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HELP! I don't understand the Business of Photography
Amanda Smith, Student/Intern, Photographer
Spokane | WA | | Posted: 3:24 PM on 03.13.04
->> After reading the business threads on this message board, and taking a business of photography class - I am extremely lost (and a little scared) about how to get into this business without undercutting the prices or starving. Contracts, Contact, Marketing, Pricing, Networking, and Legal Mumbo-Jumbo is all starting to sound like jibberish to me and I would LOVE any suggestions or answers anyone could give me about starting up as a freelancers. I have already started freelancing, and I am a really stressed about the business side of this. The naive part of me still wants to believe that photojournalism is strictly about capturing the moments, the logical part understands that if I don't get my act together soon I am going to sink fast! Thanks in advance for your help, I really need it!
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Jock Fistick, Photographer
Brussels | Belgium | | Posted: 4:54 PM on 03.13.04
->> Amanda:

You have a nice eye - and I take it you are freelancing for the Spokesman Review - you should consider yourself lucky as they have a talented staff there and you should draw on their energy, knowledge and experience.

As for doing the right thing on the business side - it's pretty simple - don't sell yourself short - even though you are just starting out, you are able to make really nice images - so make sure you get paid for them. Don't work for free or give your work away for next to nothing. You make professional quality images - expect to be paid a professional wage - and if a client doesn't want to do that - then walk away. If you accept below market compensation for your services now - what makes you think that any client will be willing to pay you more later, since you have already set the bar so low? If you don't value your own work (and this is the message that is sent when a photographer charges or accepts too little for their services) then why would a client? Other than that - keep trying to improve - and learn from those around you.
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Jeff Stanton, Photographer
Tucson | AZ | USA | Posted: 5:42 PM on 03.13.04
->> Amanda ... The thought being conveyed here is because so many people want to get their foot in the door, they're willing to compromise themselves - and everyone else around them for a credit line and a credential. The freelance market is dying a slow death because of it.

What do all the contracts mean? Simple. Work for hire contracts are agreements you sign into with a newspaper or photo agency that pay you a set fee for your work and at the same time, these newspapers or photo agencies retain all the rights to your work. You get nothing and I mean absolutely nothing after the initial fee is paid to you and the initial fee is less now than ever before.

Perhaps some others would like to add their two cents worth, because there are a number of folks on SS that can and have explained this much better, but that's about it in a nutshell.
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Joe Nicola, Photographer
Fort Worth | TX | USA | Posted: 6:04 PM on 03.13.04
->> I'm lucky enough not to need photography to support myself and my family. I'm hoping to get good enough to augment my retirement in a just a few years and I thought I try and do what I enjoy -- shooting sports. Unfortunately, I may end up relying less on that and more on the other half of my odd-couple combination of interests: shooting portraits. I'm finding that it's much easier to make money in that realm than by shooting stuff for cheapskate newspapers.

Even if I did get a job as a stringer, I'd make $50 an assignment. One job won't even buy me a new CF card.

On the other hand, one senior portrait client paid for nearly a third of my 10D. And I did that in an hour (Not counting driving by the lab to drop off/pick up film on my way home from work).

Out of curiosity, what does a photog at SI, Sporting News, or any of the big mags make? Anybody hazard an educated guess?
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Mark Loundy, Photo Editor
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 7:03 PM on 03.13.04
->> Amanda, Right now, it is EXTREMELY difficult to make a living wage in editorial photography. One way to break in is to have a "day job" that not only pays the bills, but affords you the freedom to say no to bad deals.

I met a young photographer at the 2003 Northern Short Course who was a financial analyst and who followed prudent business practices in her photography business. She was slowly building her clientele and was looking forward to eventually working at photography fulltime.

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Ron Scheffler, Photographer
Hamilton (Toronto area) | Ontario | Canada | Posted: 7:08 PM on 03.13.04
->> Take the time to read any contracts you are asked to sign. And don't feel you have to sign right away (if at all). You want to make sure your long term interests are covered and make sure to ask questions to those presenting contracts to you if you are uncertain about specific details. It can also help to get legal advice, but of course that is extra time, effort and money.
Unfortunately work for hire contracts are becoming very common in the newspaper industry. If the newspaper you are freelancing for is part of a larger chain of papers, then WFH contracts are usually worded to allow the chain to share your images indefinitely without additional compensation (though it depends on each contract, as some may pay an additional fee). Also be aware that such contracts usually transfer rights of ownership to the company assigning the assignment to you. As a result, you may not be able to resell images made for them for other uses. It can also differ if you are submitting on speculation or if it is an assigned job...
Unfortunately, in certain circumstances you may have no choice but to sign such a contract... Yes, it is preached here at SS never to sign one.. but you have to be realistic as well and take your circumstances into account. It's a tough choice because not signing may deny you access to the kind of work you were hoping to do and or blacklist you with certain clients. Not to say losing some kinds of clients is always bad...
What you might be looking for are specific prices... That is the tricky part and a reason why no one likes to quote exact numbers. It depends on so many factors including the going rate in your market, your experience, your overhead and what you need to survive, or ideally, make a profit.
If you read through some threads, you'll see that freelancing for newspapers can range in pay from pittiful ($5-10/picture) to average ($75-150/assignment) for larger cities and up to the $250-400 range in certain circumstances. So, a lot depends on where you are and the freelance policy of the paper(s) you deal with.
Generally editorial work for magazines will pay more. Here as well you may face WFH contracts with flat fee payments. Or you may be paid a dayrate for anticipated uses of the images, to which you may be able to charge more if the photos get more play (larger or more pages). In such instances you have to find out what the space rates are for the specific magazine (i.e., how much they pay for full page, double truck, quarter page use, etc.), total up the space used and deduct the day rate to determine how much to bill on top of the day rate.
With commercial work (photos to be used to sell products or brand, etc.) you should be able to charge even more. Of course it depends on the kind of client. Tom's neighborhood hardware store will have a different budget than Home Depot. Generally one would charge a day rate plus expenses plus a per image usage rate for use over a specific period of time. Usage rates depend on where the photos will run, whether the campaign will be local, regional, national or international. Of course, this isn't the only way it is done. Some clients may ask for unlimited use, flatrate fee per job, etc.
Basically you need to determine if it is worth your time and effort.
Everyone tends to go through some sort of growth in photography in regards to clients. You will generally start off with smaller clients with limited budgets because they have a certain place in the market and that happens to be where you are at that time.
Deciding on what to quote can be stressful. Try to use as many objective criteria as you can to determine a price so you can justify it to yourself as well as to the potential client. Criteria such as your cost of doing business based on the equipment you own (or may be financing), transportation, education (paying off loans). You will lose potential jobs, but you also need to remain confident that what you are quoting is reasonable rather than just something that came to mind right at that moment. It's also a good idea to get as much information from a potential client and then ask to call them back in a few minutes or an hour so that you have time to think it over. Don't feel you have to give a quote on the spot. It's kind of funny because a lot of people tend to call photographers and almost the first thing they ask is "how much do you charge". That may be preceded by them telling you how wonderful your photos are... trying to stroke your ego in the hopes of getting you to give them a break.... Of course, what you will charge depends on what needs to be photographed: where, when, how, why... who... etc. Get all that information first, then determine the price you will quote. This is relevant for all sorts of photography... even newspaper assignments, because it might be for a job 100 miles away, so will they pay your mileage? If it's going to take most of the day, will they pay for the equivalent of two assignments instead of one, etc.? Or weddings.... Find out how long you will be expected to be available... from the bride in the morning until the end of the reception? Or just ceremony and posed photos in a park? Ask a lot of questions. Sometimes clients don't realize that certain details are relevant, and full disclosure may even save them money. Conversely, some try to avoid spelling out certain details in the hopes you will quote a low rate on the spot.

These are just some ideas that come to mind. I'm sure there are many other factors that others can add as well.

I'd suggest you do a search of Rick Rickman's posts He has made many valuable comments in the forums here.

Lastly, I'd like to commend you for asking this question at the onset of your freelance career. When I graduated from college in the early 90s, there were no online resources such as SS (well, there was no general internet to speak of). It was much more difficult to figure out how the business of photography worked, and how best to make it work for you.
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Darrell Miho, Photographer
Temple City | CA | usa | Posted: 10:04 PM on 03.13.04
->> to amanda...and all students...
if you want to make a living as a freelance photographer you need to be two things...a good photographer AND a good business person. one without the other is not going to work.

the advice i give to students at my alma mater every year is to take support courses like business law and marketing and accounting. all of these will be valuable assets to help you build a susccesful business. any other courses that will help you understand business or photo/design related fields (graphic design, printing etc...) wouldn't hurt either. the more you know, the better off you will be.

another option is to partner with a good business person who can handle your marketing, accounting, networking etc... one course in "the business of photography" is a great base, but just like photography, there are many other apsects to doing business that one course can not cover completely.

good luck and happy shooting.
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Ron Scheffler, Photographer
Hamilton (Toronto area) | Ontario | Canada | Posted: 4:15 AM on 03.14.04
->> Check out the resources at Editorial Photo. I found the following to be an interesting read... and I'm sure there is even more at the site:
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Garrett Cortese, Student/Intern, Photographer
Boulder | CO | USA | Posted: 5:36 AM on 03.14.04
->> Amanda,
One book I've found useful for basics in photography business matters is the ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography. It was recommended to me by SS member and Luau instructor Cory Rich. You can find it at for like $20, I think. It's extremely useful when it comes to learning about business terms and practices in the photography world.
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Amanda Smith, Student/Intern, Photographer
Spokane | WA | | Posted: 7:29 PM on 03.15.04
->> I just wanted to say thank you for all of your help. It is so nice to know that I have a great selection of photographers to learn from at my fingertips!!! Thanks again!
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Robert Hanashiro, Photographer
Los Angeles | CA | USA | Posted: 9:15 PM on 03.15.04
->> Run, don't walk, to the Sports Shooter Newsletter archives and do a search on "Rick Rickman" ...

Read everything he has written in his regular business of photography column ... probably the best of its type out there today.

Also, you can take a look at Rick's highly informational, entertaining and enlightening breakout class he leads at the annual Sports Shooter Workshop & Luau:

Another great source of information for freelance photographers is the Editorial Photographers web site:
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Anne Ryan, Photographer
Chicago | IL | USA | Posted: 10:13 PM on 03.21.04
->> I can't say enough good things about It's changed my whole perspective on the business. You should join. It's a free business education for photographers. When you get a nasty contract from somebody and they tell you, "Everyone else is signing it." You can ask other members of editorial photo and you'll usually find that it's not true. You'll get advice on how to handle these situations and when to say no to an assignment. There are also samples of contracts that you can send out to clients, etc... Good luck and don't hesitate to e-mail me if you have questions.
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Thread Title: HELP! I don't understand the Business of Photography
Thread Started By: Amanda Smith
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