I recently helped two different photographers quote on two very similar projects, so I thought it would be interesting to present them together (see estimates below).
Shoot A was a series of simple, tightly-cropped portraits on a plain background, with no props and minimal wardrobe needs, depicting “everyday” people. Shoot B entailed a series of pictures of people engaged in various athletic activities (like bowling and yoga) to show that the hospital could provide treatments to help people stay active.
- both projects entailed creating a series of similar (relatively simple) pictures with a number of different people
- the clients in both cases were regional hospitals
- the intended use for both was primarily local advertising
- both required just one shoot day
- both shoots would happen on a plain background in a studio
- client A wanted to be able to (theoretically, at least) use the pictures anywhere in the world, while client B just needed local use
- shoot B needed a pre-light day and a digital tech
- shoot B required a lot of compositing and retouching after the shoot
- shoot B required a series of test pictures ahead of time to help nail down the concepts
- shoot B found professional models through traditional casting and model agencies, shoot A hired models from a “real people” casting company
- shoot A happened on the West Coast, shoot B on the East Coast
The Creative Fees
The overall scope of the two projects was very similar, but the fact that we ended up quoting exactly $18k for both creative fees was just a coincidence. Client A originally asked us to quote six tight portraits for “unlimited use, anywhere, forever.” Client B wanted four action shots (showing bowling, yoga, jogging and swinging a baseball bat) for “unlimited use, locally, forever.”
The “creative fee” covers the work required to make the pictures plus the licensing to use them (I normally bundle them into one number). Licensing is made up of the type of use (advertising, collateral, publicity), geography of use (local, regional, national, international) and the duration of use (one-time, one year, forever). Clients sometimes ask for broader licensing than they actually need, just for the convenience. The trick is to judge what’s reasonable to charge for the unused portion of the licensing. In this case, Client A is essentially asking for international use of the pictures. But since they’re a local hospital chain, they’re simply not going to have an occasion to use the pictures outside of the area they serve. Broader licensing is always worth more than narrower licensing, but it’s not worth nearly as much as if the client could actually take advantage of it. Both clients wanted to use the pictures forever. But as a practical matter, the pictures are going to have a lifespan of a couple of years. Both clients were asking for publicity, collateral and advertising use. The advertising part will have the most impact on the price. So I do my best to get my head around the likely use of the pictures, then assign a reasonable premium to account for the actual licensing.
I figured that in Project A, the first picture was worth $5k and each additional was worth about $2.5. I rounded it off to $18k. The broad use certainly adds upward pressure on that price, but the simplicity of the pictures adds downward pressure (there was very little pre- or post-production required, and the degree of difficulty and specialization of the actual shoot was pretty basic. So on balance, I was comfortable with the $18k.) The client said they would pay $18k, but asked us do eight pictures instead of six. Deciding how much to concede in any negotiation is difficult. A basic rule of negotiating is to never give something up without getting something in return. The weak economy is a factor generally, but a bigger factor is how busy the photographer is. In this case, the photographer wasn’t busy enough to risk losing the job over those extra two pictures. So we agreed.
Project B was only four images, but the pictures were more complex. The ads each needed to show a series of pictures to demonstrate range of joint motion with a recognizable sport or activity (like swinging a baseball bat). Initially, the client asked the photographer to do some test pictures to show what a range of motion would look like for a bunch of different activities. After a day of testing everything we could think of (for which we charged 1800.00), we settled on bowling, batting, yoga and jogging. We decided to depict each action with three pictures to illustrate the range of joint motion. So compared to Project A, the actual work to make the pictures happen was somewhat more involved, but the licensing requirements were a bit more modest. So I figured on 6000.00 for the first and 4000.00 for each of the other three, for a total of $18k.
Another influencing factor for licensing fees is whether the pictures are simply promoting one product among many, or whether they are promoting the entire company’s brand. There are times when promoting a small company’s entire brand is worth more than promoting a small part of a global company.
You’ll see variations between the two quotes for support services. They’re less about the regions where the shoots took place and more about the individual photographer’s idiosyncrasies. Photographer A likes to say, “Digital Capture Day”, the other says “Digital Tech Day”. The costs for the assistants, hair/make-up, wardrobe stylists varied just because of what those individual subcontractors charged. In both cases, the demands of the support staff were pretty modest. But certainly in situations where there’s more of an emphasis on the wardrobe or props or other element of the shoot, the photographer would be foolish to skimp. If you’re shooting a cosmetics ad, you’ll want to get your hands on the best make-up artist you can find, and you’ll have to be prepared to pay for it.
Photographer A worked out of his own small studio space, so quoted a modest 400.00 for it. Photographer B worked out of a more substantial rental studio, plus the client asked us to bundle the catering charge with the studio fee in order to “get it past accounting.”
Client B was comfortable working with the usual modeling and casting agencies to find the talent. Client A suggested we use an agency that offers “real people” at a much cheaper rate. So they were able to get models for about $630.00 each. Project B paid 2000.00 for each model, plus 1000.00 for the casting day. Just like any business decision where you’re trying to get the best value or return on investment (ROI), you have to decide when you can cut corners and when it’s not worth the savings. We often have the models bill the client directly. Some clients want to see those fees in the photography estimate, others are happy to leave it off.
Photographer A likes to quote a line item for a hard drive for archiving. Photographer B doesn’t bother.
In both cases, the equipment demands were pretty basic, so we chose to bundle the equipment charge into creative fee. However, it’s perfectly reasonable to break that out separately.
I normally don’t split hairs by quoting 6.5 hours of retouching. But we were so close to $30k that I decided to dial that number back just enough to keep us under that amount.
Photographer A chose to do his own production. Since there was a bit more to manage, Photographer B had me handling all the pre-production and I was on set the day of the shoot to make sure everything went smoothly.
Quoting wardrobe is always a crap shoot. A wardrobe stylist will generally pull a lot of options and return whatever doesn’t get trashed. But it’s a hard to predict.
In both of these cases, we were charging for production time and we were also getting a 50% advance payment on the entire quote. So we billed the client actual cost on the out-of-pocket expenses. I find that it’s customary to get expense money upfront on projects like this. But in cases where we don’t get an advance, I’ll normally mark up my expenses 15-20% to float that money.
Photographer A didn’t need a separate certificate of insurance because he was using his own space. Photographer B needed to provide one to the rental studio, so we charge 100.00 for that.
Photographer A charged a fairly typical 150.00/hour for his retoucher. Photographer B used his in-house retoucher, for which he charged 100.00/hour. Of course, just because you have someone on staff doesn’t mean you should charge more or less for it. Price is more a function of the value you bring to the client rather than the cost to you. In this case it was just another item that would allow that photographer to be a little more competitive on price.
If you have any questions or if you need help pricing and negotiating, or producing one of your projects, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.