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Insights from Another World: Geoffrey Horowitz

ASMP members talk about how their previous careers led them to a life behind the lens.

ASMP: Please describe your first career path. In what capacity did you work and for how long did you do this?

Geoffrey Horowitz: I was a public insurance adjuster, which can be described as someone who represents homeowners and business owners against their own insurance companies in settling losses after a disaster (fire, flood, theft, etc).

All photographs in this article © Geoffrey Horowitz

ASMP: For how long have you had an interest in photography? Did you study photography formally or are you self-taught?

GH: I’m now 42 and my interest started when I was 11. While my mother was a modest commercial shooter and taught photography at a local college, my father (a public adjuster, CPA and lawyer by trade) was the member of our family with a burning passion for it. While I learned a lot from both of them, and took courses in college, I am mostly self-taught.

ASMP: What made you decide to take the leap, leave your first career and pursue photography as a business? Did you make any specific business arrangements to address the risk of going out on your own?

GH: I had been working as a public adjuster in my family’s business for close to 10 years and was getting more and more burned out. The benefits were many, but averaging 10-hour days and 3 days off a month wears you down over time. I was shooting a lot on my own when I had the time and was known in my community as a good photographer. People were already asking me to do headshots or cover events but I didn’t have the confidence to take the jobs, let alone the time.

When I made the leap I thought, “I really have nothing to lose.” I was single, had no dependants and thought, if I failed I would look to see what else was out there. I was fortunate to get a nice commercial job the same month I left the PA game.

ASMP: What would you say was your strongest attribute in your first career path? What is your strongest attribute as a photographer?

GH: It’s hard to say. I think in my previous career the thing that served me well was an understanding that people were hiring me for my brand of creating something that many people were doing. There are a lot of widgets out there, but all have slightly different feels and methods. I have been able to carry that thinking into my career as a professional photographer.

When I first started, I was sure I didn’t know what to do and I struggled with the confidence to pursue work because of that. I started taking risks and working with people who knew me and my background. I was charging them and they were happy to support me. I spent a lot of time making sure I knew what they were looking for as an end result and kept my eye on that. After a while I started to see that people were hiring me, I was shooting, giving them a finished product and they were happy. This seemed like what a professional would do and my confidence started to grow.

ASMP: Are there particular skills or contacts from your first career that have been especially helpful or have set you apart in pursuing your photography business?

GH: The biggest thing is getting myself clear on what the clients’ objectives are and setting the lines of communication around that. I’ll shoot what I shoot but it has to serve them.

ASMP: In your current photography business how much do you depend on the contacts cultivated through your first career? What methods have you used to cultivate new clientele?

GH: Some of my best clients are people I worked with in the insurance world. From time to time I get hired to shoot work in that field but I don’t depend on those contacts. One of the things that really helped me was some of the assisting I did early on as a photographer. My experience of the photo industry is that shooters are really generous in meeting with new photographers and showing them the ropes.

I also looked at how people marketed to art directors, business managers and people in the corporate world, and a lot of the methodology was the same as from my previous career. It made sense. Keep It Simple and Follow Through.

ASMP: Did your first career prepare you for negotiating contracts or image licensing? If so, are there particular strategies you learned then that have been helpful in your current business?

GH: Yes. Negotiating with insurance companies and demanding money on behalf of others is not always the most pleasant experience. One thing that made it easy though was you went into it knowing a confrontation would develop at some point. With photography you have to be careful to educate your client upfront so they have an appreciation for what they are paying for; it’s way more than the image alone, but most clients don’t see it that way. It can be a delicate negotiation because these are people that tend to like you up front and can get frustrated by things like ownership, usage, region, and so on.

You have to make sure you are thinking that the best way to take care of the client is to explain it all up front. Most people understand the way it works but there are still a lot of people out there who think the biggest advantage of shooting digital is how much easier it is. So far, it’s actually the opposite because the photographer is now the lab, and people have to understand all the unseen hours and how that gets factored in.

ASMP: What was the most significant investment you made in setting up your photography business? In hindsight, would you do anything differently in establishing yourself if you had it to do over again?

GH: I did two things early on. One was The Landmark Forum, a weekend-long course designed to have people fulfill on breakthroughs they were creating for themselves. The other was D-65’s week-long course on shooting RAW. Seth Resnick really shared a lot about his view of what a professional does and it impressed me a great deal.

I would do both again in a heartbeat.

ASMP: Were you aware of any particular support services or specialized training from your first career that you have availed yourself of in establishing your photography business?

GH: Not really. But I knew that every industry has professional organizations and resources. To me the best resource was the photographers I was meeting. I asked a lot of questions.

ASMP: Have you taken advantage of real world opportunities for education, mentoring or assisting (distinct from opportunities through academic institutions) in jumpstarting your career? If so please name them.

GH: Yes. I mentioned Seth Resnick and D-65. I assisted with several local shooters and I went to some ASMP local programs.

ASMP: What has been the biggest challenge in making the transition from your first career?

GH: The biggest challenge has been finding balance between work and family. I run my business out of my home and the temptation (or compulsion) to work all the time is there. As a public adjuster I worked all the time. So I know that you can lose sight of the fact that time is cruising by and you miss out on life’s cherished moments. There are times when the work has to get done, but I am better about boundaries than before.

ASMP: Is there any one thing you find to be most difficult about running a photography business?

GH: Nothing that is specific to photography. All business have their sweet spots and challenges.

ASMP: Can you identify specific lessons learned from your first career that members who have spent their entire careers as independent photographers might not be aware of or lack?

GH: Nothing specific.

ASMP: Looking at the photography marketplace through the filter of your experience from the other side of the table, are there any particular skills or behaviors that you feel are most lacking from other independent photographers?

GH: Nothing particular.

ASMP: What is the most important thing you hope to accomplish as a photographer? Where do you see your career in three years time?

GH: More published work. I have had some things published over the years, but I have never been hired to shoot for a publication. In 3 years, I see myself more established in that arena.

ASMP: Is there anything about your transition to photography from a past career not addressed in the previous questions that you’d like to point out?

GH: The one thing I learned in my previous career is that you can’t work for free. You can add services and, if you have an existing client, you certainly can put in some hours that don’t show up in a bill. That is different from offering complete services for no compensation.

I took that to heart when I entered the photography world. It took some time to educate myself on how to charge a fair rate but, with the help of resources like Cradoc’s Photobiz software, EP’s site and ASMP’s Professional Business Practices book, I’ve been able to honor the industry, my clients and myself.