Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How I price a photographic assignment

What does the pricing of photography have to do with giant frozen tuna? Well the answer should be nothing. A photograph is a one-of-a-kind individual object of art and should be priced according to its value to the end user ie how much money it will make them.

Yet many recent photography pricing models would have you believe that pictures are like frozen fish. You can buy them by the pound (or pixel size) or you can pay a photographer for a day's work and take every single piece of fish he manages to produce.

Not only that but you can take that fish and copy it as many times as you want, use it however you like and even give it away to your friends and colleagues to use as often as they like. At least that's how a lot of clients (and photographers) see the world.

Lunacy. I couldn't understand how my stock agent could license a single picture for thousands of dollars for advertising use, yet if I did an assignment for a client I was expected to quote a day rate and give them all the pictures - no matter how many I took - and they could use them however they wanted for as long as they wanted. Hand over hundreds of pictures and you're making only a few dollars per individual image. In other words you're getting Microstock rates for custom made high quality imagery. And the client never needs to come back to you because they've got enough pictures to last them a lifetime!

Not only that but as you get better as a photographer you're able to do assignments in shorter times than you can as a newbie. But if you complete the job sooner you're expected to charge less. Huh?

So at the very outset of my career I decided that quoting a day rate and then giving the client all the pictures was professional suicide - a view that is held by many in major metropolitan centres in various countries but hasn't really trickled down to small towns. Most of my competitors use the exact pricing model I've just outlined.

So how do I charge? By the picture - just like stock photography. The more pictures you decide you want to license the more it will cost you. The time it takes to create the images is only important in the sense that I need to cover my cost of doing business (CODB). Anything over and above that is icing on the cake.

So let's take a fictitious example. A client comes to me and tells me they need photos of their tourism product. The first thing I ask is how many pictures they need and how they want to use the pictures. The way in which they want to use the pictures will determine the cost of each individual image. The less usage they need the cheaper it is. The vaguer they are about what they want to use the pictures for the more expensive it is. :)

Let's say they want 10 pictures and I think I can do it in a day. I know the minimum amount of money I need to make so make sure my quote covers that, but often for commercial work it's well and truly above that. So I give them a quote for the 10 images (plus digital capture, post-processing and other production fees) and tell them that any extra images will cost them x dollars each for their requested usage.

That way the client knows how much the 10 pictures will cost and how much extra it will be if they decide to order more pictures from the shoot. They don't care how long it takes, only how much it will cost them. In fact using this model, if I manage to get the shoot done early then I'm a hero because everybody gets to go home early!

How it works in practicality is this. It has honed me into looking for new angles, new ways of shooting things and covering a lot of different types of photograph during the shoot. I create what I know we need first and then go to work to create as many variations as possible? Why? Because the more great pictures I can make the more the client will want to license.

Does it work? In 10 years of doing this I can count the number of times a client didn't order extra images on one hand. Budgets are set in concrete before you start because the client is not quite 100% sure of what they're going to get. When you put good work on the table budgets go out the window. They suddenly realise how the pictures can help them sell their product and they want to license as many as possible.

I wanted to move away from the mindset that my time is valuable. It is, but only in the sense that I have to cover my wages. The real thing of value is the images that I create and their value is not reliant on the time I take to create them. Their value lies in the money they make for my clients who use them in their adverts and brochures.

In the worst case scenario (ie the client doesn't order any extra images) I'm not worried because I've still covered my CODB and made a good day's living. In the best case scenario the client orders many times what they originally planned and I make an exceptionally good day's living.

And how do the clients feel? Well I don't do any high pressure selling. I just post the images to a web gallery and let them make their decision. They choose how much they want to spend and how badly they want the images. They're happy because they know in advance how much it's going to cost them and can pick and choose accordingly. It's a win-win for everybody.

Remember that your photographs are valuable. Your clients know that, you need to remember it too.