You Are Free To Say No

Last year, a government-linked organization wrote to invite me to be a speaker at one of the events. In the same email, they made clear that they have no budget to pay me but if I ‘volunteered’ this round, they would consider me seriously for future gigs.

I replied ‘No thank you, it is against my principle” and that they shouldn’t contact me again with similar proposal.

I didn’t really check but understand that a few other photographers gladly accepted the terms.

Last month, I received a similar request from the same organization and this round, I didn’t bother replying and they didn’t bother calling.

Seriously I can’t stop people for trying their luck but the important thing is, I know I have a choice. And so do you.

But the problem is more complex than that, and it is not just because for every one who is prepared to reject, there are about 9 willing to accept.

Do we then blame those who accept and label them as coward? I prefer not to because in the business world, people make deals.

Have I done deals that are likely to be seen as ‘spoiling market’? Oh yes, you bet.

In fact, I am about to do another one next week – photographing an Indian billionaire for free, for a pro bono social project. The organizers offered me $200 but I decided that donating my time for a cause I believe in is ok too.

And I am not alone.

A top-notch designer I met recently told me that when he was an young adult, he redesigned a logo in his own time and mailed it to the business owner, who liked it so much that they adopted the new design and mailed him the printed copy.

Today, this designer has a monopoly of the industry, all thanks to his ‘initiative’.

Should he be blamed? I think not.

When I was starting out, I also did an assignment at lower than market rate. I was new in the freelance world and didn’t know better so I accepted whatever the client was offering. In the same deal, I also got certain things my way. For example, I would not be sharing any hotel room with other crew, I would own all the outtakes.

I thought I did okay, but little did I know that others who didn’t get the deal wanted to beat me up.

Now, should I have been shot and left to bleed to death?

Lest my peers think that I am always prepared to compromise and do the profession a disservice. No no, I am not so stupid and neither do I think that I am a hotshot who can do no wrong.

But I do think that we need to rethink certain business practices.

Let’s put it this way, we all have our weaknesses and vices.

As a silly Aston Villa supporter, will I do a shoot in Birmingham for free if I get in exchange an one-to-one meeting with the current manager Remi Garde? Absolutely yes. I will take the opportunity to go to Villa Park and spit at the owner’s box too.

I believe many professionals are better off minding our own business and stop labeling others for being unprofessional or unethical just because they do things differently.

And fuck it, unless you have never given clients discounts, including free images or cheaper rates, don’t behave as if you are so uncompromisable.

Like I have said before, if a guy asked you out, you can always say no and there’s no need to go public and say how ugly he is and how dare he asked right?