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Photography Question 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
 

STARTING YOUR OWN PHOTO BIZ?


Greetings All: I'm wondering how many folks who decide to start their own photography biz, usually by opening an in-home studio of one sort or another, really have a formal business plan.

What I'm also wondering is how many have really considered the costs of going into business beyond just buying equipment and hanging out a sign over their front door.

I'm wondering about these things because it seems we see a lot of questions over what kind of equipment to buy, cameras, lighting, tripods, backgrounds and software, and lots of those questions are prefaced with "I'm opening or (planning) to open my own studio..." by doing portraits at home or weddings, etc. But in the past 8 or 9 months since I've been around here, I have only once seen anyone ask a question about what's really necessary to start their own biz.

I'm not sure why that is exactly, but I was prompted to think about this after hearing a sad story about a friend of a friend of mine in New Jersey, who's also been a photographer for many years. For what it's worth, I'll give you all the Cliff Note version.

Last year, this friend of his, who liked making portraits and was ok at it, had a sort of mid-life crisis. He decided to open his own portrait studio, at home. Two months after rigging a make-shift studio in his basement family room, he was photographing a family portrait with a mom, dad, and two kids. One of the quartz halogen modeling lamps apparently got damaged, bubbled, exploded and I guess the concussion caused the flash tube to blow as well. I won't say where some of the hot glass ended up, but one of the kids nearly lost their sight in one eye. Naturally, a law suit followed, [which wasn't the fault of the lawyers]. It gets worse.

The guy owns his home and has homeowners insurance. Farmers won't touch the case because he was running an unlicensed business out of his home in a district that was not zoned for commercial use, had no permits, and he should have had insurance for the business. So, now he's on the hook for his own attorney fees associated with defending the case, and even though they've filed suit against the flash manufactuer, and the bulb and tube makers, ad infinitim, they may lose their home from this.

What I'm saying is that there is a lot more involved in the photography business than making images and fixing them on photoshop. And what I'm suggesting is that before anyone, and I really mean anyone, decides to start their own business whether it's photography or hair cutting, have a business plan with a budget that includes business insurance with liability coverage, a solid, affordable marketing plan to generate work, and a determination as to whether local ordinances will permit you to run a business out of your home and what licenses and permits are required. AND have a financial plan that also provides for saving and payment of state and FEDERAL taxes.

So, while I encourage the entrapreneurial spirit, I also urge you to do it right. If you don't know how, find out first not after-the fact. There are plenty of resources available to help you, here and elsewhere. I also recommend that if you haven't taken a course in business law, that you do. Those courses offer introductions to contracts, tort law, and criminal law.
Last but not least, know the rights you have as a photographer BEFORE you enter into a signed contract to provide your services to someone or some firm. That includes the basics of copyright law and how to protect yourself and your images from being infringed upon. (Whew)

After all that's taken care of, THEN go buy equipment with what little money you have left over. ;>)

Happy new year kids !!!!
Be well and prosper.
Mark


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12/29/2005 3:55:42 PM

 
Bob Cournoyer
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/9/2003
Contact Bob
Bob's Gallery
bobslens.com
  Thanks, I'll make sure my soon to be daughter-in-law reads this....:-)

Bob


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12/29/2005 4:07:31 PM

 
Nicole Kessel   Thank you so much for sharing, Mark! I've thought about this a lot and worry about what COULD happen. I'm sure your friend feels just awful about it. A bad situation all around.

Right now, I am mainly just photographing friends and family at no charge in my home. (Trying to get some practice in before I begin charging people). I'm relunctant to invite people into my home for the reasons you mentioned. So, I'm thinking I'll start off only shooting paying clients on location. But, I wonder how liable you are when shooting on location...? I've never heard anyone mention anything about that either.

Again, thanks for addressing these issues!


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12/29/2005 5:50:14 PM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Hi Nicole and HAPPY NEW YEAR to you !!

I just sent an e-mail to Jim Miotke suggesting we need a section around here that addresses business practices and start-up business practices. Maybe drop him a note and let him know if you support it. :>) [ Just click his pix and click contact. ]

You're doing the right thing and it sounds like you're headed in a good direction. I think a lot of us started by photographing friends and family before taking the plunge, so-to-speak. Certainly, not having paying clients coming to your home until you're really set-up and covered for it, is a good idea.

But insofar as liability is concerned, even if you're working on location, if someone gets hurt and it even remotely appears to be either your fault or the fault of your assistant or equipment, then you COULD be found liable. This isn't really a forum for discussions on tort law and personal injury, negligence, etc., but generally, remember that anyone can sue anyone for anything. Whether they prevail is a different story, but in the interim, you get stuck defending it and maybe paying for the defense even if you get the case dismissed. :<( Plus, if you're shooting a commercial gig, whether a portrait or an advertisement, anything you're getting paid for) in a public park, say a California State Park and you don't have a shooting permit, a park ranger can issue you a citation that comes with a hefty fine for not having that permit. And, of course, in order to get a permit, you need to show proof of liability coverage in the amount of $1 million bucks with an endorsement to the State of California. Now, my insurance carrier will provide riders for that coverage and charge me about $25 bucks a day for the coverage, but you gotta have it.

AND if you join a professional association, like ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) or WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers Intl.) or PP of A (Professional Photographers of America), you'll probably find that as a regular member, you can purchase certain kinds of professional liability insurance through them at a discounted rate.

Yeah, I've mentioned this issue around here before but I get snubbed as a troublemaker. I AM that, but not in this sense. Just offering some suggestions to think about, as you have and that's great. Gather information. Business insurance for us is really a minimal expense, especially for photojournalists (like me) who work on location assignments and not actually in our homes other than having an office or darkroom or both. But the insurance also covers loss/theft/damage of equipment, ASMP covers us for reshoot fees for lost or damaged film,
and a lot of other contingencies I never thought of until I actually read the policy. [Yikes !!]

Enough said for now. :>)
Be well Nicole. Bob....you too !!!!
Mark


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12/29/2005 7:49:57 PM

 
Kerry L. Walker   If you are a troublemaker for pointing out that a photography business is, first and foremost, a business then we need more troublemakers around here - at least that kind.


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12/30/2005 8:29:30 AM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  OK Kerry, I nominate you to serve with me as unofficial "photography biz advocating troublemakers". I got a note back from Jim Miotke this morning. He thinks a biz practice forum is a good idea. I volunteered to moderate (whatever that means) any related discussion group. We'll see. AND HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU TOO !!!!!!!!!!

I think it's raining up where you are already. (Bay area?) Keep your powder dry and BE WELL !!

Meanwhile, I owe, I owe, so off to shoot I go.
Mark


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12/30/2005 10:44:57 AM

 
Debbie Nelson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/19/2001
  Mark, You brought up many valid and intresting points. I too would be intrested in learning more in this area.

BUT I have to say, your comment, "Keep your powder dry" caught my attention. My 80 year old uncle has said that same phrase for years. He's hoot!! Thanks for the memory:):)
Deb


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12/30/2005 3:48:10 PM

 
Darren K. Fisher
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/7/2002
Contact Darren
Darren's Gallery
  I 100% agree with Kerry, we need more trouble makers like you....LOL...A lot of this is things I had not thought of. Thanks for bringing them to my attention. Will be looking forward to hearing more from you. : )


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12/30/2005 4:35:29 PM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Thanks for your support thus far. I'm certainly glad there are some that feel a need for this kind of info. I guess unless or until they put a separate heading up for biz practices and related topics, just keep asking questions about them around here. Maybe just keep adding to this thread. Kerry and I will stir the pot (gently of course) and hopefully provide a little cerebral stimulation (along the lines of business practices that is. ) [ahem]

Be well all.
Mark

There are some really experienced photographers around here. As for me...well, Debbie, I'm not quite as old as your grandfather...but I'm still old enough to know better, young enough not to at times, and I sometimes feel I've been around since Moses was in short pants. LOL !!!


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12/30/2005 6:42:13 PM

 
Margie Hurwich
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/16/2005
  Mark, I've read through this thread a couple of times. I've recently sold my first shot (only been in photography for 6 months). As well, I've been approached by a gallery owner to have some of my work displayed in her gallery. Given the fact that my work would probably be considered in the fine art category and not so much in the portrait category, should I still be concerned about the things you mention? Obviously to start any kind of business (my parent owned one for many years) a plan of action, budget, etc. that you mention are a necessity. I've already been talking with an accountant as well, but hadn't thought about a lawyer. Any suggestions on what further I need to do? I can't honestly say I'm truly in business. Thanks.


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12/30/2005 6:44:51 PM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Hi Margie: I don't know why you'd need a lawyer at this point, for anything actually. It just sounds like you're freelancing out of your home rather than IN your home not with clients, subjects, etc. coming to your house to trip over your tripods, stumble into backdrops and fall over loose cords, right?

So before you do anything else, find out how to price your work, get it copyrighted http://www.copyright.gov
look for the visual arts registration info and forms. If you're offering portraits for sale in galleries, you need to have them model released and be specific about their sale in galleries. Some people may not want that. Most galleries I know of, mostly in Carmel CA, don't sell portraits unless they're really quite unique. Might not be a good market for you.

And yes, a detailed business plan is a must. Oh, and get a book on Business Practices and Forms for Professional Photographers. Try http://allworth.com Allworth Press, Silver Pixel Press, and the ASMP.org website.

Be well.
Mark


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12/30/2005 7:44:05 PM

 
Margie Hurwich
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/16/2005
  Thanks so much, Mark! Most of my shots are things that don't move...so model releases are a foreign thing to me! I will check out the websites recommended as well as the books. Again, thanks!


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12/30/2005 7:47:18 PM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  My pleasure Margie. Any time. ;>)
M.


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12/30/2005 8:48:37 PM

 
Mellanie    Mark,
a great thread and gives us a lot to think about! Hopefully, Jim will take your advice and add a new forum!

Mel


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12/30/2005 9:17:24 PM

 
Bill Hanscom   Margie

While you may not have to worry about a model release, if ownership of what you are photographing can be identified, you may need a property release. Again, Mark's suggestion of books on professional practices is execellent advice.

Good luck,
Bill


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12/31/2005 10:48:29 AM

 
Margie Hurwich
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/16/2005
  Thanks, Bill! I think I have one shot that would need one. As long as I don't sell that shot...would I still need one? Do you think I need to delete from my gallery? It's entitled Garden Path in my gallery. It was taken at the Kendall-Jackson Winery.


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12/31/2005 10:59:36 AM

 
Amanda M. Johnson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/27/2005
  I am so glad I stumbled upon this forum. I have been shooting amateur photgraphy since about the age of 10. Now At 25, I have been tossing around the idea of starting up my own business within the next year.

I have a lot more to think about now!!
I think a section on the biz practices is such a wonderful idea. How will we know if such a section is erected? Novices like me are thankful to have helpful people like you all!


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12/31/2005 2:01:55 PM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  You know Margie, Bill is absolutely right about property releases. I wasn't thinking that when I saw your flower photo (nice btw :>)). If it's a recognizable product, something that's already been right protected, a tee-shirt design that's been copyrighted, a patented product, etc., or even just trademarked, (like the Lone Cypress Tree at Pebble Beach)you need a release to sell an image of it.

Did you know, Margie, that commercial agricultural growers and the guys that sell them seed trademark and patent their plant varieties. They can look at a photograph of say a head of cauliflower or broccolli or romaine lettuce and tell you who's variety it is and who's seeds were planted to grow it. And they get a little testy when someone runs an ad showing one variety and claiming it's another one instead. [Welcome to Salinas Valley. No Photos Please] Do photographers really stalk celery?

Take it light.
Mark


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12/31/2005 6:11:41 PM

 
Nicole Kessel   LOL!! WHERE do you come up with this stuff Mark!!! I really have tears coming out of my eyes from laughing... stalk... celery... your a riot!


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12/31/2005 6:16:10 PM

 
Bill Hanscom   Margie,

I think that I would contact the owners even if at this time I just wanted to display the image. I have found that many of the images I "just wanted to display" found buyers. If you show them the image and explain what you want to do you should have little trouble getting a release. There are many sources for preprinted releases, and I would have one with me when I talk to the owners.


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12/31/2005 6:19:01 PM

 
Margie Hurwich
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/16/2005
  Thanks everyone. Bill, unfortunetly I don't live near California. I took the shot that I'm speaking of on vacation. I'm going to have to decided how/when to contact Kendall-Jackson or just to simply remove the shot. Happy New Year!


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1/1/2006 7:35:25 AM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  I don't know Nicole, it just comes to me. Pretty scary eh? [ Oh nooooooo, don't go in there ] :>0

Margie, I wouldn't be too concerned about using that shot without their consent. "A rose, is a rose, is a rose" and by any other name is still a rose. . Unless you can recognize the property it was taken on, I think it'd be ok to use it. But your ethics is certainly headed in the right direction. Speaking of ethics.....

Here's a few recommendations for books some of you might be interested in.

The first is called "Business and Legal Forms for Photographers" by Tad Crawford, Third Edition 2002, published by Allworth Press in New York. It includes a CD with 30 or 31 printable, modifiable forms on everything from assignment confirmation invoices to copyright and license transfer. http://www.allworth.com. Last time I checked, it was available from Barnes and Noble http://www.bn.com This book was a take-off on the old standby from ASMP.

The Legal Handbook for Photographers by attorney Bert Krages, also published in 2002 by Amherst Media http://www.AmherstMedia.com ,is a useful compilation of basic laws that apply to photographers, privacy issues and when releases are required, restrictions on subject matter and interestingly, formulating your own photographic ethics philosophies. Krages also does stock photography. I think this one is particularly useful for working photojournalists and stock photographers. Amherst Media publishes a number of intersting books for photographers. They're in Buffalo NY.

Leonard DuBoff (all one word) is another lawyer and past president of the Oregon Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. His book "The Law (in plain english) for Photographers", another one from Allworth Press and revised in 2002, is a handy reference that offers a bit more detail on legal subjects related to the actual business of photography. He goes into useful discussions on intellectual property (copyright) when it's ok to photograph public and private places, organizing your business and tax (uggh) consequences) and YES, he even discusses insurance and how to find a lawyer if you ever need one, leases and a very interesting chapter on privacy and publicity, among other topics. The book also has a few useful forms. It's one I highly recommend when teaching or guest lecturing and students find it user/photographer friendly.

If Jim doesn't give us a separate discussion forum, we can just run this thread up I guess, but live discussions would be the hot set-up. Anyone know how we could do that around here?

That's the scoop for this morning.
I hope you all have a safe, reasonably sane, and prosperous new year. <:0~)
Mark


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1/1/2006 11:10:14 AM

 
Maverick Creatives
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/1/2004
  Professional photography.
It's something different to everyone.
At this point I don't truly believe I will ever be a professional. What I do believe is that sometimes, when everything comes together, I can get one heck of a photograph. Sometimes being the key word.
The money I have spent "doing it right" won't be recovered for years, and years, and years.
Lawyers for contracts, Accountants for taxes, Brokers for Insurance, Printers for advertising, Bankers for loans, Labs for printing. I was much more relaxed and contented when I did this photography thing for ME. I've had a taste of the business end of it and it's not my thing to be honest. I'm backing away slowly and spending only what is absolutely necessary to run it day to day. To those truly Professional Photographers out there that pay the mortgage from the income, my hat is off to you. Now that's PROFESSIONAL, and a photograph has nothing to do with it.


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1/1/2006 12:28:35 PM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Hi Gary ! I empathize, believe me. I guess I'm one of the guys you mentioned in the last sentence of your posting, although in my case, photographs have about 50% to do with "it". Over the years, I've just considered that having a rep, dealing with stock agencies, a CPA to do taxes, and insurance agents, etc., are just part of doing business these days and in essence, part of any business or practicing any profession, not just photography.

Unfortunately, the days of Matthew Brady have long since passed and certainly life in general has become more complicated.

In a number of significant ways, you've clearly indicated the difference between the joys of a hobby and the headaches of running a business, whether it's a corporation like United STates Steel or a home grown photo studio. While my profession is photojournalism as a sub-specialty of photography, and I suppose it's still my passion in many ways, I have a couple of hobbies to distract me from the daily grind of dealing with the issues collateral to running a business.

Golf and sailing are among those hobbies. You know, golf is a lot like photography though. You spend a fortune on getting the right equipment to get the perfect shot. You get out there, maybe sometimes get what you feel is the perfect shot, and then...it's on to the next one and trying to get another one that's perfect yet always a bit different. For some reason over the years, I just keep swinging away as I suppose we all do one way or another.

Be well.
Mark


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1/1/2006 7:15:40 PM

 
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