Contracts Are Not the End, or the Beginning, of a Photo Project

Anonyme. Photographe sur une échelle, place de la Concorde. Paris (VIIIème arr.), 1900-1910. Paris, musée Carnavalet.

By Barry Schwartz

Successful professionals – that is, people who make most of their living as photographers – have a kind of global view of their career.  They behave as though marketing and contract negotiations and digital workflow are all just as important as composition and lighting. 

For instance, the first thing any potential client wants to see is proof a photographer knows what they are doing: typically, a website populated with work the photographer does best.  How does that potential client get to the website?  Marketing.  There is all kinds of marketing: being featured in a paid directory, reaching out via email, a personal meeting, a snail-mail promo, Instagram, a referral, handing a business card to someone in the checkout line at the market. You don’t have to engage with all these avenues, but you have to be engaged with at least a few.

All negotiations begin with a conversation via email or, preferably, on the phone.  (As a young friend of mine says, “Texting is for social, email is for business”.) Photographers need a few questions answered: what kinds of images is the client looking for, how many do they need, when does the photography take place and when does it need to be delivered, where will it be done, and how much money is involved.  Not least, photographers have to know how the images are going to be used – licensing.  

The best result – true in any business – is a contract where everyone gets what they want, a win-win.  As photographers negotiate, they have to calculate factors based on everything they know about their business: their hard costs (equipment, insurance, living expenses), people skills (how to get along with the client and everyone else), how much time they need to produce the work to their standard, how many people (if any) they will hire, Plan B, and Plan C.  And Plan D (you never know…).  Digital workflow (something clients know little about) is critical to delivering images.  It’s all in the mix, and it all goes into the contract.  Once the contract is signed, the photographer has to produce the work while being prepared (technically and emotionally) to deal with inevitable changes, and, finally, to deliver on time and budget.  How hard is that?

Photographers have to already be prepared for that entire process – marketing to negotiating to digital workflow – before any client reaches out, leading to the best result: the client is happy, pays the bill, and hires the photographer again for another project.  Another win-win. However, even if the photographer does not get hired again, the finished, delivered project may remain a successful conclusion if the photos are good enough to provide fresh work for the photographer’s website so that when the next potential client comes along, they have something worthwhile to see.  And so it goes.

This is the first of an occasional column about business practices for photographers for PetaPixel.  I’ve written about business and taught college classes, seminars, and webinars for many years.  All the while, I’ve been listening to photographers, editors, curators, reps, assistants, consultants, lawyers, printers, stylists, digitechs, and everyone else in the field. My job is to reflect back to readers and students what I hear.  Everyone has pain-points, and everyone has successes.  I’m a working photographer myself, so this information matters to me and my career, as well.

I will be writing about negotiating, marketing, photo specialties, copyright, insurance, contracts, assisting, releases, how to find and research clients, digital workflow, support trades, video, art school, and social media. I could go on.  I’ll try to cover anything students and pros may encounter, and anything that makes life easier and the work better.  There will be the occasional interview.  There won’t be much gear-talk, except on occasion, since it’s an inevitable part of a photographers’ life; but without all the other skills needed to make a living, there won’t be any need to buy gear.

 You can see the article on PetaPixel here: