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Celebrity photographer Seven Barretto laments about creatives being underpaid. Other professionals share own challenges

By John Patrick Magno Ranara Published Nov 22, 2023 9:39 pm Updated Nov 23, 2023 2:03 pm

It goes without saying that people who create art—photographers, filmmakers, writers, and more—are the ones responsible for entertaining society. Without them, the world would just be a dull place to live in.

Despite this important role, creatives are often the ones who don't get paid enough for their hard work.

Celebrity photographer Seven Barretto, for one, lamented on social media his recent experience of receiving inadequate payment for his efforts to shoot pictures of a large number of celebrities.

“Nakaka-offend ‘yung pinagshoot ka ng pagkadami-daming artista, [pero] P8,000 lang pala ibibigay sa'yo. Kulang pa yan pambayad sa assistants ko. This really shows kung gaano kababa respeto niyo sa creatives,” Barretto opened his series of Instagram stories detailing his experience.

Seven Barretto / Instagram

According to the screenshots of his conversation with an unnamed client, Barretto was requested if they could pay him and his team only P20,000 as an editorial rate, reasoning that his past events were “branded,” and “that’s why they were higher rates.”

In response to this, Barretto wrote, “Please don’t give me an excuse of ‘editorial rate.’ If you really respect your suppliers, you must pay them according to the amount of work and time they did to your project. I will not accept that amount. You can keep it.”

“I’ve been shooting for the brand for years already. I understand the ‘editorial rate’ for some projects, but I think the management should stop that. Creatives deserve better than that. Pay us according to the amount of work we did.” Barretto replied.

Seven Barretto / Instagram

Seven Barretto / Instagram

Seven Barretto / Instagram

Seven Barretto / Instagram

Seven Barretto / Instagram

Seven Barretto / Instagram


He also denounced how his client didn’t even offer them food or drinks during the event.

“Nahiya ako sa team ko so nagpa-samgyup ako ng P3,000. Tapos ibibigay niyo sa’kin P8,000? Nabayaran ko na ‘yung assistants ko, ako wala pa. Nasaan hustisya doon?” Barretto wrote.

Seven Barretto / Instagram

The photographer explained that senior creatives and requested creatives shell out P30,000 to P40,000 for logistics and retouching expenses for the shoot alone, which is why it’s important for them to get paid properly.

Seven Barretto / Instagram

Barretto then called out photography and videography companies for allowing this kind of system to be the norm.

“Kayo ‘yung nagpasimula ng ganitong sistema. Pumapayag kayo ng ex-deal para sa ano? Makapag-shoot ng celebrities and ‘exposure’? Kaya tayo inaabuso kasi ‘di niyo alam worth niyo,” he wrote.

Seven Barretto / Instagram

He went on to express his gratitude to brands and clients who pay their creatives in full and take care of them during the job.

Not an isolated case

Barretto is not the only one who had a bitter experience when it comes to getting paid for his work. PhilSTAR L!fe spoke with other creative professionals on what they wish they knew before entering the industry, most of which are still about compensation for their services.

Photographer Jovy Lim confessed that she wished she knew that a lot of people would take advantage of her and exploit her skills before she entered the creative industry.

“There was an instance na an agency refused to pay me even though I worked for almost 20 hours to finish a shoot. Then when they didn’t like the output, they refused to give me the pay kasi hindi naman daw nila gagamitin,” Lim recalled.

It was only when she opted to sue them that she was paid for her efforts.

“I know there are other creatives in the industry who went through the same thing but they didn't go through the hassle of getting their money back because hassle nga naman talaga. But pera niyo yan and pinaghirapan niyo yan, so go pa rin,” she stressed.

The challenge of asking for higher payment is also experienced by seasoned advertising copywriter and professor Dada Ulili.

“[I don’t like] the fact that we have to fight to get paid well. The challenge of [paniningil sa] clients. The undercutting or underpaying,” she told L!fe.

“There is also a lot of competition now. Everyone claims to be a writer or an artist. The range of quality is huge. This doesn’t help the rates we can charge because the less skilled grab jobs that pay so little. Clients think they can get work done for small rates,” she added.

Root of the problem

With all that’s been said, why is it that creatives have to fight tooth and nail just to have their hard work paid?

According to film producer and director Kristine De Leon, it's because there are no official standard rates for the work of creatives.

“Clients, kahit big corporate companies, choose the ones na may mas mababang quotation, so napipilitan 'yung production companies na babaan yung deal. Pwede rin a company is targetting bigger savings kaya nakikipag-negotiate sila ng smaller rate sa creatives,” she said.

Although may mga laws na na-establish for our industry, marami paring need ma-educate regarding this. Challenge din yung pag-create ng standard rates for each role, and also, issues with contracts,” she added.

Lim reasoned that it also has something to do with the lack of transparency among creatives with their rates.

“It seems that people are shy to share their rates. That’s why when a creative enters the industry, usually they don't know what rate to give, and sometimes they get lowballed by companies,” he explained.

There are also instances where the creatives themselves price their work really low. This then affects other creatives as it would make companies doubt those who have rates that are, in actuality, equal to their work.

Ulili meanwhile asserted, “Clients don’t value our work. They think it is easy for us to do what we do. Plus, a lot of us are starving artists. We will do work at any price just to pay bills.”

Celebrity stylist Em Millan, for her part, said that most of the time, creatives tend to prioritize trust over contractual safeguards.

"I’ve been in the industry for so long that all the million projects are just conferred with just a text message," she said. "And we’ve been accustomed to that," Millan added.

What should be done

Myrrh Lao To, also a stylist, shared an "expensive" experience when the agency that hired him went bankrupt. Both parties had no contract so there's nothing that he could do. He encourages fellow creatives to start documenting everything.

"Wala tayong hawak eh, unless may contract with our clients," he said.

Likewise, Millan also said the same thing and reminded others to "have an agreement before entering a project."

"It’s so difficult because as creatives, you’re at the bottom of the food chain. If you demand a contract, they could just get another stylist. But if you don’t do it, then no one else will, and it will continue to be a cycle."

The industry may be a problematic realm to navigate in, but Ulili highlighted, “Don't give in. The right clients will find you.”

Stylist Eds Cabral noted how enrolling in an apprenticeship can make you aware of how you can thrive in your area of expertise.

“Being exposed to the industry of your chosen creative field will give you first-hand experiences that could feed your curiosity, test your abilities, and definitely enhance your creativity bank,” he said.