By: Mark Leibowitz

Eighth in the series.

Mark LeibowitzI love taking photographs. It’s one way I relate to the world – capturing the beauty of life in an image.

After 13 years as a professional photographer and filmmaker, I still take pictures non-stop for personal enjoyment. My personal images, however, are very different from the images I create as a professional photographer and director of photography. My professional work requires considerably more planning, creative thought, and effort – which is how my employees, crew, and I all make our livelihood from this work.

So what’s the difference between walking outside to shoot a nice personal photo and putting together a professional shoot?

There’s a big difference. For fun, it’s just a vacation photo to share with friends and family where I point and shoot. For work, I’m creating a meticulously crafted message that provides substantial good to many people. A professional shoot involves steps that start months before photographs are actually taken:

  • The process actually starts with my team and I editing through my 15-year+ archive of photos to create a portfolio and/or reel to show to a client.
  • My employees retouch, print, and design every image to a high level of technical and creative excellence. We spend months sending out these materials to potential clients and repeatedly following up with them to stay top of mind.
  • If we do a good job at staying top of mind, they contact us when they have a project and ask us to prepare an estimate. This takes numerous hours or, more often, multiple days depending upon the complexity and scope of the job.
  • Once awarded the job, we start pre-production, which involves the following: days of creative research, client meetings and conference calls, prepping expensive gear, booking crew (including camera assistants, hair and makeup artists, grips, gaffers, prop and wardrobe stylists, and producers), looking at locations, getting permits for the locations we select, and having more calls with clients to go over all of the details above.
  • Then it’s shoot day and a team of 5 to 50+ all wake up, often before sunrise, drive to the location, and do the job they are trained to do. People set up lights, lift sandbags, lay down cables, arrange sets and scenery, bring in the talent, put makeup on them, dress them, and place them in the scene. My crew and I check that the lighting is perfect and then everyone takes a deep breath as I finally…

… take the first photo.

What started many months earlier with weeks of editing has finally culminated in a professional photo shoot that yields a remarkably polished and focused product. We then choose the best images, process them, and make any edits or touch ups that we agree on with the client.

And everyone along every step of this process is a professional who pays for their healthcare, their children’s school, their food, rent, gas, and everything else in their life with the money they make from this shoot and others like it.

My employees are real people – people you know. They are parents of teenagers applying to college, volunteers and donors to charity organizations, and supporters of their own parents and siblings. They are real people, with real needs, and very real obligations.

When our work is downloaded illegally, reposted without proper credit, or stolen in any form, my ability to keep these employees on my payroll and to support their lives and their loved ones is stolen as well.

Please consider this before using anyone’s creative work without permission.


Mark Leibowitz is a photographer based in Santa Monica, CA, though he travels all over the world photographing events and people for a variety of clients. Mark has a degree in Economics and Spanish from Stanford University but spent more time taking pictures than pondering trickle down theory. At the age of 24 Mark quit his business world job because he realized one night that photographing models seemed like more fun than creating excel spreadsheets. If your project is courageous, powerful, wild, smart, wandering, nostalgic, charismatic, sexy, sweet and includes a Shetland pony, then Mark thinks that sounds awesome and you should absolutely call him. Also, Mark is not related to Annie Leibovitz – or is he? 

To learn more about Mark Leibowitz and his work, click here.

Photo by Paul Hu.

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