Chicago Smug Meeting featuring Ian Spanier

Talent will only get you so far!

This was the message on the screen as I entered last Tuesday’s Chicago Smug meeting. Ian Spanier came all the way from New York City to discuss the business of photography with us. He started his career as a Photo Editor at Conde Nast, starting in their archive, then moving on to jobs at GQ, Esquire, ESPN, Men’s Journal, Marie Claire, and Muscle & Fitness. After many years of being an editor he went full-time as a freelance photographer. His clients include: A&E, HBO, MTV, UFC, Runner’s World, psychology today, Fast Company, and Muscle & Fitness, just to name a few. Even though the discussion was heavy in commercial photography, I was able to take away a few helpful tips at the end of the evening.

In between the occasional f-bombs (what do you expect, he is from New York), Ian Spanier shared some valuable information for all photographers. Here are a few points I found helpful:

1. Pro Services

Ian highly suggested to sign up for pro services. Whether you are a Canon user, Nikon user, or a user of another highly respected brand, the benefits are pretty cool. Being a Canon user I looked into the benefits of being a member. While writing this blog, I actually signed up for a Silver Membership, which was free. All I had to do was fill out a simple application and have 10 points in Canon equipment. All I registered was my 5D Mark II and two lenses and I had enough points. The biggest perks at this level are 24/7 phone support, a pro standard turnaround time on repairs (around 5 business days), and most importantly an amazing CPS pin. The Gold level ($100 yearly fee), will get you so much more. Here are just a few of the benefits:

(1) Discounts on Canon Live Learning (on-line classes) (2) Equipment evaluation loan (they ship you equipment to test out for a week or two, for FREE!) (3) A 3 day turnaround on repairs (4) Free clean and check on equipment twice a year (5) 30% on repairs (6) And of course the pin!

There is also a Platinum level, but I won’t go into the details. Basically, it’s sweeter than the Gold level. I really didn’t want to spend the money right now, but I do plan on signing up for the Gold level sometime in the near future. If only to have equipment shipped to my house, for me to play with, I mean “test” out. That is awesome!

2. Copyrighting

This subject was briefly mentioned. Ian talked about the time and money it takes to copyright photographs. Unless you have an abundance of both, time and money, it sounds like something not worth doing. Unless you have photographs that you know will be worth large sums of money and don’t want others infringing on that, then by all means check it out.

United States Copyright Office

On a smaller scale, it’s always a good idea to be careful about what you put out on the internet. Think about at least using a watermark or uploading pictures at a very low resolution.

3. Insurance

Having business insurance is an important part of being a professional photographer. Whether, it’s covering your business and any liabilities that come your way or covering your equipment and any damage or theft that might head in your direction. It’s a smart investment. I currently have insurance with the PPA. The PPA offers the following to members: (1) One million dollars in liability insurance (2) $15,000 in camera equipment

I plan on looking into business insurance. I will have to do my research on some photographer friendly insurance companies. Ian did mention that some of your bigger establishments (Allstate and State Farm), will usually drop you after one claim. They must “forget” the major expense of photography equipment when signing the initial policy. Reality soon settles in, when you file that claim for $10,000 for your stolen camera equipment.

4. Using an Invoice System

Ian uses File Maker Pro as his invoice system. I’m sure there are an abundance of programs out there, but he really seemed to like this one. It is a little pricey, but after reading the product description, it sounds like it would be worth every penny. I know I will have to adopt a program soon, whether it is File Maker Pro, has not yet been determined. All I do know, is my current system does not work. The current system being, no system. I don’t offer my clients invoices and my book keeping is horrendous. Just one more thing to add to the long list of “must haves”.

5. Contracts

Ian actually touched on this subject very briefly. He mentioned the importance of reading over contracts carefully and making changes if necessary, as a client. I will talk about their importance while providing them to your clients.

It’s really important to protect yourself and your business. Contracts allow you to do just that. Whether your photographing a simple family photo session or an extravagant wedding, having policies and procedures in writing is your safest bet. eHow has a good article on “How to Write a Photography Contract“. There are great examples of contracts on PPA’s website, as well. The benefits of being a PPA member will have to wait for another blog post. However, I have already listed here, three really good ones.

Talent may only get you so far, but having some really great resources, like Chicago Smug, at your disposal is indispensable.

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