What Kind Of Photographer Are You?

In response to a “how do we make money doing this?” question on Garage Glamour, Andy Pearlman wrote the following post. I found it so concise and interesting I asked to reproduce it on my blog and he graciously agreed.

Now that you’ve figure out there’s a lot more to know to making a living at this than just being a good photographer, you are wise to be asking questions to find out what you don’t know! One thing to remember is that the learning process is never over, and you should be reading everything you can find, including magazines like Photo District News, as well as attending workshops & seminars, and visiting pro-oriented websites as much as possible. You’ll pick up little bits here and there, although some of it won’t mean much to you the first couple of times you hear it. Don’t plan on finding all the answers in one place, it just won’t happen.

The first question you need to ask yourself is, which if the two main paths of photography do you want to take (although there can be some crossover, generally most photographers stick with one or the other): Are you interested in shooting portraits, weddings, seniors, passports, little league and events? If so, then you want to be a portrait and wedding photographer, and you should consider joining PPA which will have all sorts of information, meetings, seminars and an annual convention to attend and learn from.

On the other hand, if you want to be hired by third parties to provide images for publication or advertising, then you might consider yourself a commercial photographer, although that’s a big umbrella under which you’d find journalism, editorial, catalog, advertising, etc, with sub-specialties like fashion, food, product, automotive, beauty, and many others. The common bond here is that unlike the P&W photographers who are hired, more or less, by the people they are photographing for those people’s own use, a commerical photographer is hired by a third party who is going to use the images for one of the above purposes.

Why is this important to figure out? Well, it determines many aspects of how you progress. While P&W photographers usually need a studio in a retail location, commercial photographers, if they even have a studio, usually need a larger space and aren’t too particular about whether it has walk-in traffic (I actually prefer that it doesn’t). Where you advertise yourself also depend on who you’re appealing to: P&W guys can use the Yellow Pages and newspaper ads (and the sign on their shop) while commercial shooters go to source books, mailing lists, webpromotions, (and reps if they’re lucky), etc. (In the film world, P&W shooters would normally have used neg film, while commercial photographers almost always shot transparency or b/w. Obviously with digital, that’s no longer an issue). Another big difference is how you get paid. P&W guys normally charge a nominal fee for the shoot (or a “sitting fee”), and make their big money and profit on the print markup and albums. Commercial shooters charge a high creative and usage fee for the shot, and markup their expenses minimally.

Now it IS possible to accomplish both, and I suppose in a smaller market it might even be a necessity (especially if you want to shoot commercially, you might need the P&W work to pay the bills), but I think in your mind, you probably want to choose one or the other. If you are interested in commerical photography, there are many books and resources available to you, some of which I’ve posted here before, but will do so again for you. First, is an organization called American Society of Media Photographers which has many chapters around the country. Another national organization with emphasis on advertising is APA, which along with ASMP, sponsors all sorts of meetings and workshops in the local chapters that deal with everything from those pesky business questions (like taxes and insurance), to marketing, estimating and pricing, and self-motivation. Visit that ASMP link and try to attend the next program they offer (usually a hirer charge for non-members). Another group is called Editorial Photographers, which exisits only in cyberspace and has no meetings, but like the other two groups, has a website that is jam-packed with useful information (most of it free, but some requires membership) covering all aspects of the business. I’ve listed links to all these groups below, as well as some other resourece sites you should check out. You might also try to find some local commercial photographers who would hire you as an assistant. What you will learn about dealing with clients, models, crew, protocols and how to run a real shoot will be invaluable. Here’s the links:

http://www.apanational.org/ (for advertisitng photogs, has two active Yahoogroup forums dealing with businss and digital issues, membership not required to participate in the forums but you will need references)

http://www.editorialphoto.com/ ($50/yr membership required to participate in their forum, lots of free info on the website, the premier group for magazine and newspaper photographers, may also need a reference)

http://www.asmp.org/ (long-time magazine and media photographer group, similar to APA but less emphasis on advertising work)

Also, these can be helpful as well:
http://www.copyright.gov/register/visual.html (find the short form VAS)

BTW, I see where someone recommended Tom Zimberoff’s book, and although I’ve not read it, I’m sure it’ll be helpful because he’s been around a long time, (but I don’t think much of his software). Hope this helps!

Andy Pearlman
Andy Pearlman Studio