Shooting Sports

Rick Rickman - Let's Talk Business

Sports photographers are a peculiar lot. Many I've met are more concerned about being at an event than they are about earning a living.

It seems sometimes that's it's more important for those photographers to be close to sports figures or certain athletes than even getting the definitive shot from said event.

On the other hand there are the group of successful pros who have figured out that the industry of sports photography is a way to enjoy what they do, make a good living, and create a wonderful future for themselves and their families. This group of sports photographer has figured out that the only way not have to work forever, and continually fall behind is by banking on the images they shoot at every event or situation.

Being paid well is an important part of that equation! More importantly however, is holding on to the rights to your film! I've been fortunate to know some of the finest sports photographers in the industry and have been able on various occasions to discuss important aspects of business with many of them.

Almost without exception, each successful photographer I've had the opportunity to discuss business with, told me that the most important thing in their business has been their ability to make continued income from subsequent sales of images they shot on assignment or initially from stock shoots.

If we examine the scenario carefully we can see why this is true. Photographers "A, B, and C are real people who have asked not to be identified. "A" has been working for 8.5 years. "B" has been working for 16 years. "C" has been working for 11 years.

Photographer "A" shoots sports images for a client who pays "A" $400.00 per day and pays for film and processing but keeps all of "A"'s film and sells it for profit. "A" never sees any money from those sales.

Photographer "B" shoots stock of sports related images. He sometimes takes assignments, which pays for his initial fees and expenses but mostly takes on the expenses of shooting himself because he likes to be unencumbered by any magazine or client telling him what he has to shoot.

For this reason he's free to make a much broader selection of images from each situation that he is in. "B" knows that the shelf life of most of his images is from 3-10 years depending on many variables.

Photographer "C" works primarily on assignment shooting sports images at a usual rate of $400.00 a day. All his expenses are paid by the assigning magazine and after use, his film is returned to him. "C" then sends the film to his sports photography agent to put a selection of his images into their files for resale.

Photographers "A, B, and C each do 10 shoots in 3 months:

Photographer "A" walks away with $4000.00 in his pocket!

Photographer "B" has expended $12000.00 for the 10 shoots. However, in that same 3 month period, "B" has generated $ 44,000.00 of sales from his files. So "B" has pocketed $ 32,000.00.

Photographer "C" has generated $4000.00 from assignments but, in that same 3 month period, "C" generated $ 21,000.00 dollars from the sale of his stock images that were in his agent's files. "C" has pocketed $ 25,000.00 for his efforts.

It becomes very clear quickly how important it is to maintain control of your images. A talented, business savvy, freelance photographer can easily make 6-8 times the money of someone who gives his pictures away to a client. With some marketing skill and brand building that figure can easily climb higher than 10 times.

It's not hard to see that if photographer "B" or "C" want to slow the pace at which they work at some point in their career they will be able to successfully do so. They will also be able to take vacations, open college accounts for their children, and have a relatively comfortable retirement. Whereas, photographer "A" may very well have to work to the moment of his death, or quite possibly, take on another profession entirely.

It's important to note that in some cases, sports photography has been some of the lowest paying photography in the business. That isn't true for everyone of course! It appears, after some examination, that some of the lowest paid people shooting sports are the very people who are willing to turn over all their film to their clients.

This scenario has had some negative effects on the overall pay scales in our industry but hasn't been completely ruinous to date. Imagine how much better things would be across the board if all freelance photographers decided that it was better to model their businesses after the examples of "B" and "C" and felt compelled to elevate the profession of photography to a higher level in so doing. I guess the ultimate question we all have to ask ourselves is; "do I want to have to bust my hump forever?" Me I think I'd rather go surfing sometimes!

Be well and safe and go out and bring home some money baby!

(Rick Rickman is a freelance photographer based in Southern California. He can be emailed at: rrickman@earthlink.net.)