Ask three commercial photographers to quote on the same job and you could receive three different prices. Why is that?
Commercial Photography typically isn’t a la carte where you pick a package. Instead services are custom priced for your individual and unique requirements. This can be frustrating for clients looking to commission photography for their first time. But there is good news – read on!
Why a La Carte Can Be Wrong
Having a menu of service options would make commissioning photography much easier. However it doesn’t allow for what you and your business needs. When a CPA is asked to manage your accounts costs will depend on your business structure (sole trader, partnership, company or LLC), turnover, whether you have employees and how much staff time is required.
Going off-menu when ordering a la carte will cost more. When ordering from a franchise pizzeria and asking for no olives it may cost you more to have less on the pizza.
A la carte photography would be like purchasing microstock, royalty-free images. Yes you know the flat fee but the image is by its very nature generic and not about your business. And your competitors can use the exact same image!
So How Is Commercial Photography Priced?
Sticking with the stock photo analogy, photographers charge a usage fee for commercial photography, similar to licensing a rights-managed image. There is a vast difference in fees for the same image being used by the local hairdresser in their salon than a multinational company for an international advertising campaign. The value of the photo is far greater the wider it is used. Sally’s Hair Salon will pay less than Revlon. Again you risk a stock image being used by a competitor whereas commissioned photography is custom made for your business.
Commercial Photography licensing fees are based on:
- Creative fee (10, 20 or more years experience and the creative execution)
- Usage (where the image is used, for how long and in what area)
- Pre & Post Production (organising the photo shoot and processing images)
- Special equipment & Permits (studio or location hire, parking, etc,)
A photography quote will include these points along with an outline of the creative “treatment” which helps you compare different approaches to your request.
When commissioning a freelance photographer they own the copyright to images they create. Copyright has a commercial value, people wouldn’t be fighting over it in court if it didn’t. Some companies believe they need to own copyright when in fact they might be asking for control of the images. Copyright buyout is very expensive, typically 3 – 5 times the normal usage rate. Licensing usage will serve the same purpose at perhaps one fifth the cost. Note if images contain models their agreement might only be for 12 – 24 months, making a 2 year photography usage license more relevant and far more cost effective for your business.
Providing a brief to photographers when seeking quotes helps eliminate variances in photographers estimates. A brief can include:
- Example images you like the look and feel of
- The purpose of the images (what you want to achieve with the images)
- List of images needed
- Where they will used (your website, billboard ads, PR)
- Expected timing and dates for shoot
- Your deadline for image delivery
The Good News
Over time clients and photographers establish a business relationship where similar services are requested. For example, updating staff headshots on a regular basis. It’s known quantity so fees, service and the images can be consistent. As a client that makes your life much easier!
Chances are images that you make today won’t last as long as those made by your parents. That’s because our parents used technology that hadn’t changed much in 150 years. As recently as 15 years ago taking photos typically resulted in a handful of 4×6 inch “postcard” prints. They were put in a photo album or a shoe box and inherited by succeeding generations.
Now smartphones are the de facto family camera capturing digital images that are rarely if ever made into prints. Instead they end up on social media or remain dormant on smartphones never to be seen again.
Digital images are more fragile than prints. Due to their storage medium digital images can be easily deleted, lost, stolen and forgotten. Unlike a high quality print there is no file format that can be guaranteed to be viewable in 100 years. Images on your phone, social media account and in the cloud won’t be easy to access after you’ve gone.
Cameras including those in our smartphones capture photos as JPEG images. When images are created by professional photographers or keen amateurs they are captured in a proprietary camera raw format, later processed and converted on computers to JPEG or TIFF. Whilst raw camera formats are the highest quality they are even more fragile than JPEG due to their rarity and proprietary nature. That’s one reason when archiving images cultural institutions prefer prints or TIFFs over raw files.
Artists including documentary photographers are drawn to the idea of having their life’s work collected by cultural institutions. As outlined in an interview with the ABC (Australia) Sunday Arts program photographer Stephen Dupont is concerned that the message he creates as a journalist will disappear if left solely to fickleness of the news media. Dupont makes prints and photo books that are included in museum collections such as the New York Public Library.
In a PDN article Wilhelm Imaging Research suggest specific colour inkjet prints can last up to 200 years and 400 years for black and white. When a museum creates archival quality inkjet prints of historic paintings it’s likely that those prints will outlast some of the original artworks themselves.
The takeaway here is make it a habit to create prints of images that are important to you. Photographer and writer Derek Story suggests that every December make six archival images of the year. That way, if all else fails, at least you leave an easily accessible legacy of images for future generations.
Confidence of Film
When I began in commercial and corporate photography we photographed on transparency (slide) film. It was unforgiving with little latitude for error. Photographers seemed to perform magic, capturing an invisible image inside their camera, confident they had created what the client needed. There was no way of seeing if you had the shot until the film was processed, hours or days later. You knew your craft intuitively because you had to “get it right in camera”.
Often I have corporate photography clients tell me I must be confident because I don’t look at the LCD on the back of the camera. Actually it’s just a habit from the film days. On being photographed Actress Keira Knightley said in Interview Magazine:
“I’ve noticed that the people who started on film still have the ability to see the person in front of them. Whereas for a lot of photographers who have only ever worked in digital, the relationship between the photographer and the person who they’re taking a picture of sort of doesn’t exist anymore. They’re looking at a computer screen as opposed to the person.”
Strength of Digital
Today professional photography is captured digitally. While I loved film I could never go back to it commercially over digital. Film is sometimes used as a selling point for retail photography as a point of difference. In terms of sheer quality, turnaround and cost, digital surpassed film over a decade ago.
Digital also offers opportunities impossible with film such as Computational Photography. Using more than one camera, lens or image along with with clever software allows photographers to create images beyond the capabilities of traditional photography. Combining multiple images allows me to create photographs that closely match what the human eye and brain see (or better if so desired).
Computational photography allows me to create commercial images beyond traditional methods.
Much has been made of the Apple iPhone 7 Plus dual lens system. Apple combines images from both lenses to simulate the look of an expensive portrait lens with the background out of focus. The Light L16 camera goes several steps further and will create images that can even be refocussed later.
The Light L16 Camera creates images that can be refocussed later. (Image courtesy of Light.co)
A great example of computational photography the Light camera captures 52 megapixel high resolution images, has a high dynamic range, superior low light abilities, and a wide optical zoom range in a tiny form factor. Creative decisions can be made and more importantly changed later in comfort during post-production. It sounds like science fiction and that is precisely how computational photography should be!
This year marks 190 years since the first photograph was created by Nicéphore Niépce. It has since taught photographers to pay attention to the subject not their camera. We have developed a unique visual language around film and what looks “natural” based on its limitations. Digital photography is relatively young and computational photography is still in its infancy. Knowing what can realistically be achieved in post-production lets me decide the best way to capture a scenario for a client in a pre-production meeting. I can judge whether it’s more efficient to balance an extreme tonal range at time of capture or in post. In the hands of a qualified photographer advanced digital technology can offer photography clients a better experience, higher quality and more flexibility.
Image Management – are we back to the old days? In the early noughties post-production for digital photography would require three distinct pieces of software:
1. Image browser
2. Raw converter
3. Image cataloguer
Each application had it’s purpose.
1. Image Browser
Image Browser: Photo Mechanic
Downloading and creating a back up of images from the camera memory card is the most critical stage of a digital workflow. After downloading images they are assessed and marked for later processing. The benchmark was and still is Photo Mechanic by Camera Bits.
2. Raw Converter
Raw Converter: Capture One
Once the best images from a shoot were selected they are brought into a raw processing program. Here the proprietary camera raw files are adjusted for colour, tone and sharpness then converted to JPEG or TIFF for delivery to the client. Adobe Camera Raw (Photoshop) and Capture One by Phase One are the market leaders. Twelve years ago these applications didn’t catalog your images or adjustments.
3. Image Catalog
Image Catalog: iView MediaPro
An important part of image collection management is tracking the archive. A dedicated Digital Asset Management (DAM) application that creates a searchable catalog. Photographers adopted established DAM programs including iView MediaPro (now Phase One Media Pro) and Extensis Portfolio. These applications were designed to catalog all types of media not just images. Eagle-eyed readers will see the interface looks almost identical to the image browser – except it’s displaying a catalog not the actual images.
All-in-one: Apple Aperture
In 2005 Apple released Aperture: an all-in-one program that did all of the above. Here was a program dedicated to photographers who could now download, browse, convert raw files, and catalog their images within one visually appealing application. In typical Apple style they disrupted the market that had competitors rushing to emulate Aperture. Eventually Adobe released Lightroom and Phase One updated Capture One to include a catalog option.
At the end of 2016 several programs have been released that move away from the all-in-one program popularised by (now defunct) Apple Aperture. Applications like ON1 Photo RAW and Macphun Luminar claim to fame is that not being tied to a catalog creates a faster user experience. If you want to catalog with these apps then look for a separate, dedicated DAM application like Media Pro. If you want the speed of downloading and viewing images you should add an image browser such as Photo Mechanic the list. So that means you’ll need:
1. Image browser
2. Raw converter
3. Image cataloguer
Deja vu? Maybe in 2017 Apple will release another program to disrupt this space… not likely, they abandoned the pro market and now have Apple Photos. I’ll stick with Lightroom.
Like any profession photography has many aspects besides the actual service itself. Areas that don’t involve making photos and things the client doesn’t (need to) care about.
It’s those essential areas that make it a profession and require far more time than the craft of photography. These can include:
- Client Relationship Management
- Strategic Planning
- Business Insurance
- Post Processing
- Book Keeping
- Digital Asset Management
- Equipment Maintenance
- Hardware And Software Upgrades
- Continuing Professional Development
- Retirement Planning
- …even Holidays
Ignoring these underlying facets a photography business will soon fail, then you and your clients will lose out. Clients will have to source another photographer, negotiate, build trust and a new relationship. Clients may also lose access to jobs in the pipeline and have to re-shoot.
Managing your business makes for a much better client experience. You can identify more areas I’m sure, let me know on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Photography storage and archiving can quickly become daunting, regardless of whether you’re a professional photographer or not. It doesn’t take too long to be inundated with hundreds of images and before you know it there are tens of thousands of them! Personally I’m managing over 400 000 images.
Keep It Simple
To make a storage system durable it has to be simple. It isn’t rocket science. Images can be stored hierarchically based on when they were captured (Year Month Day): 2016 > 10 > 20161028.