I had a talent call me yesterday with a fantastic question. She has been spending the time and investment to grow her published resume – pitching to various publications, appearing in a variety of editorial spreads and cover features. It was no doubt that her efforts were paying off – in exposure. She posed an extremely valid question – if the magazine is making money and the photographer is being paid (usually) – at what point does the model begin to see compensation? And it is true – many publications do not compensate the talents that are featured.

In my own career as a photographer I look at three different values when it comes to which projects I will take on and which I pass on. The first value I look at is strictly economic. How much would myself and my team stand to gain financially from this project. The second value is creative. How much creative control is a client going to give me on a project. Normally the more creative control I have, the less I am being paid – and the more I am being paid, the less creative control I have. So it is a balancing act. Determining which projects to take based off of my desire to do creative work versus projects to take on so that I can pay my bills.

That is where the third value comes into play. It is a hidden variable that only I myself can determine. It is the size of the opportunity that this project gives me. Once again, only I myself can determine this value – no client can tell me how great of an opportunity their project is (and typically when they do then it is not).

Let me give you an example of how I look at this. A magazine approached me two years ago asking me to photograph someone from the Arizona Cardinals football team. They had very little money to compensate me for the project – so my economic value was less than zero as it would cost me money to hire an assistant and spend the time driving to do the shoot. My next question was on creative control. They said that as long as I got what they needed for the publication, I had a few hours with him so I could do whatever I wanted creatively (within reason of course). So whereas my economic value was very low, my creative value was very high. Then I thought about the opportunity. I got to have a professional NFL player in front of my camera to make the images that I wanted to make. That sounded like a great opportunity for me.

I took the job, lost money on it as with travel and my assistant and my time cost me more than the job paid – but I got full creative control on the feature. The magazine came out and that was a nice addition to the portfolio. But then my work began.

There was a library of additional images that I had to now market and work with. It took a little over a year – but I got my favorite of those images published in a national publication – the rate of which I was paid there was far greater than I could ever have gotten locally. This happened because I saw the opportunity.

So my response to the talent who called me was – what opportunities do you see by doing these print work projects for magazines? It is not enough to merely mass up a lot of tear sheets. That only feeds the ego – not the wallet.

What do you plan to do with these? On the one hand you could offer to write for the publications to put a little green back into the pocketbook. But on a longer term scale – how do you plan to take these opportunities and leverage them?

Because you can say “no” to any feature of course. However suppose you’ve said “yes” – how can we make these features work for you? It is driving traffic to get subscriptions to your blog? Is it a book or plan that you are working on and hope to sell to this growing audience? Is it to become a regular contributor for the publication? Do you want to approach commercial companies and show to them that you are a viable and publishable talent?

Thinking about the conversation strategy of your growing brand is a difficult process which requires disciplined planning. But it affords you the potential to turn these opportunities into something you are able to leverage.

James Patrick
instagram @jpatrickphoto