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.

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!!!

Starting Out as a Photographer

Around this time of year, I get a lot of emails from photo students about to graduate. I think part of their curriculum is to go out and ask photographers they like how they got their start.

So, when Andrew Torres emailed me a few weeks ago, I decided to make a blog post out of it. Hopefully this answers his questions about how to start out as a photographer. At least it tells my story and I can reference it again the next time a photo student emails me.

AT: How did you get started in photography and what education/training did you receive?

LB: I learned the basics of photography in high school and did it as a hobby for a number of years. In 2001, I quit my web design job and started working as a studio manager/1st assistant for an architectural photographer by the name of Philip Beaurline. I knew some Photoshop from my design days, but I know nothing about professional photography. Everything I know today I learned by working for him.

It was a very lucky time to make the shift into photography. He was still shooting film and he was shooting with a view camera primarily. I learned to load film, label shot rolls, and how to set up a view camera. After the shoot, the film workflow became my responsibility. I took it to the lab, made selects on a light table, drum scanned the selects, cleaned it up in Photoshop, made prints and CDs, and then delivered the job to the client. So not only did I learn all the nuances of film and the look of film, but I also learned all the digital post production side of things, how to interact with clients, and to know how to properly deliver a photo shoot. It was really an amazing experience and I don’t think I would have learned as much had I just freelanced as a photo assistant.

AT: Would you recommend internships or assisting before starting your own business?

LB: Absolutely. I think internships are good place to start. It gets your foot in the door and there’s not a big commitment on either part. Once you move into assisting, make sure you assist a photographer who you admire or for someone who shoots the subject you’re interested in. If you like architecture photography, assist an architectural photographer. If you like food photography, assist a food photographer. If you like travel photography, assist a travel photographer. If you like all three, you can assist me.

AT: Are you a member of any professional organizations and would you recommend joining?

LB: Definitely start by joining ASMP. The main things you get from it are tons of business materials ranging from estimates, to copyrights, to legal documents; a national network of photographers that you can reach out to for help or advice; and amazing discounts on everything from computers to business Insurance. After that, if you want to shoot editorial, I definitely recommend joining Editorial Photographers (EP). The member forum has helped me so much throughout my career as a photographer. If you want to go more commercial, APA is a good place to be as well. They have a great find an assistant listing program as well as invaluable information and discounts.

AT: What piece of equipment could you not live without for your type of photography?

LB: Besides a computer, Lightroom and Photoshop, I could not live without the Canon 24mm TS-E II and the Canon 17mm TS-E. The TS means Tilt-Shift and these lenses allow me to shoot architecture almost as well as if I had shot it with a view camera. Architecture photography is all about perspective control. These lenses allow me to keep my camera level, yet rise and shift the lens to compose the without getting keystone distortion. Not only that, but these lenses are incredibly sharp and show very little (if any) chromatic aberration.  I just hope Canon release new editions of the 45mm TS-E and the 90mm TS-E. Nice lenses, but not sharp enough with for a 20MP digital SLR.

For digital, I’d say your lenses are more important than you camera. For film, they’re both important.

AT: What are the advantages/disadvantages of working out of a larger area like Portland?

LB: Portland (and Oregon) is fortunate to have all the support you need to pull off a really big production. Everything from an international airport to professional camera and lighting rental can be found here. Plus there are some amazing rental studios and great locations all over town. There are some great stylists living here as well. There’s a strong creative vibe here and I feel lucky to be a part of it. The downside of working here is the cost of living is pretty low and there are A LOT of photographers and assistants moving here all the time. With this much competition, you really have to work hard to make yourself stand out. I would not want to start my career here. Start someplace smaller and build up your portfolio. Then move to a medium sized market like Portland.

AT: What have you found to be the most effective ways to market yourself?

LB: You just can’t do one thing and expect it to be effective. You have to market everywhere and it has to be consistent of what you shoot (your brand). You must have an easy to use and fast loading website, a carefully edited portfolio, email marketing campaign, direct mail marketing campaign, social marketing network, all of it. It’s not cheap and it takes up a lot of your time. So you have to build it into your cost of doing business. Also, word of mouth is so important, so make sure you do a good job, deliver on time, and work well with others.

AT: Any other words of wisdom you would offer a photography student nearing graduation?

Being a working professional photographer is a job. It’s not romantic, it’s not glamorous, and you’re probably not going to make a living at it for about 5 years. But it’s a fun job and it can be very rewarding personally and emotionally. So, if you don’t have any business skills, start getting some. You’re going to need it.

Also, do your cost of doing business every year. I can’t stress enough how important it is to know the real costs of running a photography business.


Marketing 101 for Commercial Photographers

I think one of the most challenging aspects to being a commercial photographer is the marketing. It’s ironic because we are in a commercial marketing environment, yet reaching the people we want to hire us can seem voodoo and difficult. In my experience, no matter how good you are or how “cool” you are, if no one knows about you, then you’re never going to get work. I’ve tried all kinds of photo business marketing and read many opinions about what you should or shouldn’t do. I thought I’d share what has worked for me. Continue reading “Marketing 101 for Commercial Photographers” »

Friday Photo Links

It’s been a busy week here at Lincoln Barbour Photo. A great shoot yesterday, two shoots next week to get ready for, estimates and portfolios going out the door, my bookkeeping is way behind, I even have some web projects needed to get done yesterday. Not complaining, mind you, it’s a very nice change from last year. I’ve got some other posts in draft mode, but I don’t think they’re going to get done today.

But I wanted to post something. So, I’ve decided to make Fridays a links day. Every week, I pick up a lot of great photo business information on various blogs, social sites, etc. Instead of hoarding all this great knowledge, I thought I’d share what I’ve learn and then we can discuss them in the comments below.

Continue reading “Friday Photo Links” »

Please Use PLUS

One of the most challenging parts of being a commercial photographer is the estimate. It such an essential skill that has taken me years to get figured out (and I still make improvements every time I do one). One of my biggest stumbling blocks was the Usage Language. Usage is how you assign your creative fee. The more usage, the more it costs. But there are so many ways to describe the same types of usage. And so many different photographers and reps use different variations of Usage Language that I imagine it’s it’s hard for a buyer/client to compare one estimate from another.

Continue reading on Photo Prop Tips