Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro

I picked up a used Sigma 105mm macro lens on eBay a few weeks back.

The one lens missing from my kit since I switched from Canon to Nikon has been a suitable macro lens. I had this same lens in the Canon mount and loved it. Very sharp, easy to manually focus and quite sturdy.

The one I got on eBay was a total steal for the price. I’d been watching the eBay action on these lenses for over a year and when they did come up for sale, and that was far and few between, they were commanding over $350 used in good condition. I found this one for $179 and it is in near mint condition.

So today, I decided to do the lens micro-focus adjustment on my D750 and D810.  The results were better than I could have hoped for, as neither body required an adjustment to the fine focus offset. Both cameras set to 0 offset on this lens. That means that I got a perfect focusing, near mint quality macro for next to nothing.

If you are exploring the lens market, I highly recommend searching for a used version of this lens. Sigma doesn’t make this model any longer and the folks who do own them hang on to them like they are gold. And for good reason.

My previous two blog posts discussed the new California Labor Law, referred to as AB-5, also being referred to as the “freelancer” bill. In this post I’ll try to wrap this up in a neat little package for you.

A lot of concern has been voiced concerning photographers losing their copyrights because of this law, which goes into affect on January 1st.

There is nothing in the law that specifically requires a photographer to transfer ownership of their photographs, or any other intellectual property for that matter, to some publisher. The copyright issue is a hot button topic, but that’s not what this new law is really about.

What’s it really about then?

The California law AB-5, is really about changing how employers deal with temporary help. Employers hire temp workers to fill voids in their workforce, usually on a short term basis, but not always. There are a lot of different terms used here to describe a “temp” worker such as “seasonal”, “contractual”, “interim”, “outsourcing”, “freelance”, etc…

The benefit to the employer is they can fill holes in their workforce using outside help without having to hire people on a permanent basis and that allows them to avoid having to pay insurance costs and provide employee benefits that they might otherwise be required to provide under law for regular full time and part time employees. The other benefit to the employer is that these “temp” workers are usually paid wages that are much lower. It also gives individuals who are not actively employed by a company or business access to jobs and income that would not otherwise be readily available to them, for a wide variety of reasons, as cheap labor.

I used to work for a major newspaper and from time to time I’ve hired temporary help via “temp agencies” to fill holes in my working staff, while I recruited suitable full or part-time people to fill job openings. But this isn’t always how the “temp” market works for everyone.

In the case of photographers and writers, many have no direct access to jobs in their field. For example, the internet has been credited with the demise of the newspaper. A writer or photographer who may have once had a job with a regular printed newspaper writing stories or taking photographs for the publication may now be out of the employment market because newspapers have been unable to make a profit and have laid off staff to save costs, or even more dramatically, shut down completely. Just take a look around your own home town and see how many local or even large newspapers have gone by the way-side, no longer printing their publication or no longer providing that product. Some have converted their publications to focus on the online internet publishing market. The demise of printed publications and the move to the internet product has created a lot of lost jobs and a large “temp” market of available skilled labor and has shifted the expense of maintaining a staff to the worker who now provides their own services as a contract worker (freelancer) at a much lower cost as well as their tools needed to do that labor.

For the purposes of this article I’m going to discuss a fictional web publication that focuses on the photographic industry and explain how this “gig economy” may work in that world.

I’ll call this fictional Internet publisher “Through The Lens”

Through The Lens started out on the internet as a small Internet site devoted to the world of photography. Sound familiar?

Through The Lens would publish camera and equipment reviews, write interesting articles on the world of photography and try to generate an Internet following. They lucked out. Their page hits continued to grow over the years and the readership increased as a result.

Their following became big enough that Through The Lens could now look for methods of generating revenue. The biggest generator of revenue of course is advertising. The publishing world has always relied upon advertising revenue to generate a profit. Newspapers today still rely on advertising to bring in the money, and the larger the audience for the publication, the more they can charge for that advertising. An advertisement run in a large print newspaper can bring in tens of thousands of dollars, depending the the size of the ad and the visual placement in the publication and how often that advertisement is printed or displayed. Selling advertising is what pays the bills, and that includes the costs of hiring and maintaining a work force to produce that publication.

Through The Lens is now a big internet publisher in the photography industry and their advertising comes from other businesses that want to sell photographic products and other related services. You’ll see this on just about every major Internet Website. Some advertising may be in the form of direct advertising from advertisers who pay a fixed rate for a placement in the publication, other forms may include “affiliate links” where a small ad is displayed and a reader can click on that ad and be taken to the retailer’s Website and any sales that result in that action provides a cut of the sales to the business that forwarded that sale. Through the Lens has a number of these links on their website and readers may from time to time click on those links and buy a product, the result of that action is they make a commission on the sale. It may not be a big commission though. It could only be a few dollars or even a few cents. Still, that’s money coming in to the referrer.

Through The Lens realizes, as all publishers eventually do, one way to generate more income is to increase readership, because, more readers equate to more clicks on affiliate links and more market exposure for their advertisers. One way to increase that readership is to increase the relevant content in the publication. They need more articles and relative information in their publication to attract more readers. What do they do? They could hire writers and technical people to generate that content in house or they hire independent contractors to create that content for them and those contractors are now given a cut of the pie when their article is published.

This brings us to one of the current economic models of the Internet.

Through The Lens discovers that there is a large surplus of available workers in their industry. In this case, there is an over-abundance of photographers, writers and other skilled workers who could be utilized to produce content for their Website. They make agreements with these workers to create content and once that content is published, the worker now gets a cut of the action. Often times that income comes in the form of being paid on the basis of the number of page hits their article or content receives. There is a scale for this payment. An article that receives 3,000 page hits may generate $15 of income, an article that receives 30,000 page hits may generate $150 or more for the content provider. The more their article gets read, the more they make.

Through The Lens have now created a staff of contract workers who can pump out content for their Website at a fraction of the cost of hiring actual employees to do that work for them in house.  Through The Lens now makes more money and contract workers looking for income that would not normally be available, now have a way of generating income. One of the problems though, is that these workers end up working for next to nothing. Maybe the equivalent of 25 cents and hour, maybe more. It’s based on the time and expense of creating content vs the amount of income received from that created content. These workers get no additional benefit of their work such as unemployment insurance, health care, reimbursement for their business expenses and so on. It effectively becomes an employment situation not unlike the old garment industries of the 1800’s where people work piecemeal producing garments for pennies in what was referred to as sweatshops.

The issue here is when does it become exploitative?  The contract workers, in our case, freelance photographers and writers, put a lot of time and effort into creating content. They submit that content and hope it’s literally a hit (page hit), as the more page hits they get, the more they make. But, it is low paying. Many of these content providers end up spending a great deal of time and effort, at their own expense, generating content for these Websites, and in return they are making a substandard wage as a result. One way they increase their income is to submit more articles to the publication. They’ll make more money if they have more people reading their articles, so creating more articles is the result. For a typical photographer or writer who does this, it could increase their income from $30 a week to maybe $300 a week or even more if they are really talented and find their niche. To produce that content, they’ll spend a lot more time and money too. But on the other hand, nobody is being forced to do this type of work. It’s the choice of the freelancer to work a lot for very little income, if they so desire. At least to a point, because historically, the lawmakers will try to put a halt to anything that spins out of control. They always have.

The California “freelancers” law, AB-5, seeks to draw a line as to when the content provider ceases becoming a contract “temp” worker and now becomes classified as regular “full time” or “part time” employee and part of that line is defined by how many articles they are submitting to a particular publication each year. A lot of these freelancers are putting in an extraordinary amount of effort and spending their own money to make pennies in return. It’s become an exploitative employment market in a lot of cases and California lawmakers have decided that more market regulation is the solution.

The issues at stake with the challenges to this law are the limits placed on the number of submissions that a photographer or writer can make to a publication each year before they become legally reclassified as an employee rather than an independent contractor.

Once the freelancer reaches a statutory defined threshold, they become legally classified as an employee of who they are working for by the state and a whole new set of laws and regulations take effect. It’s no longer contract employment as they are now treated as regular employees for purposes of labor law and the state has the right to regulate labor practices in their jurisdiction. After all, lawmakers are really working on behalf of the general public and the general public has required them to regulate the industry to prevent unfair and exploitative conditions from occurring. Laws are just the will of the people.

One of the side effects of this situation for photographers and writers is that once classified as an employee, any intellectual content they create and submit the Website or “employer” now, by law, becomes the property of the employer as that content was created for them by an employee, not an independent contractor.

The end result of course is that by regulating the industry, the state is stepping in to regulate free commerce in order to prevent unfair and or exploitative business practices in industry. All new regulations have side-effects, some intended, some not, some good, some not so good.

The argument against this regulation boils down to the concept that everyone should have the right to work for substandard wages and that a business should be allowed to operate according to their economic needs without government interference. It’s an age-old argument and has been addressed in state and federal courts again and again since this country was founded.

It all comes down to supply and demand. Demand drives supply, not vice-versa. If the supply of workers remains constant and the demand for those workers decreases, the wages of those workers will go down. There is no longer a large demand for photographers and writers who used to make $75,000 a year generating content, but there is a demand for photographers and writers who will work for 25 cents per hour.

In the end, the Internet Websites who provide work for contractors at very low wages will be regulated out of the business or go out of business because of under-demand of their services. We are already seeing this happen, as Website publishers who use these practices are being subjected to more legal and economic pressure to change their business model.

What this ultimately means for freelance photographers and writers is that the free market and it’s associated regulations will require many of them to find an alternative profession as there are simply far more photographers and writers than the market really needs.

 

I wrote yesterday on the subject of a new California law, commonly referred to as AB-5, being challenged by the NPPA in Federal Court as being unconstitutional and harmful to the livelihood of freelance photographers. Here’s a follow up on that story. It’s always good to be informed.

I’m still researching this matter. My December 19th blog post received a lot of internet traffic, but I’m not the only internet website reporting on this matter. Unfortunately, a lot of the reporting centers on the generalities of the issue and doesn’t really delve into the nuances of the situation. The news is spreading fast and the online discussions are proliferating. Like many of you, I too have questions and concerns.

First, I’m not an attorney and I don’t pretend to be a legal expert on this matter. I own a small photography business in Colorado and consider myself to be a independent contractor, a photo journalist, writer, journalist, artist and small business owner. This is a matter of interest to me, as it has the potential to affect my business and ability to make a living.

The impetus for this new law seems to be related to “gig economies”, and the independent contractors working in that environment. In particular the intent of the law is to address the mis-classification of workers as employees or independent contractors by employers.

There appears to be at least two different legal challenges to the new law, one by the California Trucking Association and one by the American Society of Journalists and Authors as well as the National Press Photographers Association. I haven’t researched the aspects of this matter regarding the California Trucking Association and I don’t have anything to say in that regard.

Here’s the Press Release by the NPPA, which summarizes their concerns.

The new California law in question here is California Assembly Bill 5, or AB-5. Click the link for the Wikipedia article describing the new law which is set to go into effect on January 1st, 2020.

In essence, the new California law is an addition to existing California Labor law. Here is the Wikipedia article describing this matter.

Here’s the actual text of the new California law, AB-5.

Regarding photographers, the primary issue of contention seems to be centered on the claim that some freelancers are affected by the law and others are not. The bill imposes limits of 35 submissions per year by content submitters, thus limiting income from some clients by up to 60-75%.

What I don’t see in the law is any actual legal requirement that photographers must surrender copyright of the photos they take. It sounds like the issue of copyright refers primarily to the actual legal classification of what an “employee” is, and this where things get complicated. If one is classified as an “employee”, based on this bill, they would be subject to the requirement that the content they provide becomes the property of the employer and not the provider. There are numerous threshold tests and definitions in the law as written. It appears to me that the basic intent of the law is to prevent employers from improperly classifying certain content providers as contract workers rather than actual employees for multiple reasons including unemployment insurance and the withholding of payroll taxes.

The primary points of contention in the lawsuit are the legal limitations of submissions by still photographers, photojournalists, freelance writers, editors, and newspaper cartoonists who lose their classification as independent contractors. The lawsuit by NPPA claims that this law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and they seek to invalidate the specific provisions in the law by injunctions relating to these issues as spelled out by the lawsuit.

From a personal and business standpoint, I’m not too worried about all of this. As best I can ascertain, these nuanced issues don’t really involve me and my business; however, I can see situations where some writers and photographers may be impacted. It affects only a small segment of the photography business and content providers, and only in the State of California. I would also note, that other states such as Arizona have enacted similar laws to varying degrees and the intention seems to be to improve labor laws in those states.

Stay informed, make sound decisions and don’t jump to conclusions. That’s my advice.

The NPPA  (National Press Photographers Association) is reporting that the American Society of Journalists and Authors Inc have recently filed a lawsuit against the State of California over a new California law that they claim violates the rights of Freelance Photographers and Journalists, which results in serious harm and threats to the livelihood of those who work as freelancers.

Here is the link to the actual filed lawsuit.

A typical freelancer works as an independent contractor for a client. Copyrights to the images/video they create are the property of the photographer/videographer unless the agreed upon contract specifies that the client receives possession of the copyright. Think wedding photographer for example. If I photograph a wedding, I agree to supply certain products to the client but I own the rights to those images and how they are used outside of the agreed upon terms wedding contract. If the client wants to own the copyright, they must negotiate a price for that ownership. If we don’t agree on transfer of ownership and rights, I own the work.
 
This law would automatically give complete ownership of the original images to the client and strip the photographer of any future possible income from those photos, such as additional sales or products to people coming to them down the road for copies. The end result is it will drive up the cost of my wedding photography substantially as I’ll have to negotiate an agreement to work at a much higher fee to compensate for my loss of future income. Nobody wins and photographers will ultimately be put out of business because they are trying to protect their sources of income.
 
Typically, if a photographer works for a company, anything they produce while working for that company is automatically the property of that company.
 
Freelancers don’t work for anyone but themselves and what they do is contractual work, on a case by case basis. Normally, a photographer agrees to provide services and products to a client and the original creative content remains the property of the creator, unless the creator agrees to relinquish their copyrights. This would be what is called licensing. This law removes licensing from the equation. Technically, anything a wedding photographer creates in pursuit of working for a client now becomes property of the client. This may not be limited to the actual photographs or video, but could in theory also include any intellectual property created to produce that content, such as special processing methods or software or set pieces or backdrops, anything created by the photographer in pursuit of fulfilling the clients needs. A photographer would have to transfer the rights to all the applied knowledge and techniques used for a client, thus preventing the photographer from using those creations for future jobs. The client now owns all the creative material created from the work done by the photographer. So, lets say I create a specific photo editing technique that I wish to use again, say an Adobe script or I write a program that does something specific for that project but may be usable in other ways or for other projects. I can no longer use that without the permission of the original client because my intellectual property rights no longer exist.
 
Another aspect of this; for example, would be a wedding photographer who archives their wedding photos from all their clients. Some day down the road a family member may approach the photographer to get replacement copies or additional copies of the material, the photographer no longer has the rights to that material and can’t legally sell it. The photographer no longer has the incentive nor right to save those images for future use. That future use must be provided by the original client as they are now the owner of the material. So Bill and Mary, my wedding client, have to be the source for all future requests, and what is the likelihood that a typical wedding client is going to maintain a viable archive of their wedding or event? The photographer no longer has a reason to maintain the archive because they can’t derive income from it down the road. It no longer belongs to them. Bill and Mary get divorced, but Mary’s aunt can’t get photos of her now dead husband from the wedding because Bill and Mary got divorced and have no clue as to what happened to the original wedding photos.
 
Everybody loses.
 
The new California law takes the right to negotiate a contract for ownership of the intellectual property away from the photographer/videographer and automatically grants the client ownership of the intellectual material. This law could also have a serious impact on the music and other aspects of the publishing industry. I’ll need to read up more on this.
 
The California law, if not challenged, will do serious and permanent harm to independent professional photographers and videographers by taking the fruits of their work from them and giving them away without an agreement to do so.
 

I’m not certain of the origins of this new law, but California has a large freelance film, photographic and  journalistic industry and stripping creative content providers of the ownership of their creative property amounts to theft of services by the state, for the purpose of what? I’m not sure what the purpose is other than to damage an already fragile economic environment for many of us.

What this means to me is that I won’t work for anyone in California.