Today’s Lab blog features a great write-in question from one of our readers. We tapped attorney Rachel Brenke, aka the LawTog, to give her advice on how to address this sensitive situation.
Q: In some cases, especially in the early stages of his/her career, a photographer takes a job because the money is great and they can execute the assignment very well, but it’s not in the direction in which they wish to steer their career. For example, if the photog’s interest is shooting portraits and lifestyle, he/she might take on a commission shooting a wedding, a menu, or an architectural project just to be able to make rent. This happens to be the case for me right now. I saw an interview with Chase Jarvis where he said, “If you’re just starting and you have a camera, you should do whatever you can to make money with your camera. It doesn’t mean you have to attach your name to it.”
My question is this, in parts:
Whenever approaching a situation where a photographer doesn’t want their name attached to an assignment, they must have an anonymity requirement outlined in the agreement – this would be particularly easy for commercial assignments. It gets a little trickier with personal portrait photography relationships because non-creative professionals (the client) may want to share who the photographer is and their work. Provisions will vary depending on the type of relationship (commercial or personal) and the level of anonymity the photographer demands.
Just like any other photography session this should all be outlined in the photography contract that is signed by the client and photographer. It is human nature for clients to express their appreciation and approval of certain businesses that they have positive relationships with – which works great when you want this to happen. If you are taking on an assignment that you do not want associated with your name, simply inform the client that this assignment is an exclusive assignment to them. If the client has published the images and attributed the photographer against the provisions in the contract, the photographer can take a couple actions. First, always contact the client first to refer them to the contract they signed. Many times this is always the best course to take. Second, if that doesn’t work, photographers can go as far as to send a cease-and-desist citing the contractual provisions. In both situations the reason doesn’t have to be justified. If a contract is in place, it justifies the request for the photographer. Always err on the side of caution by having a legal leg (or policy) to stand on to relay the desires of the photographer.
There are many lost marketing opportunities when not disclosing your business name. Search engine optimization is a perfect example of this one, as well as lost network referrals. A photographer needs to do a cost-benefit analysis of the anonymity aspect of any assignment. Are they shooting it under an anonymous name for a reason that benefits them more than disclosing would? Photographers often shoot in the niche they want to emphasize their work in, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to turn down work or act anonymously. A good percentage of clients, particularly personal photography (excluding commercial work), assume that photographers can “shoot it all” so you may be losing potential networking and referral opportunities by not disclosing or not shooting.
If a photographer does decide to shoot an assignment not within their niche, it does not mean it will confuse or deter your clientele as long as it is managed properly. Many non-family niche photographers accept family sessions during “Christmas portrait” season to make money and further their referral base in their community. The important thing is for these photographers to state that this is an exclusive situation for a certain amount of time and is not the standard. This happy medium allows for photographers to get their marketing out there and still make some money without shying away from assignments. If a photographer does shoot and doesn’t want their name associated with the work for other reasons, then that can be done too. This would be an insulated type of assignment, however, and the photographer must realize they more than likely will not gain any exposure benefits (including SEO). They may receive referrals from the individual they shot for, but if it isn’t a typical assignment they may not even want those referrals to begin with – making the entire assignment a single, isolated stand-alone money maker with no other benefits.
Any time a business is put out there they must be under the legal name. Doing Business As (DBAs) are super easy to obtain, and often are relatively cheap. This would be a factor to weigh in the cost-benefit analysis whether it is worth the legal formations if the only return from the assignment is monetary. If a photographer is putting themselves out to the public under a business name, it is best to get it legal. Some DBAs cost as low as $8 for 10 years – this is a small price to pay, and relatively easy set up to avoid potential fines and shutdown.
Rachel Brenke is the lawyer/photographer mastermind behind The Law Tog, a consulting firm that teaches and guides photographers through the ropes of business. Brenke began her career consulting for non-creatives and then combined her photography business experiences with legal education for creative professionals. She is a barred attorney with a Masters in Business Administration and experience in business transactions. Brenke is the author of the book "The Laundry List: A Mom's Guide to Running A Successful Business & Home" which walks moms through balance for any business.
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