Thursday, February 9, 2012

is it worth it

This past weekend, I covered a mardi gras party. These are kind of a cool underground thing in Kansas City, with dozens of krewes all setting up their own event during the season. There's a good natured competitive spirit underlying the whole thing, and it's as much support as it is competition. -really, it's one of the nicer manifestations of humanity I've seen.

I went to an event last year, to get pictures of a band, and while I was there, I took pics of some of the other goings on. Jugglers and dancers and costumes and other things like that. It was really cool. And on the strength of those pics, I got asked to cover the event this year too, which was really flattering and exciting.

I've worked at a party pics place before, but I've never tried to do anything of this scale, especially by myself, so when I found out that they wanted me, I spent the better part of a month studying and practicing things like lighting technique, and working with models and events. I watched a lot of youtube videos about wedding and studio photography. I bought a second camera and some strobe units (all surprisingly cheap), and I practiced with them. A lot.

Basically, I spent the month of January learning how to do event photography properly. Maybe they didn't care. Probably they didn't. But I wanted to do a good job. I learned a lot of good stuff in the process, and in fact, got a lot of good pictures just from the training stuff.

And it was a pretty big thing of work. On the day, it took me about eight hours covering the event, and another couple getting there and back. And then I spent four whole working days processing/editing/distributing the results. I got 2785 frames, resulting in about 1100 good images. And I got about 100 pictures that are my pictures, as opposed to event pictures. So, in exchange for all that work, I got 100 really good shots for my portfolio, as it were. That's a really great average. Normally I'd be happy to get 15 great shots a month. But it was very concentrated effort, and very taxing.

I do wonder if there's anything besides pure art in it though. As of now, five days later, only a couple of people have bought any of the pics. So I've recouped about $5. Which, in general, I expected. I wasn't doing it to make money. But being immersed in it like this, I can't see that there's any way that the process is monetizable. People have expressed dismay that they can't get full access to all of the shots I've taken, even though I've done everything I can to get them out. I've responded to every request by directly emailing pictures, and I've done some outreach to try to find people. But it seems like the demand is for them to all be in some big open album that everybody can take from at will. Even disregarding how undesirable this is for me as a photographer, it just isn't practical. To start with, there's no easy way to host that many pictures with any kind of quality, and there are possibly issues of privacy to think of.

On the fifth day after the event, somebody posted a comment on the event page that they wished they could get easier access to the photos, and didn't understand why it was so difficult. Other people on the page pointed to my, and a couple of other people's galleries, and I sent her the message below, which I think spells out some of the issues. It's odd to me that even if I put aside any thought of making money, or breaking even, there are still so many obstacles. I put a lot of work into doing something I think is good and worthwhile, and spent a lot of my own money on it as well, and yet the burden still seems to be on me to facilitate the process. And it's becoming more difficult to not have doubts.

I saw your post about the pics. It's pretty involved (I'm thinking of writing it up for my blog), but the short version is: facebook has some pretty big problems regarding something like pics of an event like this, not least of which is that they look like crap. But there's also issues of privacy and model releases (potentially), and also, from my point of view, of copyright. So... I don't know if you saw the galleries of the rough proofs I posted on my facebook page, I made those available to friends only to try to minimize some of the issues, but it really got out of hand anyway, people copying and reposting them and then tagging people, taking it out of my control... probably it's not a big deal, but you can see how it's not ideal.

So, my zenfolio page has advantages regarding quality and privacy and copyright, but, as you say, it does make it difficult for a third party to take control of the images (in fact, that's on purpose). -so far, only two people have actually purchased pics, for a total of $5. So it's not like I'm making money off of it, and I didn't expect to.

All that said, I agree with you about the spirit of the thing, and that they are pictures of the people and the costumes and such. I've been working on curating a set of images and figuring out a way to provide them to the group, but it's not easy, I'm fairly poor, and there aren't too many good options (I don't want to fill up my flickr page with event pics, and my zenfolio page is... well, you know).

I've been trying to send individual pics to people as they request them, and that does away with most of the issues, but I think what you're wanting is an 'event' album, and like I said, that's what I've been struggling with for the past day or so. I'd be open to suggestions/help, and I'm sure I'll figure something out sooner or later (and as another aside, just getting what I have out there now has been a full time task since I left the event. I've really been working hard at it).

I guess it's flattering that you see my work as being a definitive document, and I loved doing it and I was flattered to be asked to do it, and I got a lot out of it, but: the truth is that regarding my obligations, I'm really no different than anybody else who had a camera there. I didn't get paid, and I'm doing this all on my own dime, in time and money, so I hope you understand my difficulties, and that you'll be patient while I figure something out.

Ultimately, once I figure out who's in what picture, I'll get a set of pics that are non-problematic (that's what I'm working on now, and that's part of the reason I've been trying to track down identities of various people), and I'll get you guys that set to do what you like with. (and maybe I waffled around it too much, but my main issue is releasing a picture that has somebody in it that doesn't want to have that picture released, for whatever reason. Possibly, for some of the people there, some of the pics could be embarrassing for whatever reason. I like to take fairly intimate pictures, and I try to repay/honor that trust, and in fact I think it's necessary that I do, so that I can keep taking these kinds of pics.)

So... anyway. hope that's not too heavy handed. The underlying issues aren't really all that big of a deal, as I said, and it's mainly just a matter of time, but I thought some sort of explanation would help.

And then, while I was typing up this blog post, this reply came through:

That was one longgg email that I didn't understand at all. I'm really not getting why they can't be added like any other pics and why they are only for purchase. They aren't modeling shots..they are pics of a party. No one there is a "model" nor should there be any reason to worry about copyright. Who cares if people copy them or repost them? Or tag them? I'd think that would be flattering to you as the photographer. It absolutely sucks that the people who threw this party and put in weeks and weeks of work...can't post the entire album of pictures taken that night or even the ones that they want to post. I'm not going to sit down with a pen and paper and go through over a thousand pics making a list of a couple hundred that I want copies of. I should be able to right click them and simply save them.

Thanks for listening,


  1. Ugh, she obviously was either too stupid understand or too lazy to try. You had already addressed all of her complaints, she just didn't bother to listen. People are so frustratingly close-minded, they don't want to try and see it from another point of view. If I were you, I'd just start charging to actually take event pictures, so it becomes at least sort of worth your while. Take on a wedding photography model where you charge a base fee to take the pictures, and then have different packages of albums they can by and do whatever they want with. Or maybe not. There just has to be a better way, Dave!

  2. sarawriter is wise. all of this could have been anticipated. you're dealing with the vain and decadent.