LIGHT PAINTERS HAVE VALUE.
If you are a Light Painter who has been creating images for any decent amount of time you have learned things that other people, even “Professional Photographers”, don’t know or understand. The knowledge you have acquired, the time you have dedicated to Light Painting, your tools, your gear, your creativity and imagination ALL HAVE VALUE! My stomach was twisting when I read the story fellow Light Painter Phill Fisher shared with me recently about a “JOB” from earlier this year. Wanting to share our passion for Light Painting with others is great, but it can also lead to being taken advantage of. With Phill’s approval, I am going to share with you just what he wrote me, with hopes you will learn something from it and you won’t be taken advantage of as many of us have.
“Back on Jun 22nd I get three messages on Instagram from people who were looking for “Drone Artists” as they put it, They were doing an advertising campaign for a “major camera manufacturer” but couldn’t tell me who, until I signed an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) which I did, but didn’t do… More on that later, They asked to speak to me so I gave them my number. I had a phone call with them and they needed someone that night to come down and draw a shape in the sky as they were pressed for time and the guys they had doing it weren’t cutting the mustard. I told them that it wasn’t as easy as just throwing the drone in the air and taking a photo, I told them as they were pressed for time, with too many variables regarding drone drawing, that they should just photoshop it. But they couldn’t as their brief said it all had to be done in one single exposure.
They promised to “hire” me and practically begged me to go down to meet them on the southern Coast of England at Lulworth Cove that evening. Its about an hour and a half from where I live and I have a normal day job.
So I jumped in the car last minute and went to meet them.
I arrived at 10:15ish just as it was getting dark, met the team and the drone Operators that were there. The drone guys had never done this type of thing before, one of them told me he had never flown his drone at night before.
The main guys with the advertising company showed me the “Vision”, the brief and what they wanted. Agreed to hire me to get the job done and asked me to help with creative input and solutions, I explained to them again that its not that easy but they didn’t want “No’s” and “can’t do’s”, they wanted results. To give you an idea they wanted to draw a cresent moon shape over the sea between some rocks in the dark. All of which is not difficult but the thing with drone lightpainting is, you have to be aware of your surroundings. Ideally I like to scope a place I’m going to fly my drone in the daylight first so when it gets dark I know where I can go. What space I’m working with etc etc.
These chaps thought I’d turn up, chuck the drone in the air and bish bash bosh there you have your image, So while the two drone guys were flying about trying to get a cresent moon shape, I nipped down to the photographer who was some 50feet below the drone guys where he had this new camera set up. I had a chat with him and he told me he had never done this type of thing before.
I went back up to get the laptop out and one of the main guys quizzed me about getting it done, I explained I had some ideas and was going to trial them in a different area, I just needed to set everything up. So off I went and took some terrible rushed photos. And showed him examples that with more time, better results could happen, we got talking and I said basically you could bypass all this drone stuff and give the appearance of the crescent shape in the sky by using stencils and two different tripods (One for the stencil and one for the landscape). He couldn’t work it out what I meant so I showed him some example of my shots and he slowly understood. They want to hire me so why wouldn’t I help?
By this time it was 3am, I have to be up at 7am for work and I have to drive home which is an hour and a half away, So I politely explain, the main chap explains that the next night they would like me to come down and draw some shapes in the sky. A window, a star, a triangle and a crescent, they want to hire me for the next three days and they will be in touch about that tomorrow to talk money.
Thursday comes and I spend my lunch break refining missions the drone can fly for these guys. I hear nothing by 3pm so send messages to the three people that contacted me. Then I get a phone call from one of the guys that was there last night, He accidentally dialled the wrong number, I ask him if I’m needed, he says he will find out and get back to me. So I immediately smell a rat, they aren’t bothered, by this time is 5pm and I have heard nothing and no one is telling me anything. I eventually get a message from another guy saying I wasn’t needed and that I had left early last night. Left early??, It was 3am, I have a job and so far no one has hired me!
Fine I thought, that evening I went out with my drone and took a few photos of what I had done for them. Covered one in my name as a watermark watermark and sent them to the people that had contacted me.
Bizarrely enough they wanted to speak to me again, I had the same guy on the phone that wanted to hire me two days ago wanting to hire me again for the next three days to help get this advert sorted, But he also wanted me to walk him through the shot I had explained on the first night over the phone, Which I did but, loosely, but the way in which he asked made me realise… why should I tell them anything. He asked me what I would use for a stencil, “Anything stiff” I said, like card etc and he proposed we had a conference call with the photographer and the other guys in their team so I could explain it etc etc. I said I just needed to get a few bits from around the house and I would call them back.
I didn’t call them back, I then didn’t answer the five phone calls I had off the same guy and messages asking if I could hop on a conference call with him.
They had no intention of hiring me, they just wanted the details so they could get some sort of shot. Interestingly their brief said single exposure, and they still didn’t manage to do that, they used the cameras multiple exposure mode, They clearly forgot that the camera comes with a lens cap.
Also why on earth did they shoot these shots at ISO 12800. The image is full of noise. But I suppose they could have been pushing the capabilities of the camera? Either way it seems a bit silly
The article says it was all the photographers Idea, but it wasn’t, he didn’t have a clue about any of this, nor did his team. They did manage to pull a couple of images off so fair enough.
As for the Non-Disclosure Agreement. I was asked to sign it, but as I was at home with no printer there was no way I could, So the producer who was sending me the NDA asked me to send her a pic of my signature and she would sort it her end.
By the way it was Canon, One of her team had already told me hours before the NDA was “Signed”
The issue I have is this. They told me they wanted to hire me, I went there to help and explain I did, they then ignored me, then wanted to hire me again after I showed them what could be done, then they used my idea that they wouldn’t have thought of.
Yes I should have talked Money and a contract etc, but I do this for fun and I thought (stupidly) that he would stick to his word. When I messaged the producer to tell them about the conduct of her staff she apologised and told me they had moved on from the original idea and were using hands to make shapes… Then I find this article on Canon’s page
So as long as Canon got the images they wanted and the advertising company got the payment, no harm done right?”
This story sucks, if you feel for Phill the best thing you can do is learn from this story. You and your skills have value!
Here are 3 tips that I recommend for anyone that might have questions as to the business of Light Painting.
1. Know your value and get paid for your knowledge, the amount you are paid is going to vary greatly for your experience level, the client you are working for and numerous other things but if someone wants your help with something you should be getting paid. It might just be someone paying for your dinner or it might be $10,000 but your knowledge and experience have value!
2. Here is a practical way to figure out what to charge when you are just starting out and looking for Light Painting “work experience” figure out how much would you normally make at your normal job for a day of work. If you get paid $100 to come to work for the day and someone wants to hire you for a day/night to create light painting then charge them the same. NOW if this is Canon wanting you to shoot an advertising campaign that is going to be used globally then you might want to ask for a bit more 🙂
3. Whatever you negotiate your pay to be, get 1/2 up front before you get to the location. You can get the rest when you arrive or after you deliver the images, that’s up to you and how you feel about the client and the experience you have had with them. Always get 1/2 up front.