Hanoi Photographer Justin Mott has a nice post about where to draw the line when sharing information: Friends and Competition: How much information should we share? Where do we draw the line? Consider this:

My first major published assignment came to fruition because Gary Knight gave me an editor’s contact at Newsweek and he was even kind enough to insist I drop his name in the email. People were wonderful to me as I started my career so I’ve always felt the need to pay it forward.

and his interpretation of an email he receives quite a few times that takes it all a little too far:

Dear Justin,
Blah blah random not well thought out positive comments about your photography because I’m about to be really rude but I’m trying to mask it with this sentence. I feel like I should be getting the work that you get in city X. I can save that publication some money and would love it if you could pass along their information so I can get the next assignment instead of you.
Thanks so much,
Photographer X

Now, in this new world of over-sharing online I can see people getting carried away thinking they have a right to any an all information and for the most part I agree with Justin earlier in the post where he says “there are no big secrets here” and the information given out on lighting, marketing and business practices will not harm your business, but there is a line to be drawn and there are still secrets that you want to keep away from the competition. Personally, I like paint broad strokes with the information (I also like it when the experts don’t agree) and hate getting into the nitty-gritty details, because everyone will have a slightly different approach and for crissakes, if you need every single detail explained and defined you’re in the wrong goddam business. Photographers are creative problem solvers. Also, I believe in the school of hard knocks. So, while I’ve obviously benefited from sharing lots of information with people that wasn’t previously available, I think everyone should fall on their face once in awhile to build a little character.

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  1. I have always thought that if the only thing keeping you in business is a technical secret, you are big trouble!
    However I am not going to give a direct competitor all the info they need to get to my clients, they can find it on there own.

  2. Wow! Well said. I’m thinking back to see if I have committed a crime of asking too many damn questions myself. But I’ve given a lot of information too so maybe the score is even.

  3. If I had a dollar for every could-be assistant that e-mails me about how I can help their career, and not one sentence about how I might find them useful….

  4. Frankly is not their damn business how I get and what I do with my work. I will give the info that is appropriate.

  5. Sharing a little wisdom is very different than sharing your rolodex. I have benefited from photographers being generous with their knowledge and insight. The willingness of people to share their experiences, (both successes and failures) I think, is an aspect that makes this business unique.

  6. I think sharing information that can benefit the industry as a whole is important. For example, I learned early on about things like negotiating usage, understanding that your work has value so as not to give it away, etc. That not only helped me as a photographer but the industry as a whole because I was able to pass along that information to people younger than me. There is a limit of course. People I’ve never heard of asking me for contacts is crossing the line.

  7. I am a young photographer a few years out of photo school and now I’m starting to get advertising jobs. Although I went to one of the top photography schools in the country, much of my technical knowledge, as far as lighting and retouching goes, comes from the internet, blogs & forums, and then integrating other peoples lighting styles with my own.

    I am extremely thankful for the internet. But I do agree, sites like Strobist are creating a new breed of technically talented photographers. However, many of them don’t have a clue how to price photography and therefore are going on craigslist and doing 50$ head shots for people that might pay a few hundred to a seasoned photographer.

    I did learn a ton from Strobist though, so I can’t really hate on it. I think publishing real world estimates is a good idea because it gives people that don’t have the luxury of a photographer sharing bids with them or a rep to chat with an industry standard, I would just like to see estimates from more sources than just Wonderful Machine.

    • @Young Photog,

      Wonderful machine is a good start and remember they are helping the industry but also helping themselves by building brand awareness in the ad and editorial world. A lot of people read Rob’s blog.

  8. I get PO’d when I read about people who feel they are entitled to information without proving themselves, not working for it. Arrogant little, lazy bas%*#^ds! Problem is they get the information because there are those that give it to the lazy little bas%*#^ds, because they kissed A&&!

    If there is something I don’t know how to do, I will learn. How I go about learning is working for someone else via mentoring, or being an assistant if need be. There is nothing wrong with it! When it comes to marketing your self, learn about marketing, then buy Photographers Market or use the references Rob has graciously posted.

    • @Ed Hamlin, There are great organizations that can help a photgrapher learn how to do things. You got to look for them. On Nov 3 I will be learning how to do estimates with Maria Piscopo via APA-LA success group.

  9. Let’s see —–

    OVERSHARING in the Chase Jarvis/Strobist/Egoist kinda of way.

    Over share and its all about me, me, me and more me. Their oversharing is all about building brand, audience and ego. When are young photographers going to learn that this is a tough business and it takes years of hard work to get any sort of client base and stability. There are no easy tricks. There are the young ones who are lucky and get a big campaign or two and then flame out. (I almost did – but then got my head on straight and got to work)

    Do you think for a second that any well known shooter is going to give up their clients and contacts? F#$K no!

    I’ve had people who I had no idea who they were, ask me for my clients phone number so they could call them and show a book.

    I had, a new to me, assistant beg to go along on a shoot and then behind my back, shot the same frames and submitted them to a stock agency. Would I give him the time of day again, no frickin way!

    I think young photographers should learn to listen, ask the right questions, keep their mouth shut and then maybe you might get a break that could help you.

    I got it – when I was young – and I’ve passed it to those that have earned it.

    You have to earn it. There are no easy tricks for longevity.

  10. The idea of sharing is to assume one has something to share. The single most determining factor to me regarding sharing is to share something that you love to spend your time doing, preferably not photography. Topically, in depth, how ever subtle or extreme, let people you interact with in this profession know that you have interests other than photography. They might be sincerely and actually interested.

    Numbers are unique to each individual shooter based on their own paths.

    Your journeys are primary, not your accounts or clients. Ask yourself, why would a complete stranger want to hang out with me for several hours while we talk about life? You know the other stuff. The photo part is actually very boring.

  11. That ’email’ made me laugh out loud. I can completely picture them thinking it (people think all kinds of crazy things), but it’s shocking that they would actually press send to that note expecting you to help them move in on your client. The great thing about these folks is they pose little to no threat to those of us doing legitimate work because their actions are so transparent.

    • @Callie Lipkin,

      Over the years I’ve found that the folks who have long, successful careers tend to be pretty honest, straightforward and hard working.

      There’s always a few characters that try to take shortcuts to ‘success’, whatever that is, but eventually they hang themselves with their own rope – they’re not fooling anyone, and they’ll find it difficult to foster the long term relationships required for lasting success.

  12. I agree with this post 100% as an assistant to some of the top photogs in the world and a “working into the industry” professional shooter I worked my ass off learning and actually “doing” the work.
    I feel like this new Generation of photogs, which I am in, expect to be handed everything…. you are a joke! Us guys/girls who can take a computer apart in 2 minutes and fix a the computer without meisel even knowing then run over and load danny clinches 40 film cameras in a blink of an eye the next day learned through sweat and knowledge from just figuring it out, not sitting back at home while we watch everyone’s videos and tell clients you can do that because you watched some video and have no creative brain power what so ever!
    For instance these guys over @ fstoppers.com are getting fed that they are inspiring photogs?? They just steal behind the scenes videos and post them, then recreate that shoot and use the image in their own portfolio. If you check out their sites…. well I will let their work speak for itself!
    Bottom line if you want to learn and perhaps one day make it, get off your ass and go assist, practice your lighting techniques on your own, shoot a whole shoot with only film. Stop expecting us to give you all the answers! But keep working at it, you gotta have bad photography to have good photography and every professional knows bad photography! or do they…

  13. First off I’m so honored to have my blog re-posted here, I’m an avid reader of A Photo Editor. I was hesitant to write that article for so long. I don’t like to stir up shit or whine so I was afraid I’d come off like a bitter old photog. I love the sharing aspect of photography. I am so honored that fellow photogs would even ask me my advice so I didn’t want to discourage that at all. I just noticed that since I started doing more commercial work and treating myself more like a business I started noticing how insane some of the emails I get are. It made me feel uncomfortable answering and not answering their questions so I wanted to start a dialog about the topic. I love all your comments, keep them coming!!!

    • @Justin Mott,

      I am an older photographer who survived being an arrogant young photographer who had a load of press early on, a lot of talent and very little business experience.

      I learned the hard way what not to do. Worked for a cocaine addled photographer who stole, paid late (if ever) and not a dimes worth of talent but lots of hutzpah.

      I learned hwo to do things right from working with amazing people. They would watch me fail and fail again so that I learned how to do things right. It was tough love but the right way to learn and grow.

      I know loads of young photographers who are bitter and older people who love the industry and continue to grow.

      You have helped many people by posting your blog entry and Rob continued the education by reposting it here.

      Bitter and old have nothing to do with doing it right. It is the larger cultural change of push education versus finding something out on your own or god forbid, reading and book and then trying it in real life.

  14. I think the days of slaving away as Assistant for years and years under denigrating photogs im order to learn a trick or two through osmosis are over, and rightfully so. for those of you old timers who had to go through that awful system, we new breed of rookies are very sorry, but thanks to all the knowledge that can now be found on the internet, and a couple of workshops here and there, a lot of us now have access to just inordinate amounts of knowledge that could not have be gotten without assisting say two decades ago. and yet, in my experience, i found that even as I could teach myself an insane amount of information on my own, i still hit walls i discovered i could not surpass without going to learn with a pro in exchange for my effort and time, or without some like Rob her. so, i value assisting, and i am willing to slave away and do whatever needs to be done come hell or high water, roll up my sleeves, and do it all for the opportunity to learn from a good photog, but only with those who are kind and take their time to teach us something. definitely not interested in those pros who have no interest in seeing you grow, and/or take off on your own with their blessings.

    BUT! it goes without saying that loyalty and ethics is at the heart of that exchange, and if anyone crosses that clear yet-unspoken line on the sand, by seeking a mentor’s clients or emulating their work, or whatever, then they shoot be shot on the spot. hands down.

    i am only a rookie at this, and coming up during the worse economy in my parent’s lifetime, and weekly do i get at least a couple of crazies with inane requests or long, random emails. so i can image what the seasoned photogs are getting.

    i, too, some three years back, was one of those photog-wannabes sending off some crazy email to the latest favorite photog of the week. their rightful silence, and the hard-knocks of trying to survive in this business without any strong credentials but my latest series of the week, taught me the lesson of prudence, and the lesson of being brief and respectful, and the lesson of not asking for specifics in my more measured approach to the pros. and because of that to rightfully completely ignore the crazies. though i make it a point to take some time to teach a few fundamentals to some young photog whose work moves me in an effort to give back for what older photogs have done for me in the past.

    you harvest what you sow.

    Ethics, and loyalty, and giving back, should not be compromised in our internet all-access age. so it falls to the older photogs to remind us rookies that these values are more important than exposure and lighting tricks, or marketing plans, or business acumen, or editing and retouching protocols, et al.

    • @marco aurelio, Agreed with you! I am at that point, but I still feel the need to go assist and learn the REAL industry. These newcomers have no idea how to run business. At the very most, I feel I’ve learned all that I can about shooting, I just want to assist full time pros and get a steady paycheck to afford my noodles.

  15. If I know the person who is asking me, I am always happy to share client information. I don’t see assistants as threats. I don’t think I am right for every job and maybe my friend, assistant or colleague would be good. I like to help people and I feel like through the years many people have helped me and opened doors for me.

  16. I have to say one day a few years ago I cracked. Part of my business is on site event photography where I have the rights for a closed event. Im plagued by people turning up with cameras and offering to undercut me or give photos away for free (even though they shouldnt even be there).
    One of the people I had to get removed obviously didnt connect that particular event with the rest of my business and sent me this email.
    (It is a few years ago and there are a lot of uk/british references)

    I hope you don’t mind me asking a few questions. My name is xxxx xxxxx and I am a fire-fighter from Belfast who has a real interest in
    sports photography. I am now in a position in my life where I have the time to take it a step further and start to do some freelance work. I have built up a bit of a portfolio but am unsure as to how to approach event organisers, sports clubs and newspapers etc, even if these are the right people to approach.
    Any help or advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated.
    I understand you’re a busy man so thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope to hear from you soon.

    Regards ‘

    He included a link to some photos, including ones being offered for sale at events I had the sole rights to.
    My reply…

    ‘Dear xxxx,
    Many thanks for you email, its arrived at a really fortuitous time and I hope we can do a deal.
    My mate is a cop and as Im dead keen on amateur radio and have an absolutely brilliant scanner (chinese copy bought off ebay – saved myself a fortune) he gave me the fire brigade frequencies and call signs etc.
    Me and two mates have just bought an old surplus fire engine off ebay and were thinking of doing a bit of freelancing ourselves.
    Lets face it with the shift rates of £40 a day and £2 a pic and no motorsports to do at weekends because every happy am that has a camera is giving their pics away we thought we’d do some good for the community.
    We wont really be taking anything away from the real fire brigade . Let me know what station you work at as I’ll go somewhere else as we wouldnt want to step on your toes and after all you are over 20 miles away so it shouldnt really bother you.
    We figured that by the time you boys put your snooker cues down and get your mate out of the king size tumble dryer we could be almost there. **
    We wouldnt want the shit jobs of cutting dead or nearly dead people out of cars so we’ve decided to only go for the small chip pan fires in the nurses halls and helping out the physiotheraphy students (female of course) with their fire drills up at the uni.
    We got the coats from a local supplier but no-one will sell us the hats, we’ve bought a couple of kiddie ones but they are a bit small but maybe you can help get us real one. The kids ones look real enough anyway to blag our way in.

    Its not as if we arent trained though, my mate has watched every episode of the tv series Londons burning at least three times, specially the bits with that fit girl that was in it at the start. Hes promised to lend us all the dvds before we go out on a ‘shout’ (see we know a lot of the terms already).

    We think our photographer third party insurance will cover us because lets face it we do f**k all photography any more but dont worry if we balls up Im sure you lads wont get blamed by the press (we are all freelance press so we will make sure that doesnt happen).

    So give me a shout (excuse the pun) and we will see what we can do for each other.
    All the best,

    PS where do you boys get your ladders and hoses, the local diy store only do 10 feet ladders and 50m of that wee thin hose not like you lads have. We’ll do you a good deal on doing your calender next year. ‘

    ** there was a story that week of firefighters being disciplined for being delayed for a callout because they had to rescue one of them from the tumble dryer as a result of a practical joke.

    I didnt receive a reply.

    When I first started in this business it was as a result of working for another photographer, they knew what they were getting from me and I knew what I was getting from them. It was a mutual benefit that continued on with exchanging jobs when busy when I had become established.
    As others have pointed out, I dont mind sharing but what I do mind is people just asking for one way information and even worse, expecting to be given one way information.
    Above all else I teach photography to people both as a private practise and also as part of a college in the UK, so it would be unfair to those people who pay, to give it away for free.

    Rant over ;-)

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