Interviewed by Voyage L.A.

I was interviewed again by Voyage LA, and this time took a different tack so I could provide different answers. As anyone who knows me knows, I repeat myself – yes, repeat myself – on occasion. Not so much this time. Here’s the link, or read the whole thing below.

Today we’d like to introduce you to Barry Schwartz.

Hi Barry, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.

As a kid, I loved looking at the annuals of photo magazines, the occasional book like The Family of Man, which was everywhere, and of course Life magazine – the gold standard. My first camera was a bellows 35 MM Zeiss that was entirely mechanical, loud, and needed a light meter; it was not very good, but neither was I. I graduated at 16 to a used twin-lens YashicaMat and that was a revelation; I got more serious about making good photos because this camera would help me produce them.

I figured out early it was not the camera that mattered: it was my taste and ability to stay focused to get a good picture on location and then print it on paper. This has not changed, except for how photos are viewed, now, mostly, on screen. I still love to print, however!

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?

Working as a creative entrepreneur is never a straight, let alone, a smooth road. Until I turned pro after another career, I shot mostly for myself, and was published on occasion, but never thought I could make it professionally, so did not try; I just kept at it. I worked for myself as a contractor and kitchen designer, documenting my projects for my portfolio. Then I got carpal tunnel, and it was a natural transition to become an architectural photographer. My work had always included portraits and documentary work, and I chose to include it all on my website and in my printed portfolios. This hurts me with some architectural designers about who they hire to document their work, but it also gets me to work where a broad range of skills is important.

My taste and people skills were already in place and I even had some business chops, but learning basic digital processes was a big adjustment: being my own IT person, printer, and retoucher. I never thought I’d be that kind of gearhead, but work is work. Digital is just another tool – it does not change the fundamentals it takes to produce a good photo.

One of the great things about being a photographer is access to places and people you would not encounter otherwise; this is a continuing thrill (and not news to my colleagues!). I’ve been in fantastic buildings for pay, and in others where I just talked my way in. Being around people you’re being paid to photograph, or on a self-assignment has many pleasures, chief among them being being surprised by where you are and who you’re hanging around with – and that you get to capture part of the experience and haul it away with you on a camera.

Later, you get to experience it again in a different way in the privacy of your studio and present the results to people who were never there who get to see a bit of what you saw, and perhaps get a little of the same tingle you experienced on the spot. A nice part of the gig.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?

My specialties are architecture, interiors, landscape architecture, hospitality, portraits, and documentary work.

Being able to work in different specialties – sometimes on the same project – is something I always look for. In one sense, each kind of specialty uses a different brain, but that’s not really it; I mean, you only have one brain, right? Anything that keeps you on your toes, thinking on your feet, and keeping an open mind, affects everything else you do, including different kinds of photography.

I write a bit – non-fiction – and teach more than a bit: professional practices for photographers at the college level, in workshops, including, since the pandemic, in webinars.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?

I love teaching. I have a lot of contact with photographers at all levels, students, emerging professionals, and established professionals. I learned early that effective educators are always learning. Teaching is about being useful, and it’s a give-back.

I discovered not to take a student’s seriousness or capabilities or even their experience for granted. In my workshops and classes, there are always people who are more successful or experienced than I am, with deep knowledge based on practice in their area of photography. That being said, everyone has a different pain point or a reason why they are in a class or workshop: something in the profession they are puzzled about, intimidated by, or perhaps they want to move into a different specialty and need more grounding than they have. These folks understand that continuing to learn can help keep careers from bottoming out; I know this as well as anyone, and since teaching requires learning, it applies to me, as well. It’s only fair.

For emerging and younger photographers, being in the same spaces with professionals can make practices that seem abstract more real and attainable. Anyone who has gone to a talk given by someone they admire has experienced the same kind of thing.

Creative careers operate on pathways that may not be clearly defined, because being a creative person, by default, means that you spend a lot of time making it up as you go – hopefully at a professional level. One of the things I teach is this process is not only OK, but it’s also sort of required.

The easy stuff in teaching professional practices are the things that seem so intimidating to students at first: contracts, negotiating, pricing, marketing, and digital workflow. But these are learnable skills; the more important things in successfully working for yourself – or as an employee – are people skills, and learning how to produce good work reliably; this is a never-ending process. In the end, it’s about being nice, having flexibility, and open imagination, and, more than anything: it’s about the work. The late designer Milton Glaser had a sign above the entry door to his building: Art Is Work. That’s it.

Primer: Copyright For Photographers

Photo By Barry Schwartz

The Copyright Alliance recently put together a pretty comprehensive and easy-to-understand series of articles on copyright for photographers. Loads of reliable information based on experience and the law, not opinion (including when the law is based on opinions!). It’s less confusing than I’ve made it sound.

It’s easy – and free! – to join up and get the newsletter and access to lots of information, including practical, contractual issues, dealing with clients and courts, legislative issues, and insights about all things copyright for photographers and other creative-types, including clear information on what is to a creator’s advantage and what is not. And, of course, great tutorials on the brand-new CCB – Copyright Claims Board.

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: