Exposed! :: Five Myths of the Photo Business ::

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Myth 1 "We just paid for the photo. Why should we pay to use it again!?"

Myth 2 "Digital photography is easy!"

Myth 3 "Professional photographers are expensive."

Myth 4 "Film photography is dead."

Myth 5 "Starting a photo business takes a year of hard work."

These are some common myths in the world of commercial photography. There are often misunderstandings that lead to awkward situations. In this edition of Exposed! we shed some light on these myths.

Myth 1
"We just paid for the photo. Why should we pay to use it again!?"

Many clients do not understand the ideas of copyright and licensing as it pertains to photography. People new to the world of licensing, purchasing and using photography cannot be expected to know the intricacies of copyright, fairness and licensing! A big part of my work with clients involves education.

Many believe when they hire a photographer or pay for photography they can do whatever they want with the photograph produced. This is generally not the case as laws and standards support the idea of pricing based on value.

The more value a photo represents the more cost is charged. If a photo is displayed ten times it has more value to the client than if it is displayed once. I often explain this concept with examples from related scenarios:

The same applies to photography. There are two separate governing concepts - copyright and usage rights.

We price work based on value of our photos to the client. We check industry standards to make sure there is fairness all around.

Harry Nowell, photographer - Harry Nowell Photography Inc.

Harry Nowell, photographer

Myth 2
"Digital photography is easy!"

This is partially true. Taking a photo with a digital camera is quite easy.

Point. Click. View.

Camera companies would like you to think excellent results are this easy! In reality, to produce excellent work requires experimentation, learning, mistakes, vision, time, effort, tears, and patience!

A Pro Program student confessed this summer that taking good photos was a lot harder than she had originally thought. Almost anybody can take a photo. Few people can produce technically and emotionally captivating work.

Even after mastering technical details of aperture, shutter speed and depth of field a talented photographer must incorporate artistic elements of perspective, primary and secondary focal points, creative lighting, line, form & shape as well as timing the shot when working with live subjects.

It's challenging work! The camera is much less important than how it is used.

Social documentary photographer David Trattles sometimes uses toy cameras or very simple cameras to achieve his stunning narratives. Check his work!

Myth 3
"Professional photographers are expensive. Good, working photographers charge too much."

A good photographer costs a lot of money. It's true. The costs represent equipment, insurance, financing costs, office and business expenses.

But the most important thing you are paying for when hiring a quality photographer is their experience. A good photographer should get you good photos.

Hiring an amateur can save some money. But next time you need some important dental surgery done... hire a pro - you'll be glad you spent the extra dollars!

Myth 4
"Film photography is dead."

Film photography has certainly taken a back seat to digital photography. Digital has made photography more fun and popular for many people. But there are times and places that many people still see the benefits of shooting film:

Don't get me wrong - digital photography offers a wonderful set of tools. Most commercial work follows a digital workflow. We regularly use modern digital and film equipment.

Set some goals based on your needs. Do your math. Make informed decisions when choosing your tools.

Film Photography

The Graflex Press Camera

Myth 5
"Starting a business takes a year of hard work."

True, partly. It starts with a year of hard work.

... And then takes more years of hard work to develop a sustainable business.

When I started, Pierre St. Jacques, veteran commercial photographer rasped, "Five years, Harry. It was five years before I saw a penny." Most successful photo businesses take many years to show profits.

Many young photo businesses go out of business because they do not anticipate the time and effort it takes to develop a sustainable business.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't start a photo business - it DOES mean you should plan for slow but steady growth. Take some practical photo and business courses. Join a professional organization. Take time to meet others in the industry.

Pro Perspective

Photography is fun and challenging but many of the tests we face in our photo business occur in the office:


You've got an easy month. Your homework is pretty much done - read Exposed! Five Myths of the Photo Business and contemplate the contents.

Final Frame

Stand up for your photo rights.
Be fair in your dealings with clients and other photographers.
Take photos and have fun!