How often do you buy the professional photos from a dance event? If you’re like most people, you probably answered “never” or “rarely” – but I’m here to tell you why you should.
Jessica Keener took 5000 photos at Lindy Focus XII, but she’ll be lucky if she makes enough money selling photos from the event to cover her plane ticket.
You might have been at Lindy Focus XII a week and a half ago – you’ll know it’s easily one of the biggest, best, most badass, and most well-attended Lindy Hop events in the world. And as a big, badass event, Lindy Focus brings in some of the best photographers around. What you might not know, though, is that the photographers don’t generally get paid for the events they work (Lindy Focus is, of course, one of the best to work with) – and, when they do get paid, it’s usually only a small amount to cover the cost of food.
While you might think that photographers make bank at a dance event, Jessica explains that event photographers tend to make their money elsewhere:
My compensation is getting into the event for free, and getting housed. I rarely have time to dance or enjoy myself though. Weddings are my main source of income and the rest of my income is made from portraits and the occasional corporate event. Lindy hop events make up 0% of my income.
Don’t get me wrong – Jessica will be the first to tell you how much she loves working for Lindy Focus, and that the organizers always make sure the photographers are taken care of – she loves coming back each year. But considering how much time photographers invest into the photos they produce after events, their dedication is pretty astounding.
Every time I saw Jessica at Lindy Focus, she was working. During the event, Jessica worked from about 1PM to as late as 4AM. During classes and the dance, she was constantly taking pictures; on her lunch break, she was backing up photos and choosing highlights for the slide show; in every free moment, she was touching up photos so that she could post a few online as the event was even happening. Since the event ended a little over a week ago, she’s been sifting through, editing, and posting the photos from the event – and all with little to no expected return from dancers.
It would be nice for people to order photos, but very few people actually do. Almost everyone just wants a profile photo for Facebook.
At a big event like Lindy Focus, she’s lucky if she sells 20 prints, and maybe 20 more hi-res digital photos (which include the copyright!). “I never sell enough to cover my flight or other expenses.”
Even more frustrating: in all five days of Lindy Focus, Jessica estimates that she danced fewer than 15 times. All things considered, I’m amazed that Jessica ever chooses to take photos at an event. There are plenty of cost-effective ways to attend events and still dance. But Jessica is more selfless than I:
I photograph lindy hop events just to be nice so that people can have quality photos of themselves dancing.
All these Facebook profile pictures – just out of the kindness of her heart. The more I spoke with Jessica, the more embarrassed I felt that I have never bought a photo from a dance event.
You may argue that photographers got into the event for free. Or maybe you justify your profile picture by crediting the photographer (which you should always do, regardless) – it’s good advertising for them and the event, right? Or, you might argue that the photographers never get a good photo of you – you’re always making some bored face in the background of some other dancer’s awesome photo. In case you’re interested, Jessica offers the following advice to combat a lack of pictures:
We take photos around the dance floor where the lighting is best. Always. Dance close to where you see the photographers roaming. If you hang out in the middle of the dance floor, or somewhere dark, it’s nearly impossible to get a good shot of you dancing. I also like to hang out where the band is because people seem to be feeling the music the most there, I know I am!
Also, I am drawn to people who are doing dynamic movements with their body, are enthralled with their partner, and look like they are enjoying their dance. If you are smiling a lot, there is a good chance I will take your photo. If you have concentration/constipation face, the chances are slim.
Regardless of how many awesome photos show up on Facebook after an event, it’s important to realize that event photographers are losing time and money by volunteering to photograph dance events. Their time dancing is severely limited by the camera in their hands, so they don’t even get to enjoy the event like we do. And we take it all for granted.
So what can we do about this as dancers? Well, I asked Jessica. Her suggestions are as follows:
- Credit the photographer who took your photo when you’re using it online. (Jessica says: “I self-high five every time I see one [on Facebook]!”). Skip to the end for Photo credit guidelines!
- Buy prints and/or hi-res files Jessica, for example, starts the pricing for prints at $5. Hi-res digital photos are $15 each, unless you’re buying 5 or more – then they’re just $10 (a serious bargain).
- Hire the photographer for a portrait session or promo shoot during the event. Jessica even has discounted rates for sessions at dance events!
- Send the photographer a thank-you message for their hard work and effort
That’s a pretty simple list. And 50% of those suggestions are free.
As event organizers, we can even do a little more. Consider setting aside a little extra money for photographers. Maybe we can’t fly them in, but we could certainly cut into the cost of food and travel expenses. We wouldn’t consider asking teachers to teach “for the publicity,” and we’d never ask a band to play “because of their love for jazz music.” Photographers are professionals, too.
And one final suggestion: look at your Facebook profile pictures: are they awesome? Consider donating $5-10 through PayPal as a thank-you! While photographers don’t actually ask for this (this is entirely my late-night hair-brained scheme), you could look for it as one of those “Pay what you can” scenarios, like for Cards Against Humanity or Nirvana. It wouldn’t take much to say “Thank you for making everyone else jealous of my awesome dance profile picture!”
A few final words from Jess:
Of all of the photography I do, dance photography is easily the most challenging. Please show us your appreciation for volunteering an extensive amount of our time to document your experience in the best way we can. We are all professional photographers (at Focus) and we share our passion and talent with you for free.
And one last thing – people can ask us to dance even when we are holding our camera! If we really can’t dance, we will tell you, but often we can for a song here and there. Just ask.
Personally, I plan to start a Dance Event Keepsake – I’ll buy 1-2 photos (at minimum) from every event. As I find the opportunity (and money), I’ll go back and buy the photos from previous events, too. Eventually, I’ll have one of the best dance event souvenirs a person could ask for, because let’s be honest – photos belong in a physical space on our walls or in an album.
Whatever the reason, the photos you buy will make a lifelong memory. Frame then, hang them up, and show your children what a badass you were at Lindy Focus XII.
Like her on Facebook! Buy prints on SmugMug. Email Jess for Hi-Res files: Jessica@jessicakeenerphotography.com. And if you loved the photos Jessica took at LF but you don’t have a lot of money, consider donating a small amount to her PayPal here: Jessicahkeener@gmail.com – note that there’s an “h” for her middle name, and don’t send it to the wrong person!
Like her on Facebook! To buy a print or hi-res digital file, go to SmugMug. If you loved the photos Hilary took at Lindy Focus, and maybe you’re using one as a profile picture, consider donating a small amount to her PayPal email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like him on Facebook! To purchase a photo, contact Bobby through Facebook. His paypal is email@example.com, if you would like to make a small donation as a thank-you for his awesome photos. His website is currently down, but it will hopefully be back up soon; this post will be updated when the appropriate links work!
Bobby also had a few wise words to share – read more here:
Lindy hop is not a huge industry bent on making money. Instead we put our efforts and energy into what the essence of the dance is: PURE JOY. […] They spend their time photographing you instead of dancing with you. Then they spend a week editing photos in a dark dark cave.
The beautiful side is we do it for joy and the preservation of this historical dance. Imagine 10-50 years from now (or 100!). People will look back at these well documented events and go “HOLY SMOKES! Look how much fun these people are having!” or something like that.
Why else should you pay for your photos? Because it’s a legal way to obtain creative property of yourself. People seem to be oblivious to the fact the photographers own the rights to their photos. It seems we live in an era where we assume that we own a photo if we’re in it. My short message on this to folks is please spend a little money on a nice photo of yourself and if you are broke like us photographers then just be thankful by crediting us, and you could even make us smile by sending a thanks. Thank you!
This piece was written without any prompting or incentive from Lindy Focus or any of the Lindy Focus photographers. I just think it’s important to support people who make their living by making me look awesome at dancing. I did not receive any free photos in exchange for writing this piece.
Event photographers are often happy to let you use their photos for Facebook profile and cover photos, free of charge – but make sure to credit the photographer! Jessica shares her suggestions, from best to worst:
- In the photo description: “Photo by the fantastically talented @Jessica Keener Photography! Boy is she the best. THE BEST.” (Make sure the link connects to her page!)
- In the comments: “Photo by: @Jessica Keener Photography”
- Anywhere: Jessica Keener Photography (without an actual link to the photographers business page)
- “Jess Keener took this”
- Crop out the photographer’s watermark, and also don’t credit them in the description or comments section.
And remember: people who do #5 are assholes.