Pricing and Negotiating: Splitting the Cost of an Architectural Shoot

Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

Shoot Concept: Architectural photography of an event venue and city park

Licensing: Collateral and Publicity use of 50 images in perpetuity

Location: A prominent city in the South.

Shoot Days: Four

Photographer: Architectural specialist

Client: A landscape design company plus four other partners

Here is the estimate:

 

Creative/Licensing: A landscape design company contacted the photographer to discuss a project that they hoped to split the cost of between themselves and four other parties who were partners in the development of the new venue. At first, they wouldn’t reveal exactly who the other parties would be (or perhaps it wasn’t finalized at that point), but from conversations with the photographer and client, it was likely that they were collaborating with the architectural firm that designed the venue, the company that would promote the events at the venue, a local design firm and potentially the local tourism board.

When discussing the project with the photographer, I told him that this is actually quite common in the world of commercial architectural photography. It typically takes many parties to plan, build, decorate and manage a property (whether it’s a residential house or a commercial building), and it therefore makes sense that all of these companies might want images of the final product to help promote their particular product or service. Most of the time, architecture firms, landscape designers, interior designers or general contractors will want to put the images in their online portfolios or submit them to industry publications and contests, and other times they’ll want to use the images for collateral pieces and to have them on hand for other publicity purposes.

Despite their intended use, it’s common for such clients to request unlimited use (including advertising), which was the original request from this client. However, I felt that such usage should be negotiated separately for each client (especially in this case since there were a few companies involved that could take full advantage of unlimited use), and we were able to convince them to limit the initial licensing to Collateral and Publicity use only.

Additionally, the commercial architectural photography segment of the industry has established rates that have more or less become standard. That’s mostly due to the same type of projects arising again and again for the same types of clients with similar expecations for the scope of the project and licensing. Oftentimes, architectural photographers are charging up to a few thousand dollars a day, plus expenses and a per image processing fee. In some cases, architectural photographers are even making more money on the processing than they are on the shoot. Given the time it takes for an experienced architectural photographer to process an image, they can earn a substantial amount of money by charging accordingly.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these “standard” rates, as long as the photographer recognizes projects that fall outside of the typical project for an architecture firm or an interior design company. For instance, there are plenty of major brands that need architectural images to promote and sell products (like paint companies, home/garden products, appliance manufactures), and the typical rates that architectural photographers are charging their real-estate or architecture firm clients are most definitely not appropriate for these other companies.

In this case, we knew the parties were all interested in having the photographer capture 30 exterior images (20 during the day and 10 at night), and 20 interior images. Also, based on the shot list, time of day required for each shot and the photographer’s experience, we determined that the shoot would require four shoot days. Given the intended use, and having a grasp on what the local competition might be charging, we came up with a modest creative/licensing fee of $10,000. However, that fee did not account for multiple parties, and I felt it was only appropriate for a single client. So, that begs the question of how to charge for multiple parties licensing the same images.

A common tactic used by architectural photographers in these situations is to add a 33% surcharge to the fee for each additional party involved, and have all of the clients split the overall fee and all expenses. This tactic and approach can vary, especially if each client wants different images, but based on this concept and the fact that everyone was planning to share all of the images, we decided that each additional party joining in would increase the fee by $3,300 (33% of the $10,000 fee). Since those parties were still being lined up while we compiled the estimate, we included this rate as a “licensing option”.

Photographer Travel/Scout Days: The photographer would fly to the location on one day, scout the following day, and then fly home the day after the final shoot day.

First Assistant: The photographer would bring his first assistant with him, and this accounted for two travel days, one scout day and four shoot days.

Second Assistant: We included a local second assistant for each shoot day since the venue was quite large, and the photographer would need an extra set of hands to carry and set up equipment.

Equipment: The photographer owned all of his own gear, and decided to charge a rate of $1,000/day for wear and tear on his camera, lenses, lighting and grip, and based the total rate on a “3 days same as a week” discount that most rental houses apply.

Airfare, Lodging, Car Rental: I used kayak.com to estimate these rates based on the production schedule. Flights were a few hundred dollars round trip, which I rounded up to $500 per person (for the photographer and his assistant) to include baggage fees and fluctuation. Lodging was in the neighborhood of $200/night and I factored in six nights for two rooms. The car rental rate included $20/day insurance and fuel.

Parking, Meals, Misc.: I included a $75/day per diem for the photographer and his assistant for 7 days each, and included $25/day for lunch for the second assistant each day. Additionally, I included $100 for each shoot day to account for miscellaneous unpredictable expenses that may have come up during the trip. That totaled $1,550, which I rounded down to an even $1,500.

Shoot Processing for Client Review: This covered the time it would take the photographer to transfer and review all of the images in order to compile a web gallery for the client to choose from. Since most architectural images require a descent amount of post production and layering, I included this rate to account for some basic compositing the photographer would need to do prior to showing the images to his client. It would basically get the images headed in the right direction before really diving in and performing the more time consuming processing.

Selects Processed for Reproduction: As I mentioned earlier, it’s common to separate image processing fees and charge them to each party involved based on the images they want. However, since we felt we were already at the limits of the budgetary threshold, we included all 50 images for a single lump fee of $10,000. This broke down to $200/image, which would account for an additional 1-2 hours of retouching for each image.

Results: The project was awarded to the photographer, although he did end up making a few concessions by waiving his travel days, reducing the post processing fee a bit, and coming down on his equipment expenses. However, the four other clients did jump on board, which increased his fee by $13,200 ($3,300 each).

There Are 4 Comments On This Article.

  1. Terrific post. I’m primarily an architectural photographer, and this description totally jibes with my own experience and what I’ve heard from my peers. I particularly like that you’ve called out the kinds of usage and cost details that are specific to architectural photography.

    I hope this will be useful not only to other people in my speciality, but for non-specialist photographers who I know occasionally get asked to bid on architectural projects and worry that while they know to do the work, they are puzzled by the particularities of architectural contracts and the culture.

  2. Good break out of the estimate – pricing architecture photography is strange, but at least they have “standard” rates.

    One point on the negotiation; essentially they got a buy 3 get the 4th free tire deal from your local Costco Automotive. By waiving the travel days and reducing the processing and kit fees; assuming it it comes in around a 4K reduction, they got an additional buy in for “free”.

    They were up front with telling you it was 4 additional parties, so there was nothing really gained by reducing/waiving the above fees. If that was the clients intention from the beginning, nothing really was lost, but structuring the additional buy in at fixed rate could have cost the photographer some $.

    Nonetheless, 23K for a 4 day shoot is not bad money in this market.

  3. How apropos. I’m negotiating with an architecture firm right now who plans on sharing this shoot with another commercial party and without seeing this I added a little less than 33%. It’s always a relief when you get some affirmation around the mirky process of pricing. Fingers crossed I get the job!

  4. I don’t shoot architecture but I do find this estimate very relevant to how I draft up an estimate for a commercial shoot. Understanding what the client needs are, how the images will be used and what will it take to satisfactorily deliver the images to client are all critical information that the photographer should be crystal clear on.

    I am usually dealing with one client per job but I particular like how a standard 33% is used for extending the creative licencing fee to additional clients. I think this could work for any situation where more than one clients are involve.

    I would love to hear from non architectural photographer. Great post with valuable information.

    Thanks for breaking it down and sharing. I really appreciate it.