A long time ago, a lot longer than I'd care to admit, I had a mentor in the photography world. I learned so much through assisting this photographer. He taught me so much more than I had learned in college. He taught me the things you can't learn in a class; dealing with nervous brides, overzealous art directors, in addition to lighting on the fly.
One thing he said to me stuck with me to this day. We were getting ready to go shoot a small wedding, and he was nervous. Now, this photographer was a millionaire photographer, who had shot all over the world, for all types of clients. You name it...he shot it.
I found myself confused, as I asked him, "You're nervous? I just watched you come to contract with another client on a wedding, where you charged him $20,000...this wedding isn't even a tenth of that! How are you nervous???" He took a deep breath, closed his eyes momentarily, as if to get some of the nerves out of him, smiled, looked at me, and said "Ramon. Photography has given me my whole life. You're right...I probably have no reason at all to be nervous, but, you know what? You know how I know I still care about my work? I know I still care about my work, because I get just as nervous for a $1,500 job as I do for a $20,000 job, over 20 years later. The day I stop getting nervous is the day I retire."
To this day, that man is still shooting.
Lesson well learned. See when I was working with him, I was in my EARLY 20's. I was bold, and had yet to conquer the world. So many years later, I know that my work still means a great deal to me...I get those same exact butterflies, those same exact nerves, regardless of whether its a $1,500 shoot or a $25,000 shoot. I find myself taking those same breaths, meditating, getting my mind right, almost as much as I get my equipment ready.
Let's have a discussion...do you have those same nerves? How do you prepare, mentally, prior to a job? Is it different for smaller jobs than it is for larger jobs?
Early last month, Time Magazine decided to put out new agreements for their freelance photographers. It was pretty disgraceful. You can read it Here.
For starters, any time the agreement starts out with a letter, and in the first line of the letter, it reads "Since the 1920's and 30's," you already know which direction this is going to go. Secondly, it is in familiar fashion, an 8 page contract, outlining all of the ins and outs. The length of the contract, however, is not nearly as important as the content.
Photographers who sign this contract can expect to lose all abilities to earn any type of licensing revenue. Where us photographers can expect to earn residual income on some of our best images, this contract takes that ability from us, and that's why this is so important.
Not only will signing this contract take all of your potential for future licensing revenue, this rights grab may also stretch across their entire brand, to include:
Travel and Leisure
Sports Illustrated Kids
People En Espanol
And much, much, more. In fact, you can read the entire list here.
Over 90 different publications.
The sad part is that this isn't the first time this has happened in recent years. This contract is a very dangerous shot towards not only photographers but other artist. It is becoming more and more difficult for upcoming photographers to find work that pays proper rights and pay, and this may very well the biggest infringement upon those rights. It is up to us as artist not only to protect our current and future earnings, but also to make sure that rights grabs such as this don't completely destroy the future of our industry. We must stand together and unite in order to overcome such dangerous obstacles like this. The future of our industry is in the balance.
I'm from Chicago, so, of course, needless to say, I'm a diehard Chicago sports fan. I remember celebrating the Bulls six championships, the Cubs many postseason defeats, the Blackhawks recent dominance, and so on.
One thing I remember vividly about those legendary Bulls teams of the 90's was the tension between the team and the front office. For those of you that aren't familiar, the front office felt as if they didn't get enough credit for building the amazing brand that was Chicago Bulls basketball, and felt a bit of envy towards Jordan, Pippen, Jackson, Rodman, and the rest. They felt eager to get rid of the whole team, and show to the world that they could do it again...with a whole new cast of players.
While I won't get into my personal feelings about Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Kraus(the heads at the front office) I remember it being said one day on television that the "Jerrys" weren't basketball men...they were businessmen. That stuck out to me. At first, it was an insult...basketball is their sport, right? But why were they successful? They understood the components over what it takes to create a serious winner. Ultimately, egos took over, and ruined the greatest team to ever play(don't you DARE argue with me on this one!)
In that same fashion, however, to be a successful photographer, you have to be a bit more businessperson than ever before. You have to understand your numbers. You have to understand business structure, contracts, client acquisition, client retention, etc.
Stay with me here. If you want to be a successful photographer...you cannot be an artist. First.
Sure...you have to be super creative, and continue to push the envelope as much as possible, but it is no longer enough to just be creative and have a nice portfolio. Let me ask you this. Ever spent the afternoon scouting other photographer's websites in your market, and thought to yourself..."why the hell is this photographer more successful, when their work is lackluster?"
This is your lightbulb moment.
It is important for us photographers to be expert businesspeople. When working among the business community, it is important to show first how you are a successful, serious business person.
Here's a couple of tips to improving your business accumen:
1. Network, Network, Network - People hire who they know. Get out there and meet people.
2. Know your numbers! - Your clients know their numbers. You should know yours.
3. Education - Take a business class. Not a "business for artist" type class. An actual business class...it will help.
4. Find a mentor - having someone who's brain you can pick about business issues is invaluable!
Yes, it is important to have artistic skill to be a photographer. We photographers are kind of a hybrid between artist and businessmen...we have to be skilled at both.