A Bad Deal

This is not a $10 Photo

I recently passed on job that was such a bad deal, I had to share. Below is the job description and my thoughts on it.

Hi Lincoln,

Thank you for the fast response! Below is the run down for the job.

We’ll be putting together a list of (roughly) 60 venues (restaurants, bars, concert spaces) that we’ll want to have shot. I will contact each of the venues and set up an appointment time, as well as a point of reference for you to go and photograph the venues.

WOW!!! 60 locations to shoot! A good architectural photograph takes 30 to 45 minutes to set up a shoot (though I’ve been known to spend hours on a single shot). Add on set up, break down, and travel time, and you’re looking at a full day of work just to shoot two locations. Hope it pays enough to justify passing on other jobs for 30 days. ūüėČ

We’ll want 4-5 interior shots of each space, just to give us a few options (we work with Photomatix Pro so three different exposures per shot would be ideal). In the past, our photographers have used just the natural light that the restaurant normally has set up when they are open, like mood lighting, candles, etc., no strobes or extra lights, and then the photographer shoots in that interior space. They shoot without assistants. They shoot just before the restaurant opens or just after they close so they can avoid people in the space.

Now hold on a sec… do you want high-quality photography that captures the spirit of the space? Shots that make will make people want to go to the restaurant, bar, or concert space? Shots that are in-focus, properly exposed, and tack-sharp? If so, I will need to shoot the way that I think it is best, which almost always means that I bring my own lighting, a skilled assistant, and a trained stylist. Also, if you don’t want people in your shots, then I will only be able to shoot two locations a day. One from 7am to 9am and one from 3am to 5am (those hours sound brutal).

There would be no need for you to do any post-production on the pictures. I will edit the images in terms of color correction and cropping etc. So we would take that off of your plate. Just shooting and uploading. We would just have to work out how we would upload the raw files from you (in the past we’ve used Box.com and Dropbox.com).

You don’t hire me to push a button. You hire me for my technical knowledge and creative skills. Monkeys push buttons. I’m a photographer, damnit.

So for that job as described, we can offer $50 per venue and a total of $3,000 for the complete project.

*gasp* (it gets worse)

And as in all past projects such as this, we need ownership of the photos. We are a content distributer and need to be able to utilize the photos on any platform as we move into in the future. We can’t enter into deals in which we would need to go back to the photographer or any other vendor with further licensing requests. We also may want to compile all photos from every city into some sort of anthology in the future. Finally, we work with partners editorially sometimes and can’t go back to the photographer anytime we need to enter into a content partnership. We’ve worked on this basis in multiple cities and haven’t paid a premium for this type of license and unfortunately can’t start now.

So, for $50 a location, $10 a photo, you basically want unlimited, unrestricted use of my intellectual property? Intellectual property that you can do whatever you want with now and into the future…ANNNNNND you want to pass on the photos to 3rd parties without compensation to me??!?! For $10 a photo??!?!?!?!?

However, that said, we can give you a limited license to show the work in your portfolio and sell to venues to make extra money from the work. But we don’t want you selling the photos to places like BLAHBLAH (a main competitor) in the future, the limited license would allow you to sell the photos back to the venue themselves. So that’s our situation with rights and ownership.

Gee thanks, but since you’re handling the post production, I won’t have access to the final retouched versions of the images. So, I will have to retouch the shots myself (which takes a half day of work for a day of shooting) if I want to use them for my portfolio or attempt to relicense the work to the venues. Who knows, maybe the venues will pay for the shots with with beer and pretzels!?

As I said, I’m really excited about your work and I hope we can work something out. Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts about the project.

I don’t believe you are really excited about my work. If you knew anything about what I do, you would know that I care way to much to shoot these spaces in the way you are suggesting and for so little compensation.

It boggles my mind that they would look at my work and ask me to shoot like this. What is even more frustrating is that there will be some photographer out there who will do this job. Even as a pay-your-dues, portfolio-builder, need-experience kind of gig, this job is ridiculously low-paying and devalues the photo industry as a whole. This is microstock pay for custom exclusive work. This is a bad deal.

Maybe I could have negotiated the price up, but the starting point was so low from where I would need it to be, it just wasn’t worth my time.¬†I passed on this job and you should, too.

Retouching the Oregon Home Cover Shot

I take a lot of pride in my Photoshop retouching skills. Mainly because I try really hard to make my shots not look like they’ve been retouched.

For architectural interior shots like this cover image for Oregon Home, I often do something I call, “Dropping in the Windows.” During the shoot, I’ll take several brackets that are under my main exposure. Later on in Photoshop, I will pick a darker exposure that I like the look out the windows and overlay it on the main exposure. I then hand cut out the windows using a mask and blend it together a little with the paintbrush. It’s subtle, time consuming, but the look can’t be beat.

The alternative to this is to do and HDR photograph or overlight the room with artificial light. I, personally, never like either of those ways look, so that’s why I do it the hard way.

Here’s time-lapse of the whole process:

Q&A About Wonderful Machine

I’ve been a member of Wonderful Machine for several years now. A lot of great things (big and small) have happened by being on their roster. And unlike some other source sites out there, I’ve never felt like I’ve wasted money being on their site.

I frequently get emailed from photographers thinking of joining up. I did a Q&A email exchange with Brian Stevenson a few months ago and thought it might be useful info for anyone else thinking of joining.

BS: Bill Cramer at Wonderful Machine has offered me a place on their roster of shooters and I’d love to hear your perspective on how well their marketing model is working for you. If you have a couple of minutes, would you mind answering a couple of questions for me? I’d really appreciate any insights you can provide.

LB:¬†Sure Brian! Wonderful Machine is great. It’s like a better version of all those find a photographer websites out there. And they’re all really nice people to work with and get advice from. I’ll answer your questions below.

BS: Has Wonderful Machine helped you increase your exposure?

LB:¬†Depends on what you quantify as exposure. They are consistently my top 10 referral to my website. How many of those visitors are potential clients or just other photographers is hard to say. I am of the belief that not one single marketing effort will increase your exposure, rather the more reputable places for a potential client to see your name and your work, the better off your chances are to get hired. I’m also listed on Workbook.com, FoundFolios.com, and CommArts.com, PhotoServe, ASMP, AIAP, and EP; plus all the typical social media stuff. I even do Google AdWords and constantly tweak my SEO. Some of my bigger jobs have come from Google searches.

BS:¬†Do you feel like you’ve been adequately represented in their general marketing campaigns?

LB:¬†I’ve been in a couple of their email campaigns and been on their blog periodically. They have my printed portfolio that they shop it around to appropriate magazines and agencies when they do their showings. My book is one of 20 or more, but it’s still nice they do that. Again, the more your name gets out there, the more likely you are to get work.

BS: Are you able to communicate well with them?

LB:¬†They are always quick to respond when I reach out to them. I usually email, but sometimes I call. They did drop the ball once when I asked them if they wanted to take over my email marketing. They said they would come up with a plan and a cost and then never got back to me. I never followed up and decided to do it myself. I think I’m happier doing it myself and it saves me money. The thing about Wonderful Machine is, the more you put into it the more you get out of it.

BS: Have you had them negotiate any contracts for you and do you feel like they generated more income for you on any jobs than you would have likely generated on your own? Do they respond quickly when you need to put together a bid on short notice?

LB:¬†I asked them to help me on a couple estimates and both time their numbers were way higher than the client wanted to pay. I’m not the best negotiator, so I don’t blame them for not getting those jobs. I have never had them bid a job on my behalf.

BS: Have they generated any work for you in national markets (i.e. outside the NW)?

LB:¬†I’ve shot for mags like Sunset and Parents in the Pacific Northwest, but I can’t say they’ve gotten me work outside of this market (i.e. I haven’t shot outside the area for a lead I got from them). A while back they got an inquiry for a pretty big ad shoot and were pitching me as the photographer. Nothing ever materialized from it, though.

BS:¬†Do you get the sense Wonderful Machine is well regarded by creative directors and editors (I’ve been familiar with Wonderful Machine for a long time and based on their now regular contributions to A Photo Editor, it seems like they are respected)?

LB: Yes, absolultely. Though, there is some confusion because they are not reps in the traditional sense, but some art buyers / photo editors think of them as reps.

BS: Do you think there is any industry bias against this type of representation model?

LB:¬†I don’t really know. Honestly, I think a majority of the WM photographers are at the emerging stage of their career. So, you’re in that pool and associated with that level of photographer. Definitely some talent in the ranks, but I don’t think it has the same clout as Workbook.com or more exclusive source sites like LeBook. Some photographers are so popular and in demand that they don’t even have websites. How’s that for cocky?

Again, WM is a great way to get traffic to your site. Then it’s up to you to sell yourself and get the work.

BS: Are there any downsides to signing with them (other than the cost) and has the membership been a good value for you?

LB:¬†I’m paying a $100 a month. I’ve definitely gotten enough work each from them to justify the expense. Stats wise, I had 645 visitors from WM last year and they were my #1 source site referral and #3 overall. If half of them were qualified leads, that’s $3.75 per click. About what you would spend on a Google AdWords.

Understanding Photo Insurance

Insurance –¬†Liability, Shoot Insurance, and Riders/Binders

“Liability refers to your basic insurance package you must have to cover loss or damage to your equipment, and to protect your personnel.

Shoot insurance is a more costly type of insurance that will cover you in the event you need to reshoot a job.

Riders/Binders cover the additional insurance costs involved when you rent a very expensive piece of equipment, or want to shoot on a location where the owner wants to be named as additionally insured on your policy in case anything happens to their property.”

That and a lot more great advice on Estimating Expenses – photo.net.

If you need insurance and you’re an ASMP member, try out Taylor & Taylor Insurance for Photographers.

Photo Biz: Do Your CODB to Create Your Pricing

I was talking to a photographer friend of mine last night¬†she’s always asking me for pricing advice. I usually tell her to charge her daily¬†Cost of Doing Business (CODB)¬†and then mark it up from there based on the scale of usage. ¬†She told me she’s never calculated her CODB and I scolded her big time. I told her they next time we meet, we are sitting down and doing this together. As I refresher, I thought I would write this blog post and hopefully you find it helpful.

Being in business as a photographer, you have to know¬†your¬†CODB, because that’s how you set your Baseline Creative Fee (BCF). ¬†If you take jobs that are below your CODB, you are operating at a loss. You should also do your CODB every year to make sure you’re staying on track and to set sales goals.

In a very simple formula, this is how you calculate your CODB:

(YOUR SALARY + YOUR EXPENSES) ÷ SHOOT DAYS PER YEAR = DAILY CODB 

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to calculate your CODB and it takes less than 30 minutes to do. You will need two things: Your Profit & Loss Statement from last year and NPPA’s Online CODB Calculator. If you use accounting software like Quickbooks (PC / Mac) or AccountEdge¬†(Mac), it’s really easy to generate you P&L report. Make one and print it off. Then click over to¬†NPPA’s Online CODB Calculator.

For this exercise, I’m using some numbers that I would consider to be average for an emerging photographer in a medium market (i.e. not NYC or LA) and is making a living solely from their photography. This photographer wants to make $50,000 a year, has a small office, no employees, no family to support, and someone who shoots a mix of editorial, commercial and stock. Let’s assume they will shoot 50 billable days in a year (that’s around 4 shoots a month). ¬†Here’s how there CODB breaks out. Note: CODB should be calculated on business expenses, not shoot expenses. So leave out any reimbursed expenses like assistants, travel, food, etc.

Click to Enlarge

If we plug these numbers into our formula, it looks like this:

($50,000 + $44,930) ÷ 50 = $1,798.60

$1,800 is their CODB. So, if this photographer shoots any job that pays less than $1,800, they are losing money. Pure and Simple.

So, now that we know the photographer’s CODB, here are some methods to create a fee structure.

Creating a Fee Structure Based on CODB

It’s been my experience that every assignment is different and your fees need to flexible to accommodate the needs of the job and your client’s budget.¬†I have found three good ways to create your creative fee:

  1. A Day Rate
  2. A Sliding Scale Per Shot Rate
  3. A Project Rate

There’s no one way that works better than another. If the number of shots is very specific, a per shot rate works best. If the number of shots is unknown, but you’re going to be on location for 10 days, then a day rate is more suited. If the shoot is documentary style project where you’ll be shooting a small number of times over various weeks, then a project rate makes more sense.

Using the example photographer’s CODB of $1800, your Baseline Creative Fee (BCF)¬†would be:

  1. $1800/day
  2. $450/shot*
  3. $1800+/- project

The day rate is pretty straight forward. You shoot three days, you charge for three days. The project rate is trickier to figure out because you have to predict how much time you will spend doing the project. Make sure you get as much info before you start shooting. *The per shot rate would get very expensive if you did 20 shots in a day. So, that’s why I do that on a sliding scale:

Price Each Rounded Range
1-3 Shots $450.00 $450 $450 $1,350
4-9 Shots $315.00 $325 $1,300 $2,925
10-14 Shots $252.00 $250 $2,500 $3,500
15-20 Shots $226.80 $225 $3,375 $4,500
21+ Shots $204.12 $200 $4,200+

Using any one of these methods is how you create your Baseline Creative Fee (BCF).

Baseline Creative Fee + Usage Fees

I like to think of the BCF as your local rate. The usage included with that rate would be something like the following:

Use in any marketing materials distributed to a targeted audience. Includes use in printed brochure, catalog, annual report, public relations and sales material. Also includes electronic (PDF) versions of the original printed uses. Use in any web and electronic media for advertising and promotional purposes including website, web banner ad, promotional email and mobile ad.

Side note: check out PLUS Packs if you need help writing your usage terms.

The usage above is basically everything a local client is going to use your photos for. If they do advertising as well, you may want to charge a little more, like 10%.

There are four basic types of clients: Local, Regional, National, and Global. Here’s how I would handle the usage fee markups based on a BCF of $1,800.

  • Local Web & Marketing Usage: $1,800
  • Local Ad, Web, & Marketing Usage: $1,800 x 1.1 = $1,980
  • Regional Web & Marketing Usage: $1,800 x 2 = $3,600
  • Regional Ad, Web & Marketing Usage: $3,600 x 1.5 = $5,400
  • National Web & Marketing:¬†$1,800 x 10 = $18,000
  • National Ad, Web & Marketing Usage: $18,000 x 1.5 = $27,000
  • Global¬†Web & Marketing:¬†$1,800 x 20 = $36,000
  • Global Ad, Web & Marketing Usage: $36,000 x 1.5 = $54,000

So, there it is in a nutshell. Please remember, this is a guide and it’s more to illustrate that doing your Cost of Doing Business is vitally important to being in business. Use this example as a way to wrap your brain around what your creative fee should be and why it costs more for Pepsi to use your photos than it does for the local mom & pop shop. There’s always room to negotiate, too. Don’t live and die by these numbers.

I will say that ever since I standardized my pricing, I’ve gotten more jobs that pay better. It’s also made creating estimates a lot easier, because I charge what I need to charge to stay in business. I also feel good about passing on jobs that don’t pay my CODB, because that gives me time to market to jobs that will pay 10 or 20 times my CODB.

Have  a great weekend and DO YOUR CODB!!!

How Much Should I Charge?

Saw this on A Photo Editor and thought it was so well done I wanted it on my blog. The first few minutes are golden in explaining how much to charge.

My only critique is that he’s basing is Cost of Doing Business on number of work days (250) but most photographers don’t shoot every business day. I shoot 50 to 75 days a year, so my CODB is much higher than his example.

Philly Vs Portland and a Look at Pricing

Pricing your creative fee is a mix of three things: experience, complexity of the job, and usage. I saw this estimate today to shoot a job for a Non-Proft in Philly and thought I would share it. The original post is about bribes and kickbacks, but I want to talk about the photographer’s fee.

The photographer, Bill Cramer, estimated total fees and charges at $32,525 (he got this job, by the way). $18,000 of that was his creative/usage fee. The usage was for unlimited local advertising, web, local collateral, and local publicity use of four (4) images forever.¬†Bill’s been a photographer for over 20 years in Philly. He’s really good at what he does. I’d say that fee sounds pretty good. But, what’s interesting is that he based his fee on suggestions from BlinkBid and fotoQuote. Both those software programs based their suggested fees on averages of past sales all over the country.

In his explanation of how he got to his fee, he talked about how the client wanted to use the shots for billboard advertising. In Philly, one billboard ad costs $8,200 for 4 weeks (or $106,600 a year). In Portland, one billboard costs $10,500 for 4 weeks (or $136,500 a year).

When I originally started this post, I was going to try to justify why creative fees in Portland are (in general) so much less. I thought, surely advertising is less expensive here, thus fees here are less. But, in fact, it’s more expensive to advertise here. Overall, I feel that photographer fees here should be much higher than they are. Photographers are giving away shoots at less than $10 an image. It’s nuts.

In Portland, we are on a dangerous path. A lot of photographers are moving here and a lot of them are young and naive. I was one once, too. But, even then I knew my Cost of Doing Business and priced myself accordingly. Now that I have more experience, my rates have gone up. But my local rates aren’t even close to what Bill is getting

Food for thought.

If you’re an ASMP member, there are discounts for BlinkBid and fotoQuote. Visit asmp.org/articles/member-benefits.html¬†for more info.

(Estimate by Bill Cramer via A Photo Editor)

QR Codes = Awesome

I don’t remember my exact train of thought on QR Codes, but I’ve been seeing them everywhere lately. I didn’t quite know what they were, so I googled it to find out. Basically, they’re bar codes of any type of text. They can be URLs, phone numbers, and even just plain text. You scan them and it spits out whatever you want. I¬† ran across this QR Generator site and these are my results.

Link to my website:

All my contact info:

Just scan with your camera phone and viola! All the info you need. Here’s a great free iPhone App for QR Scanning.

This is a great tool for business cards, promos, whatever! Technology RULES!

UPDATE: I found another QR Generator site that does vCards like this:

Digital Processing Fees

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of pressure to reduce my digital processing fees and, in some cases, even hand off my RAW files and let a third party deal with the post processing. Well, let me state this once and for all:

I won’t do that.

If I’m hired to create images that are like those in my portfolio, then I have to be the one to do the digital processing. It’s part of my creative vision. I’ve spent years honing my look and style and I’m not willing to let go of control of that.

For example, here’s what one of my shots looks like before I put my touch it:

Gross, huh? But I see a RAW file with potential. Here’s what it looks like after:

Much better! Could someone else do this? Possibly. Would it look like my work? Probably not.

There are many reasons to charge for digital processing. The main reason is to recoup the costs of owning the fastest computer, the latest software, and the best camera. It’s expensive. I’d say to keep up with it, I spend an average of $5,000 to $10,000 a year on it. And that’s just me. As my business grows, I’d like to hire an employee to do the post work and so the digital processing fees will have to pay for their salary in addition to adding a second fastest computer with another copy of latest software.

The problem is there are few standards out there for digital processing. And so, many photographers don’t charge anything for it or pull numbers out of the air. We need a standard folks!

In the old film days, you would charge for film and processing usually with a significant markup. Shooting film was a profit center of the business and you needed to mark it up to cover the overhead of keeping film on hand. If you also scanned the film, you would charge for that too because of time, equipment, and labor. Either way, you were charging and getting paid for the image in its final form. Just because a digital file is ones and zeros, doesn’t mean it’s cheaper.

So, here’s my standard digital processing: Feel free to use this, tweet it, whatever. Just spread the word.

$1 per capture to shoot digital
$1 per MB of final image(s) delivered

Don’t charge by the hour. Charge by the unit.

Here’s how it works in practice hypothetically:

Say from the shoot above, I shot 108 RAW files and delivered 6 final RGB Tiff files at 60MB each. I would bill:

$108 – Capture and Processing (108 x $1)
$360 – Final Image Delivered (6 x $60)

$468 – Total Digital Processing Fees

To help you explain what all comes with digital processing, I would say it’s anything you do to create your vision plus captioning and keywording each file for you and your client.

I don’t do a lot of Photoshop, so $1 a MB covers my editing time. But if you do a lot of heavy Photoshop and compositing, then you might need to charge more. Like a $2 a MB. If you shoot a high volume of RAW files (fashion, lifestyle, kids, etc) maybe you charge $.25 a capture or just charge $1 for the selects. My point is that you should charge something and you should charge by a unit, not time.

Does that sound fair? Does that make sense? It works for me and if everyone did something like this, it would become a standard.

Fingers crossed.

Cover Shot Spotted in Portlandia Trailer

In July of 2009, I photographed the cover of Portland Monthly for a feature story on rivers and river activities. It was definitely one of my favorite shots from the year and a great tearsheet.

To my surprise, that issue of the magazine just turned up in a hilarious trailer of Portlandia. Look for it right past the 1 minute mark.

About Portlandia

The 6-part IFC Original short-based comedy series PORTLANDIA, created, written by and starring Fred Armisen (SNL) and Carrie Brownstein (vocalist/guitarist, WILD FLAG, Sleater-Kinney), premieres on IFC Friday, January 21, 2011 at 10:30 PM ET/PT. Each episode’s character-based shorts draw viewers into “Portlandia,” the creators’ dreamy and absurd rendering of Portland, Oregon.

Read more about Portlandia here: http://www.ifc.com/portlandia/