by Brian Smith
EDITORIAL PHOTOGRAPHY ASSIGNMENT RATES have traditionally been lower than rates paid for commercial or corporate photography but with the caveat that you own the work and can re-license it after it appears in the magazine. The best photographs of any subject can get licensed again and again all over the world.
EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT THE BUSINESS OF PHOTOGRAPHY. Even though you chose to be an artiste – not an accountant – on career day, that doesn’t mean you can skate through your career without any business skills. Don’t expect to find a rep to handle all of this for you. Reps like to work with artists who understand your business. Editorial Photographers is a great source of information about the business of editorial photography. Educate yourself.
AIM FOR THE TOP – not the bottom – when licensing stock. There’s plenty of money to be made in editorial stock licensing. Bear in mind that the best images get licensed again and again and again. Work hard to create the shot everyone wants – not just another interchangeable image. Don’t get stuck in the $200 bargain basement bin: Create images that have value.
I DON’T UNDERSTAND MICROSTOCK or how it fits into the editorial market. It’s almost like telling clients that the largely stagnant editorial rates that have largely stayed frozen in 1985 are somehow too high, which is clearly not the case. An editor I work with at TIME magazine told me they recently a royalty-free photo for their cover for three dollars. That’s exactly 1/1000 of TIME‘s normal cover rate. That’s like saying “I’m holding firm to my price no matter how much more you’re willing to pay!”
SHOW THE WORK YOU LOVE TO SHOOT. This sounds really basic, but it’s amazing how often photographers get this wrong by showing what they think clients want. Work that comes from your heart is always the strongest. When it’s what you love to shoot, it doesn’t even seem like work, does it?
TREAT EVERY ASSIGNMENT LIKE IT’S YOU DREAM JOB. If you’re waiting to “raise your game” until you get your dream gig, you’ll never get it. I spent the first decade of my career and a newspaper photographer, and I put the same effort into my assignments for newspaper as I did on the freelance shoots for Rolling Stone.
LEARN HOW TO WORK WITH PEOPLE. Magazines and newspapers are in the business of communication. Never underestimate the importance of communicating with your subjects and clients. Knowing even a small bit about everything is really helpful. The five minutes you might remember from college about any given subject can go farther than you think.
WORK WITH REALLY SMART PEOPLE whenever you can. Just like real estate, wherein you never want to own the most expensive house on the block, it’s better to surround yourself with people much smarter than you. Trust me – I do it all the time.
GOOD STYLING MAKES YOUR WORK STAND OUT from the rest of the images that bombarded our visual senses. Yes, it’s true. It’s not all about you. A great stylist or groomer can make or break your shoot. Don’t underestimate for even a second the impact that styling, props, or great hair and makeup can have on a shoot. There’s a reason it’s called production value…
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION isn’t just for real estate. When shooting environmental portraits, the location is often the star (or at least the costar) of the show. Scout the location in advance if you can. If you can’t, at least get there early enough to try to find the best spot to shoot.
THE EQUIPMENT YOU USE SHOULD MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER. Over the years, I’ve shot with about every camera from 35mm to 8×10, but these days I shoot everything on digital. I recently switched from Medium Format Digital to the Sony a900, because Sony’s Zeiss lenses are sharper, and the digital files are amazing without all the hassles associated with medium format digital.
BE A PROBLEM SOLVER – NOT A PROBLEM. Clients hire when you give them the confidence that you can handle their jobs. This means every aspect of the job, from start to finish. Don’t expect to charge your rental car on your debit card. Clients remember you fondly when you save their butts and not so fondly when they have to make excuses to their boss for something you did. Avoid mistakes such a “Premature Blogification”: While you may not be able to contain yourself about the really fabulous shoot you just did, your client won’t want you to blog, Twitter, Digg, Mixx, StumbleUpon, reddit or Facebook your shoot in a public forum that might tip their competitors off to what they’re doing before it’s published. Most of this just boils to that Golden Rule of “Do unto others,” which seems like a really simple thing, but it’s amazing how many times things get messed up simply because you don’t consider how your actions will affect others.
Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Smith has been creating bold, graphic images of celebrities, athletes and executives for magazines, annual reports, corporations and advertising for more than 25 years. Smith’s photographs of famous and infamous faces of the noteworthy and notorious have graced the covers and pages of hundreds of magazines. Brian currently serves as the President of Editorial Photographers, a 501(c)6 organization dedicated to fair rates and educating photographers in business practices.