Mid-South Photojournalist Billy Suratt

All photojournalists are photographers, but not all photographers are photojournalists

I’m a photojournalist, not a traditional portrait photographer. Photojournalism is what I do; my work is and has always been geared toward use in publications, and that’s where my strengths, experience and passions lie.

However, recognizing the widespread demand for story-telling visuals with impact and strong emotional appeal, I’m also happy to accept corporate and commercial photography assignments, as well as offering a limited number of private sessions (so long as these endeavors don’t pose ethical conflicts to my editorial photography livelihood).

All photojournalists are photographers, but not all photographers are photojournalists. Photojournalism is the craft of telling stories with pictures, whether it be one picture or 100. Photographers are a dime a dozen nowadays, but skilled photojournalists are worth their weight in gold.

Coverage area

I primarily cover the Mid-South United States from dual bases of operations in Lexington, Ky. — the horse capital of the world — and metropolitan Atlanta, Ga., with an additional emphasis on Nashville, Tenn. (a.k.a. Music City, U.S.A.).

While I primarily cover the Mid-South, I’m available for short- and long-term travel nationwide on very short notice and willing to evaluate international assignments on a case-by-case basis. Past assignments have taken me so far as Los Angeles, the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Florida’s Space Coast, and in early 2012 I spent six consecutive weeks on the presidential campaign trail covering GOP primaries throughout the Southeast.

When in Kentucky, I’m within easy driving distance of the state’s three largest cities (Louisville, Lexington and Bowling Green), and less than two hours from Cincinnati, Ohio. My Central Kentucky base of operations also puts me less than four hours from the state’s most western (Paducah) and eastern (Pikeville) major cities, with everything else falling somewhere in-between.

When in Kentucky, I’m also less than 10 miles from Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport. My northwest Georgia base of operations is 60 miles from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and 80 miles from Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, meaning at most any given time I’m no more than one connecting flight away from most major U.S. cities and some of Europe’s most popular destinations (including London and Paris).

Have Canon gear, lights and ThinkPad, will travel.

Photojournalism vs. photography

The advent of digital photography and relatively low-cost digital SLR cameras means more people are taking more pictures now than ever before. Many amateurs take up photography as a hobby, then one day wake up thinking, “Hey, I bet I could make a buck at this,” and start calling themselves “professional photographers.”

That’s great, it really is. There’s one problem, though: Many of these so-called “professional photographers” don’t know an f-stop from a hole in the ground, produce nothing but crap and charge so little they end up running all the competent photographers in the area out of business.

Inevitably, there comes a time when these so-called professional “fauxtographers” either leave the industry voluntarily or dramatically raise their rates once they realize it’s not possible to make a living on what they’ve been charging. Then another new “fauxtographer” comes along and starts undercutting them, starting the whole vicious cycle all over again. Let’s stop the madness.

A note about photography rates

What’s a fair rate for photography? Good question. I wish there was a simple answer.

Photography rates are dependent on a lot of factors, including the photographer’s experience, complexity of the assignment, intended use of the photos and the market in which the photographer lives and/or primarily works. In my case, clients often find the extra cost of my experience is more than offset by the lower overhead I enjoy from being based in Central Kentucky and rural northwest Georgia.

How’s that for a win-win scenario?

Even after paying my travel expenses, clients in places like Dallas and Los Angeles will find my rates are more than competitive with the rates charged by photojournalists living in those cities who have comparable levels of skill and experience. Overseas clients can send me nearly anywhere in the United States for less than the cost of buying one plane ticket for a staffer.

If a so-called “professional photographer” charges less to shoot an assignment than what it would cost you to rent basic pro equipment from a camera store for one day, expect to be disappointed. Likewise, if you find a so-called “commercial photographer” willing to photograph an assignment for $200 and give you a disc full of high-res images for unlimited commercial use, expect to be greatly disappointed.

At best, photographers like that are inexperienced in the business of photography and may or may not be able to actually deliver what you need. At worst, photographers like that are total idiots whose reckless business practices will actually end up costing you more than you would have spent engaging a competent professional photographer in the first place.

If your photography project is important to you, please don’t make that mistake. If return on investment is important to you (or your shareholders), please don’t make that mistake.

Any experienced art director or photo editor knows hiring a competent professional photographer always makes everybody’s jobs much easier. The higher fees requisite with more experience are more than offset by the peace of mind you get from knowing the job will be done right — and on time — the first time.

My rate philosophy

If you’re looking to pay $200 and get a disc of 100 edited and toned, high-resolution images with a license for unlimited use, please save us both some time and just go away. Far away. (Not to sound harsh, but a more realistic rate for that sort of thing is $2,000 to $5,000, depending on the complexity of the shoot and intended use for the images. If you expect me to sign a work-made-for-hire contract and aren’t even offering what cheap newspapers paid 15 years ago, you’re wasting your time as well as mine and I respect you enough to tell you that up front.)

Commercial photography, corporate photography and advertising photography are always more expensive than editorial photography or photography for personal use. For more information about contracting with me for corporate and commercial photography (including rates), go here. For more information about contracting with me for editorial photography, go here.

Personal portrait sessions start at $100. For more information about booking a portrait session and to see samples of my photojournalism work, please visit my dedicated photography website (which is, unfortunately, currently undergoing a major overhaul; your best bet in the meantime is to contact me and request samples.)

All assignments are tailored to your needs and budget just like when I service an editorial client, so please let me know what you’re looking for and I’ll do my best to accommodate you.

If you expect all rights for $200, though, I’d recommend looking for a middle school student with an iPhone. I have skill, experience, sense, self-respect and bills to pay, all of which are incompatible with working for clients who don’t respect me and my work as a photojournalist.

I’m able to accommodate nearly any reasonable photography budget, so please don’t hesitate to contact me with the details of your project and I’ll happily provide a free estimate. I don’t work for nothing, but I also don’t bite unless provoked (or requested). I stay quite busy with writing and digital media consulting work when I’m not shooting, though, so I’ve found being candid and upfront with my pricing philosophies (and rates, when possible) saves time and aggravation for all involved.

I’m not the photographer for everybody, but I’m the only photographer for somebody. If you’re that somebody, I look forward to working with you — email me now so we can get started on your project.

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