By Jess Dudley, Wonderful Machine Producer
One of our still-life photographers was approached recently by a major brand to quote on a series of product photographs to promote a low-cost line of glassware that they sell through a big-box store. The client needed pictures showing several variations of each of the bowls, plates, and cups so that they’d have different options for use on packaging, point of purchase displays, and on their e-commerce site. They wanted everything shot on white background. Their in-house designers would process the raw files and handle the silhouetting and any retouching. The client would plan to bring a hard drive with them and simply take all the raw files with them at the conclusion of the shoot.
The creative challenge was to make simple bowls and cups look interesting on their own. The technical challenge was to light clear shiny objects and have them show up on a white background. After discussing the project with the photographer, she told me she could comfortably handle 3-4 items/day. So I would need to plan on a four-day shoot.
We’re normally inclined to quote creative fees by the picture rather than by the day. That tends to align the interests of the photographer with those of the client. If a photographer is charging by the day, her incentive is to run long and the client’s incentive is to finish early. If the photographer charges by the picture, everyone is going to be incentivized to work as efficiently as possible. There are exceptions to this rule, however. In cases where the client (or the client’s client) is in control of the shooting schedule (like on a corporate project where the photographer might be at the mercy of the subject’s or facilities’ availability at any given moment).
This project, however, is the type of shoot that a lot of clients have a need for, and that photographers customarily charge by the day for. Rather than upsetting that apple cart, I thought it best to go with the flow and quote the photography by the day. I’ve found that product photographers can command anywhere from 3000.00-5000.00/day for this type of work, with this licensing for a national brand. Whether I quote the high end or the low end is going to depend on how prominent the brand is, the complexity of the pictures, how prominent the photographer is, how busy he is, and the exact licensing. The number of shoot days and the regularity of the work is a factor as well. If a one-day shoot suddenly becomes a five-day shoot, I would probably discount the additional days.
Location of the photographer and the client can also factor in. If the client (even a big one) is in a smaller market and you’re competing with other photographers in that small market, you might not be able to charge as much as for a similar project taking place in a bigger market. In this case, the client and the photographer were in a big market, and I felt that all of the other factors together pointed to about the mid-point of the range, so I quoted 4000.00/day. The client specified the exact usage they needed, which I quoted on the estimate (below).
I chose to include a digital tech as well as a regular photo assistant for this project. For bigger sets, I would want to have at least two assistants, but for table-top, one was enough. I’m also finding that most assistants now have most of the skills of a digital tech, so the personnel (and the fees they charge) are starting to become interchangeable. (Of course, digital techs with extensive software and hardware knowledge, or those who bring their own computers or cameras, will always be able to charge a premium.)
Since there was so little pre-production necessary (just arranging the catering and the assistants), it wasn’t worth breaking that out as a separate line item. And while some shoots might require a pre-light day, this one was simple enough that I couldn’t justify breaking that out either.
Sometimes product photographers bundle the studio and equipment charges into their creative fees. Other times it makes sense to show separate line items. (Either way, it has very little to do with whether the photographer has “his own” space or “his own” gear. Some photographers naively charge clients based on the cost to them rather than the value that they’re bringing to their client. Equipment and studios are expensive whether you rent them by the day, by the month, or own them outright.) There are pluses and minuses to either approach. Bundling the charge might make your creative fee seem fat. Separating those expenses out might make it seem like you’re nickel-and-diming. Generally, I do whatever I think is customary for a given situation. Here, I chose to separate it out.
For catering, we’ll normally do a light breakfast (muffins, bagels, fruit salad, juice, water, coffee) and a casual lunch (sandwiches, salads, chips, cookies, brownies, water, soda, coffee). For productions with more than 10 people, or if you’re shooting more than a few days in a row, it starts to make sense to go a step further. We’ve sometimes gone as far as offering made-to-order omelets, pancakes and oatmeal for breakfast, lasagna and other hot options in addition to sandwiches for lunch, and snacks to keep people going through the afternoon. For people (clients especially) who spend a lot of time on shoots like this, it’s nice not getting stuck with an Italian hoagie every day.
Naturally, the client provided the product. But they also provided the stylist, which we were sure to note in the estimate. The shoot took place in the photographer’s own studio so travel and certificates of insurance were unnecessary.
The client liked the estimate and signed off on it, and the shoot went as expected. (Not all estimates go through as easily as this one did. I promise to get into negotiating next time!) One thing you might ask is, “what does the photographer charge if the shoot takes five days to complete, or if it only takes three?” Good question. Strictly speaking, we’ve quoted this as an estimate rather than a bid. With an estimate, the final cost will vary depending on actual conditions. With a bid, you’re saying that the cost is fixed for the result you’re delivering. However, in this case since everything about the shoot is going to be either predictable or within the photographer’s control, there would have to be very unusual circumstances to justify billing for additional shoot days. But at the same time, most clients would expect you to only charge them for the three days if that’s all it took. This “heads I win, tails you lose” effect is one more reason I prefer to bill by the picture rather than by the day.
If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing one of your projects, you can reach Jess at firstname.lastname@example.org