PHO704 Week 5: Turning Professional

This continues my previous post and covers some of the things I would need to know if I wanted to become a professional commercial photographer.

The Legal Stuff

It is clear that to turn professional I would need to acquire a working knowledge of contract law, rights and obligations, and typical industry contracts. The documents available on the AOP website are a good place to start (Association of Photographers 2020). I have applied for membership.

I would also need to acquire a working knowledge of how images are typically bought, sold and leased, and with what kind of deals concerning territorial and reproduction rights. A couple of useful fees calculators have been suggested, on the Getty Images and the AOP websites.

I would need to obtain and carry release forms. These could be useful almost anywhere. A professional photographer has recommended a release form app to me, Easy Release, which means forms can be available on one’s iPhone or tablet. Useful when in the field.

Finally, it would be important to take out proper insurance, if and when appropriate.

Easy Release
Fig. 1: Easy Release, a model release app designed for smartphones and tablets.

Fees and Charges

‘How much am I worth?’ is not a question I find easy. The commercial photographer Ron Timehin offers some helpful suggestions (Timehin 2020). In any potentially awkward conversation, one can start by asking whether there is a budget available for the work. If the answer is ‘yes’, one can take the upper hand by saying something like, ‘My normal day rate is £350, how does that fit with your budget?’ According to Timehin, in 2020 £300-£400 per day is a good rate for beginners, and this should include curation and post-production time too. With successful commissions, he says, one should be able to increase one’s day rate annually.

Another overview of current conditions I have found helpful is Sean Tucker’s recent video Pricing Your Photography and Finding Clients (Tucker 2020).

When to Say Yes and When to Say No

If you are trying to earn a living, working for nothing is hardly attractive but it can still be tempting. Ron Timehin has said that he only takes on assignments when they fulfil at least two of three criteria (Timehin 2020):

  • Financial gain
  • Educational interest
  • Passionate or experiential attraction

Timehin says that exposure (i.e. publicity) can be a fourth reason, but that one has to be very careful. ‘Exposure’ is often used as an excuse by people who don’t want to pay for something and who in consequence will value what you do at nothing. The first three criteria are much more important.

Agents

Looking at representation by a photography agency would come towards the end of the process of becoming a professional photographer, at least in my case. Unless I can give a consistently professional impression, why would any agent want me on their books at all? If I did opt to have an agent, then I would need to research which agencies specialize in the kind of genres I am active in. Agents can offer much more than one might think (Pfab 2020), so they are not to be disregarded.

Professional Advice

Knowing a specialist law firm or two would be helpful if only for advice. One suggested is Swann Turton.

An accountant is important in my view, if one can be afforded. A good accountant will help one to maximise return on investment and minimise taxes as well as deal with the authorities. Estimating and invoicing using proper forms is important, so these must be obtained perhaps in the first instance from the AOP. If enough business comes in, then accounting software would soon become necessary.

And all this before writing the first emails, pitching to a client or making the first exploratory cold call! It is easy for the work required to seem forbidding, but if broken down into separate steps and taken one item at a time, I am sure it can be done.

References

ASSOCIATION OF PHOTOGRAPHERS. 2020. ‘AOP’. The Association of Photographers [online]. Available at: https://www.the-aop.org/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

PFAB, Anna-Maria. 2020. ‘Week 5 Live Lecture’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/15c46b7e7981013e41de8a43f4b0f0fa57259353-1603738095776/capture/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

TIMEHIN, Ron. 2020. ‘Basics of Business on Instagram’. The Photography Show & The Video Show Virtual Festival [online]. Available at: https://photographyshow.vfairs.com/en/hall#topics-tab [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

TUCKER, Sean. 2020. ‘Pricing Your Photography and Finding Clients’. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36G3xKe-dCE [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

Figures

Figure 1. APPLICATIONGAP. 2O2O. ‘Easy Release (Pro) – Model Release App’. From:  APPLICATIONGAP. 2O2O. ApplicationGap [online]. Available at: https://applicationgap.com/apps/easyrelease/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].