For many of today’s photographers, graduating from school isn’t an end but a beginning to a lifelong learning process. They’re taught on the job, picking up tips from mentors and honing their skills while they’re in the field.
We asked nine professional photographers across an array of disciplines, from commercial to documentary, about the things they wish they’d learned in school. From negotiating with clients and editors to working with large teams, they shared the most valuable lessons they’ve gathered throughout their years of experience.
Shot by Julia Chesky for On the Rhox fine jewelry by Rhoxanne Villaseñor 1. Contracts matter
“Have a contract in place,” the New York-based photographer Julia Chesky urges. “It will save you a lot of time. It can be simple and just be like, ‘I owe you X, Y, Z. I (or you) own the copyright to my work. Payment is due in X days, and I will have the images to you in X days.’
“We never discussed contracts like this in school. We spent an entire semester discussing copyright, which is so necessary, but contracts should have been in that space as well. Get a lawyer to make a simple one. There are resources like TheLawTog that sell them at a reasonable rate if you can’t afford a lawyer. Just make sure you protect yourself and try to get half payment upfront when you do so.”
2. You should charge for your time, not just your photos
“As an emerging photographer, your initial reaction is to price either really low or overshoot your shot,” Julia says. “Pricing will never be easy, and we’re currently in a recession of sorts, but don’t sell yourself short. You didn’t become an artist to earn minimum wage, so take into account the hours you spend researching, emailing, and hopping on a Zoom call (or five). You have to take account of your time editing afterwards and price according to that as well. One photo should not be three dollars, ever.”
“This is a portrait of Aarron Ricks. He’s an incredible performer who tested this shoot with me at my Brooklyn apartment.” Image © Jazzmine Beaulieu. 3. Negotiating is an essential skill
“When initially approached by a client, you’ll be told a small blurb about the project, and they will ask if you’re available and interested,” the Brooklyn-based photographer Jazzmine Beaulieu tells us. “The response is always ‘yes!’ And then you ask for a creative call to get a rounded idea of what they’re looking to create. Knowing production helps you ask more targeted questions that will then shape your budget and approach.
“Then, you use this information to budget the project. Once that budget is approved, there’s no going back for more money, so it’s crucial you know what you’re delivering. In this same vein, it’s also crucial to have a negotiated terms agreement that the client will sign with the budget, so everything is clearly laid out financially. I suggest roping in a producer to do this with you.”
4. Clients expect top-notch treatments and production skills
“You will likely need to present a treatment as well,” Jazzmine adds. “A treatment is a curated document laying out how you’d approach this project using images from your portfolio that most directly relate to the brief. I neverContinue reading