Earlier this week, Trudy of Trushots fame posted a terrific blog entitled “So…How Do Photographers Learn The Business?” In it she asks where photographers go to learn about the business of photography especially in a world where the unending debate of Canon-Nikon, Mac-PC etc makes up a large portion of the online photography sphere. What about when a photographer asks the question and the response is “your photography is not good enough?”, even though the average photographer with great business sense often as a healthier business than the great photographer with average business sense.
Having some basic business knowledge from the get-go will stand you in good stead. If you’re considering professional photography as a career or vocation, if possible, look at taking some kind of small business course to give you a grounding in the fundamentals. Even something as elementary as a 12 week course at a community college will more than pay for itself very quickly. A step up from there is obviously a path of study of longer duration. This may be useful if you’re able to dedicate the time needed, but reality and responsibilities suggest that unless you are college-aged and about to embark on tertiary studies for the first time, it probably won’t happen. So where should the aspiring photography business owner turn?
Let’s break it down a bit into different elements that go into making up a photography business. As well as the areas common to all small businesses such as tax, insurance, business licensing, registration etc, there are some additional areas specific to photography. I’m not going to discuss the aforementioned items such as tax and insurance because it differs from place to place and what’s required in my location may be completely wrong information for yours. If you have a local small business association or the like, look into the resources they provide.
General Photography Business
There are two must-have books for a photographer in business. These should be read before you even start operating as a business, and kept handy because you’ll be constantly referring to them. In my own experience, I’ve learnt more about the business of photography through these two sources than anywhere else.
Once you’ve worked your way through those, consider also The Photographer’s Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business by Vik Orenstein
Photography trade associations and groups provide invaluable advice for members. I’m a member of Editorial Photographers and there is a lot of active member-only discussion in the forums there that provides valuable advice and assistance.
The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) is another recommended organization. Despite the A part of the name, you don’t have to be American to join and they have a lot of general information that’s applicable to photographers everywhere. Their website also has a substantial archive of freely available information that you don’t need to be a member to read.
It’s probably impossible to compile a complete list of useful organisations that will be relevant to everyone but some others I do know of include :
National Press Photographers Association (USA)
Professional Photographers of America (USA)
American Photographic Artists (USA)
American Society of Picture Professionals (USA)
Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (USA)
British Press Photographers Association (UK)
Master Photographers Association (UK)
Advertising, Commercial and Magazine Photographers of Australia (Aust)
Some of the above associations are open to photographers internationally, so if you’re based in a country that’s different to the association you are interested in, check them out anyway because you may be eligible.
Loose networks of photographers in a particular marketplace are also worth looking into. Something as simple as a monthly happy hour or other informal meetup of some of the working photographers can be useful.
Marketing and Promotion
It doesn’t matter how good you are if nobody sees your work. Posting to Flickr, Facebook or your own blog is only part of the story. A busy photo buyer simply doesn’t have time to browse hundreds or thousands of blogs in the hope that they find something useful. They may see your work on your blog AFTER you’ve made contact with them but it’s unlikely they’ll find you, unless they have nobody who is able to meet their needs already. I can tell by the number of inquiries I get by email looking for photographers in certain fields here in Taiwan that the photographers in those fields are not doing the marketing necessary and are not reaching the right people. If they were, I wouldn’t be getting the inquiries. For the record, where possible I put the buyer in contact with someone who can help them, and I’d encourage all photographers to do the same. When you get an inquiry for something outside your speciality, if you know someone who does shoot in that field, pass it on.
As I was saying before I got sidetracked, marketing and promotion is all about getting your work in front of the right person. The absolute best advice I’ve ever found about how to coordinate a multi-faceted marketing strategy comes from Selina Maitreya. Her book How to Succeed in Commercial Photography: Insights from a Leading Consultant
helped me immensely in this regard. I shoot in the editorial field, so don’t let the Commercial part of the title turn you off if you’re not a commercial photographer. Selina’s advice is relevant to all genres. Following on from her book is the MP3 series The View From Here with provides more comprehensive information and advice. You can buy it here with a 50% disount (disclaimer – I get a small commission if you buy from this link).
Recently released is Rodney Washington’s eBook Eye On Marketing. that I reviewed last week. This has a number of easy to follow tips to get you started. Other books to consider are Elysse Weissburg’s Successful Self-Promotion for Photographers
and from outside the photography field Lee Silbur’s Self-Promotion for the Creative Person
Obviously, before you can put your book in front of the right person, you need to know who the right person is. There are a couple of different ways to go about that. If you’re in the editorial market, the mastheads of magazines are your best friend. They will often tell you the name of the photo editor and in many cases, give you a contact email address. If they don’t, you’ll probably be able to find the required information on the magazine’s website, probably listed under submission guidelines. Failing that, pick up the phone, call the magazine and ask who you should be dealing with.
For commercial work, you’ll need to connect with the relevant art buyer or photo buyer at the various agencies. I don’t shoot in the commercial field, so I can’t offer much in the way of advice here except to point you towards Adbase and Agency Access which will get you on the right track, or start cold calling. A bit of Googling should direct you to the ad agencies that handle accounts that you want to shoot for and a phone call will get you the additional information you require.
For the retail sector – weddings, senior portraits etc, look to the resources in your community. Florists, hair salons, community centers and more are all avenues to investigate.
Trudy mentioned both Lighting Essentials and New Media Photographer in her post and those two sites are in my regular reading list as well. Other online resources that relate to the business of photography are :
Don at Lighting Essentials has also addressed some of the questions Trudy raised. I suggest you check out his post about it.
You could also take a look at MIT’s free online courses dealing with general business.
In addition to all of the above resources, being aware of the latest in copyright law as it applies to photography is necessary. Again, I’m not going to direct you to specific sites because it differs from country to country but for the biggest English-language markets, here is the US copyright office and here’s the UK office.
I hope the links and resources in this post are useful to you. If you know of anything that I should add, let me know.
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