It’s true. Both Neil Leifer and Walter Iooss worked for free.
In the book series Masters of Photography, Photographing Sports, Walter Iooss is quoted as saying, “Those were rough years.
We’d be shooting (referring to himself and Neil Leifer) through the screen behind home plate and the press photographers up in the gallery with those Big Berthas would spot us. They kept screaming for us to get our asses out of there with those little cameras. They would send the ushers down to chase us out.”
In the same book, Leifer talks about buying a ticket behind the great John Zimmerman to observe how he worked and to learn from a master photographer.
He also talks about how he convinced someone to give him a credential to shoot the 1960 World Series—for free. While there, he made a picture that no one else had, and then sold it toSports Illustrated—his first sale to the magazine and the start of a brilliant career.
What both Neil Leifer and Walter Iooss did not do is continue to work for free or for less than they were worth. Most importantly, they both produced work that no one else was producing. They outworked the competition and they each diversified themselves.
Leifer later became a contract photographer for the newsweeklyTime Magazine and shot everything from celebrity portraits to the first space shuttle launch to production stills of movies like The Hunt for Red October. Iooss went on to photograph advertising campaigns, innovative portraits, and several years of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Neither was ever a commodity photographer and they both knew their worth to the people who used their pictures.
Do you know your worth?
Today, there is no denying that earning a sustainable living as a photographer has never been more challenging for people just entering the field. I’ve been following with great interest the multiple message board threads on the Sportsshooter.com website and the analysis of the US Presswire contract by John Harrington, and the discussion raises a number of critical issues for those photographers who would like to have a career in photography that will last—last in the way both Neil Leifer’s and Walter Iooss’s have.
Each of them has enjoyed a photography career that has spanned more than fifty years and they each continue to enjoy royalties from the pictures they made long ago.
What follows are some opinions and observations that I’ve written with the hope that maybe just one photographer benefits from them somehow. If you read them and disagree with any, or all of the observations, that’s absolutely fine. If something I’ve written makes you rethink your career strategy going forward, then I’ve succeeded.
I have no agenda beyond that. I’ve learned a number of lessons from people I greatly admire as well as some tough lessons from my own mistakes. What follows is what I’ve discovered from a career in photography.
The opinions are mine alone.
To read more on this article, visit Joey Terrill’s blog. There’s a lot more good stuff!