by Bill Cramer

While I’ve shot my share of assignments for name-brand publications over the years, I’ve enjoyed working for niche magazines just as much. IEEE Spectrum is one that you won’t find on any magazine rack unless you happen to be standing in an engineering school library. Published monthly by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, they have 380,000 readers. My dad was one of those readers. He was an electrical engineer (you can’t spell geek without “E.E.”). He thought enough of the magazine that we transported stacks and stacks of them to California when we moved there in the 70′s (then back to PA four years later). So, I always have a little extra sense of purpose when I get to shoot for them.

I recently got a call from their photo editor, Randi Silberman Klett, to make some pictures for their annual “Dream Jobs” issue. She asked me to photograph a guy named Simon Hager, who runs a program for high school students in Philadelphia called The Sustainability Workshop. Most of his work focuses on teaching kids how to build electric cars. Even though I had shot assignments for Spectrum before, it was time for a new contract. Some magazines have contracts that last indefinitely. Others send out a new contract with each assignment. Spectrum prefers to renew their contract with their photographers each year.

Here’s a look at it:


Here are my comments:

1) Photographer Responsibilities. They set up a purchase order with a budget that you’ll never reach. It says $40k here, but I’ve never billed them for more than a few thousand dollars a year.

2) Rights Granted to IEEE.

a) First worldwide publication rights in any form. Theirs exclusively for 90 days from first publication, non-exclusive after that. This implies to me that they can use the pictures in subsequent editions of the magazine without additional fee. That’s not ideal, but it’s unlikely enough that I decided it wasn’t worth fighting for.

b) Use of the pictures in the context of the magazine, to promote Spectrum, as well as use of my likeness. If I was famous, I would probably want to get paid for that. But I’m not.

c) Use in article reprints only after agreeing on a separate fee. Many photographers underestimate the value of article reprints. But I’ve sold enough to know that they are generally worth more (sometimes much more) than the original assignment. Though some magazines try to bundle those rights into the shoot fee, it makes more sense to separate them.

d) Electronic use is included. Fine.

e) Photographer retains copyright. Naturally.

3) Compensation. 600.00/day vs. space. Historically, it’s been customary for magazines to structure their fees in terms of a day rate against space. This way, the photographer makes a nominal fee for one or two small pictures, and the fee automatically scales up when the magazine uses more or bigger pictures or if they use one on the cover. It’s an elegant system for magazines, who don’t always know in advance how they’re going to use the pictures. In this case, Spectrum is agreeing to pay 600.00/day at a minimum. If your picture appears a full-page or larger, you get an extra 200.00. And if it shows up on the cover, you get an additional 1200.00. I like that they’re paying for space, but the wording is a little vague. Do you get paid the same amount if your picture runs one full-page or two full-pages?

4) Expenses. You’re an independent contractor. You’re going to provide receipts to get reimbursed for expenses. Sure.

5) Timing and Form of Submission. You’re going to turn in your photos on time. Of course.

6) Warranties. You made the pictures and they aren’t obscene. Okay.

7) Indemnification. You agree to pay for Spectrum’s attorney’s fees if you do anything to get them sued. This sounds pretty scary, but then you read further and discover that the limit of your liability is the amount of the assignment fee. I think that’s very reasonable. In an ideal world, they would likewise indemnify the photographer in cases where they do something to get the photographer sued.

8) Termination. They can terminate an assignment at any time, though they’ll pay you some or all of your fee depending on how much work you have put in on the project. Fine.

9) IEEE is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Nice to know.

10) Entire Agreement. Okay.

Overall, I think it’s a pretty fair contract. I give it “two thumbs up!”

I shot the assignment. Simon and his students were super-cooperative and photogenic. Their workshop turnout out to be a big, old warehouse that provided a great backdrop for the photos and there were tons of props to work with. If only every assignment was this easy! Here’s the web gallery.

Randi loved the pictures. She used one for the opener, across nearly two full-pages (I didn’t make the cover – rats!) She also used a second picture about a half-page. Here’s how it looked in the magazine:



I was thrilled with the display, plus it was nice to know that there would be some extra space rate. But looking at the contract, I couldn’t figure out what it should be. I emailed Randi and she told me to bill her 800.00 for the big picture and 600.00 for the small one. I saw the logic that the big picture was “…used at a full page or greater ($200 additional).” Meaning that it was the 600.00 day rate plus an extra 200.00 for that first picture being big. But as far as I can tell, the 600.00 for the second picture was arbitrary. Not that I’m complaining, I think it’s fair. (After all, I’m the one who signed an ambiguous contract.) If we were counting space in a more typical fashion, thinking in terms of 600.00/day vs. 600.00/page, I would count about 1100.00 for the opener (nearly 2 pages at 600.00) and 400.00 for the additional picture (about 2/3 of 600.00), resulting in 1500.00 rather than 1400.00. But what’s 100.00 between friends? I was happy with the fee. (I probably would have asked for more clarification ahead of time if it wasn’t a client that I didn’t know and trust.)

My expenses were pretty typical. One assistant at 250.00. Web gallery at 300.00. Strobe rental at 300.00. Two file preps at 25.00, and mileage. I bought my assistant lunch, but I usually don’t bill meals unless it’s a full-day assignment. Here’s my invoice:


Please let us know what you think in the comments. And read more about our Pricing & Negotiating services on our new Consulting page.

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  1. The invoice photograph is a bit too small to read.

  2. Really appreciate your sharing all of this information, as well as the other invoices and negotiation processes you’ve shared on this blog. Can’t tell you how much it helps a poor photographer way out in the hinterlands of Montana.

    Thank you very much.


  3. $250.00 a day for a photo assistant!?!?
    That’s what assistants got back in 1996.
    Are you saying that the cost of living has not gone up in the 18 years?

    At the very least assistants should be getting $350 for editorial.
    And if the magazine won’t pay that fee than the photographer needs to cover the difference or become better at negotiating and get the money out of the client.

    • Outside of New York City, I have found 250.00/day to be a middle-of-the-road rate for magazines. Some magazines will insist on paying 225.00. We usually bill out 350.00/day for assistants on commercial assignments, perhaps more for someone with extensive experience.

  4. Another piece of enlightenment from Wonderful Machine, solid photography too. I’m thankful that we have a Bill Cramer around whose work brings some light and hope into the conversation. Just wrestiling with a big media contract myself there days, which I cannot accept the terms of. Off to counter their offer with that of mine now. Wish me luck!

  5. Great post. Do you mind going into the web gallery fee? Just curious as to how you arrived at the pricing and what it was specifically for. Is this just the gallery that you sent the photo editor to choose their selects?

    • The 300.00 web gallery fee pays for the process of organizing, editing, naming, and tweaking the files, running the gallery, posting it to an FTP, plus compensation for maintaining a computer, software, internet access.

  6. I feel the image prep fee is too low: consider where we have come, prints back in the darkroom days were 75 or so for 11×14, any sort of real attention and that doubled. It seems like you are not really charging for your time or skill at 25 a pop. Not to mention any retouching that might have occurred,, the ftp or delivery method, plus your availability just to do this- if you had to get a printer to do this no way they could support a business at 25/file and be any good.

    The “print” is where you separate yourself from everyone else, like in cinema, “grading” is the fine attention to color and pallete. It should be distinctive, not just s.o.o.c jpegs. 25 for that, sure.

    • I agree. For the time involved, 50.00/file for basic processing and clean-up would be more proportional to the time and expertise required. However, this is a moot point as photographers line up to do assignments for flat rates.

  7. Thank you for sharing . Good / clean explanation and structure.

    I was a bit surprised with web gallery price , but in comment I see it is
    amount that for myself I label as “lowres” work .

  8. Thanks Bill it’s always a pleasure to see your work and thought process.

  9. Thank you for sharing Bill.

  10. Makes me slightly sad that in one wing of the action sports industry a cover will score you £190 over here. Double page image £140 say… These are magazines commonly found in newsagents too with good circulation in the niche it has.

    Things like these are always eye-openers being fresh to the business.

  11. Post new photos each time you lose 10 pounds so you can see the difference.
    This shows that you aren’t just posting a blog to post a blog.

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