Podcast 5: How Much Are Photographers Paid by International NGOs

Podcast 5: How Much Are Photographers Paid by International NGOs

Laura and I got curious about how much photographers are actually being paid by International NGOs so we sent out a survey to gather more information. We are surprised by some of the answers we’ve been receiving and wanted to have a candid discussion about them.

Quick Note: Laura and I recorded this podcast earlier in the summer but we realized in editing that it might not be clear what we mean by local photographers. In our experience, we’ve found that Western, expat photographers like us are sometimes paid more money by international NGOs than photographers who are from the countries we are working in. In fact, there seems to be an assumption that local photographers can be paid less, whatever the reason. This is why we created the survey. We wanted a better understanding of photography day rates, photographer’s actual costs, and if photographers thought NGOs preferred Western, expat storytellers to local photographers and if so why they thought this might occur. Hopefully this clears up any questions. But if it doesn’t be sure to send us an email and hello@ngostorytelling.com. If you haven’t taken our survey, we’d love to hear from you. We’ll be writing about the survey results in an upcoming post.


Crystaline: Hi everyone! I’m Crystaline Randazzo.

Laura: And I’m Laura Elizabeth Pohl.

Crystaline: And today we’re going to talk about the survey that we recently sent out on how much photographers are paid by International NGOs.

Laura: So we put together this survey because we have heard from some photographers who are based outside the U.S. and Europe about their…sort of negative…experiences trying to get paid a fair price by International NGOs. So we thought how wide spread is this? Let’s take more of a look into this. And we’re still collecting survey responses but since Crystal and I are actually together now which we’re often not, we decided we should talk about it.

Laura: One of the findings that surprised us was photographers’ usual asking rate for one day of photography. So, the majority of people said that their usual asking rate is somewhere between zero dollars and four hundred ninety nine dollars. Which seems just a little bit low.

Crystaline: When we are doing any sort of mentorship or training, we usually say to people that if you are a skilled professional a nice baseline is probably you shouldn’t charge less than five hundred dollars per day. And if you can provide your clients with quality work and you have enough experience to do that don’t charge less than five hundred dollars per day. But what we’re seeing in these results is that most people are charging less than five hundred dollars per day.

(NOTE: Don’t pull your numbers from thin air or choose five hundred USD because we said so. Do your own cost of doing business calculation.)

Laura: It could be a reflection of what NGOs are actually willing to pay people. So maybe photographers are being trained to think, “oh, I can’t ask for more than four hundred or four hundred fifty dollars a day because my experience is that’s all that NGOs are willing to pay.” So, my feeling is that it’s probably related to what people are finding the NGOs seem to be willing to pay them.

Crystaline: So if you’re working for an organization and you get asked on a shoot and ninety percent of the people or ninety five percent of the people that you are working with are being paid by the organization. You deserve to be paid as well. And I think there is this misconception that, “it’s nonprofits so I can’t ask them to pay me. They’re doing good work in the world.” You need to understand that they’re a business and you’re a business. I mean everyone involved deserved to be paid.

Laura: And since I have a feeling that this is related to what NGOs are willing to pay, let’s talk a little bit about one of the survey questions that dived into that. So we did ask, what is the lowest day rate an International NGO ever offered to you for one day of photography? And we found a huge number of people said that they were offered below fifty dollars per day. Which is just incredible!

Crystaline: It’s not a sustainable rate for anyone running a business. I mean, you just can’t make a living on fifty dollars per day. And I know for me, I also filled out the survey and I did hit below fifty dollars per day because many organizations have approached me and asked me to work for free. And so it’s possible that check mark is being checked because people are being asked to work for free. And we’ve written about working for free on the blog several times. But we have strong opinions about when you should work for free and when you should not. But the majority of the time, you should be being paid for your work.

Laura: Yeah and with this question I actually wish we’d asked a follow up question which would have been and how did you respond to that? Especially for the people who were asked to work for free or for a very low rate. Because I’ve actually had an experience, my very first NGO job I ever had as a freelancer which was the organization said they would just pay for my expenses. And they weren’t going to pay me an actual day rate for photographing and for filming. And I’ve written about this on the blog, how I actually convinced them to pay me. What I asked for. I was incredibly nervous to ask them because I really wanted the job, like I really, really wanted to go to Laos. I really, really wanted to work on this issue. But I knew I couldn’t pay my bills if they were just going to pay for my plane ticket and my hotel and food.

Laura: And so I gave them a presentation about what I would be providing for them and how they could use those assets. And then at the end I gave them my rates. And I thought for sure that they were going to say no. I mean I felt that there was no energy in the room when I gave them my rate sheet. And I walked out thinking, ok well I’m never going to hear from them again. But a week later, I did hear from them and they agreed to my rate and I went to Laos and I got paid! So you can convince organizations of your worth. It just might take a little bit of time to educate them about why they need to pay you exactly what you are asking for.

Crystaline: So you need to always make sure you ask your baseline rate to break even for your business. Don’t take fifty dollars a day. You have a choice in this and you need to ask a fair rate for your work.

Crystaline: So one of the things we want to address in this podcast is that most photographers’ baseline expenses are actually the same because it comes down to gear. Photographers working in other countries may be paying more money for their gear even if their daily living expenses are less.

Laura: Crystal and I, we both lived in Rwanda for two years and we knew quite a few photographers there. And it was very hard for them to get gear. There’s no professional camera store there. There’s no place to get anything repaired. Most of the people we knew, if they needed gear, they had to depend on someone who was coming back from the U.S. or Europe to bring gear to them. Or occasionally they could work with someone who maybe was going to the Middle East for a few days and you know the photographer would have to pay a huge premium for that person to go pick up gear in the Middle East and bring it back to them. So it’s really unfair for organizations to pay local photographers less.

Laura: Another survey response that really peaked our interest was the answer to the question why do you believe that some international NGOs offer you a low rate? And we asked this specifically of photographers who live outside of the U.S. and Europe. There were a number of respondents who said they believe they are being paid a low rate either because an organization consciously or subconsciously believes a local photographers work can’t be as good as a foreigners work. Or the organization was subconsciously or consciously racist. And that was a little disturbing to read.

Laura: In my experience living in Rwanda and South Africa, there are really good photographers in both countries. And yes some of them are getting hired but a lot them were finding it very difficult to convince organizations that they should be hired for the work.

Crystal: One of the things that I’ve heard from U.S. and UK organizations is that they believe rightly or wrongly that someone from a foreign country might not understand their corporate work culture. And so they are more prone to hire someone who is from the U.S. or from the UK because they feel like that person is going to do things the way that they have come to expect. Every country that I have lived in has had a different sort of working culture. In the U.S., we are very deadline driven. We want to get everything done if not on time early. In some of the other places that I’ve lived, it’s not a big deal if a deadline gets rolled back.

Crystaline: And it is a misconception. I’ve worked with many professional people who do their job and show up and work hard and they shouldn’t walk into these situations with the assumption that they’re not going to do good work. It’s a generalization that we all need to refrain from.

Crystaline: So if you’re a nonprofit organization and you’ve implemented this kind of policy. We’d love to hear from you. And what are the logistical reasons. Because it may just come down to logistical reasons and budget and maybe misunderstandings about what a photographers actual costs are. The truth is that we want to address it in this podcast because we thing it’s a very important conversation that we all need to be having. Why are local photographers who are just as skilled and just as talented and have the same expenses being paid so much less than Western photographers? And I think we all need to be advocates in this area for each other. This is our industry and it’s good for the whole industry if we’re being paid fair rates across the board.

Laura: Well we’ve come to the end of our podcast. Thank you so much for listening. As always, we’d really like to hear from you so feel free to drop us a line at hello@ngostorytelling.com. Talk to you next time. Bye.

Crystaline: See you later!

We're huge proponents of hiring local photographers. Please check out these websites and agencies listing local photographers worldwide:

Women Photograph

Native Agency

Majority World

Image at the top © Laura Elizabeth Pohl. No use without permission.

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