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A Brief Guide to Photographic Markets 4: Social, Commercial, Event and In-House.

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Last in the little series of market guides, of particular use to those attempting this year's assignment.


Probably the largest market in the UK, and quite probably worldwide. Social photography is the term used to cover all photography that is sold direct to the general public, and usually the customer is also the subject. Think family portraits, weddings, and other landmark events that need recording such as school photos and graduation pictures.

The fees charged can vary quite widely, as can the structure of charging. Some photographers charge a fee up front, and then extra for prints and finished images, whilst others charge no fee, and make all their money on reprints.

Licensing and copyright are not much of an issue in the social market, as the photos are rarely if ever for commercial use, and the photographer will likely have no problem keeping hold of their reproduction rights.

Many social photographers operate as sole traders, although there are an increasing number of franchises, such as Venture, springing up as well. Social photography can be very lucrative if well marketed, with some of the more successful social photographers comfortably exceeding annual turnovers in the 6 figure region. As always, the average is somewhat less than this, so don't expect to take a few family portraits and walk away with a hundred grand.

Corporate and Commercial

A slightly odd definition here, and perhaps not the best label. "Corporate" is often used as a label to describe a certain type of photography - generally meant to mean shots of business people. Usually in suits and offices and looking very clever and business like. Commercial work, in the context we're talking about here, is taken to mean all work commissioned directly by a company (rather than an individual - that's social work) without going through another agency - such as a Design, advertising or PR agency. In a nutshell, with respect of the other markets covered in this brief guide, commercial is "everything else"! When a local firm of accountants want some headshots doing of their staff, but have no need of a design agency to put together a brochure, and instead contact the photographer directly, that's commercial work. I guess, since it's likely to be shots of people in suits it would also be "corporate" too!

The type of shots this covers is, again, fairly broad, as it can effectively be anything the client wants photographing. Without the use of trained personnel available from a design agency or ad agency, commercial clients are likely to commission photographers whose work seems professional and polished, rather than go through a lengthy process of comparing different portfolios. In this respect it's often good exposure that can net a photographer work - things like an easy to find website, presence in local business directories, and membership of professional institutions will all help to bring in work. The fees for such jobs are whatever the market will pay, and some photographers even charge by the hour for this sort of work (a tactic unheard of in advertising, editorial and design). As a guide though, you can expect fees to be in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

Since there's often very little future resale value of the images, licensing becomes much less of a hot potato with commercial work than say, advertising. Clients often want the images for lengthy periods of time, and for as many uses as they can think of. This can easily be dealt with by a healthily sized one-off charge up front to save the client the hassle of having to come back every time they want to change one of the pages on their website.

Event Photography

Event photography is essentially social photography, in that it is primarily concerned with selling to the general public, but using events, such as parties or races as the focus. Event photographers often work within the framework of a parent company, though are usually self employed themselves with the parent company taking a percentage from them in return for smoothing their way with the event organisers. Marketing and selling such images has becomes a great deal easier by use of the internet. Images from an event can be online in a thumbnail gallery within hours of the event, and customers can then easily use secure credit card ordering systems and have prints delivered very promptly.

Rights are something of a grey area in events photography, as employment status will have a major bearing on copyright. There is also the fact that in the case of events such as races, it's quite possible that not everyone photographed has given their consent, and may not necessarily be happy with their image being used for promotional purposes, to give just one example.

Fees and wages are also quite hard to pin down. Some events companies will keep photographers on a retainer, whilst others will only pay on a per-diem basis. Photographers may take a direct cut related to how many of their images sell after the event, or all the money may go into a central pot with all the snappers taking a roughly equal share.

In House

In house photography is a blanket term used to cover all those photographers who are employed full time by a company to fulfill that companies photographic requirements. Generally their numbers have dwindled in the past few decades as companies have sought to cut overheads by getting rid of facilities and staff, and outsourcing their needs to freelancers. In house photographers are almost all fully employed by their respective company, and though this means they sacrifice the copyright to their work, in return they should reap the full benefits of being an employee, namely paid holiday, sick leave, and possibly pensions, company cars and healthcare. As with any full-time position, wages and fees can cover quite a range, although it's rare for in-house to be extremely lucrative, with job security being the trade off against reduced earning potential.

My definition of in house photography also includes people like Forensic and Scenes of Crime Photographers, MOD photographers and Cruise Ship photographers, so the remit of work that the job description covers is very large. The “market” these photographers are selling to, is of course the company they work for, consequently the MOD will have different requirements to a cruise ship photographer, and so on.

Other Markets: Editorial, Books and Stock Libraries, Advertising, Design and PR Agencies.


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