I try to do some photography when I travel, so with that in mind, I contacted a model who I’ve photographed more than once over the past few years. She encouraged me to pay a visit to the area where she now lives so we could do another photo shoot. When I told her that I was seriously considering doing so, she was very enthusiastic about working with me again.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I received this message from her:
“No Dave, that wasn’t the deal. I did stay longer than I had agreed to because I was trying to be nice. Honestly, I am tired of trying to be nice to you. You’re awful to work with and your pictures are mediocre at best. Please don’t contact me anymore.”
Naturally, I was rather taken aback by this. (I mean, “Whoa!!!”) I’d thought that we worked together well and we had a friendly correspondence. Consider, if you will, this message which she’d sent me following our last photo session:
So what was it that turned her against me in such a manner? Why, the thing that has ended many a relationship in this world of ours. In a word: money.
Even though we agreed to arrange a photo session, we had not agreed on how much I’d pay her. As a means of starting off negotiations, I reminded her of how much I paid her previously and that our sessions were essentially full day bookings. That’s when she went ballistic on me.
To be honest, I hate negotiating over fees – especially with someone that I’ve worked with previously and that I like, as it’s more difficult to be impersonal about it. I feel a lot like the general manager of a pro sports team negotiating to re-sign a ball player. “We think you’re a terrific player and we’d love to have you play with us again – but we just can’t afford to pay you the kind of money that you’re asking for. Will you accept what we can give you?” (Or, perhaps, “We think you’re good – but not that good.”)
When it comes to money, for me it’s a one way street. The money flows out of my pocket and little or none it flows back. As this is just an avocation for me (an important avocation, to be sure, but an avocation, nonetheless), I need to put limits on what I spend. Model fees are included in that just like things such as airfare and hotels.
As for what a proper model fee should be – well, I guess supply and demand applies here as it does to most other things economic. There are plenty of models I’ve tried to work with who have asked for more than I can pay. Some of them agree to work for less and I am grateful when they do so. Some don’t – and hey, if they can find a job that pays more than I can, more power to them. Even though I’d like the higher priced models to work with me, I always tell them that if they can get more from somebody else, they should go for it. I understand that models have bills to pay – but I have bills to pay, too, and overspending on something that brings no money in return will not improve my rating at the bank.
The one thing that should hold true is that anything that involves money is a business transaction, and that all people involved should act in professional, courteous, business-like manner. Clearly, the message that I received two weeks ago was unprofessional in the extreme – and if she doesn’t want to work with me again, then I have no desire to work with her. It’s unfortunate, though, and I hate to have to lower my opinion of someone for whom I’d had a lot of respect and admiration.
Of course, this message begs this question: were her earlier, happier messages to me genuine and then something just caused her to snap – or were they just a lot of bullshit designed to keep me coming back as a paying customer? Of course, if she thought that I was so awful to work with, why did she encourage me to work with her again? Was she simply so desperate for money that she’d be willing to work with anyone – even an “awful” person and “mediocre” photographer like me?
Regarding our earlier photo sessions, she never complained about what I paid her and the time she worked. Perhaps she really was trying to accommodate me (her “being nice” to me), but if she really felt that she was being underpaid, she could always have said “no.” I don’t hold a gun to a model’s head saying that I’ll pull the trigger if she doesn’t agree to my fee. I’ve been told “no” before and I dare say that I’ll be told “no” again. Had she done that, I’d have either made a higher offer or I would have said “Sorry, but I can’t give you any more, so I guess the shoot is off.” I suppose that’s the chance people take when they ask for more.
As for my mediocre photography, today I sent out my two framed prints that were selected for inclusion in the Artful Nude exhibit at the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado. Now I have to decide if I want to pay $500+ for airfare between New York and Denver to attend the reception for the event. I’d love to be there to see my photos on the wall and to meet the juror, Kim Weston. On the other hand, this photography thing is just an avocation – and as such I have only so much to spend.