Photographer and WIRED magazine senior photo editor Samantha Cooper and photographer Michelle Groskopf, a 2019 PDN’s 30, recently recorded a wide-ranging conversation about their careers, projects and creative processes for Rocket Science Magazine. They also talked about money, and the importance of knowing your value as a photographer and charging accordingly. They touched on a question that comes up often in the photo industry: Do women photographers undersell the value of their work?
The following is an excerpt of that part of their conversation, re-published here with permission from Rocket Science Magazine publisher Pauline Magnenat.
Michelle Groskopf: I think over the last two years, I’ve gotten a lot better at knowing my worth as a photographer.
Samantha Cooper: That’s so important.
MG: I just turned down a job that I would have accepted in the past, but they practically expected me to put down my own money! I would have lost money on this gig. And even though the experience was cool, I had to say no. And I had to put down my foot, and say, “if you want me, you can’t pay me those rates.”
SC: I think about that, in regard to rates and whatnot. Something I’ve noticed, and it’s really sad – but it happens so often. Let’s say I’ve offered a rate to a woman, and she wasn’t able to to do the shoot. So I offer it to someone else, and I’ve noticed that 8 out of 10 times, the men will ask for more money. And I’m like: I’m not going to offer you more money unless you ask for it. People are so scared to ask for more money. I can understand that negotiating salaries can be intimidating. But at the same time, the worst thing that I might do is just say “Sorry, no, I can’t.” There might be times when I have more budget, where I can add a little bit more, or cover an assistant, equipment or whatever. But I would say the majority of women rarely ask for more. And almost all of the men will.
MG: I wish you would tell that to so many people!
SC: Oh I’m sure this will get me into trouble (laughs). I mean, the photo world is so small so I try and keep everything super consistent. But there are definitely times when I think, why is [a woman photographer] not asking for more money? And then it gets to the point where sometimes I have to tell them “do you want an assistant?!” (laughs)
MG: I think there’s just a fear that the job might go away. I think when you’re starting out, you don’t know much, it’s scary, and you think that this job could help you, or that you want to get along with the editor… But it also hurts everybody when you start accepting really low rates. It hurts the whole industry. I keep thinking about the heydays, 20 years ago, when everybody was making 100 grand, and every photographer had a pool! (laughs)
SC: I mean, you said it. People need to know their worth. Every job is different, and sometimes there’s flexibility, and other times there’s a hard line, and I can’t offer more. And sadly there are times when I really don’t expect people to take the assignment. I know I might have commissioned them two months ago, and I might have offered them more for something similar, but you know, there was a different budget. It really varies. But for me, it never hurts to ask for more money. I can’t speak for every editor, and there might be some who don’t want to deal with you if you ask for more money every time, but I certainly wouldn’t be upset if you tried.
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