In April 2021, photographers Carmen Chan, Emiliano Granado, and Jared Soares launched F**k Gatekeeping, a “professional photographic knowledge base” composed of a website and Instagram account to share their business experience with other photographers.
Although there’s no dearth of business books, trade associations, and YouTube videos, reaching younger and/or emerging photographers to disseminate best business practices has always been challenging. Intrigued by the trio’s irreverent approach, I reached out to them for answers.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. Carmen was unavailable at the time of publication.
Since we’re talking about many business-related topics, I have to ask you about your addressable market. There are obviously many books and seminars on business practices, so did you identify a specific gap in the market that you wanted to address with f**kgatekeeping?
JS: Life comes at you fast. One of the major tent poles of FG is to share our knowledge with the widest audience possible, and Instagram allows us to do that with immediacy as well as with a substantial reach. Also, this industry shifts a lot quicker than we realize and in my opinion attempting to put together a book always takes longer than you anticipate and at the moment we’re interested in addressing these questions in a more expeditious way.
EG: We put out what people were asking us. We’ve all gotten versions of these exact questions a million times before. We all kinda scratched our heads when we realized no one had ever made a knowledge base… so we just did it. Smash that subscribe button fam!
Was there a specific event that catalyzed putting together the website? I know you’ve done quite a bit trying to educate photographers over the years.
EG: Right after we offered to do a few mentoring sessions last summer, we realized there was NO WAY we’d ever be able to help all the people who reached out. FG is a direct response to hundreds of people asking for mentorship. All three of us will continue mentoring on a one-on-one basis whenever we can, but FG will continue to answer more general questions to a bigger audience.
Digital photography and social media have opened up the world of professional photography (whether part-time or full-time) to so many more entrants. Of the myriad of lessons that they should know, are there one or two key things that you wished every pro photographer was aware of?
JS: Learn your grammar. Being able to communicate succinctly and effectively over email is a skill that should not be slept on. Also, don’t end a sentence with a preposition 😉
EG: Being a photographer and having a career as a photographer are two separate things. When you get hired to make photographs for someone else, you’re providing a service. You need to accept that it’s not all about you anymore.
You’re making all of the information that you’ve compiled available under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC 4.0 license which allows re-use and adaptation with attribution and for non-commercial purposes. What was the thinking behind this?
EG: Our web designer put that in there. We’re not even sure what that is. We should probably figure that out. Regardless, we hope everyone reads this, uses this, interprets this, reblogs it, whatever. Hell, Richard Prince can come over and steal this s**t for free.
Let’s talk work-for-hire. There are those who advocate NEVER signing a WFH agreement. You all seem to imply “don’t do it” and “negotiate” but maybe there’s an implication of “sometimes you gotta get paid.” Am I accurately summarizing your thoughts?
JS: Lol is there a question in that word salad? I’m kidding… In all seriousness, everyone is different, every inquiry is different and to offer a blanket statement seems presumptuous to me. I am 100% going to do everything in my power to extricate myself from any unfavorable terms that show up in a proposed agreement. And I will always advocate and encourage photographers to negotiate and to request better terms all day, every day. However, I’m not going to tell someone to pass on a check if they really need it.
EG: For me, I almost always will say no to WFH. I’ve said yes once or twice when I really wanted to make the photos, or it was for a friend, or the money was good and the photos were gonna suck anyway. So, yes, you’re correct – say no on principle because it’s exploitative to you and the industry. But you can say yes if you need the work or if you’re feeling nihilistic.
A lot of younger photographers might be shocked that you’re recommending a website in the age of Instagram. Do you have a sense of how photo editors and creative directors are finding you guys, and what the “flow” of investigating your work is (e.g. Insta first, website next, email after)?
JS: I can only speculate but I would imagine that it is a combination of Instagram because that is the pool that everyone hangs out in, word of mouth/colleague recommendation or maybe a byline in a notable magazine story and then my website.
EG: Did you just call us boomers??? A website provides the archivability that IG doesn’t. I’m sure most people are being discovered on IG or through DMs and ‘share this account,’ but I’m sure people are still going to websites for a more formal presentation.
Registering your copyright is one of those things that many photographers advocate, but it seems like very few actually do on a regular basis. I noticed that you didn’t cover this aspect of business. What the hell????
JS: We based our content around questions that we received during individual remote mentoring sessions that we each participated in during the previous summer. And nearly all the questions that were posed dealt with marketing, business, personal projects and commissioned work. There are several outstanding resources for best practices for copyright protection and if somebody asked me about copyright practices for photographers, I’d refer them to read what has been written on the topic by experts in the field (actual lawyers). NPPA, ASMP, APA and the PhotoShelter blog have all done a wonderful job educating photographers about copyright.
EG: Copyrights are to photos what 5G cell towers are to your brain. Don’t let THEM control you, feel me sheeple. jk?
Technology has changed very rapidly during your respective careers. And the evolution of social media has drastically altered the way people find and interact with content. From a marketing perspective, do you think your approach in dealing with commercial and editorial clients has really changed over the years, or are the basics still pretty much the same?
JS: For me, the cornerstone of my practice is to make good/interesting work and then share it with a specific audience. The way that I’m sharing has changed over the years and it will continue to change but my desire to continue making personal work will always be consistent.
EG: I’ve been lucky enough that there hasn’t been too much of a change for the projects I’m hired on. There are definitely situations where people will ask for a certain thing “for social” and it’s a watered-down version of the thing I’m trying to do, but whatever. It is what it is.
The traditional path for many photographers was to assist while learning the business and building a client base. Do you think that dynamic has changed, or is that still the best way to ensure success as a professional photographer?
JS: All roads eventually lead to Rome. I feel like the assisting path is more prevalent in larger markets.
EG: I had one of the best meals of my life in Rome. Thanks for the reminders JS. And did you know coffee in Rome is simply espresso? In the US we overcomplicate things and do third wave roasting and s**t. Give me the espresso-on-every-corner-served-with-a-glass-of-sparkling-water over dealing with Blue Bottle every single time.
What was I saying? Yeah, if you assist, you’ll learn the language of what is expected on commercial/editorial shoots. But the only barometers for success are talent and rigor. Tons of new photographers haven’t assisted a single day in their life. We’ll see if their longevity in the industry suffers, but I’m sure they’ll be fine.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the interviewer and interviewee.
About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter, which regularly publishes resources for photographers. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article was also published here.