The Digital Journalist
Common Cents
August 2004

by Mark Loundy

"You specialize in something until one day you find it is specializing in you."
- Arthur Miller, 1967

Do you sometimes feel like you're lost in the crowd? One of the biggest problems in our profession is that photography has become "commoditized." Buyers look for any photographer who is "good enough" if they're cheap enough.

But there's another way ... Start with your personal interests, talents and special knowledge and use them to create a photographic niche. If you're the best in your little corner of the photographic world, you'll find negotiating with clients is a lot easier.

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Photographer Peter Kubal of British Columbia specializes in a verrrry small corner. He photographs insects. His Web site comes up near the top if you Google "insect photography." Since insects are regional, Peter's work leaves plenty of room for other insect specialists.

I imagine that images of Mediterranean fruit flies were pretty hot when they infested Southern California a few years ago.

Your specialty can be your primary business or it can be a supplement to other assignments. It depends on how "hot" your topic is.

The best part is that you will be following your own interests, perhaps even an existing hobby. I've been saying for some time that photography was on its way to becoming a profession of students and hobbyists. If those hobbyists are also photographers, perhaps it can be a good thing.

The Good:

- The photographers who have refused to sign the New York Times contract. The Times blinked and changed its revenue-sharing offer to 50 percent of gross sales rather than 50 percent of the net. It's a start.

The Bad:

- Can you live on less than $350 a week after taxes? That's the most that the Union-Recorder in Milledgeville, Ga., will pay you if you are selected to fill their staff photographer opening. I hope your student loans are already paid off.

The Ugly:

- The New York Times raised its New York City day rate to $250. Why is that Ugly? The Times hadn't raised its rates in more than 20 years, and $250 is worth about $130 in 1984 dollars. The Times would have to bring its rates up to $481 in 2004 dollars just to pay an amount equivalent to what it paid 20 years ago.

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.


- World Picture News is a New York-based picture agency that seems to have avoided the currently in-vogue rotten business practices embraced by many other agencies and publications. They're worth checking out.

- LIFE magazine is returning to its weekly format. The latest incarnation of the famous old nameplate will be as a Friday insert in a number of newspapers across the country. I've got my antennae up to find out about how they're dealing with photographers.

- The Sierra Club recently added an indemnification clause to its contract. Because enough photographers objected, signers have been told that they can strike the phrase. As Ben Franklin said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, "We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."


News Engin's Cost-of-Living Calculator

Peter Kubal's website

World Picture News

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.