Getting Back to Basics

I checked out the Annie Leibovitz photography exhibition at the MCA in Sydney a little while ago, and it struck me how recognisable, not to mention how beautiful her work is. She’s a woman whose life’s work has graced the pages of some of the most well-known publications and hers is a household name.

With all the royalties she must receive, not to mention the staggering rates she must charge, how the heck could she be on the brink of bankruptcy? I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why it all fell apart for her, but if there’s one lesson we can learn, it’s that being a talented photographer isn’t enough. Business needs to be nurtured as much as art.

In the spirit of balancing art with business, PhotoMerchant will be sharing this weekly email with you, providing tips and know-how to help you along in the marriage of artist and entrepreneur.

I’m going to leave you with three basic pieces of advice that will be relevant through the life of your business:
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  • Clients are everything, so give them the best service you can. Respond to phone calls and emails promptly, deliver what you say you will, when you say you will, and never promise more than you can handle.
  • Always be organised. If you work from home, set aside a space just for work, and set it up so that it’s a pleasant, functional environment. You’re going to be spending a lot of time there, so you may as well like it. Invest in software that will keep your workflows organised, and remember that expensive doesn’t always mean good. Google Apps for Business is free and comprehensive.
  • Take time off every week. Trust me, you can find a half day to relax. You’re not a machine and working like one isn’t sustainable. Eventually you’ll become inefficient and slow. So release yourself from work for a short time and try to relax. Flop into a chair with a good book and a cup of tea. Cuddle your dog. Swim with sharks. Whatever relaxes you. I promise you’ll be more efficient.



Success in business doesn’t come easily or accidentally, but if you work hard to become even half as good an entrepreneur as you are a photographer, you’ll do very well.

Pili Foss

Picture: Pilar Foss When she’s not writing her blog, Cult of Clothes, Pili is a corporate advisor working with businesses of all sizes, from start-ups to stock-exchange-listed companies. She is fascinated by the evolution of small businesses and loves to combine her passion for writing with the opportunity to help entrepreneurs grow and learn.

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  • Great read. Brilliant tips thanx, Pili. Annie’s sister made a fascinating documentary focussing on the era around the production of her book ‘A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005’ which parallels the exhibition.

    In the docu Annie’s forst boss and founding editor of Rolling Stone, Jann Werner, describes her irresponsibility with all things relating to money. For example, when she hired a rental car when on assignment she would wouldn’t check it back in, just leave it in the parking lot of an airport and let the fees accure.

    Her most recent financial troubles seem to stem from not keeping a solid eye on her financials. Apparently at one stage she was employing three full time chefs for her studio. That’s fine if you’re shooting the cover of Vanity Fair every month for $50k, but no one’s got a gig that good.

    • Pili Foss

      Thanks for the documentary tip. It sounds fantastic; I’ll make sure to check it out!

  • thanks for this email, please keep them coming, we photographers need more resources on running the business of photography!

  • Christian

    Thank you for the encouragement

  • Richard Wood

    I have been told I’m a good photographer but I also know I’m a lousy entrepreneur. I just find being a business person very difficult. The small article is very good.

  • Steve S

    Business tips are plentiful, and while I agree with most of those you read concerning marketing a business, the one Golden Rule is paramount: spend less than you earn.

    • Pili Foss

      There’s brilliance in that simplicity…

  • Carolinasphotos1964

    Hi pili

    I loved your business tips . I have been a photographer for quite some time , Having opted out for a few years I was lured to the Business world where I developed a great sense of Business acumen. It is not enough to be just talented to day in this market we have to be more entrepeneurial !! I am doing more love jobs now on the GOld Coast than I was 10 years ago .. Ahh Annie what have you done .. Are we all to be like that .. poor and starviing for our cause ???

  • Cal Pusateri

    You have to take time for yourself, just to recharge the batteries (no pun intended). I will look forward to your next tip.
    Cal Pusateri

  • Jess

    Guess this advice applies across the board with any business, not just the photography business….but the problem now for me is getting my p business up and running and be busy enough for me to apply these three points.

  • Philip Coblentz

    Dear Ms. Foss:
    You are correct with what you say, you write well, since my accident my writing isn’t what it was. Thank you for the words of wisdom. As for Annie, I don’t know what happened, it could just be the market. I have been selling stock since 1987
    I had some of the biggest and best Agent’s. I have done really well, in the 6 figures, but lost it all from a drunk driver almost killing me, But this isn’t the story.
    What is, saving your money, invest your money, don’t just invest in yourself. When the dominos fall, you need alternative resources. Trust me the highs are high and the lows, well they are low.
    Don’t think it can’t happen to you, IT can I have bounced back before, I hope to once again, it won’t be from lack of trying. Philip Coblentz, World Travel Images

    • Pilar Mitchell

      Thanks for reading, Philip. Best of luck with everything.

  • Barrie finlayson

    ‘Clients are everything’…………..someone should have told Annie L before she contemplated her QE 2 shoot!

  • garryr

    Leibovitz has been a leader in her field for many, many years. Her best work I believe was with Rolling Stone and just after. But the fashion thotos are impressive, if only for for her capacity to organise and present a feeling