Photojournalism and freelancing go hand in hand. Most big name photojournalists began their careers as freelancers, and many still work on a freelance-basis. News photographers like working as freelancers, because it gives them more assignment and publishing opportunities. However, if you don’t play the freelance game wisely, you can be taken advantage of by those who want to use your photographs.
When you first start out, you shouldn’t expect a great deal of money for your work. However, if you are working full-time and seeing your photos published on a regular basis, your income should be enough to match at least minimum wage (in the beginning, you will be taking assignments from very small local publications).
Throughout your career as a freelancer, keeping up with how much you should be paid for your work can be difficult. This is mainly because payment for photo publication varies depending on the publication’s circulation, the relevance of the news event photographed and the news genre. However, there are a few tips that you can use to help ensure fair treatment.
- When you first start out, ask the publication what they are willing to pay you for each photo type. For example, the amount paid for a front page photograph versus a sports section photograph, etc. This will give you an idea of what to expect and will also help you decide whether or not they are worth working for.
- Always compare your work expenses versus the amount they are agreeing to pay you. If you are not making a profit, you are not being paid fairly.
- Know the publication’s policy on photograph ownership before you start working for them. If they demand ownership of your photos after publication, you should be paid a much higher amount for initial publication. Also, if they demand ownership, you should be paid for any future use of the photographs. Once you have come to a mutual agreement on ownership, have it put in writing and signed.
- Understand copyright: to receive full protection under U.S. Copyright Law, you must register your photographs as “unpublished” before publication or as “published” within 90 days of first publication.
- READ YOUR FREELANCE CONTRACT IN FULL BEFORE SIGNING. If you have a hard time understanding the legal language, seek advice from an attorney.
- Print journalism is a very fast-paced business, but you should still demand that the publication pay you before they publish your photo. If payment before publishing is not feasible, at least request an official promissory note that states the publication must pay you “X” amount for “X” work by a specific date.
- If you are freelancing for more than one publication, keep the work done for each in separate folders (paper or digital). Create Excel spreadsheets for every photo submitted and every photo published. Enter the amount you were paid for each published photo. This will help you see which photos you were paid for and which ones are still pending payment.
- Once you have established yourself at a larger publication, a press pass may sometimes be necessary for certain events, like major sports, entertainment and political events. The publication you are freelancing for should provide you with this pass for free. You should never be asked to pay for a press pass or get one from another source. After all, you can’t submit high-paying photographs if you don’t have access to the most newsworthy events.
- As an established freelance photojournalist, you must learn the value of your work. As a rule of thumb, if your work is just as well-known as another staff photographer, your incomes should be very similar.
- If you think one of your photos has been published without your consent, do not send a bill; immediately seek the advice of your attorney.
The best and most in-depth resource for aspiring freelance photojournalists is the National Press Photographers Association’s website. Click on “Business Practices” under the “Education and Events” section. There you will find all the information you need to begin a career as a fairly paid independent photojournalist.
Nancy Johnson owns the site Medical Billing Degree. In her spare time, she enjoys taking photographs of her family and writing guest blog posts.
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