Best Practices for Independent Photojournalists

  1. Be honest. Seek the truth. Be ethical.

    • Learn and follow the NPPA Code of Ethics.

    • Seek pictures that tell the story you see, not merely what you’re assigned or expect. Avoid scenes that unfairly portray situations or subjects.

    • Be aware of your conflicts of interest and how they might affect your coverage. Manage them effectively, and decline assignments when you have a conflict or the appearance of one.

    • Inform your client if you have a business relationship with a potential subject.

    • Realize your actions – or lack thereof – can affect the entire profession of photojournalism: our reputation, our effectiveness, our access, our rights to our images and our compensation rates.

  2. Know your craft and practice it to the best of your abilities on all assignments.

    • Promise only what you can deliver.

    • Have the right tools – including cameras, maps, communications tools, transportation, consumables, protective clothing, emergency supplies and backups – available for the job. Charge accordingly.

    • Do your homework. Know your subject, its location, its significance and any risks it poses.

    • Be clear about rights licensed, fees, expenses and responsibilities before accepting an assignment.

    • Invoice promptly and accurately. Know and follow the invoicing procedures required by your client.

    • Gather and deliver accurate, complete caption information. Spelling and grammar count.

    • Organize image and media files in safe places, so they are available for reuse and licensing to others.

  3. Represent yourself and your client in a professional and appropriate manner.

    • Dress appropriately for the assignment or situation.

    • Identify yourself as agreed to with your client.

    • Treat your subjects with appropriate respect and courtesy.

    • Do not take sides or display bias.

    • Do not abuse media privileges.

    • Maintain a clear paper trail for every assignment or stock license, including agreements before assignments or sales, delivery memos, invoices and any follow up.

    • Include your copyright information along with caption and capture data in all digital image files.

  4. Understand your costs and the value of your work. Charge appropriately.

    • Costs include both assignment expenses and your underlying cost of doing business. (See www.nppa.org/ professional_development/business_practices/cdb)

    • Value is dependent upon image distribution (circulation/viewership), type of use (advertising is much more valuable than editorial), prominence (size, page position and/or time on screen) and image uniqueness/quality.

    • Reuse and multiple uses should be compensated with additional or higher fees than one-time rights.

    • Existing (stock) photography represents additional client value, since its quality and appropriateness are clear before licensing.

    • Undercutting the market undercuts your future. It’s very hard to raise fees once you’re known as cheap, and if others lower fees to match yours, raising your rates can become impossible.

    • Carry adequate insurance for yourself, your business and your equipment against hazards and errors.

  5. Understand copyright; work with a fair contract.

    • Register your images as “unpublished” before publication or as “published” within 90 days of first publication to receive full protection under U.S. Copyright law.

    • Use your attorney-approved contract for every assignment, specifying rights granted, any embargoes, your responsibilities, payment terms, credit language, governing law, limits to liability and other details.

    • Seek legal help from attorneys, not photographers.

    • Work-for-hire is for employees. It is not for independent contractors.

    • Contracts are by definition negotiable. Walk away from “non-negotiable” offers that don’t meet your needs.

    • Oral contracts can be difficult or impossible to enforce. Be sure all agreements are in writing and everything agrees with your oral understandings.

    • “Fair use” of images under copyright law is a gray area that requires a detailed examination of all facts relating to a specific use. There is no blanket exemption under the Copyright for any type of use.

    • Do not send bills for unauthorized uses. Talk to an attorney. Rumors that unauthorized or miscredited uses command double or triple usage fees are just that. Every situation is different and copyright violations can be far more expensive.