If you are hoping to establish yourself as a professional freelance photographer you have a world of opportunity open to you. It is important to remember, however, that your chosen career isn’t all about creativity and art. In fact, the average freelance professional will admit that only 30% of their work time is directed at photography and the remaining 70% goes to administration, sales, and management of the work.
So, this means that there is a massive “business side” to professional photography, and the sooner you prepare yourself to meet its many challenges, the better off you will be. A good way to start is to understand that a freelance photographer falls under the general heading of “small business”. Yes, you are technically “self-employed” according to the tax codes, but you are also responsible financially for the operations of the business. This means that you must register the business accordingly with the appropriate local, state, and even federal agencies.
Photo by Isaac Bowen
All of the Paperwork
Because you are now an official business, you will have to file annual tax reports, and this means that record keeping is an essential part of your day to day work. Before beginning to operate on a full-time basis, be sure to establish a system for easy record keeping as this will instantly provide you with a bit of extra time for your photography.
During the setup process you will probably discover if you must obtain things like permits or licenses to tackle specific assignments too. For example, let’s say that you work as a commercial or advertising photographer, and you will want to use a nearby state park for a lot of your work. You may need to obtain written permission to do so, and even some release forms as well. Be sure you know all about these situations to avoid costly problems in the future.
In addition to doing record keeping around expenses, taxes, and office bills, you are also going to have to dedicate a chunk of time to things like contracts, project management, and file management too.
Photo by Daniele Pieroni
The Essential Computer
This means that the business side of photography demands the acquisition of essential computer programs that save time, prevent costly mistakes, and generally make things easier. For example, a standard office setup includes a high-speed computer, at least one external hard drive for photographic storage, and programs like Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and Intuit QuickBooks. This arrangement can really streamline things on the business end, and make record keeping as simple and fast as possible.
By now, you may feel that a bit of help from a knowledgeable professional could be a very good idea, and you would be correct. Most freelance photographers make a point of working with a licensed accountant for their initial financial setup, and many also hire them to help with taxes too. It is also a very good idea to hire an attorney to help with the creation of contracts and proposals (often a savvy photographer has a set of stock documents of the “fill in the blank” variety that have all been carefully written by their attorney) as well as release forms and other written agreements.
Some Protection and Copyrights
Modern freelance photographers tend to be the owners of extremely expensive equipment, and they might use this equipment in somewhat risky ways. Because the loss of a single camera could easily translate to the end of the business, most professionals are sure to purchase comprehensive insurance plans that protect them from such problems. These plans cover the gear, but can also provide protection if someone is harmed during a photo shoot or even while entering the photographer’s office. There are several photography associations that offer group plans to help freelance operators find affordable coverage.
Protecting the gear and protecting the work are two different things, and if a photographer has concerns about the ownership of their images, they will need to spend some time finding out about copyright issues. In the United States a photographer can register individual images with the Copyright Office, but only if the images were not contracted through a client. For instance, if the photographer signed a work-for-hire agreement with a magazine, they will be unable to legally file for the copyright of any of the images for which they were paid by the publishing company.
Things get a bit different when the photographer decides to use their work at any of the stock photography sites. This still allows the photographer to have complete ownership of the image, but they are obliged to remove things like watermarks or copyrights from the files before posting them to the web. This is because the buyers are given free and clear access to use the images in whatever way they like, and the photographer is able to receive a commission on each sale of the licensed photograph.
There is a lot of business connected to the creative world of photography, but none of it is so complex or difficult that it should be ignored. A professional will take the time to make certain that they have met their legal obligations in order to know that their business will succeed.
Top image by Axel Bührmann