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Book Review: Starting Your Career as a Freelance Photographer

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Review: Starting Your Career as a Freelance Photographer
by 
Tad Crawford, Chuck DeLaney

An updated guide to setting up your photography business


At some point many people decide they want to set up a photography business. Even if it’s just to make a bit of spare cash and dip your toe in the water, there are a lot of things you need to consider.

Keith has written numerous articles about his own experiences and suggestions for this, and has been looking at a newly updated book covering a lot of detailed stuff you might not have considered.

Book details

  • Title: Starting Your Career as a Freelance Photographer
  • Author: Tad Crawford, Chuck DeLaney
  • Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
  • Imprint: Allworth Press
  • Published: 10 January 2017
  • Format: Paperback | ISBN-139781621535454
  • Pages: 352 | Dimensions 6 x 9in.

Starting Your Career as a Freelance Photographer

I should first note that this is a US book and it covers US law and business requirements/taxes. Despite that I found it an interesting read, and not just because I realised how much less I have to worry about in the UK…  Seriously though, it covers a lot of things you should look at, wherever you are based (your sales processes for example).

I read the original edition of this book a while ago, and whilst a lot of the general business advice was sound, much of it dated from a time that digital photography was just having an impact – a lot has changed, and the new book addresses this, adding a whole new ‘Beyond the studio’ section (VI)

The book is split into sections and chapters from various contributors. I found the style variation between authors noticeable, but not intrusive.

The basic sections are described as:

Part I: Getting Started
Addresses topics related to careers in photography, the options for getting the necessary education, the different specialties that exist in the field, and some thoughts about equipment choices photographers must make.

Part II: Building and protecting your business
Covers the nuts-and-bolts topics such as developing a business plan, finding a location for your studio, making basic decisions about the image you want to present to your customers, and protecting your business and your health.

Part III: Marketing Your Photography
Provides invaluable information regarding the markets available to photographers, ideas for a winning portfolio, creating a website that works for you, and using social media to build your brand. While it’s true that most photographers prefer to be behind the camera rather than making the pitch in front of a customer, techniques for selling yourself are an important consideration.

Part IV: Negotiating Contracts and Prices
Is one of the most important sections of this book. Without negotiating skills and a thorough insight into how to price your work, success is likely to be elusive. The demand for fresh content has never been greater, and the variety of ways that photographs (and video clips) are used continues to expand.

Part V: Photography and the Law
Answers a host of questions that photographers frequently ask. While the digital distribution formats are having an influence on copyright, other legal issues such as taxes, invasion of privacy, and resolving legal disputes remain subjects that all photographers need to understand. The speed with which images traverse the globe today increases the potential for making larger problems that arise more quickly than ever before.

Part VI: Beyond the Studio
Concludes the book with a look at the challenges that exist in maintaining, growing, or modifying your business. How do you grow as a photographer? How do you stay fresh and possibly explore related opportunities beyond traditional still photography? You can find ideas and answers here.

Ok that’s what it sets out to achieve, what does it manage and as an aside how much of it is relevant to my own business, here in the UK?

Your journey as a photographer

Over the years my photography business has changed. Some changes came about through advances in camera technology, with more megapixels and better sensors, whilst others can be directed at my choice of lenses, or even just one, such as the Canon TS-E-17mm tilt/shift lens.

It’s much easier for me to produce great looking prints too.

Other changes reflect my ongoing development of my photographic skills and interests.

What I’ve noticed that many photographers are much less comfortable with, is the business side of being a photographer.

Whilst it’s easy to point to the changing market for photography and the impact of the camera phone, many forget that the underlaying fundamentals of running a profitable business have not changed.

Sure, there is now ‘social media’ to enter into your marketing plans, but the business fundamentals are variations of the issues I’d have faced if I’d taken up pro photography in 1994 rather than 2004.

How does this book help?

The book has a wide range of topics from a number of contributors, which could lead to a feeling of reading an overly large magazine (without pictures). Fortunately it’s been edited together in a way that flows well enough for a straight through read, or just dipping into topics of immediate interest.

All the fundamentals of good business practice are there – I found the information on sales techniques (C16) and negotiating contracts (C17) to be particularly useful.

Indeed, a potential new client phoned up the day after I’d read that section and I’m sure that some of what I’d read emboldened me to up my initial price and for the ‘sales process’ to feel a lot more comfortable to me. Like many photographers I have a slight dislike of ‘selling’ – you don’t have to.

The book is obviously aimed at a US market, so sections on taxes and business permits only served to help me appreciate some aspects of UK tax and ease of business setup (Northlight is a limited company and VAT registered, since we only do commercial work). Copyright and legal aspects differ too.  The book is deliberately US centric, but that wouldn’t stop me adding it to my suggested reading list for people wanting to ‘get in to’ photography as a business.

Nor is it a book just for those starting out – I’ve already mentioned how its helped my selling (see, I’ve dropped the quote marks).

When I started my photography career (age 43), I did already have business experience, including a research and consultancy background into how technologies change businesses. Deciding how to ‘do photography’ as a profitable business was the big step for me, not the taking of photos.

The big problem I saw repeated over and over again in the early 2000’s as digital became a ‘real thing’ in pro photography, was fear and resistance to change from established photographers.

Today it’s phone photography, tomorrow it will be something else.

Sections look at some of the basics of marketing and to what extent your chosen business image will work for you, and how to use social media to your advantage, without it becoming a massive time-sink of dubious (and unmeasurable) business relevance.

Time to change?

There’s a whole section of the book (Pt. 6) that addresses your ongoing need to change and grow as a photographer.

‘Growing as a photographer’ (C25) was another chapter that kicked off unbidden trains of thought in the days after reading it.  Having been exposed to quite a few years of varying management consultancy ‘fashions’, the various suggestions were easily glossed over.

However, over time I recognised the difference between a discomfort from having to read something irrelevant, to a discomfort from knowing there was something I needed to consider at a much deeper and personally more challenging level.

A book for you?

The new edition of the book is not just more up to date, it give a much more rounded view of the many aspects of setting up and advancing your photography business.  It’s more of a stepwise guide if you’re in the US, but I still found it useful here in the UK.

At its most basic, the extra money I earned on one job where I took note of the selling advice, surpassed the cover price several times over…

Buy at: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book description by publishers

Here is a virtual treasury of advice, insight, and guidance for every freelance photographer! The step-by-step advice covers the multitude of concerns facing aspiring and beginning freelance photographers—from compiling a portfolio and promoting your work to winning the first client and running a healthy, profitable business. Esteemed attorney and writer Tad Crawford has teamed up with expert photography writer Chuck Delaney—and more than a dozen of the photo industry’s leading experts—to provide comprehensive guidance, including:

  • Photographic careers and the skills they require
  • How to shop for equipment and studio locations
  • Clients, websites, portfolios, and self-promotion
  • Studio management, insurance, and safety
  • Negotiating contracts, pricing, and model and property releases
  • Copyright law and protecting your work
  • Avoiding libel, trespass, and litigation
  • Accounting, record keeping, and taxes

For anyone looking to earn money with their photography, Starting Your Career as a Freelance Photographer crucial marketing, business, and legal know-how for every step of the process.

Author information

Tad Crawford is an attorney, publisher, and author of more than a dozen books, including Business and Legal Forms for Photographers and Legal Guide for the Visual Artist. Formerly General Counsel to the Graphic Artists Guild, he also served as counsel for the Copyright Justice Coalition (which included the ASMP and the APA). He lives in New York City.

Chuck Delaney is a professional photographer and writer specialising in curriculum development for adult education who was also the director of the New York Institute of Photography for many years. He lives in New York City.

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