Full Review: Best Business Practices for Photographers

UPDATE: Harrington has just released the second edition of Best Business Practices for Photographers. And at 523 pages, it has nearly half again more information than does the first edition. In addition to being the standard photo business book of this generation, it has evolved to include a significant amount of timely new information.

Added to the second edition are insights such as how to transition from newspaper shooter to freelance, how to wade through the new electronic copyright filing system, how and when to file DMCA notices -- and how to wade through and survive a full I.R.S. audit.

Normally when talking about a book, you compare it to other books in the genre. In this case, I know of no worthy peers to against which to measure this book. It is THE source for all things business when it comes to being a professional photographer.

It is written within the framework of U.S. law and business practices. But there is so much information there that people working outside of the U.S. will find it exceptionally useful, too.

If you are a professional photographer, or are contemplating becoming one, get this book. At less than $25, it is an absolute steal.

Think of it as ... stupidity insurance. My suggestion: Go to Amazon via the link above and use the "look inside the book" feature to browse it.

Even if you do not agree with everything it has to offer, you would be nuts to work without it as a reference. It has become the compass point for a generation of photographers, and it will get much use from any pro shooter.

David Hobby
October, 2009


(What follows is the previous review material from the first edition.)

I finally got a chance to finish John Harrington's new book, Best Business Practices for Photographers. What follows is the full review I promised when I first wrote about it.

Is This Book for You?

Here's the short version. If any of the following describes you, you want this book:

• Full-time professional photographer
• Part-time professional photographer
• Someone considering making the leap to turning pro
• Anyone who wants to know how a successful pro shooter operates

If you are an amateur, are happy being one and will always be one, this book is not for you.

If you are a professional photographer who is already an expert in business, hiring, pricing, overhead, accounting, all forms of contracts, negotiations, copyright, infringement of copyright (and how to remedy it,) handling slow- or no-pay clients, writing business letters, using an attorney, storage, archiving, digital asset management, stock, the care and feeding of clients, ongoing education and balancing photo/family life, you might not need to spend $23 on this book.

But my guess is, John has something to teach you.

What's In the Book?

Here is a hard fact:

Most photographers who fail do so not based on their photographic skills, but because of a lack of business acumen. And for many working shooters, a working knowledge of what is in this book will be the thin line between making it -- and not.

Best Business Practices for Photographers the whole business playbook, from both the strategic and tactical points of view.

The first thing he does is to teach you how to think of yourself as a business. Which you'd darn well better learn how to do, ASAP. He gets into equipment and the planning and logistics of a shoot right off the bat.

From there, he's off to financial and personnel considerations - from assistants, employees and contractors (and the pros and cons of each) to how to price your work to stay in business. Again and again, he is about strategizing for the long haul. Do you even think about overhead?

I would wager that most photographers who ultimately fail did not think about things like that until it was too late.

You need to learn about your business costs as well as the salary - yes, salary - that you will be paying yourself. Fail to consider either, and it's game over for your photo career.

This book is a reference for photogs wanting the basics on insurance, accounting and legal info, too. And legal info is one of the areas where the book shines.

John goes so far as to include a variety of actual contracts for you to read and educate yourself. If you have been a long-time Strobist reader, you know that I am all about "no secrets." And John is there, too. In spades.

He really expands on the contracts. They do exist for your protection, you know. He has chapters on contracts for editorial clients, corporate clients - even weddings and other rites of passage. These are hard-won documents born of costly mistakes. They are there to give you a free pass on those mistakes.

(Don't worry, you'll probably invent completely new mistakes on your own. But at least you can skip the ones John endured for you.)

And speaking of no secrets, he also includes long threads of actual e-mail exchanges between himself and his clients on a variety of subjects. What an idea. The names are redacted, of course. But the point is he shows you exactly how he does this stuff. And how they respond. And what he said next. And so on.

From a no-holds-barred perspective, this book bares it all. You're crawling around inside the guy's brain.

He spends a lot of time on copyright, infringement, and the theoretical vs. practical remedies to the latter. That's critical info to a content producer.

Look, I know many of you eat and drink this photo stuff. You look at pictures all day long. You are gear wonks. You crave the next "fix" of making a really hot image.

But if you are gonna do this for a living, this guy is a Photo Business Rock Star, and he is laying his oversized brain bare to the world. For twenty frickin' dollars.

I cannot put it any more blunt than this:

If you follow his roadmap and still fail, you can take comfort in knowing it was probably because you sucked as a photographer. Because this book has the biz stuff covered.


Best Business Practices, by John Harrington, is published by Course Technology. The list price is USD $34.99, but it is available at Amazon for about $23.


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Blogger Larry Linkler said...

I'm an amateur photgrapher, but just like anything else, I can improve by studying. This $20 investment sounds like a worthwhile purchase to get pointed in the right direction. SOunds like the book for me.

October 26, 2006 7:51 PM  
Anonymous Alan Ackoff said...

With this book and the Dean Collins videos you can become a successful photographer. No kidding! You won't even need a camera... well OK maybe you'll need a camera too.

Nice review David. I already received my copy from Amazon.com. Darn... if only I'd had this book 3 or 4 years ago!!! It's amazing how many dumb things I've done that could have been avoided if I'd read this book sooner...

Don't even think about it. Just buy it!

October 26, 2006 9:07 PM  
Blogger NikonErik said...

I'm half-way through it, and I love this book. I am sure to read through it more than a few times, especially since I am in the beginnings of putting a new photo business together!

His book is like phot-business porn for another reason, he's getting action I can only dream about! Ha!

October 26, 2006 11:14 PM  
Blogger penguin1300 said...

Being an amateur interested in turning pro, I ordered this book immediately after seeing it mentioned on this site.

So far, I'm 1/2 through the book and have been blow away up to this point. I knew the book was going to offer some good business practices; however, the detail about making contracts, negotiating, taxes, is more then I ever expected. And for those questions it doesn't answer, John gets you at least going in the right direction. Finally, the detail in both "street smarts" and "book smarts" is very well balanced.

Even if you aren't a pro photographer, this book can give you a great insight into running just about any business. Simply use the photography examples as great analogies to your other work. After all, you wouldn't have found this book if you didn't know anything about photography.

If/when I open my doors, I'm going feel substantially more comfortable then I ever did before. And if I never do open a business, there are lessons I will take away from this book that will help me in my current career.

Yah, spend the $20. I doubt you will be disappointed.

October 26, 2006 11:28 PM  
Anonymous gewitterkind said...

hmm, the question for me is whether or not it is worth buying it for someone who's not living in the states. all this legal stuff may be very different in germany, and as long as you don't know _anything_ about it, it may be a bit confusing to read something about how it works in the USA.

any opinions?

October 27, 2006 7:38 AM  
Blogger Donncha said...

Sounds like a good purchase. I'm self employed working on wordpress.com full time as a developer but because I'm self employed I'm running a business too.
How much of the book is US-specific? Taxes and some insurance details will change, but other bits?


October 27, 2006 7:40 AM  
Blogger Victor said...

I bought this book based on your original post and can't wait to get my hands on it! I have been a Pro for 10 years now at a Commercial Studio in Michigan and hope to go out on my own in the future. I am a good photographer but I don't know beans about business. I just found this site a week or 2 ago and already it has opened my eyes to things I had'nt considered sooner. I have already Built my own ringlight and am working on version 2. Loving all of you! Victor Coar

October 27, 2006 8:49 AM  
Anonymous Andrew said...

One thing I've found about a bunch of business books (particularly photo-business books), is that they're very US-centric, and go into great detail about US laws, tax regulations and the like. None of which is any use to those of us outside the US.

In your expert opinion, how much of this book is about being a professional photographer, and how much of it is about being a professional american photographer?

October 27, 2006 4:05 PM  
Blogger Clive Evans said...

I'm a Brit based In France and Ireland working across most of Europe so clearly none of the tax stuff works for me....................................however the book is wort its weight in gold for the detailed contract information and the negotiation models alone. Buy it now , it cost sthe same as 2-3 rolls of proceeded E6 [for those of you like me who remember this stuff!]
On the other hand if noone in Europe buys it then I'll be streets ahead of the competition , so don't buy it...............................

October 31, 2006 4:37 PM  
Anonymous kurt said...

I, too, bought the book at your first mention. At first, I was a little disappointed when the first chapter suggested that you had to have only the best and most expensive lights on the market and the top of the line most expensive camera. I'm still not sure what that was about...but I read on. I'm glad I did because there are MANY single paragraphs in the book that are worth the $20 price tag on the book at Amazon. If only I had thought about adding a low ticket item to my cart to qualify for free supersaver shipping! Arrrrgh. Oh well...that's why we continue to read, and develop our brains! That's why I'm reading THIS book! You(I) only make the same mistake once. Atleast I hope you(I) only make it once!

November 01, 2006 12:59 AM  
Anonymous anglophone1 said...

For European based photographers [esp UK] an alternative is "Beyond the Lens" published by AOP [UK version of AAP/ASMP] you can download some useful bits at

November 01, 2006 10:31 AM  
Blogger Clive Evans said...

For European based photographers [esp UK] an alternative is "Beyond the Lens" published by AOP [UK version of AAP/ASMP] you can download some useful bits at

November 01, 2006 10:32 AM  
Anonymous Lee said...

relevant and timely. i'm so glad he included sample contracts and e-mail chains.

reading those chapters was akin to job shadowing .... excellent book.

November 10, 2006 5:25 PM  
Blogger Donna said...

Re: my earlier comments in a previous month ... as I catch up ... the book is winging its way to me now.

Just a note to say: thanks for all the help and effort. This book will probably be the most used piece of equipment in my entire kit.

May 13, 2007 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Richard King (BWP) said...

This is an excellent book. It is VERY USA centric. The sections on tax and contracts are pretty irrelevant for anyone else. The rest of the information in the book is applicable in other countries

January 11, 2008 5:46 AM  
Blogger Telmo said...

I got the book this morning. Went straight to chapter 12 and just read the first couple of pages.
I realized that I was right!
The reason I'm starting my own business is because I don't want to become like the guys I was working for...

June 11, 2008 5:20 AM  

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