WORKING AS A CORPORATE AND INDUSTRIAL PHOTOGRAPHER –RULES OF THE GAME - contracts, copyright, certificates and more!

Although I’m writing this on my photography tour and workshops website which is a part of my business that I find rewarding and fun, I do also love my work as a corporate and industrial photographer for businesses and corporations.   Sometimes, in my photo tours or workshops I meet young people who would like to become professional photographers and ask me about my career and what choices they should make.  Some people are surprised that I market myself as an industrial photographer but it is a job I find particularly challenging and exciting, and it has taken me all over the world.

Industrial and corporate photography almost chose me, as when I saw budgets for photo-journalism were being drastically reduced I realised that if I wanted to continue making a living as a photographer I would have to start doing something else than news journalism which in any case was not changing in a particularly good way.   Working for an agency in Paris I got permission from Hermes to photograph their store in Paris which I did in a very different way with the sales people throwing the ties and scarves in the air which made for some unusual photos for such a conservative institution. These photos sold very well in magazines and Hermes themselves took some.

Shortly after I worked on an assignment for Church Shoes and then GEO France hired me to work on a story on the top end of British hand made goods, their manufacture and the events that these luxury handmade items would be worn or used.  I built a nice portfolio with these pictures, started working with corporate magazines as well, such as Business Week and Forbes and a couple of French business magazines and then pushed the doors of some companies and advertising agencies.  In 2002 the agency Black Star in New York, who like me, realised that photo-journalism would never be the same again, set up a corporate section and sent me on assignment to Equatorial Guinea for an oil company.  To say that I enjoyed that assignment is an understatement.  For me it was the wow factor!  It was SO photogenic, the workers, the graphics, the light, everything, and I began to take aerial shots that I had only ever done once before, very perilously over Sri Lanka during the civil war.

The corporation in question requested a buy-out as they did not want the agency to sell my images to anyone else.  It was the first time that I had been confronted with this.  It was translated as an additional fee negotiated by Blackstar.  The company agreed to credit me with the images used.   At the time they did not require me to have the now infamous BOSIET/HUET or any particular insurances. I shot everything in film, 35 mm because I figured this would be more practical in such a situation and also took along a panoramic film camera which turned out to be an excellent idea in spite of it being one more thing to carry.  I had the film developed here in Paris, sent the choice pictures to the States and kept a few back for me to use for promotional purposes which was written into the contract as both the agency and I realised the importance of this clause.

Today, it is not such plain sailing.  The buy out fee has been waivered.  We accept a day rate now called a creative fee which has stagnated over the years but is not bad by todays standards although there are strings attached.  Firstly, US and UK corporations cover themselves totally so you’d best get yourself some good insurance which doesn’t come cheap.  Also, some companies require a liability insurance to the tune of millions of dollars which is additional. I balked at this to begin with and still do.   I am told that in certain sensitive areas, a flash causing a spark could cause disaster. In which case we would not use flash photography, there are alternatives.  Or perhaps they worry that a photographer lost in the art could damage something crucial? I have never been asked for all these different insurances whilst working for a French company.  Having said that they don’t hire much any more either! 

If you decide like me, that working for offshore oil companies is something you would enjoy then be prepared to take and pay for the offshore certificates and medicals, pricey and pretty unpleasant in my opinion!

Perhaps the major issue and bone of contention is copyright.  Having to give up copyright is really awful to me.  As far as many corporations are concerned they pay you, your expenses, you shoot for them andi therefore t’s theirs.   A photographer will argue that it is their eye and their vision, their insistence and their talent that made that photograph the way it is, so ultimately it belongs to them.  Also, it usually taken with their own personal camera gear.   The client can demand all rights of usage in the fee but the intellectual copyright should remain that of the photographer although I can assure you that this is becoming less and less the case.   I can understand that a company does not want you to sell or put out photos that you took on their ticket especially those with their logos but surely there is a way without losing the copyright. An all essential point to negotiate whatever contract you sign is the right to use your images for all promotional purposes.  After all, if we couldn’t show our work then we wouldn’t exist.

All of this is a far cry from my photography workshops and tours.  They help compensate me for the sometimes very harsh contracts I have to sign that make me feel as though I am an ant crushed by a giant, which is the case.  Were I not to sign these contracts I would not get the work I do, which is still exhilarating, wonderful, interesting, and something I absolutely adore.  It’s called a trade off but it is one to think about before you start such a career.