BYU-Hawaii students and alumni said they feel undervalued in their hard-earned artistic fields and gave advice and insight on what their job requires them to do.
James Astle, BYUH alumnus from California, said he takes time to get creative before starting on a video project. “I usually go outside and look around. Then, if I see something I like, I’ll start thinking how I can make it better. I’ll ask myself, ‘What if?’ What if the road was made of water? What if paper can become eliminated? What if this or that was a different color? And usually ideas just come,” said Astle. He said his average 30-second to 1-minute videos usually take about 10 hours to edit.
When questioned if he is asked to do discounted or free projects, Astle said, “Yes, all the time. It makes me feel like they don’t understand what goes into the process. It takes a lot of experience just like any other trade or occupation does. Do you want me to go to your dental operation and say, ‘Can you do a root canal for free?’ Do you want me to walk into a store and demand to get some stuff for free? Value is value. It just doesn’t disappear for a favor. I am okay with doing favors depending on what it’s for. But we [videographers] need to survive too.”
Another videographer, John Diaz, a BYUH alumnus from the Philippines, said, “Oftentimes I will send my pricing to the client, and they’ll tell me it’s not in their budget. They always talk me down and ask, ‘What could I get for just $100?’ It’s hard because I have invested a lot of money on my equipment, gaining experience, and on my education in this field. I like to spend a week to make a good video so I can think and perfect it little by little,” he said.
“I do mostly promotional and music videos, and it’s so upsetting because I can’t even pay my rent because people don’t understand the value of my work. I often end up working odd jobs. I’m literally working as a fry cook because I can’t make ends meet. And I spent all this time getting a degree, and I can’t rely on it right now. I think it’s hard though because it’s a small town.”
Lauren Beeston, a BYUH alumna from Utah, said, “Most of the time when people are on the cheaper side, obviously they don’t have a ton of money but want the most. I’ve had experiences where I will give someone a deal and they don’t understand how much effort goes into re-editing and editing in general. I’ve never had issues with people who pay the full price.
“Everything that I’ve learned has been 100 percent by doing. If I wanted to learn something specific, I would use YouTube.”
She continued, “Obviously practicing is key, but never do something for free. You’re hurting what others are trying to build and you’re hurting yourself and your value. Only work for free if it’s for your mom,” she said.
Beeston said she used to worry about burning bridges. She said, “I have realized I don’t want them as clients if they are devaluing me. I just tell them that I edit everything as they see fit, and if it doesn’t fit their style, I’ll recommend other videographers. Why do it if they’re not going to value your style?”
Beeston said Instagram has helped her become successful. “A lot of my jobs I got were from Instagram and word of mouth. Instagram is a huge part of my career. People can laugh all they want about how I use Instagram for work, but it’s how we live and how I make money. I used to be worried about what people would think. But I’m not trying to be cool. It’s my job and I’m embracing it.”
Beeston explained the work involved in her videos depends on the package ordered. “The average 30-second to 1-minute product video typically includes two locations, two models, and shooting for one to two days. The time it takes me to grab my friends, find locations, travel, and film for three to four hours, makes about eight hours total. Then, when I get back, it usually takes me another eight hours to edit.”
The final product of a painting involves hours, days, and even months of work, according to Rocky Woo, a BYUH senior in fine arts from Hong Kong. He described the current painting he was working on for the Easter Art Show on campus. “The thing is, there’s no model. It’s just from my imagination. It’s challenging,” said Woo.
When asked if Woo has ever sold his art before, he said it’s scary because it’s a judgement of himself and others. “People will value your art by how much they pay for your painting. Artists write novels. You tell people what you want to say from your art. There is a message behind it. They can have a spiritual experience looking at paintings,” he explained.
Woo’s frustration with the devaluation of his talents echoes what other student artists said. “It makes me think that the focus is money. What is the meaning of art? It contains history, culture, and knowledge. If you’re not willing to pay what it is worth, you’re not willing to accept the culture. I do art because I know art can change people. It can change human minds,” he said.
Woo said a good painting used to take him over a month to complete. He has since improved his skills, and large paintings typically take him a few weeks.
Judy Park, a Korean senior in graphic design, said, “I want to go to work because I enjoy it and I’m good at it. Before I came here, I already knew how to use graphics programs, but now in my time at BYUH, it’s about finding myself as a designer,” she said.
“Math or other subjects have answers given to them. Art doesn’t have an answer. We have to find it. I think all of our work is from our effort. How much time we put in is valuable. It takes weeks to perfect my spreads. I’m making a series of posters. A magazine takes a few months. It’s flexible because it takes a lot of time and thinking to finish it,” said Park.
Now about to enter the workforce, Park said her professors “keep telling me never to work for free.
“They tell me that unpaid internships aren’t okay especially for the arts. It ruins the design industry by letting them take advantage,” she stated.
“People know I’m studying graphic design. Even if they never say ‘Hi’ to me, when they need graphics, they talk to me. They think we are friends when they ask me to do a project for them. They don’t think it’s a valuable skill. They think it will only take an hour or two. It takes longer than you think. Be aware of the design process. We don’t just throw something together. There is a thinking process, sketching–it’s more complex, and they don’t even give me credit.”
Svetlana Sauer, a senior in graphic design from Russia, is a lifestyle and wedding photographer and she said the devaluing of artistic abilities is common among students in a college town.
“What I come across sometimes is students like my work, but they don’t want to pay what I’m asking. They will try to negotiate with me....But I have to take time out of my day to make it happen. It has to be worth my time. People talking my prices down shows me that they think all that work and time I put in doesn’t matter. I think people don’t realize how much work it takes to be successful in the arts.”
Sauer said, “It’s not a job you go clock in for and then you’re done. It’s a lifestyle. It’s something you’re constantly thinking about. It doesn’t just happen, and I had to work to get to this level. It’s a profession, not a hobby.”
Mark Holladay Lee, a 2003 BYUH graduate from Hauula, said he got his start in photography while being surrounded by it. “Growing up, my mom had a dark room in our house. I had never realized it was something I could make a career of. After graduation, I moved to New York and met John Moe, a famous photographer who let me be his apprentice. That’s when I decided to go professional.
“I graduated college not knowing what I wanted to do with [an arts degree]. I love water. I put the two loves together. I wanted to [take photos of] people and the energy that it creates with people in the ocean and the contrasts.”
Lee is a freelance lifestyle and underwater photographer. He previously flew to Japan to do photo shoots for Clinique and has done several jobs in Fiji and Australia. Lee is also subcontracted with Polynesian Culture Center events and for One Ocean Diving to shoot shark dives.
“My philosophy on pricing is that I won’t charge something I wouldn’t pay. I want to reach clients to appreciate my work and build trust,” he said.
Lee also offered advice to up-and-coming photographers. “Be consistent. Just-do-it people are the ones who make a living out of it, even if they’re crappy. They never stop shooting and pushing themselves.” Although there is a lot of competition, Lee said people have had cameras for years. “People can take pictures themselves and buy a camera. Being a photographer is more than taking a picture. It’s creating an environment to get a natural image with lots of problem solving.”
Natalie Norton, a BYU Provo alumna from Sunset Beach, has been shooting photos for almost 11 years. Norton shoots by referral only and intentionally keeps her photography to a minimum because she is now a photography and business consultant.
“Of course I’ve had clients or potential clients devalue my work,” said Norton, “but thankfully those circumstances have been few. That being said, I intentionally set my pricing structure in anticipation of that very possibility.”
Norton said she stood her ground on her value in the photography world. “I know how hard it is to walk this line. When I was getting started, I had the luxury of being able to turn clients away if our artistic vision wasn’t aligned or they felt my pricing was outside of their budget, etc. Later in my career, when I was the primary breadwinner in our home, I already had those business and artistic practices firmly in place, so it was much easier for me than it is for many artists I consult,” she said.
Norton’s advice to new photographers is to remember they are part of an artistic industry that requires hard work, education, and quality. “It makes me sad that with the increase in pro-grade gear available to everyday consumers and easy sharing of our best work to large audiences through social networks, we’re seeing a decrease in quality. Work hard, learn as much as you can, and then don’t be afraid to unapologetically charge what you’re worth.”