Freelancer's Beware the Pitfalls of Not Getting Paid For Your Work

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(2017 Seattle Saturday by Tough Mudder)

Being an artist is hard. Trying to make money as one is even harder. Often you'll find yourself taking on jobs just for the promise of money. Nothing up front, nothing guaranteed, just "this is the job, and we'll pay you for your work." 

Now, as anyone who has ever done any freelance work will tell you, sometimes it's almost harder to get paid for the job that it is to actually get the job. 

This happens to freelance photographers all the time. 

Before the days of the internet and social media, it was a lot easier for companies to get away with not paying you for your work. Now there are message boards and chat rooms dedicated to looking out for your fellow artist. Like anything, you have to be your own voice and see if there's a legitimate gripe there. No one reads YELP reviews at face value. You can't listen to the person who gave a restaurant one star because a group of twenty showed up with no reservation and had to wait an hour for a table. Those people are dumb, and you know to discount their opinion. However, if forty different reviews all mention that the business added an extra drink on their tab... then you know something could be up. 

That's what appears to be going on with GameFace Media. Photographers are having a hard time getting paid for their work. 

Gameface is a company which, according to them, is the "world's largest publisher of free professional photos for amateur athletes." What does that even mean? It means if you're a competitor in a competition like Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash or any of these listed in this picture below, then you can go online after and download professional photos of yourself in the race... for free.

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(list of events GameFace covered in 2015)

So, how can a company who hires professional photographers afford to then give away those images for free? It turns they can't. If GameFace doesn't have sponsors, then they can't pay the photographers.

The interesting point of all of this is that Photography is essential to the success of extreme competitions like TOUGH MUDDER. In the years before these competitions existed the market for a marathon or 5k photograph was almost no existent. Why? Competitors had their own cameras in their phones and could take pictures of themselves or their friends along the way and post to social media. How are you supposed to carry a phone in a competition like this:

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(2017 Carolinas Saturday by Tough Mudder)

In fact, those hero shots of people coming out of the mud covered in victory are what gets people excited about doing a race, to begin with. So, professional photographers were needed once more, and a company like GameFace was born out of a necessity. 

Obstacle Racing Media (ORM) did some digging and found that there are a lot of photographers who took amazing hero shots like that for GameFace media and never got paid. It was happening so often that photographers started posting online in forums like this

"They still owe me literally THOUSANDS of dollars for jobs from over 2 months ago. I could not get anyone to respond for the longest time but finally got a form response from the CTO at Gameface Media that basically said they are out of money and cannot pay their photographers at this time because they are waiting to be paid by their sponsors. An online negative Gameface review from another unpaid said they raised millions from investors during the summers of 2014 and 2015 and that he thought they were out of money because he could not find anything online about them raising money in 2016 and he has not been paid. Marty from Gameface posted in this very thread that they have interested investors. So I am wondering which it is. Are they waiting to be paid by sponsors or are they waiting on more funding? And if their free picture business model has not been profitable in 3 years why would anyone continue investing? Whatever is going on they do not have any working capital at this time and the photographers are suffering because of it. This has caused my family financial hardship."

David Lavallee, the owner of GameFace, did respond to ORM and tell them:

Overall, our core business model is working well at Gameface. We are adding high quality new events and sponsors every week. We have also continued to provide the highest quality event photos in the market with our busiest weekend in Gameface history expected on September 10 and 11.

We greatly value our relationships with photographers which is why we have always paid the highest hourly rates in the industry and tried to pay people within 15 days of an event. As we grew, however, the logistics of paying that quickly grew unrealistic. This challenge increased earlier this year as we took on a flurry of big new events. This meant we were trying to pay photographers within 15 days of an event while our event and sponsor clients often paid us 90 days after an event. I should have planned better for this and I also should have communicated this better to our photographers. We have always paid everyone what they are owed and always will. As we continued to generate more revenue this summer, our payments are getting back to more reasonable timing. We have also reached out to most of our photographers over the past two weeks to communicate better with them. While we won't be able to meet our old, unrealistic goal of 15 day payment cycles, we plan to continue paying the highest rates in the industry to attract the best talent available.

This article wasn't written to dissuade you from taking a job at GameFace or anywhere else. It's to let you know if you've ever been hired for taking pictures, did the work, and never got paid, that unfortunately happens. 

It happens more often than it should. Until photo agencies are owned by artists and not businessmen, it's going to continue to happen. Without the images they don't have a business, without the business, it's harder to sell photos and get your work noticed. It's a vicious circle. 

Just please make sure you do as much research as you can about a company before taking a job and if they happen to stiff you on pay... don't ever work for them again. Because you know what they say, fool me once... 

For more information on these particular examples, please check out ORM's incredibly well done and in-depth story on GameFace media, here.