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8 business admin tips for stills and video shooters

A man leans over a desk and points at an image of a woman's face on a monitor. A Canon camera and lenses are also on the desk.
Invoices, insurance and taking care of kit – administration is important if you want to make a success of your photography business.

Whatever stage you're at in your career, whether you're a seasoned pro or starting to shoot stills and video as a side project, being able to capture great images is only part of the job. When you're making a living as a photographer or videographer, there are vital business tasks that you must also tackle to be successful.

Whether it's budgeting, invoicing, insurance, kit maintenance or file organisation, understanding what you need to do to keep control of these tasks is essential for both your finances and your reputation. To steer you through potentially choppy waters, here's our eight-point business administration guide, whether you're shooting stills, video or a mixture of both.

1. Budgeting

Managing your finances should be at the very top of your business agenda. If you run out of money, your business will fail. Think about your plans for the year ahead and work out what the costs will be. You need to factor in bills for servicing and maintaining your equipment and think about whether any of your equipment needs replacing. If you're planning to travel, consider journey and accommodation costs, and factor all that in when setting your fees.

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Getting paid for your work is often a lot of work in itself. Casual agreements aren't enough: you need to prepare professional invoices, create a system for tracking them, and chase late payments. If you're very organised, you can do this with your own documents and spreadsheets. Alternatively, accounting software can automate the process and save you time and effort. However, be aware that large organisations don't always deal with invoicing in a way that suits you; they often have their own payment systems, which you'll have to work within.

You may need to budget for marketing your business, perhaps via mailshots, flyers, or ads in magazines or on social media. And if the coronavirus crisis has taught us anything, it's that you should have some funds set aside for emergencies.

2. Covering all eventualities: insurance

The biggest financial risks you face as a photographer or videographer are damaging or losing your essential equipment, and getting sued. Therefore you'll need equipment insurance and public liability insurance to cover both of those situations. You'll also require travel insurance if you travel for work, indemnity insurance if you employ others, and possibly errors and omissions insurance to cover you if the client is unhappy with your work. For each of these policies, it's vital to go through the agreement very carefully before you sign to ensure you've got the cover that you need.

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Chasing invoices can be one of the most time-consuming tasks you face as a freelancer, but you can use software to automate the process.

3. Image licensing

Selling work to clients doesn't just mean fixing a price and handing over the image or video. You also need to agree how someone can use your material, and for what time period – in other words, what kind of licence you're granting. If the client wants exclusive use of your pictures, you'll grant them exclusive rights. Otherwise the licence should specify non-exclusive rights, or first rights if they wish to use the images before anyone else and let you resell them only at a later date.

Depending on what the images will be used for, you'll grant either commercial rights or non-commercial rights. If the client wants to use them only once, you'd grant one-time use rights, while a royalty-free licence lets them use your image as many times as they want.

A little more complicated are rights managed licences, where particular restrictions are placed on the client's use of images, with different fees associated with each use. Finally, whatever licence you and your client agree on, you may also need to add specific requirements to the agreement, such as if you require your work to be credited.

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4. Maintaining your kit

Maintaining your equipment can make a huge impact on your medium-term costs. It's vital to clean your camera, lenses and accessories regularly, in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. And regularly does mean regularly, so make sure you schedule cleaning time into your calendar. Also, make sure you clean your cases and bags thoroughly, to prevent any grime, dust or dirt getting inside and damaging your kit.

Cleanliness is only one aspect of maintenance, though. Your kit also needs regular servicing by a trained technician to ensure it's functioning at its best. It's a good idea to register with Canon Professional Services (CPS), which, along with many other benefits, gives you access to fast service and repairs at specialist Canon Service & Repair Centres.

5. Updating software

These days, maintenance isn't just physical – it's also vital to regularly check for firmware updates for your kit. Visit Business Product Support to find out if your gear is up to date.

Firmware isn't the only software to consider. Many manufacturers offer free apps to improve your workflow, so it's also worth keeping an eye on the Apps section of this site. For example, the Canon Camera Connect app enables you to control your camera from your phone for remote shooting and easy photo sharing, while Digital Photo Professional Express enables you to import, browse and edit image files wherever you are.

Icons explaining how Canon's image.canon cloud storage system works.
The new image.canon service connects compatible Canon cameras to the cloud, and can store your photos and movies for 30 days.
A woman using the Canon Camera Connect app on her smartphone to operate her camera remotely.
Control your camera remotely via your smartphone with the Canon Camera Connect app, which is free to download.

6. Organising files

Anyone who's searched for a single image among hundreds of thousands of shots knows that you need to have a foolproof system in place for organising your photos. Before you take a single shot as a freelancer, devise a robust naming convention for your images. This might include date, shoot type and client name – but it's about what works for you. Similarly, it's important to create an effective folder structure, which could be categorised by shoot, theme or subject, for example.

Canon Ambassador Muhammed Muheisen explaining how his camera works to a group of Afghan children.

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Naming your images and folders systematically is just one step towards good asset management. The next is to add meaningful tags, or keywords, to each of your files. These could be used to identify features such as location, subject, style, time of year, type of light, dominant colours, and so on, as well as your favourite pictures from a shoot, and the names of your commissioning clients.

Of course, it's no fun to come back from a long day's shooting and have to spend ages organising thousands of photos, so it's best to do as much of this in-camera as possible. Many modern cameras allow you to create bespoke tags, and amend filenames and folder names directly within the menu system. This makes it so much easier to organise your work, while the details of what you've been shooting are still fresh in your mind.

Once you're back at your studio, organising your images further is made easier with Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software, which comes free with all EOS digital cameras and PowerShot models with RAW capability. This allows you, for example, to add ratings and check marks, making it easier to filter out rejects and find your favourite shots at a later date. You can sort your photos by time, ratings and other attributes, and create collections of images.

7. Backing up

One of the most crucial tasks you need to carry out as a photographer or videographer is to regularly back up your images or videos, either to an external hard drive or to a cloud-based service. You also need to consider your options for backing up during a shoot or while you're travelling. The new image.canon service automatically connects compatible cameras to the cloud, where photos and movies – including RAW images and 4K clips – can be safely stored and readily accessed for 30 days*.

A night-time bridal portrait, with soft-edged bokeh on a row of lights in the background.
Use your social media feeds to showcase your style of photography. This moody and romantic shot by Canon Ambassador Félicia Sisco is typical of the cinematic look she favours for her wedding shoots. © Félicia Sisco

8. Marketing

If you want to make a success of your business you need to promote your skills, and that usually means having a website that can act as an online portfolio for your work, plus at least one social media account. Building and maintaining an online presence takes time and effort, so you need to factor that in to your schedule, ideally dedicating a short amount of time each day to updating your website, uploading images and videos, and interacting with your followers.

Your approach to online marketing will depend on your style and genre of photography or videography. Think about your potential customers and the things they might be interested in, and target your posts accordingly. Ultimately, your content should be useful and interesting. And authenticity is key – a genuine passion for your work will shine through.

Avtor Tom May


*As of May 2020, cameras that use the CR3 RAW format can transfer RAW images to image.canon. RAW files from cameras that record in the CR2 format may be supported in a future service update.

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