Jim Cavanaugh is an architectural and aerial photographer with 35 years of professional experience based in Buffalo, NY. Jim is a member of ASMP and currently serves on the ASMP National Board of Directors as 1st Vice President. Jim is Chairman of ASMP’s Copyright Committee and has lectured throughout the United States on Copyright issues.
LC: So many young photographers out there have a great deal of talent and vision to share. The main thing standing in their way is a lack of experience in the realm of business. What are some good resources for those photographers looking to improve their business acumen?
JC: The hardest part is knowing what you don’t know, knowing what questions to ask. Information is abundant. I recommend ASMP’s Professional Business Practices book as a good start. Also ASMP’s web site, www.asmp.org has a tremendous amount of information including links to the dpBestflow digital standards web site. ASMP also has a number of forums including ASMP ProAdvice for photographers just starting out in the business.
But the best way is to get a foothold in the business is to become a freelance assistant working for a variety of photographers. This will give you a broad overview of the industry from various perspectives. It will also let you identify the photographers who will be good mentors and help guide your career.
Finally, you need membership in a professional trade association like ASMP or PPSNYS (Part of PPA) that has local meetings. This will give you the opportunity to meet with your peers and learn much more.
LC: The actions involved in registering and protecting ones copyright can be so intimidating to those interested in registering for the first time that several end up not going through with it at all. What advice or programs are available to help educate emerging photographers on the process or even to walk them through it?
JC: While creators receive copyright and certain protection at the moment of creation, registration is the key to obtaining full legal protection under the law. However, the registration process can appear daunting at first, especially in dealing with the different procedures for published and unpublished works. (And determining what actually constitutes publication.)
ASMP has an excellent tutorial on Copyright registration. It includes a podcast of ASMP’s very popular registration workshops that have been appearing around the country. (I am one of the three presenters.)
The Copyright Office’s new electronic copyright registration site, eCO makes the registration of unpublished work much easier. By the end of 2010, the Copyright Office will also allow groups of published images to be registered electronically using the eCO site.
The big stumbling block comes from established photographers who have a significant amount of images that have never been registered. ASMP’s and my advice is start registering all the new work you create going forward and then, as time and funds permit, begin to register your important published legacy images. Older unpublished film/print images are in little danger of being infringed.
Currently, with limited exceptions, groups of published images must be registered using the old paper (Form VA) method. It may take a year or longer to get those registration certificates back. However, the registration is effective the day the Copyright Office receives your submission, not when you receive the certificate.
LC: With years of experience under your belt you have seen several changes and epochs come and go in the industry. With all the excitement and dread in the industry in the last few years over changes in the economy, media delivery, and changing ideals amongst buyers, do you see these as the end of photography as we know it as a profession, or simply another stage of evolution in the ongoing cycle of changes that make up any industry? What advice can you give to emerging photographers to see past the turbulence of the industry right now, and especially a very vocal group of negative photographers who are bemoaning the end of the industry?
Photographers often perceive that digital cameras, scanners and Photoshop changed the landscape. They certainly did to some degree. But, it was the digital tools available to our clients and content consumers that really changed the game. How our clients use images and the plethora of new delivery options for their content have spearheaded the revolution that is changing our business models. And the rate of change is only accelerating. The iPad and the devices that follow are offering whole new ways for clients to prepare and distribute their content whether editorial, advertising, educational or entertainment.
LC: So many photographers are traditionally closed off and unwilling to share information and thoughts with others. You, on the other hand have been involved in educating and informing other photographers on the national level and at all levels of experience. As a vocal proponent of photographers’ rights and the need for registering copyright, do you feel photographers should be actively trying to create a more unified community like other creative groups in order to improve communication both within our own community and in terms of improving how we communicate with our buyers and support industries?
JC: It has been said that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” I believe there are no secrets in our industry. Unfortunately many photographers behave as if there is “special” information to be protected and hidden from view. It’s a foolhardy approach.
We all learn based on the experience of others. Keeping knowledge from your competitors only serves to “dumb down” the entire industry. I don’t advocate sharing client lists and some specific proprietary information. But sharing ideas on business models, pricing, legal issues and technology issues with people entering the business only elevates the profession. This is especially important in an unregulated and unlicensed business like photography.