even on a single hand when you need to change the direction of light to produce better looking photographs. At times, when the venue is too crowded, you have to keep the camera by your side and thus, you will be supporting it with a single hand. You may not be able to leave the camera hanging over your neck in case anyone hit it accidentally and thus your hand will be holding it most of the time in such situation. I have injured my right hand from bisect to wrist for a few times.
For portraiture shoot, basic setup will require a few light modifiers such as umbrellas, softboxes and light stands. There are also smaller items such as adapters and triggers. The total weight of equipment are usually over 10kg, unless a photographer is going for natural light casual shooting.
For paid work, many photographers will usually bring an extra camera body and lens along just in case.
Marketing and PR work requires more time
Obviously, most photographers love photography. However, marketing work actually takes up more time. If a photographer doesn't market himself, such as posting his work online, nobody will know about how good his art work is. He also needs to talk and discuss with clients and models before the shoot, and often, he will not get the business somehow.
The marketing and PR work can be very draining physically and mentally.
A freelance photographer will appear to be very free
A photographer's time can be flexible but busy. Other than going out for the actual shooting, the photographer actual spends a lot of time doing post-production and marketing work. The editing work will usually take longer time than the actual shooting, depending on the effort spent. When a photographer is deem as free, people will try to push things to him or simply approach him for help even without trying on their own. Most of all, if you put yourself in a photographer's shoes, it's very annoying to be viewed as free when you're very actually very busy.
Distraction from work at home
Most freelance photographers are working from home when they are not out for shooting. Their working hours may be very flexible that they can stay up late at night to do their work, such as post production of photographs and marketing. However, working from home means there are endless troubles. Neighbours can be nusiance to start making noises in the early morning, salesmen or scammers may knock the door and family members may use the photographer as their receptionist. Most of all, photogaraphers may be required to run errands since they are "free and has nothing to do" at home.
Refrain from personal photography
When a responsible photographer is "owing" his clients photographs, sometimes, he may refrain from taking out his camera during his personal outing with family or friends because he doesn't want the it (photography of the outing) to become part of his burden.
Passion gets killed
If a photographer has to keep rushing work, he may not enjoy the process. From my experience, it's not possible to do a good set-up for many projects due to various constraints and it can cause a big frustration for a passionate photographer to be unable to produce the work to what he's actually capable of creating.
After all the encounters above for a prolonged time, there may be one day that he will gets sick of photography.
If you know of more disadvantages of being a freelance photographer, do contact me!
Please note that this article isn't meant to scare aspiring photographers off and kill their dreams. There are indeed many ridiclous and nasty things that I have encountered as a photographer. At least, at the point of listing these tough incidents down, I'm still doing photography. If you're very passionate about photography, why not go ahead and pursuit your dream?
I hope by reading the above mentioned problems faced by photographers, (1) all aspiring and current photographers can take note and try to prevent the scenarios. While the market is extremely congested and all photographers are trying their best to have a cut of the pie, (2) every photographer should not do anything that would further damage the market. Lastly, I also hope sharing of the difficulties can probably (3) enlighten more non-photographers and thus help to lessen the problems.
Even though there are many painful and depressing experiences a photographer will be encountering throughout their journey, do note that there are also many advantages of being a photographer.
You may be interested in:
- Special photoshoots you can hire a professional photographer to do
- Crazy things that professional portrait photographers do
- Advantages of being a freelance photographer
- Clients from hell (photography services)
- Ways to insult a professional photographer
- Misconceptions and myths in professional photography
- Photography is a sunset industry