Photography Q&A - The 1,500 Question Archive

Oct 11

Anonymous said: I've spent the better part of two years doing research on how to have a "successful" photography business. The water's deep and I'm afraid these floaties won't hold me up very long but I'd rather drown than never know what could have been. It seems like the more I research there are things that come up over and over and the resounding one is to just GOMA and do the damn work, and for the last week I have, and it's scary but man, it sure does feel good. Now to start this week. Wish me luck!

This month marks the 10th anniversary of me giving the finger to the day job and jumping in the deep waters. 

The first two or three years are going to be the most difficult. If you can survive those first few years of living job to job then you’ll probably be ok. Keep expenses low. Make due with whatever you have. Get resourceful. Stay out of debt. Keep good books and hire an accountant. Serve your clients. Serve your peers. Family obligations first. Career second. 

And yes… get off your ass and do the damn work. It’s been difficult but so rewarding at the same time. I don’t regret a minute of it.

Best of luck to you!


cossphotography said: Hey Zack, what's the best gift photography has giving you.?

1. Stamps in my passport.

2. Flexible schedule.

3. Beer at lunch.


Anonymous said: Hey Zack. Question about being paid as an assistant. How quickly should an assistant be paid? Some photographers I work with are quick(1-2 weeks). Other photographers I assist for take a close to a month or more to pay me. One photographer said I'll be paid when they are paid by the client. Is this a standard or I am being screwed around?

All of those scenarios are “standard”. 

If I can, I pay my assistants as soon as I have an invoice from them. Sometimes that’s the same day they worked with me. If cash flow is an issue then I let them know it may be a week or two until they are paid. If it’s a huge multi-day job then they might be getting paid in 30 days when I get paid. There have been times when I pay 50% right away and then the balance when I get paid by the client.

In the freelance world there are no set in stone rules. Invoicing your client (for you, the photographer you are working for) and waiting 30 days for payment is what everyone in the freelance world does. That is industry standard for everyone on the set. Photographer waits 30 days. Talent waits 30 days. Stylists wait 30 days.

Let me give you one example. I shot an advertising job this year. Three day shoot. I was responsible for renting a studio, hiring a set stylist, renting props, hair, make-up, two photo assistants, one producer, talent, gear rentals, and craft services, etc. Everyone on the set was invoicing me for their time and service. I had to carry all of those expenses and then I invoiced the client for the final job. I had a little over $8,000 of expenses to cover for that job.

Sometimes you get a deposit for the job upfront and that helps float all the expenses until you get the final payment once the job is done. For this job it was such a quick turn around that there wasn’t time for a deposit to be processed and paid to me. I bid on the job and shot it five days later kind of thing.

I put the crew together and let everyone know that it would most likely be 30 days until their invoices would be paid.  I like to at least let folks know up front how long they can expect to wait for payment. In the meantime I had to pay for the rentals, studio, craft services, props, etc. upfront. That was a couple thousand dollars that I had to have on hand and ready to go that I wouldn’t see returned until I was paid by the client. 

You start to add up all of your normal living expenses of rent, food, gas, insurance, and the like that you are constantly paying out and then have $2,000 - $5,000 cash on hand for misc. expenses for jobs like props, food, plane tickets, hotels, and the like and it’s pretty easy to see why you may be asked to wait 30 days like everyone else on the set. I don’t have $10,000 in liquid cash to constantly be paying crew the same day as the shoot and live and take care of expenses.

That photographer you are working for who is asking for you to wait 30 days may be floating thousands and thousands of dollars in expenses that you don’t even know about.


geggsy said: You've shown good travel portraits lately - what are some good ways to find a reliable bilingual (English+local language) photography fixer or assistant (when you don't have a large international twitter following)? I ask because I want to shoot more non-candid travel portraits. Also, I sincerely thank you for running a great blog and Tumblr. Even though you deny it, you're a great writer. Like 'accurate' exposure doesn't make a photo great, correct spelling and grammar don't make writing great!

Thanks. I sure ain’t no great word herder but I’m have’n some funs doings it! :)

The first thing I do is troll flickr, 500px,, and the like for photographers in the area where I’m traveling to. When I find someone who seems to know the city or region well I reach out to them and ask if they would be available to show me around or if they know someone who could. 

Mexico City is one of my next big cities to go shoot street in. I’ve recently found a few people online who are shooting great street work in Mexico City. I contacted them and I’m building that local network now. For something like this I don’t want to just do a big call on twitter for someone. I’d much rather quietly research people on my own and contact them individually. 


theperfectmajor said: Zack! I just wanted to say I have learned so much from you over the years. That being said...dude how did you not have a segment on this Creative live Super Bowl going on this week. Just doesn't seem the same without ol' graybeard. I'm just sayin.

Thanks for missing me! I’ve been really busy this year with other projects and I just can’t commit to anything else. 

The real reason I’m answering this though is to say that I love your Tumblr. I’ve been following it for a month or so now. Love your attitude. Well done. You should be on creativeLive!


Anonymous said: Do you ever add grain to a picture in post production?

Sometimes. Not much but there are times when a darker B&W image is helped with a bit of noise/grain added for aesthetic effect. I introduce noise until I start to really see it and then back it off from there. I’m not trying to create T-Max 3200 or anything. :) 

It’s rare though. 


bertmclendon said: Honeymoon update: I went ahead and bought the X100s right after I asked you that question. I had already decided on taking it because it fit 100% of the criteria of the trip, Sunny day (leaf shutter/nd filter), rainy day (uhmmm it fits in my pocket), night life (high iso performance), and of course the biggest factor of the trip, portability. Expect a thank you card with the Cliffs of Moher on it (Ireland is the destination). =) Thanks Zach!

I don’t see anything in there about keeping your wife happy with not hauling 50 pounds of kit along with you! :)



alvaroarenas said: The new site you are building doesn't have to be perfect. It is time to get it out. Jump!

I know. The framework is up and running. Just working on redesiging the blog so it’s a seamless design from page to page. Then I’m re-editing the portfolio. Those images are sort of place holding right now. I have a lot of irons in the fire at the moment. My new project is sort of front and center at the moment.

Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. I’m as guilty as anyone!


Anonymous said: Did you do the design from your Q&A book? How was it done?

I did not. I’m not a designer by any stretch of the imagination.

The Q&A book was designed by Charlene Charles Will. She works with Pearson a lot who is the mothership company of Peachpit/New Riders who the book is published with.

We had several phone conversations where ideas were swapped back and forth. She made mockups. The editor, Ted Waitt, and I gave feedback. Etc. I had to supply about 15 sample “chapters” at the start of the process. Some that would be long form text only. Some with text and images. Some with just images. Some short form. She was really great to work with.


Oct 10

Anonymous said: I'm not sure if you already know this, but recently a student from the University of the Philippines entered a photo contest and won... using another photographer's work claiming it's his. Any thoughts on this?

Sorry to be crass but WTF do you think my thoughts would be on this? 

It’s wrong. It sucks. That person should be publicly shamed and flogged.

It’s happened before and we’ll see more and more of it. It’s stupid.

People who steal images or rip off blog posts need to be uncovered and outed. That’s why one of the few tumblr blogs I follow is this one…

Stop Stealing Photos.

You should not use other people’s photos and call them your own. You shouldn’t even buy stock images to use in your galleries. That’s stupid, stupid, stupid. You shouldn’t take other people’s blog posts and claim them as yours. Hell, you shouldn’t even snag other people’s tweets without giving credit. 

We are creatives. We create. We don’t steal. 

Want to manipulate? Want to grab stuff from public domain, and it’s REALLY in public domain and then you want to do something with that and mix it up? Great. Need some music but you can’t play music? Great. License some music for your project. I’m not expecting a photographer to also be able to create a soundtrack. But don’t steal that music. Pay to license it or get permission or use stuff in public domain and doesn’t have anyone holding a copyright to it. 

People who take images and enter them into contests? They should have a boot planted up their ass.