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Getting The Job – Five Steps in Every Successful Professional Photographic Assignment

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Photo Courtesy M. Katz

By Scott Bourne

Workflow – I hear that word all the time. “What is your workflow?” Almost all the time, the question relates to photography workflow or post-processing workflow. In this article, workflow is designed to convey the five steps photographers go through every time they are hired as a professional photographer. While these five steps may not apply to every genre of professional photography, the concepts are similar enough to be useful to all. Additionally, you should know there are many more steps that might be added to this workflow, but I consider these the minium steps.

So where does it start? What do you do first? Here’s my list.

1. Smile & Dial

You may be the best photographer who ever lived, but who knows that besides you and your mother? You have to learn sales and marketing if you want to be a professional photographer and there’s no way to sugar coat this. Most successful professional photographers spend time every day contacting prospective clients. Use the phone, send out promo pieces, go to meetings, network. Get the word out. Selling is part of the workflow.

2. Show Your Portfolio

Once you get yourself in front of the right buyer, your next step is to show the pictures. You get hired as a professional photographer by showing your work. You need to show the work every chance you get. It’s like LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION in the real estate business. SHOW THE WORK, SHOW THE WORK, SHOW THE WORK. It should be the thing that drives you every day to get out of bed. You NEED to show the work to somebody that day. Hopefully a photo buyer. Pick your best stuff (and only your VERY best stuff) and show it. Show it online. Show it on an iPad. Show it in a traditional photo book. But show it.

3. Offer An Estimate/Bid

Depending on what sort of photography you do, you will at some point in time need to offer a price. In commercial and editorial assignments, this often requires you to prepare an estimate. In other types of photography you may need to offer a bid, or simply quote a firm full price. Whatever the case, this part of the workflow is as much art as anything else in photography. Price yourself too high, and you’ll get passed over as too expensive. Charge too little, and nobody will take you seriously. Quoting a price means taking into account your expenses, market conditions and the value of your work. Spend some time here. You won’t get a second chance if you screw this part up.

4. Do The Work

After all the planning, all the selling and all the negotiating, you actually get to make some photographs. This is the easy and fun part. But you still have to execute. You need to know your craft. You have to focus on meeting client expectations and doing the job you promised to do. Be professional. Be on time. Stay on budget. Do the work. Everyone wants to be a rock star, but nobody wants to learn the music. Spend time getting the job done right the first time and it will lead to more work.

5. Get paid.

After the shoot, it’s time to get paid. Make sure your invoice matches your estimate or bid. If it doesn’t, be prepared to detail why you went over. Provide copies of receipts for gear rentals, props, studio time, modeling fees, etc. Make sure to include a W-9 form (available for free download from the IRS website) so that your client doesn’t use lack of it to delay payment.

Obviously this is a very brief, very big picture view of the process. But hopefully this post will get you thinking about YOUR workflow. Make sure that at a minimum, these five steps are included if you want to get paid.


Written by scottbourne

April 29, 2010 at 7:15 am