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Today is the 2 year Anniversary of Mike Small Photography, my real estate photography business in Phoenix, AZ.  I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to photography for a living.  Over the past two years I have served 281 clients, photographed over 650 homes and buildings, taken 27,827 photos (give or take) and driven over 30,000 miles in and around Phoenix.

I get to see a lot of great homes in my day to day work.  But there are always some that stand out to me and really become my favorites.  So as part of my 2nd anniversary I decided to pick out my top 10 favorite homes I have photographed. They are not presented in any particular order.

  • Mike Small Photography Top 10
  • Mike Small Photography Top 10
  • Mike Small Photography Top 10
  • Mike Small Photography Top 10
  • Mike Small Photography Top 10
  • Mike Small Photography Top 10
  • Mike Small Photography Top 10
  • Mike Small Photography Top 10
  • Mike Small Photography Top 10
  • Mike Small Photography Top 10
Mike Small Photography Top 101 Mike Small Photography Top 102 Mike Small Photography Top 103 Mike Small Photography Top 104 Mike Small Photography Top 105 Mike Small Photography Top 106 Mike Small Photography Top 107 Mike Small Photography Top 108 Mike Small Photography Top 109 Mike Small Photography Top 1010
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Many freelance photographers keep a close eye on the creative gigs section of Craig’s List and similar sites for potential freelance photography jobs.  Although it can be hit or miss, and if you are relying on these ads for your income you are probably going to be in trouble, if you pay close attention every once in a while a gem comes up.  However, if you monitor these postings frequently you have undoubtedly also noticed the occasional (sometimes frequent) post looking for photography services for free or in exchange for permission to use the photos in your portfolio, a link to  your site or “exposure.”

I am not talking about the one where an up and coming model is seeking an up and coming photographer to work with so they both can get some practice in and end up with images for their portfolios.  Instead, I am talking about the businesses, and sometimes individuals, looking to get their photography needs met for free.  The requests include everything from product photography to corporate head shots to wedding photography.  And it is not just limited to photographers, but you see similar ads for graphic designers and other creative fields.  The advertisers often make statements about “no money in the budget this time, ” or “there may be more work down the road.”  But the bottom line is they want something for nothing.

The question that is often debated in regards to these postings is “Are these businesses and the photographers who accept non-paid jobs hurting the photography industry as a whole?”

The heated debates that have been going back and forth in the craigslist postings have centered around taking advantage of creative professionals and expecting it to be for free.  One post snarkily requested free surgery in exchange for mentioning this surgery to help get future surgery jobs and the potential for more surgeries in the future if the patient liked your work.  The point being of course, that you would not request a freebie from other professionals, why from creative professionals?

The argument among professional photographers is that when others take these jobs for no pay they are diminishing the photography industry and lowering the standards and pricing for photography as a whole.  Not to mention devaluing themselves and their skills as a photographer.  In addition, it puts the photographer at a lower status in the mind of the consuming public, be it businesses or individual consumers, compared to other professionals they deal with who would never give their services away for free.  But as long as someone is willing to work for free someone is going to take advantage of it.

But for many of these up and coming photographers they are in a bit of a catch 22.  They want to build a professional portfolio in order to be hired for paying gigs, but they need the gig to build the portfolio and the portfolio to get the gig.  So what do they do?  They often turn to working for free without even realizing the potential consequences thinking that getting the images for their portfolio is payment enough.  What many photographers, and especially these advertisers, may not understand is that as soon as you take the photograph you own the copyright to it.  You are free to use it in your portfolio regardless.  You do need a model release to use someone’s likeness for advertising or commercial purposes, but you still own the rights to that image.  So they are not really giving you anything in exchange for your work other than maybe the subject to shoot.

There are some alternatives to working for free to build up a portfolio however.  Alternatives that can serve both your needs and keep the photography profession at the same level as other (paid) professional services.

1)  Volunteer your photography services to a non-profit that you support and believe in.  This can be a a win-win for both; the non-profit gets their photography needs met and you get images for your portfolio.

2) Ask your friends, family, neighbors to be your subjects.  For the aspiring portrait photographer you probably have an abundance of subjects all around you.

3) Go out on your own and shoot.  If your interest is product photography, look around your house.  Photograph the milk, the laundry detergent, your iPod, anything.  Want to photograph architecture?  It is all around us, jsut head out and shoot it.  You can build a good portfolio of images just by shooting for yourself.

4) Try charging.  Not every potential job is going to require a portfolio (although some idea of your photography skills is going to help).  Put your own ad up for your photography services and see who bites.  You might be surprised.


One thing many photographers do not necessarily anticipate when they start their photography business is the sales side of the business.  Unfortunately, in most cases, there will not be an endless stream of potential clients knocking on your door begging for your photography services.  You are going to have to sell yourself.  It may at times seem like the job interview that never ends.  And since most of us are not big fans of being on the receiving end of a job interview to do it over and over and over again is not something that thrills us.  It can be enough to make some throw in the towel.  But before you let the grueling sales process of the photography business do you in try thinking about it differently.  You are not applying for “just another job” you are going to get paid for what you love, taking photographs.  That is something most people never get to do.  So with that in mind and these tips for selling yourself to potential clients approach your next sales opportunity a little differently and with time the sales call will be second nature.

1) There is no substitute for being prepared.  So do your research and know everything you can about the business of your potential client.  Not everything will pertain to your photography shoot, but the more you know about them can give you the upper hand in understanding what they need in a photographer and for their photographs.

2) Dress like it is a job interview.  You may wear jeans on the photo shoot, but as the saying goes, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  Dress to impress when you are trying to convince someone to pay you to provide a service for them.

3) Prepare questions.  As part of your research come up with everything you need to know in order to provide the potential client with a solid and accurate proposal.  Then ask your questions if they are not answered in the course of the conversation.  Make sure you leave the meeting understanding their needs 100%.

4) This one seems obvious, but bring samples of your work.  Even if you have an online portfolio don’t assume they are reviewed it in detail or understood what they were looking at.  Bringing either a traditional print or a digital portfolio to review and give your “sales pitch” on can help you tie your past work into their present needs.

5) Whenever possible, try to tie the portfolio work you bring to show into what they may need.  If I am meeting with a commercial client a portfolio full of residential real estate photography will not best show off my skills that are relevant to their needs.  A few residential images are a good idea to show off the range of my abilities, but make sure they know you can do what they are needing.

6) Go the extra mile.  Try to make yourself stand out and show the potential client that you understand their specific needs.  For portraits maybe you can scout out potential locations ahead of time and come ready with suggestions and even with a  few quick shots of the sites you think will work.  For architectural photography clients maybe you can get some quick shots of their building and include it in  your portfolio.  But only do this if you are confident in the resulting image.  Don’t ever put any thing “so-so” in your portfolio.  Especially if it is something the client is intimately familiar with.  For food photography find out what they specialize in and get a few shots of that food genre to show.  Bottom line is to let the client know you can produce what they need and have an understanding of their unique needs.

7) No two clients are the same, your presentation should not be either.  Canned presentations often come across as such.  Be unique, be creative.

8) Leave a piece of yourself behind.  A business card is a given, but go that extra step and leave something that will remind them of you and why you are the best photographer for the job.  You don’t have to spend a lot for elaborate reminders.  I do a small 4×6 version of my portfolio so they can easily remember what I showed and connect me back to specific images that they related to .

First a little disclaimer; the content in this post is based on my own (extensive) research.  I am not a lawyer, accountant, or expert in the field of taxes or tax law.  So before making decisions for your own business practices you should consult a professional in this field.  Also, I live in Arizona, so the information I researched was for Arizona only, every state and city has its own rules regarding taxes so make sure you are following the rules for the city and state in which you practice photography.

With that out of the way, as I have grown my photography to include paid shoots for both individuals and businesses (i.e. created a business around photography) the unavoidable question of taxes came up.  The question being “As a photographer in Arizona, do I need to charge my clients sales tax on the images they buy?”  As is inevitable, that question led to more tax related questions.  I figured I can’t possibly be the only photographer in Arizona wondering about this.  So I am posting the results of my research into the questions I had.  Just keep in mind the first paragraph above and use these questions and answers as a guide for your own research and business decisions.

Question 1:

Do photographers in Arizona have to charge clients tax?

Answer 1:

Yes.  This took me quite a bit of time to find an answer to including a call to the AZ Department of Revenue where they had no idea.  However, I have now validated the answer with three independent sources, The Arizona Commerce Authority, the City of Phoenix and an Arizona based CPA, and am confident in the reply.  In regards to photography and sales tax the state of “Arizona does impose a transaction privilege (sales) tax on certain service-based activities, including photographer’s activities. The Arizona Department of Revenue taxes all of a photographer’s activities under the retail classification.”

Question 2:

Does that tax only apply to the finished photographs or are things like sitting fees, creative fees, and the like also taxable?

Answer 2:

Tax must be applied to ALL photography activities.  In the case of the City of Phoenix, where I live and work, their tax laws in this case are on par with the state of Arizona.  The city tax code states that tax must be applied to “All charges by a photographer resulting in the sale of a photograph (sitting charges, developing, making enlargements, retouching, etc.) for services that occur prior to transfer of tangible personal property…”

Question 3:

Does the answer to number 2 mean that if I am not selling a photograph I do not need to charge tax?  What if I am just selling a license giving someone the rights to use the photographs?

Answer 3:

My CPA expert says: “If you are granting the rights to use a photograph of yours to another business, they are paying you a licensing fee or royalty fee – and any money paid to you for licensing, royalties, etc is taxable.

Question 4:

Is there a difference between taxes for consumer clients versus business clients?

Answer 4:

Sometimes.  If you are selling to consumers taxes will generally always be involved.  For business clients, you would only not charge tax if the business you are selling to is not the final end user of the images.  In other words if you are selling to them so they can then turn around and resell the images to someone else, usually at a mark up.  In this case the business you sell to will charge the tax to the individuals they sell the images to.