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A Day in the Life of an Independent Professional


By Jake Brooks



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Hours per week:
All of the time!

Typical working hours:
Project times vary widely -- we find ourselves working more often than not. We usually spend one to two hours for portraits on location and eight hours on shoots in studio.

Main current clients:
Mostly magazines

Ranges from $500-$1200 on average for a project. Rates are determined by size and placement on a page or by a preset day rate plus incurred expenses.

Favorite business readings:
Photo District News, Business 2.0, Fast Company (for the pictures)

Favorite non-business readings:
WallPaper, Flaunt, Dutch, Icon, Metropolitan Home

Best way they get clients:

Worst-paying assignment they ever had:
We were trying to rekindle our relationship with a client who gave us the worst project that we ever had. We took on five very low paying jobs ($100 each) and actually lost money completing the assignments. We believed that sometimes you have to sacrifice your time, money, and other potential earnings to prove yourself to a client. It ended up taking too much time and energy. We soon learned that people will respect you more if you respect yourself.



  Q & A

What was the worst project you ever worked on, and why?

A well-known art director who really seemed to like our work was hired by a company we had done a lot of work for. He gave us a big project to shoot various prominent citizens. It turned out that he not only wanted to be the art director but the photographer as well! After we had put our knowledge, skill, and experience into the lighting and camera work, he wanted to take credit for our efforts. We were supposed to relinquish control -- in front of the subject and make-up artist! Even though we refused to let him take over the camera, we still had very little creative control. This destroyed our business relationship with that client, and we lost the referrals for other assignments we used to receive regularly from them.

What was the best project you ever worked on, and why?
It's hard to name a best project because whether we're shooting a "regular Joe," "business guy," or "fabulous celebrity," all of our clients are wonderful people to work with. Plus we are the same age as most of our clients, so we socialize with them as well. Our few bad client experiences helped us realize that when you have good relationships with your clients, your whole life is much more enjoyable.

What do you say when people ask about "your job"?
It can be baffling to explain it to someone not in our business -- it's like trying to explain a football game to someone who knows nothing about the sport. People always think that a photographer has a fun and easy job without any of the stress of a "normal job." We let them know that a career in photography is only what you make it -- there aren't any particular rules or roadmaps to ensure a successful career.

What is your guiding philosophy?
Tim: It's always better than a desk job.
Kim: No complaining!

If you could be anything other than what you are now, what would it be?
Tim: A helicopter pilot
Kim: A concert pianist (without all of the practicing)





Freelance photographer Tim Gray, a former Merchant Marine and professional fisherman, sometimes misses lobstering. "I was on the water for so long, and it was so much a part of my life that I do miss it," he says. "But not enough to give up what I'm doing now."

For the last six years, Tim and longtime girlfriend Kim Furnald have been working together as editorial photographers for Boston-area magazines. Neither began professional life as photographers or as free agents, but now Tim and Kim are happily both.

As free agent collaborators, Tim and Kim live and work almost as a single unit, but they don't have a formal partnership, and each is free to accept or turn down work as he or she sees fit. When they do projects together, they split the take down the middle. They always file their taxes separately. "I'm sure someday when the business grows to a point where there'd be a tax advantage to change [the way we do] it, we would," says Tim. Until then, he says, "we're the accountants, we're the secretaries, we're the mail people, we're marketing, we're researching a Web site -- we're everything."

After his Navy days, Tim had begun to study marine biology when he stumbled upon an art elective in photography. He tried it, loved it, and soon moved out of the research lab and into the photo lab. At about the same time, Kim, then an art student, got her first professional photo assignment while working as a design intern at Boston Magazine. A born free agent, she was starting to suffer from headaches from the stress of office work, so Boston's editors asked her to shoot some photos. Then they asked her to take others, and others, and others still.

One day Kim brought in Tim to assist on a shoot, and a working relationship was born. Before long, with each other for professional and personal support, they decided to skip the traditional route into magazine photography (working full-time for a magazine) and instead go out on their own. They passed up the apprenticeships that are practically a rite of passage for would-be photographers, and gave up the security of long-term contracts, unions, and accounts-receivable departments. They became free agents.

Beantown Paparazzi

At the very beginning it was painful -- for Kim at least. "Every night I would wake up in a cold sweat," she says. "Tim never worried, just me. I did the worrying for the both of us. I'm the one with the short nails. It takes a while to train yourself not to worry." Yet since going out on their own, Kim and Tim say they've had no financial crises and have built a sturdy local reputation without benefit of marketing. They rely on word-of-mouth recommendations.

Job-hopping art directors, for example, have helped them break into new publications. When the Boston art director they had first worked with moved to Natural Health, he took their services into new territory. In the small Boston magazine market, word spread quickly that Tim and Kim did solid work, and they've relied on their reputation ever since. "It's hard for [art directors] to find people who are reliable and aren't spooky," Kim says.

Tim and Kim mostly shoot for Boston-based magazines, including Boston, Inc., Natural Health, CIO, and Fast Company. Unlike editorial photographers in larger markets like New York, they don't specialize in a particular type of photography, such as fashion work or product shoots. Over the course of a week, for example, they might do an executive portrait for Inc., a lifestyle spread for Boston, and in-studio shots of granola for Natural Health.

Because they work almost exclusively for magazines, and not for design or advertising firms, Tim and Kim are at the mercy of some brutal editorial schedules. Many of the magazines they work for close an issue every month, leaving them little time for vacation. "One will give us maybe four assignments over one week," says Kim," and then another's cycle will kick in, and they'll assign the photography at the end of that week into the next, and so it goes." They grab a long weekend here and there, but Kim says that whenever she's away, Tim gets hit with more work than usual.

No Thongs

When you think of Tim and Kim, don't picture the globetrotters who shoot photos of thong-clad Cindy Crawfords and Elle McPhersons sprawled on Caribbean beaches. Running and owning a freelance photography business isn't as glamorous as the pictures suggest: Tim says that he and Kim spend only 20 percent of their time taking pictures. Most mornings, Kim wakes at seven, picks up the mail, and updates the accounting books. "I try to do all that early in the morning, since you can get interrupted in the middle of the day," she says.

At nine, Tim rolls out of bed and begins negotiating with new clients or filing old film, a loathsome task. Over the years, the two have discovered their individual strengths and divided up the office work accordingly. When both of them are responsible for the same task, they say, nothing gets done. Afternoons are for taking pictures, and this job goes to "whoever wrestles the camera out of the other's hands."

The photography itself is the exciting part of the job, but it's no less grueling than running the business. "Most people don't know what goes into making a photograph for a magazine," says Tim. "They don't understand the effort." When Tim and Kim did a shoot for a CIO story on the Citibank/Travelers merger last year, for example, their subject was a high-ranking executive with little time to spare. After scheduling and rescheduling, they finally caught up with her in New York. They flew down the night before, arrived at the site at 6 a.m., and spent the next two hours setting up and testing the lighting. ("They give you a certain room to work in, and you try to make it look different than the 50 million photographers who were there before you [did]," says Kim.)

The actual shoot lasted ten minutes.

Love and Politics

Romantic involvement hasn't hurt Tim and Kim's professional life. "If it had," says Tim, "we probably wouldn't have continued working together." The photographers have found that their artistic sensibilities (lighting preference, say) are remarkably compatible. Also, since they interact with various other people in the course of their work, they don't feel claustrophobic or get on each other's nerves. As two people, they don't really have to deal with the hassle of office politics, and yet from their position on the fringe of the corporate magazine world, they can enjoy the melodrama of other people's politics. "It's nice to visit [the offices]," says Kim. "You get a sense of what their office politics are like, but you still have a sunny relationship. Then you leave. But you still get to hear about all the silly stuff that goes on. We've got some good gossip in Boston."

October 27, 1999
Primary Editor: Eric Gershon
Production: Keith Gendel

We'd love to hear your comments about this article!

Jake Brooks, a former Editor-in-Chief of Let's Go Travel Guides, is a co-author of Nice Job: The Guide to Cool, Odd, Risky, and Gruesome Ways to Make a Living. This is his first article for 1099.


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