Project Management for Photographers: A New Series

First in a series.

“Photography” — the process of capturing a split second in time on film or in a digital file.

“Project management” — the process of managing a project from beginning to end.

For many photographers, the second of these processes is an afterthought. But to produce your best work and create and maintain a successful photography business, a disciplined approach to project management can make all the difference.

In this series, I will demonstrate how the practices, processes and software packages employed by top project managers around the world can help you as a photographer.

Photography Meets Project Management

First, let me share a little about my background. I have managed several extensive photography projects of my own, including A Bann For Life, 1/365 and Hidden Newcastle, each of which have involved countless hours of development, shooting and research.

Additionally, I currently have a second job in which I provide project management to public-sector recruiters throughout the United Kingdom. I have studied and used the PRINCE2 methodology in this role. PRINCE2 was initially developed as the U.K. government standard for IT project management, but its use has since spread beyond the IT environment and to more than 50 countries.

Combining what I’ve learned from these experiences, I will cover a number of topics in this series, such as:

  • initiating your photography project;
  • developing your project plan;
  • organizing your project into stages, such as planning, design, shooting and post-production;
  • tools and techniques for each stage of your photography project;
  • controlling risks and external factors;
  • identifying the best project management software for the needs of your photography business.

Why Project Management Is Important

In beginning this series, I suppose the first question to answer is this: “Why do photographers need to care about project management anyway?”

After all, anyone can run a project, can’t they?  You just need to make a task list, set a budget and produce a final deliverable — right?

While you might be able to get away with this approach for a while, as your business grows and your projects become more complex, your work — and in all likelihood, your client relationships — will suffer.

Most of us have personally experienced the effects of failed projects, both on a large and small scale. The world is littered with overblown, costly mistakes that were originally promised to be the best and shiniest buttons in the box.

In almost every case, these failures are the result of poor project management.

Project management isn’t about having a rigid, inflexible structure for everything you do. It is ultimately about studying all factors associated with your project, planning for those you can influence and preparing for the potential impact of those you cannot.

This is the best way to ensure we deliver final products that meet client requirements, are produced on budget and avoid unnecessary risks and errors.

11 Responses to “Project Management for Photographers: A New Series”

  1. Good post. I worked as a project manager before in the corporate sector. Though it was endless torture for a variety of emotional/legal reasons, I still obtained some skills back then that are applicable to managing client and personal projects in photography today.

  2. Excellent post showing that concepts of project management can be successfully applied in the fields other than IT or construction.

  3. This is something I am very interested in and look forward to the rest of the series.

  4. Great intro to the series, Stephen. Looking forward to what's next! There are a lot of blogs out there touting workflow strategies with photo management software, so it's great to see someone step back and look at this from a more strict business "lens."

  5. Coming from a software engineering background (at Adobe), I've learned to use Atlassian Jira for "issue tracking" with software projects. One day it occurred to me that Jira would be a perfect tool to track jobs, expenses, and documents in my emerging portrait photography business.

    Jira is a commercial product intended for serious software business projects, but it has a free version as well. It utilizes the concept of a workflow to track progress on tasks (or bugs in the software world).

    I set up a Jira project for Photography Business and customized Jira to use "jobs" instead of "tasks" or "bugs". For my workflow I created different stages of a job such as First Contact, Consultation Scheduled, Estimate Sent, ..., Session Scheduled, Proofs Sent, and Post Processing for example.

    With new requests for photo sessions, I create a new "job" in Jira, then add comments and move it through the workflow as different stages are reached. I can attach documents scanned to PDF like estimates, model releases, invoices, and such. I can raise priorities as needed too.

    To facilitate an efficient view of all photography jobs, I take advantage of custom Jira dashboards where I can layout a collection of little gadgets that show me all open jobs and their current stage, sorted by priority or stage as I desire. Other gadgets on my dashboard include charts showing the distribution of job types (retail, corporate, editorial, etc), calendars showing job due dates, and other nifty gadgets to give me a quick visual sense of where things are.

    While I love BlinkBid to create estimates and invoices for non-retail work, and I like that I can set reminders to follow up on usage expirations, but I find that the concept of tracking jobs through the workflow stages in Jira helps keep me focused and organized.

    Jira is a geek's delight, but will be a challenge to set up and customize for those not comfortable with dealing with the guts of software apps. If anyone knows of a comprehensive workflow application that's intended for use by non-techies, please let me know. Jira does exactly what I need, but I would hesitate to recommend it based on difficulty of initial configuration.

  6. Nice post, I look forward to the follow up postings as it will give another view on project management that most people can relate to.
    From a PRINCE2 Project Manager & Trainer

  7. Since you mention IT, maybe it would be worth mentioning Agile - a way of dealing with projects that applies to stuff way beyond IT projects too.

  8. It's interesting how project management is spreading across established professions. After legal project management, now we have photography project management. What's next? Cuisine project management (no sarcasm intended, on the contrary)? I wouldn't be surprised. Many professions are now recognizing the benefits of integrating project management in their daily work routine to maximize efficiency.

    I will be looking forward to all the articles in this series.

  9. I have been a PC for telecom implementation for years. This makes absolute sense! Looking forward to the follow ups!

  10. As a professional Project Manager (PMP) and an serious amateur photographer, this topic is of course of interest to me.

    First, let's not confuse a "project" (assignment, book, shoot, booking) with day-to-day operations (i.e. running your photo business).
    A project has an end... you can fit it into a "box" where you can describe the boundaries (hopefully).

    Project Management techniques are very useful for photography. For example, as already mentioned, "Risk." What can happen? What can happen that you can't anticipated ("Unknown unknowns")? And it's not always "bad" risk... you could end up with a VERY BIG assignment... are you ready?

    I look forward to this series, and I'll plan on putting in my "two cents."

  11. Hi! Would you mind if I share your blog with my
    twitter group? There's a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Many thanks

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