BECOMING A PROFESSIONAL AUTOMOTIVE PHOTOGRAPHER (EDITORIAL AND/OR COMMERCIAL)
After a recent status update on Facebook that I posted stirring up some controversy regarding photographers that shot for blogs for free, without being compensated in any way shape or form and was worth it or not. I decided to call on a few other industry photographers to help shed some light on the situation and pool their opinions in what I hope will help aspiring automotive photographers grow themselves as a brand and as a business person. Andrew Link, Jeremy Cliff, and Jeff Creech gave me some input to help me put together this article and if you have any questions – feel free to ask in the comments below as I’ve asked them to respond.
The Number 1 Rule in Business; if you are going to be a business act like a Business.
When to shoot something for free & How to approach “free” shoot without selling yourself short (for the future).
In short when it benefits you more then them. Think of like any sponsorship agreement you’ve ever seen – When has a company ever given away a product without receiving equal value or more in terms of advertising or promotion through the sponsorship. No one gives away anything for less then its worth and neither should you. You are in the position to barter your service – don’t sell yourself short. If they aren’t willing to work with you or even negotiate – they aren’t worth your time.
Pro Tip (from Jeff Creech): If you do decide to shoot for a company for free – send them an invoice for the full amount of your shoot with a secondary line with something along the lines of gratis or write in comped and subtract the dollar amount. That way you are establishing that you are doing this for free as a one time deal and they know what to expect in terms of an invoice the second time around (It also puts a dollar value to your work for them to physically see).
_________ blog asked me to shoot a car for them in exchange for – a media pass, exposure, a sticker pack, a shirt, etc. -> should I do it?
Ask yourself is the trade worth it? Do you get to experience something you wouldn’t normally be able to? If the answer is yes – Sure go for it; However don’t get caught up in the cycle and become accustomed to shooting to get into those spaces for free – over and over. The idea is to build a bridge to get yourself in and keep yourself in. Again shooting for free should be beneficial to you more then them.
But how much do I charge? (+ Industry rates)
Cameras aren’t free, lenses aren’t free, gas isn’t free, and your time isn’t free. Don’t sell yourself short. About ten years ago the average automotive magazine (import related) was paying right around a thousand dollars for an editorial feature. As times have changed and the surge of DSLR owners, the price of features has come down tremendously, and the quality of magazine features has dropped too. For the average Import magazine you should expect them to pay somewhere in the realm of $300-400 & $500-600 for a cover feature. Some of the smaller magazines will offer less and that is just because of their budgets (completely understandable).
The part of the industry that is paying for photos right now are wheel companies – You can expect anything between $150-300. Some of my “Professional” friends have quoted different rates for lit photos and natural light photos (Strobes vs no strobes). While I don’t entirely agree with that – It is part of their pricing structure and they make it work and wheel companies have come to accept it.
Licensing an image & Usage rights
If you need help pricing your images for larger commercial and advertising work check out this resource link from Getty Images: Getty Image Calculator
What do you do when someone steals your photo and uses it advertising purposes? (Magazine Ad, To sell a Product specifically, etc. (Not a generic shared post on social media).
You send them an email with an invoice attached and then you negotiate. Don’t let them walk all over you. (Use the Getty Image Resource above for help pricing your image or formulate a price that you feel is fair).
I see it all to often that photographers get catty with each other in hopes of one upping each other to get bigger jobs. The reality of it is – the more people in the industry you’re friends with the more jobs you will get. The majority of ‘industry’ related jobs are delegated by other photographers to their photography friends in different areas. The strength of your network will take you places (you know that old saying – it’s not what you know – it’s who you know!). Also don’t be scared to exchange and trade knowledge with your friends. About 10 years ago people wouldn’t tell you how or where they got an automotive rig and that was the biggest secret in the automotive photography industry – now it’s common knowledge. If we all grow together – Push the progression of the art – But of course never give all your secrets away (Be smart here – Pick and choose what you share and what you don’t).
Don’t limit yourself in Post Production.
All to often I see automotive photographers, mostly newbies, complain about the use of Photoshop in imagery. In the realm of Commercial photography heavy Post-Production and often use of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) is used to create a hyper-realistic image; Basically to create an image as PERFECT as possible.
In short – Don’t complain about “Photoshop” when others use it. Learn more and ask questions. The more you know the better your understanding of how you can apply it to your images gets. Or if you really just don’t like that style of over-polished images – progress on in your own direction – but don’t put others down for going in theirs. Learn more – Make Less Excuses.
Faking it til you make it – Doesn’t work if you can’t produce.
We’ve all seen that guy/girl that poses like he/she’s a professional, always posting about their gear, telling everyone how they’re shooting, complaining about how people are shooting for free ruining the game, and trying to give advice – when in reality – they don’t have any work to warrant such an ego and typically they know the least about actual photography. Ignore those people. Those people are parasites. If you get caught up in the drama of photography you’ll get discouraged and forget the main goal of photography is to create art. Do your own thing, practice, grow, and get better. Those guys with the egos and cockiness may or may not get a big job or two – but when they can’t deliver because they’ve spent all their time on Facebook bragging about how great they are and not perfecting their craft; they will flop – and that is typically when opportunity presents itself to the new guys.
Don’t focus all your attention on gear.
There are plenty of people that will tell you all about how you need the latest and greatest to get the job done – but in reality you can get by on the basics. A DSLR and a sturdy tripod have gone a long way for a lot of people. Don’t get caught up too much on what you need to make an image – make an image from what you got and build on your resources. Some of the best photographers out there started with virtually nothing but a camera.
Things EVERY Automotive Photographer should have:
1) A Camera
2) A Tripod
3) A Circular Polarizer
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