Monetise your Pics
Learning to become a commercially minded photographer
What 18 years of working as a professional photographer has taught me:
1. No matter how many books, blogs and posts you read on photography, nothing prepares you more than picking up a camera (manual of course and not a point & shoot, that’s just cheating and teaches you nothing) and shoot away. Set yourself fictitious assignments and learn from your mistakes. Aim high and if you get it wrong, try again until it’s right!
2. Assist. Assist. Assist. When you’re first starting out, assist as many corporate, editorial and commercial photographers that you can. If you don’t have any experience at all and you’re finding it hard to even get an assisting gig, ask to ‘shadow’ initially for free. I use this term specifically as you should never ‘assist’ for free (rule of thumb, if you’re delivering a service you should be getting paid for it) and it’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing because of course its difficult to get the assisting gig without having had some sort of experience. You may ‘think’ you know what area of photography you want to work in but my advice is to assist as many photographers within as many areas of photography as possible. You might surprise yourself and I guarantee you’ll pick up at least 1 tip and 1 camera/equipment hack at ever shoot. When I started, I assisted a food photographer, a fashion photographer, a shoe photographer (the dullest 3 months of my life but totally necessary), a portrait photographer, a car photographer, several big brand advertising photographers, a wedding photographer, and the most inspiring – a travel photographer on location in Dubai. Golden rule about assisting – NEVER do it for free (I know I’m repeating myself)! If the photographer you’re assisting is getting paid for a job your assisting them on, then you should be getting paid too. Simple. Register with the Association of Photographers as an assistant, its a good tool to connect with jobbing pro’s.
3. OK so you’ve done all this and you want to monetise your skills. I’m afraid this is where you’re going to read something that might disappoint you – stop shooting unless there’s a pay cheque in it! Yep you heard me right. This is no longer a ‘hobby’. You’ve forked out a fortune for your kit so you need to start making some money out of your skills. First thing to do is to prepare a rate card. Look at your competition and work out what you feel is a reasonable price for your service. Break your rate card down to photography fees and post production fees. This is important because a client might suddenly ask you to do a lot of work to their images after the shoot that you haven’t quoted for and then you’ll feel obliged to do it for free and suddenly its taken you hours and hours.
4. I can hear you all asking me “should I do a freebie as I’m starting out to win business”? No No No, never do anything for free. A pro bono deal is fine, but there’s no such thing as free. Think about any service industry professional that you would use regularly – accountants, lawyers, architects – yes they may ‘talk’ to you for free to explain how they work or what they CAN do etc BUT you would never see a newly graduated professional offering their services for free, NEVER. I have always made it my moto that I’m getting paid because I’ve made this my livelihood, my profession. This means I can also pay for any services my business needs etc etc and so on and so on. It also states quite clearly that you are an expert in your field and you know what you’re doing.
5. Specialising in your chosen field is one of the hardest challenges for an emerging photographer. People always say do what you love BUT that doesn’t always mean that’s the best way to monetise your skill. Be commercially minded and savvy. Research what areas of photography are in demand, what fee’s certain specialism demand and look at your strengths. If you’re a brilliant people person – work with people. If you’re a very technically minded photographer – work on an area that requires a lot of technical prowess such as still life photography. I learnt this the hard way, and although I gained a lot of experience in ambient light, my stint as a travel photographer left me broke (not to mention lonely). I was young and hungry, and that’s fine but I was being exploited 100%. Sometimes its fine to take on a commission just to grow your CV and develop a presence in the industry, but I quickly realised that although travel photography sounded glamorous – it often meant I was working on a ridiculously low day rate on location from sun rise to sun set (which is long in most parts of the hemisphere during summer months) it did mean that whilst I was growing my portfolio, I wasn’t growing my bank balance. Sometimes its OK to do this, but so long as you learn to move on when you’ve broken your teeth.
6. Running a photography business is 70% admin and 30% shooting. Its true. Ask any commercial photographer. What they don’t teach you at University is how to prepare a budget breakdown, which channels to explore for your sales & marketing campaign. How to chase outstanding invoices, how to write covering letters, how to develop a brand, a business strategy – essentially how to acquire work. That’s partly why I opted NOT to do a photography degree but instead something that would give me additional skills. I chose to do a course in corporate communications. I also worked in marketing for 7 years full time with leading organisations such as Bates, JWT and Emirates airlines. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do full time BUT in my time as a marketer, I dealt with photographers, I commissioned them, briefed them, negotiated rates with them and wrote their briefs so when I was in their shoes, I knew what my clients were essentially buying and how I could solve their problems. I guess I got lucky. It’s not a bad idea to then consider doing some work experience at a publishing house or a design agency. There’s no better way to win business than by empathising with the person commissioning you.
7. Negotiating: The industry is tougher than its ever been. Clients are definitely presented with a lot more choice and this means they are starting to negotiate. Of course this is a very personal thing but again in my opinion, you shouldn’t make that compromise unless theirs something in it for you and your business. I rarely give discounts when clients ask for one. I will ‘negotiate’ if they are willing to commit to a series of jobs as I believe there should be something on offer if a retention contract is on the cards, but otherwise I know my value and its simply not open for negotiation. I guess it’s a bit different for me because what I offer is not just my creative contribution but my years or experience, incredible kit and professionalism. Never be afraid to be bold.
That concludes this titbit of wisdom, I hope you found it useful. Thanks for your time. Nina @ Soora – Corporate Photography services covering London and the home counties providing headshot and corporate event photography services.