Photography is in a rough place right now. If you’re not in a specific market or already set with a good list of clients, “breaking in” to the industry can be daunting and incredibly challenging. It’s because of this that working as a stock shooter can be so enticing, but it’s unfortunate how it has led to the commoditization of the art form. Clients are looking for more and more ways to get good or “passable” photography for next to nothing, and they’re doing so by using stock or stock-like websites. Last week, a commercial photographer reached out to me and let me know of a particularly disgusting situation happening on the popular stock/agency site ImageBrief. Therein, Reebok (the giant shoe company) is undermining the whole industry and taking advantage of photographers who simply don’t know better (that’s not their fault either).

So, what is ImageBrief? Below is a brief video that explains what they do for an art buyer, and it’s not a bad concept.

Basically, ImageBrief is an on-demand stock photo site. Photographers join and look through briefs posted by clients looking to buy specific photos. Instead of them having to search through hundreds of thousands of images on a traditional stock site, the photographers submit images they believe fit the bill of what the client is looking for, and the client gets to pick his or her favorite. The client has no obligation to buy, and the photographers know that their images might not be selected, in which case they wouldn’t make any money. From a “stock photo market” perspective, this is pretty good. And since the photographer already has the image in his or her portfolio, it costs them nothing to attempt to sell the license. If ImageBrief is used in this manner—the manner originally intended by the creators of ImageBrief—then there is really nothing wrong with the system.

But Reebok isn’t using ImageBrief like it was supposed to be used.

Let’s take a look at an example brief (one of many) that was put into the ImageBrief system by Reebok last week:

 

Reebok is Using Image Brief to Exploit and Undermine Photographers copy

 

Here is the plain text, for easy reading:

We are looking for a photographer to capture product photography of our Reebok ZPump shoes (3 different styles, 2 Men’s + 1 Women’s).

 

***PLEASE NOTE: The budget of this project is all-inclusive. It’s to cover all expenses, travel and otherwise. Please do not put yourself forward unless you are in agreement of doing this job for exactly the rate briefed. Thank you!

 

The description of the project:

 

Reebok needs 8 different photographs (3 images each for two separate shoes, two images for the remaining shoe).

 

Shoe #1 (Men’s):

  • – 1 “Fitness” Image: of person running with the shoe
  • – 1 “Lifestyle” Image: of person standing with shoe (has jeans or joggers on)
  • – 1 Product Shot: off-foot, image of shoe in the environment

Shoe #2 (Men’s):

  • – 1 “Fitness” Image: of person running with the shoe
  • – 1 “Lifestyle” Image: of person standing with shoe (has jeans or joggers on)
  • – 1 Product Shot: off-foot, image of shoe in the environment

Shoe #3 (Women’s):

  • – 1 “Fitness” Image: of person running with the shoe
  • – 1 Product Shot: off-foot, image of shoe in the environment

Due Dates: I need the images by Thursday, September 10th.
Rights: Images will be used for social campaigns/activations, PR, and potentially in-store
Delivery: 8 Final Images in Total

For those eight clearly commercial-level images, Reebok will compensate the photographer for a total of $1500. A total, which includes the cost of a model, the shoes, the travel and various expenses that come with doing a shoot like this. If these were images I had on my hard drive, already shot and ready to go, this wouldn’t be quite as bad (but based on where the images would be used and the intended audience, the royalties for this kind of usage actually well exceed the $1500). The problem here is that no one is going to have these images just kicking around on a hard drive. Reebok is looking for specific shoes, in specific positions and settings. This is absolutely a styled shoot, and one that does not qualify for what ImageBrief as a company says they stand for.

When I asked two commercial photographers to bid on this job (blind to where I found the brief materials), one responded that he would bid somewhere around $90,000, the other $50,000. Here is a breakdown of the $50,000:

  • Assistant- 1 prep/scout, 1 shoot, 1 post.  3 days x $400
  • Second assistant- 1 shoot at $350
  • Digital Tech- 1 shoot at $600
  • Digital Tech Rentals- $500
  • Hair and Makeup- $1K
  • Stylist- 3 shop/return, 1 shoot at $1K ($4K total)
  • Stylist Assistant- 4 days at $350
  • Producer- 4 days at $1K
  • RV- $1,250
  • Casting- $2K (minimum)
  • Talent- 2 x $3K ($6K total)
  • Agency Fee- $1,200
  • Catering- $1,000
  • Location scout/pull- $1K
  • Location Fees/Ppermits- $1K (minimum for city permits; private property can be much more)
  • Digital Charges- $2K
  • Equipment Rentals- $3K
  • Wardrobe/Props- $2,500
  • Insurance- $500
  • Expendables- $100
  • Photographer Creative Fee- $10K
  • Usage for In-Store Placement- $10K

As you can see, even the $50,000 bid is a highly conservative estimate: Much of the costs listed have a high possibility of running above the estimate. This is the kind of process that goes into making the kind of commercial advertising images Reebok is looking for, and the worst part is that Reebok is completely aware that this is how much shoots like this generally cost. This is not news to them. Take a look at this behind the scenes video from a shoot they did featuring cross fit athletes:

 

 

If you watch the video, you can see the grip equipment, the number of models on set, the digital tech, art directors, assistants and huge amount of gear. They’ve done shoots before, and that fact makes what they’re doing via ImageBrief even worse. Here is another one:

 

 

It’s one thing to get a brief from a small business client at a startup who actually has no idea how much shoots cost. It’s easy to forgive that kind of thing and chalk it up to ignorance. But Reebok understands how much shoots like this cost, has made a conscious decision to find a way to cut down those costs, and is using ImageBrief as a way to find photographers who don’t have an understanding of the way commercial advertising works and take advantage of their lack of knowledge. It’s disgusting, and frankly incredibly insulting to the many high-end commercial advertising shooters who exist.

ImageBrief was woefully unhelpful when we brought this to their attention. Here is their word-for-word response when we pointed out that Reebok is undermining everything ImageBrief supposedly stands for. We approached them as an every day photographer, not as a media outlet, to see how they would treat a complaint that came from one of their users.

We completely respect and understand your issues with the prices, however our business is about providing a platform that matches photographers and buyers, and we have a range of budgets for photos from $30,000 – $250 and it is up to the photographer whether they would like to submit to the brief. The photography landscape is changing and we are trying to provide a platform which photographers can sell images. $1000 is the budget that these agencies have for social media campaigns, and we work with the agencies to increase their budgets where possible, but sometimes that is all they have to work with. We have chosen to put those briefs out there and those who feel it is not in their budget do not have to respond. There might be some other up-and-coming photographers who want the experience.

 

We understand that this type of shoot might not be for you, and it’s quite a ways away from that $40,000 shoot that you’re talking about, seeing that this is a much smaller scale, social media-only type shoot, not a major print campaign for the brand. Again, your feedback is hugely appreciated and we honestly and sincerely take comments like these into account when forced with major decisions. We understand that the photography landscape is changing and strive to be part of the solution with the industry’s highest commission paid to photographers, a very human, very hard-working team that takes your comments and feedback to heart.

 

With that said, is this particular shoot for a photographer like yourself? Maybe not. Will we have higher-paying, larger scale shoots to offer in the future? Absolutely, and we hope you’ll stick around for those reasons, but should you decide not to keep your account with us, that is your prerogative and we respect your decision either way. Just let me know how you’d like me to proceed with your account.

 

Thank you again for the feedback.

The thing is… Reebok expressly states that they would use it for social and likely in-store. In fact, the “permitted use” section of the brief expressly states “Social Media, Press Ad – Magazine and Newspaper, Website.” That’s absolutely not just social media. And that aside, it’s still a styled, completely custom shoot, the sheer costs of which are way above the $1500 price they’re willing to pay. Reebok attempting to exploit shooters is one thing, but perhaps what hurts even more is how ImageBrief, a company whose CEO expounds on the virtues of his company and laments the fall of the value of photography, doesn’t seem to care that it’s happening. You can read ImageBrief’s CEO Simon Moss talk on the whole issue here, but here is a small excerpt that tells you how he says he feels:

With the rise of microstock and millions of images flooding the system and increased competition amongst photographers it’s never been more difficult to make a living from photography.

 

Of course, if you are a photographer you already know this. After all, the average microstock photographer can only expect to earn around $4,000 per year. That’s just over $10 a day, or maybe just enough to buy a sandwich and a coffee. The modern human needs much more than that to survive in this world unless maybe you live in a remote part of Cambodia or The Cook Islands (in which case I salute you).

 

Today, photographers need to have their irons in lots of different fires. The world has changed and the modern photographer now has to develop into an entrepreneur or face possible extinction.

That’s great and all… except his company isn’t actually doing that it if they allow Reebok to exploit their members like this, especially after being alerted to its happening. If you read all of Simon Moss’s piece, you can see that he has a very firm grasp on the problem with the photographic market today and says he has a solution: his company. That would be awesome, except the deals and briefs they promote aren’t even remotely fair considering the usages the clients are asking for. ImageBrief sounds good on their happy-go-lucky “About Us” video and Simon’s blog, but when they allow companies like Reebok to blatantly take advantage of photographers like this, they are no better than the stock photo competitors he complains about.

Honestly, they might be worse.

ImageBrief’s response to the complaint and their solution was to just tell the complaining photographer to leave. They did this because they know that some other photographer, who is much less schooled on how this market works and the costs of such a production, will undoubtedly take the job as a chance to make what they think sounds like a good amount of money (and be able to throw Reebok on their “Clients” page of their website). Woop-dee-doo—we can send you a nice thank you card from the deck of the sinking ship that is the photographic market.

Reebok puts tons of these briefs online, and this is only one of the many. Take a look:
Reebok is Using Image Brief to Exploit and Undermine Photographers

 

Note how many of those have been “awarded.” Reebok has already saved hundreds of thousands of dollars through ImageBrief, and it only cost the soul of photography.

For me, it’s more upsetting that ImageBrief is allowing this to happen, and they’re defending their actions by playing the innocent middle-man. They’re stating they don’t have control over how big or small a client’s budget is, and while this is true, at what point does the middle-man in this scenario (ImageBrief), have to protect their assets (the photographers)? I understand why Reebok would try to circumvent the normal channels, as who doesn’t love the idea of getting something valuable for practically nothing? Of course, Reebok knows that this is worth far more than they’re saying they’re willing to pay, which is why their trying to get it cheaper via ImageBrief. However, ImageBrief also knows what this is worth, and instead of protecting their photographers and the industry as a whole, they’re grabbing up whatever horrible offer a potential customer comes up with, just to make a few bucks.

ImageBrief is representing photography and, as such, they should be looking for ways to keep photographers happy and working and to keep rates up (which benefits them!). They’re doing a huge disservice to the photography industry by creating a means to drive rates down and take advantage of new/young photographers who get stars in their eyes when they hear about an opportunity to shoot for Reebok.