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.
The photography industry may start to open before too long. While photographers’ skillset is unique, they will not be unusual in what they will be required to do after they go back to work. What is safe? What is dangerous? How does the Covid-19 shutdown affect pricing and scheduling? When will things get back to normal?
That last one – about “normal” – is the easiest to answer: No one knows. Maybe this year, but probably not. Barring an usually rapid development of a vaccine, life may be better by the end of the year, but not normal. Employee, business owner, politician, scientist, doctor will know after it’s over, not before. In the meantime, there is plenty of good guidance from reliable sources on how to move forward as safely as possible to protect ourselves and those around us.
Anyway, it’s not for photographers to decide. States and local municipalities make the rules, whether or not there is agreement with their civic neighbors, or what scientists or doctors advise. So it is not the photographer’s problem. They live where they live and work where they work. Professionals have to abide by governmental directives.
There is plenty of knowledge already in place to help guide photographers in their professional lives. What we know is straightforward and easy to understand. Don’t get too close to anyone but family or those you already live with; wear a mask in public to protect others in case you are asymptomatic; wash your hands all the time; don’t touch your face; sneeze or cough into a handkerchief or your elbow. Everyone is stressed out; be extra nice, be extra considerate. Tip restaurant workers extra well. How does this apply to working on set or on location? How does it apply to photojournalists who (for the moment) usually work alone? The behavior we have all been asked to adhere to is not new: it is standard protocol for all epidemics going back many hundreds of years. It worked before there was the science to back it up, and it works even better now that the science has proven reliable. Photographers have a bit of an advantage in that they will continue to adhere to common industry safety protocols. Professional makeup and hair stylists, as a result of training and licensing, have known for years their tools need to be sanitized using autoclaves and barbicide solution – the same as in hospitals and medical offices – in order to not pass infections from one person to another – or to themselves. They know to wash their hands a lot. They know to keep cans of disinfectant spray handy. They know it takes the time it takes, there are no shortcuts.
Photographers who work in hospital operating rooms are familiar with the specific protocols that environment demands: wear masks, hazmat suits or operating gowns, protective glasses, don’t get too close, wash their hands, don’t work if they are sick. Photographers who work on industrial sites know they also need to wear masks and protective glasses, but, unlike operating rooms, steel-toed boots. Photographers who work with models know that, typically by law, they are not allowed to touch the talent.
These are rules professionals are already guided by. States and municipalities generate new directives until the pandemic has receded enough, way down the line, for the directives to be removed. There are liability issues, too, as photographers who have contacted their insurance brokers have probably already discovered, which is that insurance companies are sometimes refusing to cover photographers without the backup of states and municipalities giving the go-ahead.
After they can work again, photographers will be responsible for having conversations with clients to work out safety issues and to encode them contractually. Planning, of course, is a skill photographers are already familiar with. They will be able to negotiate terms, but not safety.
Restaurants, grocery stores, mass transit have learned how to operate more safely than before the pandemic. The science on how to keep ourselves safe, and those we love and work with safe, is public knowledge, and evolving. States and municipalities interpret that science as they see fit. As we hear often these days, we’re all in this together. That’s not a metaphor.
Following are resources addressing safety for large and small productions or even working alone. All are subject to change, of course, like everything else. Check back with them for updates.
The first few resources deal with current knowledge about the virus. Developing a handle on the biology is not difficult (a medical degree is not necessary), and makes it easier to implement safety protocols.
Here’s another set in my occasional series of online stories that knocked me out. A little photo-centric, but not always.
Aphotograph is not evidence of the truth, rather, an interpretation, even though over time that interpretation becomes so embedded it seems indistinguishable from the truth. It helps to hve more than one photographer document the scene to know what really happened. By Michael Shaw in The New York Times Magazine.
The True Story Behind an Iconic Vietnam War Photo Was Nearly Erased — Until Now A celebrated book and a major museum exhibition revealed the harrowing tale behind the image of a wounded Marine. Their version was wrong.
Ina long and beautiful remembrance, as much about the South as art, “Michael Adno admired no artist’s work more than Alabama’s William Christenberry. And after Christenberry died in late 2016 at 80, Adno retraced his footsteps through west-central Alabama. Today, read through a two-year journey with Christenberry’s family and friends, recounting how he made a record of his native Hale County and what that ultimately meant outside the South.” By Michael Adno in the Bitter Southerner.
Askingquestions in professional contexts is never easy, but it can be more like a conversation than an interrogation, becoming a better experience on both sides. Journalists do this all the time, and there are a range of techniques that work for anyone. By Solutions Journalism in The Whole Story.
Freelancers all face the same challenges, including learning first hand about the myths of freelancing. “You can find plenty of positive things online about being your own boss, and we all know someone who says going freelance was the best decision they’ve ever made. With this article, we want to give you a more realistic view of this often glorified way of living.” By Rosa Koolhoven from Vanchneider.com.
HughMagnum was a traveling photographer during the early 20th Century whose photos, while forgotten and buried in a barn and chicken coop for almost a century, are remarkably contemporary. From the article: “’Through Mangum’s eyes, we see a diverse citizenry, and we see them depicted with democratic equanimity on the same glass plate negative in side-by-side portraits, which suggests that they waited their turn together, in the same studio at the same time,’ Margaret Sartor, an instructor at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, told Hyperallergic.” By Allison Meier in Hyperallergic.
An Itinerant Photographer’s Diverse Portraits of the Turn-of-the-Century American South
The world of art galleries looks like a cloistered clubhouse, closed to outsiders. It may well be cloistered, but it is also, and mostly, a business, easier to understand than to enter. Two writers have authored a book that explains it all, and have published a condensed version as a brief article. By Edward Winkelman and Patton Hindle in Artsy.
Sarah Meister is a curator in the New York Museum of Modern Art Photography Department. In an audio interview, Meister pulls back the curtain on what curators actually do, the culture of museums, and the relations they have with collectors, photographers, and other institutions. Interview by Jordan Weissmann
How Does a Museum Curator Do Her Job? Meet Sarah Meister, a curator in MoMA’s department of photography.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a constant concern, worry, and obsession for anyone who wants to be found on the internet. How does Google rank us? How easily can we be found? What are the dangers of doing it wrong? What is Google thinking? HubSpot examines 22 SEO myths about what’s true and what’s not. By HubSpot, as a downloadable PDF.
What does the music industry have in common with other creative endeavors? The music industry recently had a major victory in Congress in the quest for musicians to be fairly paid in the form of the Music Modernization Act. That victory was the result of all kinds of stakeholders working together for a single goal, and it worked. Those results could be replicated by others, if they work together. Michael Huppe, the president and CEO of SoundExchange wrote a piece about the power of working together in Variety.
Music Modernization Act Was Verse One, the Rest of the Song Is Yet to Be Written
Along these same lines, the passage of the Music Modernization Act has put into law the ability to set up a rights clearinghouse for music creators – an endeavor that other creators could also benefit from, as a proof-of-concept for managing licensing and rights payments. Billboard magazine has an Op-Ed by The Open Music Initiative, launched by the Berklee School of Music and the MIT Media Lab, who have already begun work on a non-profit, open-source project to manage all that information, potentially unlocking trillions of dollars of fees to go to creators.
Why Success of the Music Modernization Act Depends on Open Standards