Questions from Photography Students

I frequently get emails from students at photography schools asking for what I can tell them about the business of photography. I’m always happy to answer them. I still haven’t forgotten how confusing the industry can seem at first and how difficult it can be to find good sound information on how to run a successful commercial photography business.

I just answered one from a photography major at the Art Institute. I answer some questions many photographers have and tell him where to find more info. I decided to post the email here in the hopes that it will help a few others as well.

Hi _____
Answers to your questions below questions…

Hello my name is ______ and I am a Student at the Art Institute of Denver majoring in Photography. If there is ANY WAY you could help me out with just answering a couple question it would help me so much with my assignment.

I was curious if:

1: Do you recommend starting off working on starting your own business or being a second shooter for a different photographer or business?

If you can find a photographer to hook up with assisting full time, that is the fastest path to success. There is too much false info on the biz circulating and working with an established pro can help you see first hand how business is REALLY done, how they handle problems, what is expected by high end clients and so on. That said, we don’t have many fashion shooters in Denver who are that busy. It is a secondary market here.

2. What do you think is the most important when starting a business?

Join a professional organization like American Photographic Artists, attend every event you can and get as involved as possible. Again, thanks to the internet, anyone with a computer can call themselves experts and do so and the amount of false, bad, and misleading information is staggering. Those who know the least tend to say the most. If you want to be a successful pro, you need to hang out with pros and the pros tend to be part of professional organizations.

And perhaps more important is to learn how to say no. The client asking you to shoot for free because of the “exposure” you will get is actually the person you hoped that “exposure” should lead to. When you say yes to a bad deal, you hurt yourself more than just that loss of income (you have told yourself your work is worthless and that does more damage than anything) and you harm the industry as a whole.

3. How much do you normally charge or get paid for one fashion shoot/portrait?

There is a huge difference between a fashion shoot and a portrait in what is involved. And each shoot can be vastly different. For example, shooting corporate staff where they want dozens of people all shot in front of a studio background (fairly easy) is going to be less per person than a highly creative portrait done for a musician for a CD Cover. A fashion shoot can involve wardrobe, makeup artists, stylists, assistants, and multiple models… so the costs will vary according to the expenses of these various things. You will find very few photographers will talk numbers and it is frustrating. A really good book, if you can still get it is “The Photographers Survival Guide” by Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease. They give you the info no one else does on all aspects of the business from marketing to what to charge, and they do give numbers. I have a blog post up that gives links to some resources for more info on pricing here

Also, you will find on some posts by Bill Cramer of Wonderful Machine that show the entire estimates and give prices charged for various things. Here is a link to one of them, you will have to hunt around for the rest

Researching your client is part of this too. You want to know how big the client is, how wide the campaign is going to go, and understand usage rights. The designer working out of her home sewing the outfits she sells herself is not going to have the budget that Armani will… nor will her campaign go as wide.

It will take you a while, quite a while to get your head around this all, but this should give you a good starting point.

4. When hiring an assistant what are the major things you are looking for in a photographer?

When I hire an assistant, I’m usually looking for an assistant, not a 2nd shooter. I need someone to help me set up the gear, keep an eye on things, adjust a light fast etc, etc. It’s really quite a bit to know…. but most of all I want someone who can see what needs to be done and do it, who is professional on the set, doesn’t try to upstage me in front of a client, and is interested in the success of the shoot.

Your timing on this is good. APA Colorado is having a Photo Assistant Basic Training event on the 21st and 22nd. It is a fantastic event with industry heavyweights there, sponsored by Sony and brought out by APA National. Here is the link to the event:

I’ve been to one of these. Excellent event and it gives you insight into the industry you won’t get anywhere else. It is hard to know what you don’t know is there to know yet… and events like this give you that info. The most successful photographers I know began by assisting.

Good luck. Stay in touch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s