I was inspired to write this post by the article on The United Nations of Photography website. I have always done commercial and editorial photography and for the past few years have concentrated on my own photography and yet I had not really noticed the idea of commissioned photography and I like what Grant Scott has to say about this concept at the beginning of his article.
I never use the word ‘commercial’ to describe commissioned photography for a very simple reason. All photography is commercial, in my eyes, if a commercial transaction takes place, that includes the sale of a print, a book, or even an NFT! Therefore, commissioned is a more accurate description of the practice of being asked to make photographs in return for financial reward.Grant Scott
I like this idea. In my opinion it has always been hard to get commissioned to do photography, particularly the kind that you as a photographer want to be known for. Often there is a conflict between the photographers artistic vision and the requirements of the client. This I actually think is a issue that photographers don’t address as they are being commissioned to make the images that a client wants and if they are not doing that then they should not be seeking the commission in my opinion. The client is paying the bills and they are asking for something so the first priority is to deliver that, then if you have time and resources it is up to the photographer to go beyond the brief and give the client that extra special magic, this is what sets apart the jobbing photographers and the ones who are both creative and commercially successful.
This article by Grain Scott also lays out a few other points, one of them is the role of the picture editor and the ways clients want to get more for less, I have to say that in all my years as a photographer that has always been the case, as it has become easier to become a photographer it has also meant more people are available to be commissioned to do the work so the rates have been forced down. I will give you an example in the early 1990’s I would do a fashion editorial for major magazine brands and the would pay between £300-£400 for a days photo session, now in is the 2020’s and they still want to pay the same amount. You might consider that bad however, it is even worse than that, because they used to also pay for film and processing, which if done right could increase the photographer income by another £400 for the days photo session. Now we shoot on digital cameras and they don’t expect to pay for film and processing so that income generator has disappeared for photographers.
I do believe that there is a future for commissioned photography as AI will not be able to make all the images that clients want or need, and stock images will never be specific enough, for a client that wants to impress and stand out with distinctive imagery. So it is up to the photographer to enhance their style and skills to be able to make distinctive images that are non generic for the clients and make these images to budgets that they can work with.
So in future instead of editorial and commercial headings on my website or promotional material, I am going to definitely use the word Commissioned, I like that as a concept as it shows to others that someone else has taken a risk and ‘Commissioned” me to make work for them.
The portrait of Jennifer Ehle at the top of this post was made in the mid 1990’s for Empire magazine, In a Mens toilet in Primrose Hill London. I was very much into shooting Fuji Super 800ISO 35mm film, because I liked to work in low light and has some film grain to hide blemishes. This image was made before Photoshop took off and everyone wanted to be airbrushed to look even more glamorous. I was very good at getting the people I photographed to relax and look great.