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. 😉

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.

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.

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.

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.

How to Become My Assistant (or Not)

I get a fair amount of emails from assistants moving to Portland looking for work. I totally get it. Portland is a cool place to live and being a photographer is fun. With NYC, LA, and San Francisco very expensive and hard to break into, Portland seems like an obvious place to start your career. Hey, it’s why I moved here.

There is definitely a fair amount of work here. But, there are a lot of assistants and probably more assistants than there is work. So you got to do something special to get my attention (and every other working photographer here).

Here’s an example of what not to do:

First of all, the email isn’t even to me. I’m BCC’d on it. Strike One! Mike mentions they are a graduate of a Canadian art school, but doesn’t tell me if he still lives there or in Portland. Strike Two! He also attaches a resume which really is pointless unnecessary as far hiring an assistant goes. I would have like to seen referrals. Strike Three! I don’t respond to Mike’s inquiry.

On the other had, here’s a great example of what you should do to get my attention:

First, a great subject line and I immediately opened the email. Dan then pretty quickly sums up who he is and why he’s contacting me. What sells me is that he specifically points out something I shot and that he shoots interiors, but wants to see how I do it. I would hire an assistant who likes to shoot interiors 10 to 1 over an assistant who is more interested in something else. I’ve hired Dan five times since he first emailed me and he’s been great. I highly recommend him.

The lesson here is to be straightforward and show genuine interest. It’s a huge mistake to feign interest in what I do, just to get assisting work. Always try to work for photographers that shoot what you like to shoot. You’ll enjoy the job more, learn things that you want to know, and connect with the person you’re working for. It’s a win win.

Protest New 1099 Legislation

I was alerted this morning by ASMP that (unfortunately) part of the new healthcare reform legislation will seriously create a huge and unnecessary amount of paperwork for photographers or any small business.

As of now, for any sub contractor (assistants, stylists, producers, etc.) that I pay over $600 in a year, I have to write a 1099 for. I have to put together about 10 to 20 of these and it takes me about a half day. Also, for every 1099 I write, I need to have the sub contractor fill out a W-9.

Starting next year, the new legislation would require that I/we write a 1099 for any purchase of goods over $600. New camera? 1099. New lens? 1099. New Computer? 1099. $600 in props? 1099. CS5 Upgrade? 1099. Any amount of goods purchased over $600 will require a 1099. So, if you buy a lot of office supplies at Staples, you’ll need to write them a 1099 for everything. Every pen, pencil and ink cartridge will have to be accounted for.

I, like many photographers, usually purchase stuff through a variety of retail spaces. So, I will have to get every single retail store I shop with to fill out a W-9. Can you imagine B&H filling out W-9 for all their commercial customers? What about Dell or Apple even?

It’s a tremendous waste time, energy, and paper. Yes, paper, because you can’t file 1099s electronically.

TAKE TWO SECONDS AND PROTEST THIS NOW.

Click This Link to Email the Form Letter Below to the IRS

To: Notice.comments@irscounsel.treas.gov

Subject: Notice 2010-51

Message:

RE: Notice 2010-51

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am a professional photographer and a small business person. I have virtually no administrative staff to handle my record-keeping and reporting responsibilities. The new requirement under Section 6041 of the Internal Revenue Code would place impossible burdens on me. The exemption for credit card transactions was a great step toward reducing the impact of this change in the tax code. Unfortunately, it does not go far enough.

I often pay for computer and camera equipment, studio and equipment rentals, catering services, and other items by check or cash. Those expenditures often total more than $600 per vendor in any given year. Having to keep separate track of each of these items — and then to issue Form 1099’s to each vendor — would simply take more time than I have as the owner of a very small business operation, and it would require back office support that I do not have and cannot afford.

Please change the requirements so that they apply only to larger business entities, such as persons or entities that employ more than 25 people.

Thank you for your time and understanding.

UPDATE: I read in to this a little closer and there is an exemption for credit card transactions, but that doesn’t apply if you paid by cash or check.

Pricing Etiquette

Read this today and it really struck a chord with me. Just replace “sweater” with “photo.”

From Lauren Venell of Biz Miss. Originally posted here on Design*Sponge.

“Pricing Etiquette”

Yes, Virginia, there is a polite way to price. Here are a couple of common pricing faux pas to avoid:

  1. Changing your prices too often: yes, you should absolutely market-test your prices, but don’t just throw numbers out randomly to see what sticks. Focus on testing one or two products at a time, and try to do it at a live event like a craft show, where you can gauge customers’ reactions directly. Changing your published prices too often (like the ones on your web site) will make repeat retail customers think they are overpaying, and will make your wholesale customers struggle to keep their prices current.
  2. Pricing just to maintain your hobby: I think it’s lovely that you make so many beautiful things that you’ve run out of people to give them to. I also think it’s great that you sell your extras in order to support your hobby. It’s selfish, however, to sell a fair-isle sweater you knitted for just the price of the yarn. Your customers might be thrilled, but underpricing devalues creative work and makes it harder for creative professionals to make a living

Please Don’t Take My Images

Dear bloggers, writers, designers, illustrators, anyone that wants my photography on their website:

Here’s the deal. If you want to talk me up or talk up my client, I don’t mind if you use my photography in a bloggy editorial kind of way. I just want a heads up. If you take my photography to promote yourself (even if by bringing traffic to your website where you sell products or services), then we have an issue. These photos are my intellectual property and are protected by US copyright law. All rights reserved means I decide how and who uses the images.

If I just took your car (or your horse) to run some errands without asking you, you’d probably be upset. Sure, no harm was done to your car (or horse), but it’s your property and you would like to know where it is. You’d probably want me to pay some gas money or feed it, too.

I feel the same about my photography. People, innocently or not, just lift my images all the time to promote themselves. In some cases, this is could be a very bad thing. For example, say someone said negative things about my best client and used my photography to prove their point. This puts me in hot water with the client and could even be interpreted that I provided the images to them to slander my own client. Thus, the reason I want a heads up before you use my images.

Hope you understand where I’m coming from. I’m not trying to be a jerk, I just am trying to look after my business. After all, I do this for a living and I can’t eat a photo credit.