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The Business of Photography


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Picture Libraries

Picture libraries are something else altogether. A decade ago, they grew like mushroom in damp woodland, but supply has exceeded demand and, with the ‘digital revolution’ (a much-abused term) and the growing acceptance of ‘alright photography’, picture libraries are finding life tougher by the day.

Essentially picture libraries are like ordinary libraries, except that they deal in pictures, not books, and they rent each one rather than lending it. You, the photographer, deposits as many of your shots as the library will accept (and they still have quite high standards in visual and technical terms, though these standards have dropped over the past 10 years or so), and the library markets your work to photograph-users (look at the credits to the pictures in every weekend-supplement, and you’ll see ‘Corbis’ or ‘Getty’ mentioned frequently), collecting rents and paying you a percentage.

The amounts will vary; they might get anything from £5 to £5000 for one of your pictures, according to where it’s used, what size it’s reproduced, what the circulation of the book/magazine/journal is and whether it is printed in colour or B&W. The rate of commission charged to you by the library might be in the order of between 40% and 60% of the fee received, so you’ll get the residue, usually paid either monthly or quarterly. Sounds good? Yes, but there might be hidden costs as well. To avoid sending original work (transparencies or prints) out to clients, many libraries will make duplicates of your shots, keeping the valuable original safe in their files; they’ll charge you for making those dupes. Further, if you want your work to appear in their catalogue, either the printed hard-copy or the online electronic version, they’ll charge you for that, too. So before you’ve made any sales, you might find yourself hundreds of pounds in the red, which will eat up any commission from your first sales.

This ‘Stock Photography’ can be lucrative, in fact many photographers do nothing else but stock, but as stated earlier, supply is expanding and standards are dropping. Send samples of your work to libraries, by all means; send twenty or so in the first instance, and if the library expresses interest, send more. Send only your best work, and calculate which shots might be marketable. Don’t send anything less than excellent and don’t be swayed by emotion. That picture of your dog or cat might mean a lot to you, but to others it may be just another moggy or mutt shot.

And once again, read the small print in the contract; don’t give away your rights unless you really want to.

Commissions Through Your Employer

A pretty obvious category, and too wide to itemise here, but there are some things you should consider:

  • who owns the pictures you take?
  • what are your terms of employment?
  • do you know your rights?
  • What are your responsibilities?

Who Owns The Pictures?

The boss, the company, your employer, that’s who. As long as the pictures were taken in company time, the copyright belongs to whoever was employing you at the time. Not only the copyright, of course, the negative, print, transparency or digital file as well.

What Are Your Terms of Employment?

Well, only you and your boss knows that, but you do have a legal right to a Contract of Employment, laying down job description, hours of work, place of work, holiday and sick pay entitlement etc.


Do You Know Your Rights?

Your employer has rights over you, but you have rights too. You must not be discriminated against in any way, by race, gender, age or disability. The company must have, display and operate an equal-opportunity policy. You have the right to a safe and healthy workplace, and the terms of the Health & safety at Work Act are very strict. You have the right to redress if you feel your employer has been unfair or discriminatory, and access to employment tribunals in cases of unfair or contrived dismissal.

What are Your Responsibilities?

  • To give a good day’s work for an agreed day’s pay,
  • To be loyal to your employer, maintaining his/her confidences
  • To be reliable, honest and presentable
  • To improve your skills and abilities as much as you can
  • To contribute positively to your employer’s business.

Your Agent

A photographer’s Agent is one who represents that photographer, helping to market his/her work, and obtaining commissions for the photographer.

They work on a commission basis, taking on average 20% of the day-rate. A good agent will represent a stable of photographers, maybe one doing general studio advertising work, a food specialist, a room-set photographer, one concentrating on portraits and maybe a location specialist.

Their skills are generally interpersonal-based, and they network amongst potential and existing clients, keeping their photographers’ names in the clients’ minds.

In an ideal world, your agent would become a trusted friend and adviser as well as someone who touts your folio around.


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