Understanding the ins and outs of the magazine business will determine whether you can make these assignments a profitable part of your own business. Here are three of the six tips from Bill Cramer, founder and CEO of Wonderful Machine. For all 6 tips, plus info on fees, expenses, and contracts, check out our free guide, Pricing Your Work: Magazine Photography.
1. Be prepared when a client calls.
When you get a call from a magazine about a potential assignment, you have to be prepared to respond appropriately. You’ll normally hear from the art director (at a smaller magazine) or a photo editor (at a larger magazine).
They will often be working on a fairly tight deadline, so you’ll need to be pretty decisive. They’ll briefly describe the project and they’ll want to know whether you’re interested and available. If the answer is yes to both, you’ll need to know more details.
2. Ask questions.
When you speak to a potential client on the phone, you won’t want to jump into a conversation about money right off the bat. Listen carefully as they describe the project, and be prepared to ask as many questions as necessary in order to visualize what you have to do to execute the job and to work up a quote.
If you’re an established photographer and you get the feeling that it might be a low-budget job, you won’t want to spend a lot of time talking creative before finding out what their budget is. But otherwise, we suggest asking all the other questions first. As a matter of style, it’s important to show that you’re interested in doing the assignment. Asking the right questions will demonstrate your enthusiasm for the project, and it will also give the client the confidence that you know what you’re doing.
You’ll need to understand the assignment from a creative standpoint, from a production standpoint and from a licensing standpoint. Some questions you’ll need to ask the client, others you’ll just need to ask yourself.
3. Understand the client’s creative needs and expectations.
What’s the subject of the assignment? What’s the story about? What genre of photography are they looking for: portraiture, fashion, still life, architecture, reportage, travel? Do they have a draft you can read? (The text can often inspire picture ideas, but if you do get a copy of the story, do not show it to the subject.) Are there pictures in your portfolio or on the web that are similar to what they’re looking for? What do they envision for the shoot?
Sometimes a photo editor is going to have a specific concept or style in mind that they’ll want you to adapt to. Other times, they’re going to want you to come up with the concept and do it in your own style. It’s important to have a clear understanding of their expectations and what’s appropriate for that publication.
For all 6 tips, check out our guide, Pricing Your Work: Magazine Photography. This free guide outlines what photographers should expect when pricing for magazine assignments.