Photo Darwinism: Things your mother never told you (Pt 1)

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A decade ago I was president of the American Society of Media Photographers. I wrote a column for the Bulletin.  One of the topics was on pricing photography for professionals.  You can download a copy of the first page of that article here.

Four years ago I was asked to update that article in a series of 5 posts.  Here they are.  Please remember that these are many years old, but the content is still relevant.  The numbers are probably still the same.

They lost me at the “Cost of Doing Business” calculator.

You know, the formula everyone starts you out with: Your overhead expenses + desired salary = your total annual cost ÷ number of billable days = your CODB.

No matter how many times I played with it, the number of billable days that I desired was never as high as the number of days I actually worked. My desired salary never approached by my actual salary. So the calculator failed me. Lots of stuff they taught me in those photo business seminars failed me. I had to find a better way to price my work and survive as a new photographer.

I had a marketing and sales background that I could use as an advantage. If you don’t come to photography with my background, I suggest that you start by learning as much as you can from the established pro-photo business blogs and forums. Most are free and probably just as good as paying a lot of money to sit through a seminar. On the other hand, paying for a seminar might be worth it if you tend to drift into “multitasking” while reading at a computer.

In this series of short posts I’ll deconstruct what they tell you in those seminars and give you some of you guidance on how to survive as an independent freelance photographer in the 21st Century.

The blogs and seminars are good at teaching basic business information, like accounting and marketing skills.  Much is common sense, like: “follow up with a phone call.” Keep in mind that a lot of what they teach is not hard science, but theory, based on a perfect world. And unfortunately there is one variable that most of these theories don’t account for: human behavior. Also, very few are good at telling you how to actually set your fees, which is what you really need to know.

 How does my dry cleaner know how much to charge to clean a suit? How does my local farmer’s market producing “designer tomatoes” know how much to charge for a tomato? Amazingly, after millions of dollars spent on the business training of photographers, people are still clueless about fees and rights.

 In the next posts we’ll go into detail on how some of you can learn from real world survival examples.
Part 2 of Photo Darwinism: Things your mother never told you.

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