Survey Results: How Much Are Photographers Paid by International NGOs?
(Note: Scroll to the bottom for full survey results.)
Veejay Villafranca is a seasoned pro when it comes to photographing for international NGOs. He’s been working with them since 2005, mainly covering environmental issues in the Philippines, his home country and home base. NGO assignments are now his primary source of income, but it is his editorial work that has won him accolades such as a residency at Visa Pour l’Image and as a participant in World Press Photo’s Joop Swart Masterclass. Yet despite his experience and awards, Villafranca gets offered day rates of less than $200 from some international NGOs – an amount that many in the photo industry would consider quite low. Villafranca always rejects these low rates.
“I tried to haggle and get more days so as to at least reach half of the usual rate,” he wrote of one client in a recent email to NGO Storytelling, “but they said they cannot pay the usual rate. Some agencies would even argue that what they need is a ‘simple’ shoot that doesn’t require much effort.”
Villafranca is not alone in his experience. Two-thirds of photographers who responded to our survey “How Much Are Photographers Paid by International NGOs” have been offered a shooting rate of under $200 per day by an international NGO (we did not ask whether people accepted these rates). We created the survey, which was filled out by 47 people living in 25 countries, to get an idea for not only what people are paid by NGOs, but why they think international NGOs offer certain rates and how much photographers generally charge for international NGO work.
KC Nwakalor, a photographer in Nigeria, won’t accept less than $400 per day for a shoot, a day rate in line with about 26% of our survey respondents. He enjoys working with international NGOs because the “experience is great” and “they pay better” than local NGOs, he wrote in an email to us. But he wishes they would “hire more local photographers for their big budget projects.”
Lisa Murray, a photographer who covers Asia and Africa, charges at least $500 for a shoot day, an amount in line with about 19% of our survey respondents. If a client seems concerned about budget, then she often ends up reducing her rate for project management — time spent researching and preparing for a shoot or captioning, color-correcting and organizing photos after a shoot.
“I often find myself working more hours than I am billing for and I would be interested to know how long other photographers schedule for editing, captioning, pre-production, etc., and what happens when an assignment is delayed at short notice,” Murray wrote in an email to us. “I've been in a few difficult situations when the client just does not understand how much work goes into the assignment.”
In fact, survey respondents who live outside of the U.S. and Europe said the number one reason they believe international NGOs offer them a low day rate is because the organizations have little understanding of the cost of running a photography business. It’s a feeling shared by Abhijit Alka Anil, a photographer from India who recently moved to Norway. In 2018, he was excited for his first paid international NGO assignment, a three-day shoot in India. But when he arrived the first day, he was asked to photograph an extra day without pay.
“I felt like I couldn’t say no,” he said. “I had been following up with that NGO for about 2 years. I didn’t want to lose the opportunity. So I shot and I kept shooting.”
Of course, not all experiences with international NGOs regarding money and payment are trying. Murray said there are some clients she enjoys shooting for because they value their photographers. Abhijit said one organization told him his portfolio was “very nice” and advised him to charge more for his work. They didn’t end up hiring him, but he still felt validated.
“I was like, ‘Wow, somebody at least is recognizing and respecting my work and translating that to money,’” said Abhijit. “I still have goosebumps.”
Be sure to read our full survey results below.
Coins photo by Nicki Mannix
Editor’s note: Thank you to everyone who shared and took our survey. We know this was not a scientific survey (contact us if you know how to do that!) but we still think the answers here are important and worthy of discussion. We now have plenty of ideas for future blog content. But we want to hear from you. What would you like us to focus on that came across in this survey? Are you inspired to write for us on any of the issues presented here? What would you like to see us do differently in a future survey on the same issue? Any other thoughts or ideas? Please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.