Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at , and you can find him on his blog, , on Twitter at , and .This post was originally published on his blog. It's reprinted here with his permission.
I get emails from time to time asking questions about MotoGP photography or photography in general, and occasionally the answers I give might be interesting to others as well.
Q: I'd like to be a motorsports photographer and am wondering about the business side. Does doing it as a job take the fun out of it?
I don't know that it takes the fun out of it, because successfully selling your images adds a new element of satisfaction. But compared to shooting motorsports for pleasure, doing so as a way to pay your bills and earn a profit is a vastly different experience. And there's a big difference between doing a creative thing like photography as a job and doing a creative thing as a business.
Not everyone (which, in this case, is perhaps a way of saying "most people") is interested and/or suited to run a business. When it's your job, you're working for someone else who handles the business part. You don't have to worry about the business concerns, which are the boss' problems, but you also probably end up being directed by the boss about what to shoot and how to do it. You give up some creative freedom in exchange for the freedom from the business concerns.
When you're running a photography business in which you are also the photographer, the amount of photography you do drops dramatically because you're also doing lots of other jobs the business requires to run successfully. You're the marketing person, the accountant and bookkeeper, the inventory manager, the shipping department, the bill collector, the social media expert, and the sales department. None of these roles requires picking up a camera, but there you are, processing invoices, creating marketing materials, pitching your products to interested buyers, trying to find more interested buyers, and so on. Suddenly, you're not doing much photography!
My colleagues who have motorsports photography jobs generally work for agencies of some sort, either large ones like Getty or AP, or smaller shops that specialize in motorsports images. In general, these photographers have their expenses paid by the businesses they work for, receive assignments to shoot certain parts of the event over the course of the weekend, and turn over their images to said businesses. Some retain copyright to their work and others do not. These photographers share little or no responsibility for selling the photos they create. The business does that, collects fees so that it can pay its employees' expenses and wages, and keeps enough profit to pay its own overhead and profit to the owner.
My colleagues who operate motorsports photography businesses, as I do, not only do the photography, but also are responsible for the marketing, administration, bookkeeping, and other essential business tasks I mentioned above. It's then a common goal to make the business successful enough that the photographer who started it can hire people to do the 'business' tasks so that the he or she can return to the photography itself. This process generally does not happen overnight.
So to return to the question, I don't think doing it as a job takes much of the fun out of it. There's a definite appeal to having expenses and a salary paid for photographing some sort of racing. But speaking frankly: Good luck getting a job photographing motorsports. These jobs are rare and getting rarer as budgets and customers decline. When an agency shooter retires from that role for whatever reason, the job is much more likely to go to an established freelancer which a strong body or work and reputation for reliability than a newcomer with neither.
Anyone, however, can start his or her own motorsports photography business, and with each season those who give it a try come and go. There are times when I'm not sure which of those I am doing! I do know that running a small business based on a product of motorsports images is a considerable challenge.
I often think that someone with a talent for business first and no experience in photography could do what I do much more successfully. If you knew very well how to run a business, you'd only have the photography to learn, and as you'll see if you take the time to look, mediocre pictures sell quite well. So you don't have to be all that good at the photography part to sell your work. Being a natural at business is, in my opinion, a greater gift than being a natural photographer, illustrator, painter, musician, designer, baker, tailer, barber, mechanic, etc.
To return to the question one final time, I'll conclude by saying that business acumen is what truly distinguishes the professional from the amateur, rather than the quality of the photography. So if you enjoy motorsports photography and want to pursue that pleasure for its own sake, save yourself the trials of the business side and just enjoy the photography. Even if you don't have a photo pass, which many see as an automatic path to better, more satisfying images, get really good at shooting without a pass and amaze people with what you can do from the spectator side of the fence.
I'm a firm believer in the Do What You Love principle. I love racing and I love photography, so being able to combine both into a business is fantastic, and never something that I take for granted. I'm regularly amazed at my own success and often wonder how I got as far as I have. It wasn't long ago that I had no expectation of ever selling a photo or having a credential for any event, let alone a season pass for MotoGP. So I fully understand why others have the desire to do the same thing I'm so fortunate to do for a living. But if you want to be in business, and you also happen to like photography (or any other field, for that matter), then hone your business and marketing skills first and worry about aperture and shutter speed later.