Sydney Claire: Photography Business 101

What do finance and photography have in common? Absolutely everything, according to Sydney Claire. A renowned Fashion and Editorial photographer based in New York City, Sydney gave Casting Coin an inside scoop into some of her best tips and tricks to navigating life (and its share of opportunities and challenges) as an up-and-coming professional photographer—from purchasing your first camera equipment to managing your taxes and business expenses.

Contracts & Invoices

“You could have all the talent in world,” Sydney says, “but without financial literacy, you set yourself up for failure.” Unfortunately, “artists typically don’t have these types of conversations.” When it comes to invoicing, photographers and freelancers, in particular, should make sure to insert the correct legal clauses and terms to protect themselves on all fronts. For the same reason, it’s also important to take as much time as you need to review each contract (including the fine print) with a fine-tooth comb and make sure to ask the right questions before signing. If something doesn’t make sense, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Common questions include:

  • How much of your work will be used?
  • Where is your work going to be published? Is distribution limited to domestic use or international use?
  • What is the timeline of the contract?

Having an experienced mentor comes in handy when you’re going through this process, reviewing contracts, or just not sure what red flags to look for. Keeping an organized record of your contracts and invoices will make life much easier during tax season. Sydney uses Adobe InDesign or Photoshop to file and create templates for her own contracts.

Registering your work with the copyright office and including metadata in all of your photos (prior to distribution) is another way to protect yourself.

Filing Your Taxes

Filing your own taxes can be quite difficult. Sydney recommends keeping a log of your write-offs (e.g., transportation, food on set, camera equipment purchases or repairs, etc.) in an Excel spreadsheet so that this information can easily be shared with your accountant at any time.  

Investing Your Money

“It’s important to have a business mindset when you’re working as a creative” Sydney claims. Photographers and artists of all disciplines, for that matter, should be investing their money. “Bitcoin is an easy way to do this,” she stated. In our line of work, “you need to have a lot of money to put into your projects up front; nobody’s going to hand it to you.” Investing is a smart way to grow your money quickly and be prepared for any projects or business opportunities that come your way. Sydney noted, however, the importance of doing your own research before investing in any stocks.

Social Media

Social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and even Clubhouse are a “great way to monetize and get your work out,” grow your network and expand your reach internationally, Sydney says. She recommends keeping your profiles work- and business-oriented, instead of mixed with your personal life; otherwise, “you could find yourself easily distracted.” With Clubhouse, in particular, you can talk about anything, “but if you’re not taking any action on what you hear or say, you won’t make any progress on your business.” Sydney recommends taking advantage of such apps to create a podcast, for example, rather than wasting your time chatting or gossiping.

Camera Equipment

While Sydney prioritizes connecting with her subjects over what type of camera equipment she uses, she recommends that budding photographers “figure out their style first” before splurging on the latest camera equipment on the market. It doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of money on fancy equipment, which you’ll ultimately be “beating up” with frequent use. “Find out what makes you and your work different” from other photographers out there. Once you’ve done that, you will be ready to figure out which camera best matches your personal style and preferences—and that may not be a fancy camera with new gadgets and features. In the meantime, Sydney’s best advice is to “make what you can with what you have.”

When it comes time to purchase your first professional camera, Sydney highly suggests opting for used equipment versus rentals. You’ll be surprised how much used equipment is “still in good condition,” and is ultimately cheaper than renting. Yet another opportunity to save money and become a financially responsible, business-savvy photographer! Aside from Kitsplit, Sydney’s go-to sources for used equipment are B&H and KEH Camera.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Aside from the financial and business side of photography, Sydney reminds those new to the industry that the best work is often created when you are uncomfortable. “Even with COVID and the hard times we are experiencing today, actively do what you can to create and get your work out there.” Nothing trumps talent, dedication and perseverance. And you must be patient, in this world of instant gratification, to see your business grow and flourish. 

More on Sydney Claire

Read more about Sydney’s background and experience in her bio.