In my previous article I talked about the process of building a business around Team and Individual Photography. My business is just a little over a year old but I have been taking Team and Individual photographs for a couple of years. When I formed my official business it was my intention that volume photography would make up a good portion of my income.
This last year has seen pretty good growth for myself as a photographer and a business owner. I owe a lot of that to information from the Improve Photography family of podcasts but also from a Facebook group that is specific to Team and Individual photography T&I Sports Photography. The members of this group are very helpful and professional. One person in particular has been helpful and inspirational – Roger Cotton. Roger's advice to others and his stories about different shoots have been fun and informative. I reached out to him and asked him if he would be willing to answer a few questions about his business.
Is photography business a full time job for you or a part time job?
I’d have to say it is both. Like many photographers, I have a day job during the week. But I put in another full-time job worth of hours with the photography business. During the peak of sports seasons, we’re often working late nights every night, plus long days on the weekend.
How much of your business is made up of Team and Individual Sports?
70% of our business is team and individual sports. The remainder is mostly action sports, with a bit of live-event non-sports business tossed in to fill the gaps.
When you first started out as a photography business was Team and Individual Sports a part of the plan? Or did you just grow into this niche?
We started out initially as a video production company with sports photography on the side. We quickly realized that we had more business potential, as well as higher profit margins, on the sports photography side. In 2008, we rebranded and dropped the video production from our business. We were doing sports photography as part of our business, but we would take anything. Head shots, family photos, weddings, parties, pictures of your car … we took everything. Over the first couple of years we streamlined our business model to sports and live-events. That’s our niche.
What do you do that makes you stand apart from your competitors?
We handle it. Whatever it is, we take care of it. As an athletic director, you know that as soon as you sign the contract with us, we’ve got it covered. You know that you won’t be getting phone calls from parents asking about photos. You know that you won’t have a hundred emails from us asking you a lot of questions. You know that we will always deliver a quality product, on time, with nothing needed on your part.
When you take your team and individual pictures, are you using any Green Screen? How do your clients like the composites vs a more traditional/natural background?
Not at this time. We have the capability, but every one of our leagues hits us with the same objection: “That’s really cool, but we want the photos to be outdoors on our field.” Even when we’ve offered to use a photo of their field as the composite, they still insist that we do it live on the field. Let me tell you, summer heat in the south is brutal, but if they want it on the field, we do it on the field. We do send out individual photos for extraction and do digital composites for “Extreme Athletics” posters and artwork, team banners, etc. But those are more of a specialty item ordered by the athletes and their families.
Do you have any employees? How many are full time vs part time?
As far as employees are concerned, the business is run by me and my wife. I do have about a dozen staff members who are independent contractors to me. We have several photographers and assistants to work the tables at sports events. For a basic league day, I’m carrying a crew of 5: Two photographers, two table workers, and a runner. For larger leagues we increase the crew size.
So many photographers can sometimes get caught up in who owns the picture based on who presses the shutter button. So when you have a second, third, fourth, etc… camera person how do you treat them – as employees or independent contractors?
Independent contractors, work for hire. Roger Cotton Photography owns the images. The photographers are granted license to use the photos for advertising, publicity, etc, but they are not allowed to sell or monetize the images without permission. Now, if an image gets published from one of my shooters, I pass the payment on to them because it’s the right thing to do. If one of my shooters calls and asks if they can get one of the images published and paid …. Absolutely. As long as they aren’t selling to the league, athletes, family, etc ….
Besides prints, what do you see as the must have product to offer? Pennants, bobble heads, fat heads, etc… What product seems to be in demand right now?
Magnets, hands down. If you aren’t selling magnets, you’re leaving money on the table. They are high profit margin and easy upsells. “Would you like fries with that?” For our cheer, pom, and gymnastic squads, they all really like the extracted composite artwork prints. It’s something different, and the girls absolutely love them.
Along the lines of the previous question, what product trend do you see coming in the next year or two?
Any sort of unique wall art: floating metals, acrylics, wooden prints, etc. But, it’s got to be a wall art type of image. Just little Johnny holding the bat isn’t going to sell a wall art piece. You’ve got to be able to step up your game and make it worthy of hanging on the wall as a show piece.
If a fellow photographer walked up to you and said “I want to start adding Team and Individual to my service.” What advice would you say to them?
Find a mentor. There are a lot of photographers out there, everything from “MWAC” (Mom With A Camera) to professionals who have been in the business for 20 years. Find one who has a successful business and is willing to teach you. Sadly, many photographers look at everyone else as competition and they refuse to guide and teach for fear of losing business. There’s plenty of work to go around. My mentor was a sports photographer ready to go into semi-retirement. He told me his knees couldn’t take the days on the fields much longer, and he taught me not only about photography in general, but how to run my business. He told me the mistakes he had made, and what he had done to correct them. I was able to learn from his mistakes rather than my own. When he was ready to stop working the fields, he recommended me to take over one of his contracts. The school hired me, and we’ve been growing ever since. Find a mentor.
Finally, what’s next for you and your business? Do you have a new product or process you plan to offer that has you excited?
We’re still waiting for just one league to give us the opportunity to do a full digital composite league photo day. We think that if we can get just one league to bite on it, we’ll be able to showcase it, and be something different that nobody else in the area is doing. That’s where we want to go next. We’re also looking at permanent studio space and expanding our Extreme Sports line.
You can find Roger at the following Social Media Links:
www.rogercotton.com – Website
https://www.facebook.com/rogercottonphoto – Facebook
https://www.instagram.com/rogercottonphoto/ – Instagram
https://twitter.com/rogercottonpics – Twitter
I too am also hoping for that first organization to give me the opportunity to do a full composite photo day. Look for my next article where I will convince my son to model for me as I go through the process of using Green Screen for composite sports images.