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|| News Item: Posted 1999-11-15

Let's Talk Business: Sports Photographers are Ill Informed About Business Practices
By Rick Rickman

Photo by
I was shooting Skate America a few weeks back. For those of you who know me well you know I loved it! Young people! Tight Lycra! Well,... that'll be for another issue of Sports Shooter. Anyway, I was watching a few of the photographers covering the event, eyeing one photographer, who will remain nameless here, with considerable envy. I heard one woman say, "I wonder how he's able to keep getting all that new gear all the time?" This woman, a freelance photographer who covers many of the skating events, was looking down at her well worn and tired cameras and telephoto lens. "I can't even think about getting that new stabilized 300 that I want so much," she went on to her friend who was also noticing the nameless man's relatively new arsenal.

In my head I was fighting back my initial thought that if these ladies pictures were better it wouldn't be an issue. I realized that that wasn't really true because both those young ladies do very nice images. I've seen both their work in a couple of leading magazines. I've also seen many of these two women's work in another magazine that abuses photographers work, pays poorly, has a terrible contract, and generally takes advantage of hapless, poorly informed photographers.

In general, sports photographers have been ill informed in relation to good business practices. Many sports photographers are part timers who believe that they are lucky just to be at an event and don't want to think about sports photography as a business. This creates a dilemma that some see as the root of the problem. I disagree with that assessment. The root of the problem lies in the fact that many of the rest of us have chosen to look the other way when it comes to practicing good business.

There is a new movement in this country which is addressing how we do business as photographers. This has been a necessary evolution due to the demand by many clients, both magazine and corporate, to have photographers sign blatantly repressive contracts before working with them. How many of you have signed some kind of agreement with one or more of the professional sport associations that allows you to shoot the sport but relinquishes the rights to all your film to that association. How many others of you do the same thing with card companies? If you've done that, you are now part of the growing problem in the photography industry.

I hear the ground swell of protest already. Everybody's doing it and there's nothing we can do. Well, that attitude is what started you down that slippery slope to begin with. That attitude of not being worthy, being incapable of handling your business, is what's really hurting you as a photographer.

There is something you can do! It demands a little time and energy but it also may supply large benefits to you and your business. The first thing that must be done is for you to become concerned about the fact that it's becoming more difficult every day to be a professional photographer. Be concerned that the cost of equipment has risen 42% in the past 5 years. Be aware that the cost of film has risen over 20% in the past 5 years and yet the fees paid to photographers haven't risen one penny in the past five years. In fact, in some cases, the price for services provided by photographers has decreased in the past 5 years. Newspapers are continually downsizing and more and more photographers are finding themselves in a market they are ill prepared to compete in.

Being concerned will take you to the next logical step. Finding information on how to improve your knowledge necessary to keep your business viable. If you plan to stay in business today you have to become informed. The quickest way I know of for the ill informed photographer to start this journey to ward enlightenment and cosmic bliss is to become part of a new information source for editorial photographers called,

This new listserv is a very secure safe venue in which some of the most successful photographer in the country today are sharing information with each other to improve the state of photography in general. There are candid, open discussions, about how to change bad contracts and work them to your advantage, how to create delivery memos, how to negotiate higher fees for your work, and how to find legal advice if someone is really
bending you over.

Photo by
I suggest that you go to ( and sign on to begin your education. You'll have to fill out a short application to the list. You'll be asked who suggested you apply. You can use my name, (Rick Rickman). There is a list of moderators who will check to see that you do indeed shoot editorial type work and then you will be allowed access to some very valuable business information that will help you immensely.

My last suggestion is; when you sign up for the list, you will have choices as to what kind of mail you will receive. It will ask, do you want, daily mail, digest, or no mail. If you take the daily mail option, you will receive as many as 80-100 e-mails a day. Some people like that option. It overwhelms others. I suggest you take the digest version of the list to
begin with. It will supply one condensed e-mail that has all the related material in it. It only arrives once a day and in my mind is much more manageable.

Maybe after a few months of self enlightenment, practicing the information you receive from this list, and working diligently on not using autofocus all the time, you will be the point of envy walking into the arena with the new gear and the new business acumen. Anyway, don't you know that being smart, dressing well, and practicing good business is the consummate definition of sexy. Get Smart! Get Sexy! Get it together before it's too

Elvis has left the arena!

(Rick Rickman won a Pulitzer Prize while on staff with the Orange County Register. He is currently freelancing in Southern California.)

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