Photography 101: The Monkey on Your Back

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Shooting commercially is analogous to having a monkey on your back—but is it a friendly domesticated monkey or a wild savage monkey? My personal preference is to not shoot commercially because I like to be my own boss. However commercial work can be a great revenue stream for a photographer. When you’re on commercial assignment it can be stressful and it’s certainly not for everyone.

Historically I haven’t done a lot of commercial work (again it’s not a priority for me) but I did shoot for over a year with The Yucatan Times in Yucatan, Mexico and was the official photographer for the Kaxil Kiuic Biocultural Reserve and Puuc Jaguar Conservation. Four years ago I was approached by the New York Times for an assignment but had to decline because of travel conflicts.

Before I left Merida, Yucatan for a short return visit to San Diego I did an assignment for the Boston Globe’s STAT News an international online medical journal. It was an interesting assignment and paid very well for one day of shooting. The Senior Photo Editor in the USA was easy to work with but the assignment called for a quick turnaround. I was contracted to shoot a series of photos of a Cuban doctor working in Mexico: Roberto Mejides, M.D.

Dr. Mejides is a cardiac surgeon who does heart transplants as well as other cardiac procedures. After some initial hesitation on his part we had a fantastic time together. I had spent a month in Cuba in 2014 and he enjoyed hearing about my insights and impressions of his home country. If you would like an in-depth look into this particular photo shoot click HERE. I’m hoping to return to Merida for a two-week visit in August before heading to Asia and I’m hoping that Roberto and I can hookup for dinner.

The benefits of shooting commercially can be interesting and well-paid assignments. The downside includes deadlines, logistical difficulties and giving up creative control. These assignments typically involve shooting photo-journalistically so you have to be very careful when post-processing your work. Almost all photojournalism is now contracted using freelancers, so if you’re interested check it out—who knows, you may really like it. Like I mentioned at the outset it isn’t really my Cup of Tea but I will take the occasional assignment from time to time.

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