||BPL: How and why did you decide to start this type of biz?
LB: While I was teaching high school math, I got back into my photography hobby. I had always been a photographer as a young girl. But I never concentrated on it, and while teaching, I decided to continue the hobby. As I purchased more and more equipment, which was expensive, I decided to freelance to support the hobby.
I worked as an assistant to photographers who paid me an assistant's fee. I also volunteered on a campaign for a local politician and got to use photography services a lot on the campaign. That's when I realized that documentary photography was for me. So I started to work with newspapers, published in one or two magazines and Brooklyn newspapers.
BPL: What were the first steps you took to get started?
LB: I knew fine art wasn't for me. I needed to either go into commercial or journalistic photography. In 2003 I went to grad school, School of Visual Communication Ohio University. By doing that, I became a better journalist. I learned how to think about how to take better pictures. School also helps put you in the community of journalists and you get to exchange ideas with professionals. In two weeks I'm going to be in a workshop with nine big shooters in the photo-journalism world. These people shoot for all the photo magazines. I'm going there because not only are they going to be there, but there are going to be lots of other photographers and that motivates you.
Networking is really important for the work. I found out about Ohio University when I went to a photography seminar. Now I'm deciding if I want to continue to freelance or get a staff position. I have met many people doing independent projects that could hire me. If I do that, I can continue to do the campaign work that I enjoy. There are lots of possibilities out there for freelance photographers and you get to own the rights to your images, which is most important to freelance photographers. If you don't own your images, you can't make money off them.
When you work for a publication, they probably have set who owns the rights to the photos that you take. Most newspapers and magazines want to keep those rights so they can profit off of future sales. If you are a freelance photographer, the ability to sell an image over and over again is how you make money. If you get to control that, you get to command how much you charge for that. You have to be careful because if not stated in the contract, the photographer might not own the rights to the images.
It's not absolutely necessary to get a degree and getting a degree doesn't mean you know everything. Joining some of the organizations can be helpful. The National Press Photographers Association has books that have sample contracts that talk about important issues and explain terminology.
I'm not an organization person myself, but the support system is already there if you are ready to take advantage of it and become an active person in the organization. If you are a member of the organization, you can have full access to information. The organizations have already done the research. The people there are very knowledgeable about all of the issues, including going through the beginning stages of starting a biz because they have all been there.
BPL: What Brooklyn organizations and resources would you recommend to others looking for help and assistance in starting a new biz?
LB: WIBO, Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce, National Press Photographers Association, National Association of Black Journalists.
BPL: What is the best thing about being in biz for yourself?
LB: I work longer hours and harder than ever before, but I enjoy the flexibility to take on any project that interests me.
The experiences that I have with the people that I photograph are what I love the most even though it's really a by-product of the work. Learning about lives and experiences and the exchange that you get is really exciting. It's actually the interaction the photographer can have with people that makes those being photographed more accepting of being photographed. You can really get some intimate moments. Some interesting moments. Communicating with people is key to photographing them well. That's true of all types of photography. You are trying to get a particular outcome from the session, so you need to be able to communicate with subjects.
Photography is a people business. The best photographers that have been my mentors have their own way of dealing with people. They have a way of finessing the situation and charming people to get exactly what they want. That's exactly what I tried to learn.
BPL: What do you think is the most difficult aspect of being in biz for yourself?
LB: Getting clients to understand the rates for photography services and then collecting the money in a timely fashion. Women have a problem asking for what they deserve. One of the problems I had was putting a value to the product. And that partly depends on how it's being used. Clients have to take into account that along with shooting time, there is a cost for materials and postproduction time. At first as a photographer, you don't realize all the time it takes to complete a project. You might say to yourself, "Wow, I spent a lot of time on this, and if I work on this I can only do five projects a week. And if I only charge $100 per hour that's not going to pay my bills."
BPL: If you were to do one thing differently in starting your own biz, what would it be?
LB: I would have devised a pricing plan and developed a method for informing clients in advance.
BPL: What's the one most important piece of advice you would give someone else about starting a biz?
LB: Always get at least a 50% down payment before beginning a job. You have to do that. You need the down payment up-front because you have expenses before the actual shooting starts.
You need to really understand that people are going to think that pictures aren't worth as much as the photographer thinks they are worth. People think they can take their own pictures and then they realize they can't take pictures that are as good as a professional photographer would take. A professional might make mistakes, but she can fix the mistakes.
Until you get to a particular level, you have to face the issues of people not realizing the value of photography and photographers. A photographer is always going to be educating the client about the value of photography and the value of a professional photographer.
Placing a value on your work is part of being a professional.
©2005 Brooklyn Public Library