The Digital Journalist
Common Cents
July 2004

by Mark Loundy

Good plans shape good decisions. That's why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true.
- Lester R. Bittel, "The Nine Master Keys of Management"

"The Good, The Bad & The Ugly" is where I illuminate contract demands with the harsh light of ink-on-newsprint and photons-on-screen. The feature is about education. It explains, at the most basic level, what contract clauses are good and which are not. But the basic lesson is that independent photographers should not be working with client contracts to begin with. Each of us should have our own basic contracts ready to present to clients. The only way to adhere to your own business plan is to follow a carefully thought-out set of policies.

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Business Policy Goals:

- Be profitable at the level to maintain your standard of living

- Be profitable at the level you need to meet your long-term goals

- Protect your business (and yourself) legally

- Clearly define your responsibilities and the client's before the job

- Clearly define what usage rights are being licensed

- Create a businesslike impression that will bring clients back

There are others, of course, but these are among the most important. Client-generated contracts are not written to support your interests. That's why you need to work with your own. If the client won't negotiate, then that client is not good for your business or for your career. After all, what kind of career can you have if you're constantly bankrupted?

The Good:

I was hoping to list The New York Times here. No such luck.

The Bad:

Saveur magazine (World Publications) for its Web-rights grab and 25 percent syndication cut for the photographer. Be careful with this client about expenses. They have been known to be extremely stingy in this area. There's more, but space doesn't permit.

The Ugly:

Esquire for its "Celebrity Photo Project." This otherwise superb magazine is soliciting readers to send in "moments you've captured with your own camera," showing celebrities in ordinary places. If selected for publication, "you will be credited." As of deadline, Esquire had not replied to my inquiry about cash payment.

The University of Maryland Athletics Department for one of the worst photo contracts I've ever seen. This one was almost certainly adapted from a construction contract. It requires the photographer to carry several million dollars in various types of insurance. This one is a virtual textbook on what not to accept in a contract.

Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client..


- Photo District News is doing a survey of photographers for its September issue to rate various magazines as clients. You can check it out at

- If you're reading this before July 10th, the National Press Photographer's Board is voting on some very important topics. I have written three resolutions that, if passed, will make the economic survival of our profession the NPPA's primary mission. If you agree that a restructured NPPA is critical to the survival of our profession, go to and click on the "What can I do to make this happen?" link.

- Sports Illustrated contributor David Bergman pointed out to me that not too many stadiums offer free food to photographers any more. My apologies for erring in a reference to "free hot dogs" in last month's column. The last baseball game I shot ended when rookie sensation Ty Cobb homered in the bottom of the ninth.


Photo District News Survey

University of Maryland Photo Contract

NPPA Independent Photographers Toolkit

Advertising Photographers of America Resource page

Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

Editorial Photographers Cost of Doing Business Calculator

Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group

Small Business Administration

NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

© Mark Loundy

Mark Loundy is a visual journalist, writer and media consultant based in San Jose, California.