A notable press release recently caught my eye. It came from a resort in Hawaii, the Grand Wailea on the island of Maui, offering a three-month stay to a photographer who would in turn provide them with images of the newly revamped property. I raised an eyebrow and read on.
“Ready to show off its new look,” the press release read, “Grand Wailea is seeking a talented and passionate Chief Creative Photographer to capture the essence of the resort through captivating imagery. We look forward to opening our doors to someone with an artistic eye and an appreciation for the hard work that’s gone into the resort’s refresh.”
In exchange for sharing their photographic talents with the resort, the appointed photographer will receive a three-month stay, a daily food and beverage stipend, and $10,000 in compensation.
Three months all expenses paid in Hawaii? Where do I sign.
“But wait!” I can hear all of the professional photographers shouting, “This is just a company trying to skimp with a too low photography budget!” Yes, I’m sure it is. But it could still be a good deal for the right photographer.
What Grand Wailea is looking to do is to pay $10,000 for a photographer to carry out a three-month shoot on its property. Few professionals worth their salt would even consider such a small fee for such an extensive assignment. It’s the kind of job that, even at a fraction of the scale, could easily run into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But I don’t think the hotel is trying to rip anybody off. I think it knows that experienced professional photographers aren’t likely to take them up on this offer. I think it knows, based on the very nature of the ask, that it will be choosing its Chief Creative Photographer from a pool of skilled hobbyists and semi-professionals, or the influencers and upstarts who don’t yet have the clientele that would prevent them from spending the summer at the beach.
So while I understand the professionals’ outrage, in this instance I’m here to say it’s okay for the photographers to whom this sounds appealing to apply for the gig. If that’s you, go for it.
Yes, too many people approach photographers asking for something for nothing—or at least something for “not nearly enough.” But just because a fee is low doesn’t mean a job isn’t worth doing. There are, after all, other means of receiving a fair and equitable value.
What might be the value in this photo shoot? Well, for starters, three months at a luxury Hawaiian resort is nothing to sneeze at.
Even if the photographer is housed in the lowest rung of rooms on the property, the going rate for such a room is nearly $1,200 per night. That’s more than $100,000 in room value alone. No, the hotel isn’t laying out that amount, but yes, the photographer is receiving that value. Factor in the additional stipend for food and beverages and suddenly this residency doesn’t sound like such a bad deal for the right photographer.
There is more value to be had, too, depending on the photographer’s circumstance. What if you’re trying to break into the travel and lifestyle photography market? Surely the images made during a Hawaiian residency would prove a valuable addition to a portfolio. Different assignments present different opportunities, and there are always pros and cons to consider when it comes to evaluating a prospective shoot.
Consider the part-time photographer whose day job involves remote work. Is there any reason that remote work couldn’t be done from, say, a lanai overlooking the beach? Or an influencer who is not only free to relocate for three months, but who may actually benefit from 12 weeks of social media posts in one of the most scenic locations on the planet? Or how about a recent college graduate free from the burdens of a mortgage? Or local Hawaiian photographers looking to cover a few months of room and board? For the right photographer, this summer job could be an ideal adventure—perhaps even one that’s eventually considered priceless in hindsight.
Of course, as it is with so many things, the devil is in the details. It isn’t a vacation, after all. There is the expectation of work. Just how much, though, could mean the difference between a great gig and indentured servitude.
I inquired with the press contact about the terms of the assignment (Would the photographer be expected to be on-call 40 hours a week? Is a copyright transfer required?) and was informed that those details would be negotiated individually with the photographer. Though it doesn’t sound to me that the hotel has its sights set on exploitation.
“Grand Wailea really wants this to be a collaborative project,” the publicist told me, “so the number and types of deliverables and their deadlines will be determined and agreed upon by both the resort and the candidate to accommodate the photographer’s creative process as well as the resort’s needs. This will be a fully tailored experience for the Chief Creative Photographer. You can’t force creativity, so fostering an environment that has them feeling relaxed and valued during their residency is priority.”
The resort would need the ability to use the images for marketing, advertising and social media of course, but it doesn’t look like a copyright transfer would be required. That means the photographer will retain the rights to their work, as they should. Because after all, one benefit of every photo shoot is adding the images to a portfolio in an effort to garner future work. Talk about value.
So if you are a photographer for whom this residency would have value, consider applying to become the Chief Creative Photographer for a three-month stay at Maui’s Grand Wailea resort. Send an email with a portfolio and résumé by March 1 to [email protected].