Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.

Teen Vogue Director of Photography, Jennifer Pastore and Aoife Wasser, freelance creative director are teaching a senior seminar class at Parsons in the BFA Photography program. The class deals primarily with the business side of the photography industry and the students wanted to ask “Ask Anything” questions (Note: we would love to have comments from the readers as well). Here they are:

Is it necessary to assist to become a photographer in the fashion industry?

If you want to learn from the best in the business and experience how a professional photo shoot should be, it is best to assist. There are a few photographers who are successful without assisting (Suzanne adds: I can only think of a handful and I have been in this business since 1985).

What creates longevity in a successful career?

Honesty and keeping creative. A great personality with talent will keep you working for years!

What do creative/photography directors and gallerists look for when hiring someone for a project – editorial/advertising/exhibition. What questions should you ask when someone is buying your work or contracting you for a job.

Two different worlds- gallery- you have to try and meet with the curators and get a show. They are looking for work that people will want to add to their collections, work for walls. Agencies- images that are in line with the assignment they need to shoot to sell a clients product. Editorial- images that can tell a story and sell magazines.

What is the best kind of portfolio to show your work, printed book or Ipad?

These days it is three ways: virtual (; printed on beautiful paper- Blurb style is not the way to go. iPad is awesome for those meetings where space is limited and a place to show new work. Plus with the iPad you will always have your portfolio with you as you never know when the opportunity comes up to show your work- on the subway, airplane, restaurants……

How do you initiate contact with publications, agents, and galleries to send them your work?

The very best way would be to call the person, state that you are going to send them a link to your portfolio (hence why the virtual portfolio is awesome) DO NOT ask them to write anything down say that you are going to send them an email (make sure you have their e-mail address prior- Agency Access is a great place to get all this info- worth the yearly subscription fee).

How and when do I get photographer agency representation?

You have to research them to make sure you are a good fit and just like above send a personalized e-mail with your work.

What steps do you recommend to someone who is interested in starting a gallery/non-profit art space?

I recommend trying to get grants and maybe research corporations that are a part of an ethical group. The Ethical Corporation in Londan is the best place to start. They have a LinkedIn group: The Responsible Business Group

What are some sources in applying for grants?

You can hire grant writers- Mary Virginia Swanson is the best person to consult for fine art photography

Is blogging and online representation an important part of branding yourself?

Branding is the total brand of your identity (Like a logo, a look that is consistent through out all that you do). Adding blogs and social aspects could be considered as media placement, which is part of your marketing spectrum and your brand (your name, visuals must be consistent on these mediums), blogging in wordpress is a solution to get better google placement. Most blogs are read by other photographers- buyers are just so busy (but Art Directors will read when they have time). Then there are on-line source books like Photoserve, LeBook, Workbook, ASMP find a photographer… get placed in as many areas as you can for free.

Stock photography – is this a good source of income and how does one go about selling their images?

It used to be but with the inception of Flickr and royalty free it has been a harder industry to make the living that folks were used to 10 years ago with 6 figure income- now you have to diversify and market in multiple areas. Ellen Boughn (stock consultant) has a 30 minute consult as a great way to understand all the options.

Is it essential to have extra skills like, video training etc…, to keep up with new media demands?

It is becoming more and more important as clients are asking photographers for still and motion to cut costs.

To Summarize:
Dear Students, you are our industry’s future. Please put your heart into your career and shoot what feeds your soul.

Call To Action:
Get an internship, get your site looking professional, network and be a good person and business person!

If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.”

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  1. There was a comment that said “Blurb style is not the way to go”. Is this the advise for someone just starting out , or are you saying ,you do not approve Blurb like printed portfolios? If not ,can you elaborate ?

    • @Richard Gary, Speaking as someone who’s tried Blurb for different projects, I can say from experience that buyers have told me on at least three occasions that my Blurb book was hurting my work because the quality is so poor. If you’ve never printed one, the output is about the same as what you’d get from a mid-range laser printer. Probably looks better for the lo-fi film look some photographers prefer, but for me, it didn’t work so well.

      • @Terence Patrick,
        Thanks Patrick; I’ve never printed with Blurb, but I have heard of inconsistencies with there printing. I think I was referring to the quote” Blurb Style”. I’m not sure if this refers to the quality, or is it a reference to bound portfolios.

  2. Hi guys,

    Can you talk about contracts. Can you talk about work-for-hire clauses in contracts when they appear in magazine jobs for freelancers. Also about moral rights vs license rights. I find that when i took my classes at SVA & ICP no one took the time to prepare me for the awful awful reality of rights-grabbing that those in my generation are hammered day in and day out with. I turned down a job in South-America with one of the world’s top agencies (when I have no right to be turning down that kind of money) when the contract stipulated that I even had no moral rights to my images, and in essence… I could not have ever claimed that the images were even mine or point to it and say they were mine. I was shell-shocked because it was one of the top 5 agencies on earth (thank goodness for mentors and you old timers out there who were there to guide me). I think this is one of the biggest problems and challenges in this industry for us rookies, with the web basically killing the golden goose of Ad revenue, and this depression-wanna-be, it feels like some ABs across the industry are just taking advantages of the glut in photogs dying to pay for jobs themselves (large agencies are just laying waste to our ability to make a living). An issue that has made “standard” business practices what I am sure would have been “standard criminal practices” 15 years ago.

    Also, in this tough market, I find that those of us trying to survive can not afford to specialize to pay our bills and make it. Is it okay to have two or three specialties? Or is that still looked down upon? In my case, I had to do different kinds of photography in order to pay my rent, and what ended up happening is that they all feed off the same vision, so I am listening to my soul and carrying on with them. But is it okay? Sometimes I feel like a compact version of the old-old-timers who used to photograph everything under the sky when there was no specializations yet.

    Finally, is there light at the end of the tunnel? Is our industry ever going to recover from the shellacking of loss ad revenue? Honestly. Please, this is the million dollar question. We are all getting up, all of us, liitle us and big yous, everyday, to push this rock up this death-defying hill. If the pros out there are having a hard time, you have no idea what just how tough it is for us rookies who are refusing to give up this dream. But what does your gut feeling tell you? I mean, in your heart of hearts. Will the ipad save us? Can rights laws be changed, upgraded, revamped, re-evaluated to push back the savagery that the internet has laid on our industry. I think that is what needs to be re-evaluated. I think we need to start imagining and conceptualizing how to take back rights-grabbing, and specifically how to take back the absolute power of the internet over our imagery. We need to convince the CEOs at the large agencies that is in all of our best interest to shut the door cold in the internet’s face. We need to apply the same value to INTERNET imagery that was applied to print-media two decades ago. The big kahoonas need to get together in a big pow-wow and start “taking back the night and day.” This ongoing war between them has killed all of us. That is something no one speaks about. The web has been the dragon slayer. How do we beat it back? How do we strike at its wallet, by re-aligning and re-structuring our intellectual property and its value, mind you, not at its heart? How do we force media & ABs to stop giving away our work on the internet for free?

  3. Short and sweet. I think this will be very useful to students. It’s good to see students getting BFA’s taking classes that have to do with the realty of the business end of photo. It’s scary how many college students graduate without any business sense.

    Also, interesting about the iPad. It’s come up in a lot of conversations with my other photographer friends and me. I’m waiting for the day when I can send that instead of a printed book. It’s going to be a while.

  4. @ Marco Aurelio

    referring to your question/remark about specializing and whether or not it is looked down upon.
    Being a one trick pony in todays world of photography (unless you are the absolute best at that one particular type) is career suicide! Why in the world would there be a problem if you specialize in several types of photography?

  5. Howdy ! I am a photo student here in San Francisco and was just in NYC for the Photo Expo and some other meetings … While at the Expo I bought the book ” Professional Business Practices in Photography ” by the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers ) .

    This book is incredibly useful and has been the best thing I’ve read with regards to marketing , branding , copyright law , fee negotiation , self-promotion , and anything related to the business-y side of photography .

    just thought I’d share that ….

    • Hi Chris,
      That is a great book, in fact, that is our textbook for this particular course. I highly recommend it for anyone in the photo industry or for any photo students.

  6. Great article. Short but precise. Thanks for sharing these insights.

    (Just one remark. You named which looks like a nice software. Unfortunately its not working properly on Mac.)

    Thanks again and best regards from the polar circle in Swedish-Lapland


  7. Best Photo Editor…

    […] ompact version of the old-old-timers who used to photograph everything under the […]…

  8. Just commenting for future generations of photographers…. It takes a lot of money to make a little back. Good luck trying to pay bills if you’re not shooting weddings and family portraits. Everything else already has full time permanent staff photographers or studios set up. If you don’t have the cash to build a studio or rent space, you’ll go bankrupt very very soon.

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