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Professional Photography

Updated on May 5, 2011

The essential difference between the amateur and the professional photographer is that the amateur undertakes photography for personal pleasure whereas the professional is also concerned with earning his livelihood. The amateur may produce excellent photographs that suit his particular needs, often working without a time limit. The professional photographer, on the other hand, is required to undertake a variety of assignments which must be carried out in accordance with client's requirements.



The range of professional photography is very wide. One industrial company, for example, may employ a photographer to aid research by such methods as photo-elastic stress analysis, while another company will send their photographer to out of the way parts of the world to make records for public relations or advertising. The photographer may work in a research laboratory, a coal mine, a hospital, a museum, a test farm, in an aeroplane or in the water. He may work amid luxury in a fashion studio or amid dirt and heat in a steel works. He may be occupied in photographing fine buildings, deciphering ancient manuscripts or taking portraits in a studio.

The professional photographer may choose to work for an employer in one of these fields or many others, and with adequate basic training, and continued study he can become a specialist in one branch, e.g: historical research, shipbuilding or portraiture.

While many photographers take up such specialized employment, often in charge of departments, in big industries, public utilities, hospitals etc., many eventually decide to practice on their own account.

Here the field of choice is limited virtually to portraiture, commercial, industrial, and advertising photography, photo-journalism and a few highly specialized applications of photography where the demand is proportionately small.

In most of these the professional photographer must be prepared to serve and study an exacting market. And he will need to know about a bewildering range of regulations and practices, e.g: copyright law, purchase tax, factory act requirements, registration of business names, right to photograph, insurance, liability for clients' goods, and what is done or not done, either on ethical grounds or for good business reasons. In this he can obtain a great deal of guidance and help by joining a professional association.

Before purchasing an established business or starting a new one, he should make sure that he possesses: the right temperament, physical and personal qualities; enough skill, training and experience; the necessary artistic and business ability; and finally sufficient capital to buy, equip, and maintain a business.

In all but the scientific and recording applications of photography he must have some artistic appreciation. It is also essential that he should have general business ability, with a knowledge of simple accountancy and costing.

In some branches good salesmanship is indispensable. Whether buying or starting a business, he should engage a good solicitor and a good accountant and he would be wise to budget for no income at all during the first year.



The choice of the site will depend upon the type of work to be undertaken.

The portrait photographer will consider the type of client he wishes to attract. If he seeks to photograph a large number of people at low fees, he must look for the most prominent site in the busiest street in the town, with a good shop window, and he will have to rely on a big turnover to cover the heavy rent. Very careful study of the neighborhood by observation and local inquiries is necessary because even a particular street may have a good and a bad side.

If he wishes to serve a more discriminating public and provide high quality work he will need to have premises in quieter and more dignified surroundings.

Position is of less importance to a commercial photographer whose premises simply need to be reasonably accessible to business men and have ample space. The latter generally renders a main road site too expensive.

The industrial photographer only requires an office and workrooms, because most of his work will be done away from the premises. He should at the same time equip a small studio, since he will often be asked to undertake a certain amount of commercial work.

For portraiture the premises must be suitable for conversion into reception room, studio and workrooms. The commercial photographer will need more than one studio, or one big enough to take several sets at once, and there must be large doors and plenty of storage space for articles waiting to be returned. If advertising work is undertaken there must be provision for a model's dressing-room.

In leasing a building it is necessary to bear in mind that in most leases the tenant is responsible for repairs and dilapidations and that heavy expenditure may have to be met when the lease expires. Meanwhile decorations and improvements will be necessary, and it is important that the parts of the premises to which the public will have access should be attractive. This is particularly important in a portrait studio, and the photographer, in choosing his scheme of decoration, must bear in mind the type of client he wishes to attract. Finally the buyer should take into account that he may in time wish to expand, and it is important to know whether there is room for such expansion.

Security of tenure is of the utmost importance. A short lease is valueless unless it carries an option to renew. An established business with a very short unexpired lease should only be purchased if arrangements can be made with the owner of the property to secure an option for renewal or to take out a new lease.



In buying an established business, the photographer is likely to find that some of the equipment may be out of date and capital will have to be available for new equipment.

Some reserve capital is desirable in commercial photography to cover the amount which will always be outstanding in model fees and hire of equipment and apparatus which may not be paid for some time.



When an established business is purchased, goodwill may be worth very little.

The goodwill of a popular business in a main thoroughfare may have some value, but an individual business which has been built up on the personality of the outgoing photographer may have little goodwill. There is no standard by which to judge the purchase price.

It is currently held that a business may be worth one year's gross takings or three years' net profit, but it is very important to know whether the takings of the preceding years give a true valuation of normal business.

When purchasing a business it is important to include in the contract a clause which will prevent the outgoing photographer from practicing as a photographer within a reasonable distance for a specified time and taking the goodwill with him.



Every business should adopt some system of simple costing, and advice in this respect should be sought from a qualified accountant.


Social Contacts

It is not enough just to buy a business. The photographer has to become known and respected in the district where he makes his living. So he should take an active part in the social life of the community. He must also pursue cultural development. The camera is only a tool, but because the technique of photography is complicated and fascinating, many remain obsessed with it.

That is not the way for success. The photographer must constantly broaden his outlook and develop his sensibility. He should be able to converse easily with a variety of people on a variety of subjects. There is, too, an ethical standard to maintain. He must command the respect not only of the public but of his fellow photographers.


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