Be responsive and decisive at the client’s pace
Know the concept
Maximize the value of the assignment
The contract seals the deal, not a phone call
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Think you’re ready to compete in the magazine photography market? Well, not so fast, bunky! You may have the photography chops to deliver the images that editors want, but you need to be equally knowledgeable about how the process works if you expect to succeed. Here are 6 parts of that process you better understand thoroughly before you even think about promoting yourself to this segment of the commercial photography market.
Editors and art directors are busy people (of course, so should you); so when they do call with a potential assignment, don’t waste their time. They’ll get right to the point with a description of the project and expect you to tell them immediately if you’re interested and available. Just because you are doesn’t mean you’ll receive the assignment, or even want to accept it. There’s much more to know before you reach an agreement.
Many editors will judge your professionalism based on the questions you then ask during the initial conversation. One of those you should avoid at this stage in the process is the fee. Instead, you need to ask the questions that will help you understand the project thoroughly, including the aesthetic, or creative, and the practical, the production of the shoot.
It’s important to determine if the client has a definite concept or vision for the assignment photos or if you have the liberty to choose a vision based on the client’s brief description of what’s rattling around in his or her head. Even if the client is quite definite about what kind of photo he or she wants, you’ll want to read a draft of the accompanying story or text if it is available. You can also help to pinpoint the client’s expectation by asking him or her to review your Website to determine if any of your existing images match the style, look or atmosphere of the photos he or she is asking you to shoot.
Often, taking the photos for a magazine photography assignment is the “easy” part. The more difficult task is listing, estimating and logistically managing all the production parameters to put you at a location with the right equipment and personnel. Knowing the creative element of the assignment generally reveals what is actually required to produce those images. An entirely different set of production details apply to a landscape shoot as compared to a fashion shoot, for example. There is also the question of who is responsible for managing the production of the shoot. Some publications may prefer to control all the preparation while others will expect you to oversee the process. If so, then take into account the time involved for you and/or an assistant to make arrangements and manage the execution, and charge for that time.
Whether you’re shooting a magazine cover or a few images to support a feature story, you must also understand how many ways a magazine may use your photos beyond their initial publication. Failing to do so could result in earning less money from the assignment than you could have. It isn’t unusual for a publication to expect whatever fee it pays you to cover the licensing of your images for print, online and tablet versions. The magazine may also want to use your photos in other ways, some of which may not be decided until the future. You want to have a thorough understanding with the editor that you may expect an additional fee for those uses. They might include a year-end review issue or a foreign-language version or maybe article reprints. If the publication is making money with reprints that include your images, then you have every right to expect, or at least negotiate, for some of those revenues.
Remember that during the initial phone conversation you are only agreeing to your interest in and availability for the assignment. You shouldn’t even think about doing the assignment until to see and READ the contract. If you’re new to magazine photography work, then it is important to understand that such contracts have a wide range of limitations and negotiating room. Some publications will insist that they won’t negotiate anything but the fee…and some won’t even bend on it. Others will provide a basic structure and then allow you to suggest or make changes, as it relates to your interpretation of what the assignment will require in terms of your time, equipment, personnel, etc. Don’t be surprised that when you do see the contract, the best decision may be to turn down the assignment. In the long run, no agreement and no work is often a better outcome than working under a bad agreement.
Image credit: ckalt / 123RF Stock Photo
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