Part 7: How long will this take? I need these photographs right away.
The answer to this question comes with a lot of variables. The short answer is, it depends on how specific and prepared you are with your photo request. It also depends on how complicated the attorneys or legal department has made it to work with creatives. Last but not least, it depends on the relationship you have with the photographer/vendor, if any.
Let’s first discuss the, (being specific and prepared) part of “How long will this take”. Whether you’re a small company looking to do a professional photo shoot for the first time, a large corporation, an Art Buyer/Producer or Art Director, the more specific you can be, the faster we can start shooting the job.
If you provide us with a specific shot list, shot descriptions, usage needed, look and feel mood boards, a ballpark budget, and deadline, we can get your project started pretty quickly. Maybe in a week or less depending how complicated the project is and the crew/photographer’s availability.
On the other hand, let me give you an example of what will slow the start of a project down. It’s not unusual that we’ll get an email or call asking for a cost of shooting “10 (some kind of) product shots” and 5 (some sort of lifestyle) shots. This doesn’t give us enough information to give you an estimate. What kind of product shots? Are they chrome teapots? These take a long time to light and retouch. Are there any group shots? These take more time to set up and light. Do you want props around the products? If so, who’s getting the props? What kind of surface do you want the product sitting on? Are we going to shoot the products at a low angle? If so, what kind of background do you want behind them? What kind of lighting do you want? Do you want any special effects? Is your product photo ready or will it need to be unpacked and assembled? Who is packing the product back up for shipping?
Do you want the products shot in the studio or location? If location, where is the location. Depending on the complexity of the shots and location, this may mean we need to rent a van to haul all the equipment needed. I may also require additional crew to assist with the production. I’ll stop here, but there are numerous other specific questions that will need to be answered just to get you an accurate estimate. Now, let’s talk about the lifestyle shots. What is the location? Is it a home? Is it a business? Is it in a park? If its a home, what style of home? Do we need to find a contemporary or traditional home? Will we need to prop the home? What kind of props and who’s shopping for the props? If it’s a business, do you have one in mind? What hours of the day can we shoot in the business without interrupting it? Will we need to pay them rental fees and employee overtime? Will they require a certificate of insurance showing we have liability insurance covering them, if something goes wrong or damaged? If we are shooting in a park, on a sidewalk or street we will need permits. This can sometimes take a week or more to locate the proper authorities and secure a permit. Photographing on location, will most likely require a “location scout” to go out and photograph different locations for your approval. Will we need models? How many and what ages? What ethnic mix do you want? Now you will need a hair and make-up stylist, a wardrobe stylist, a production coordinator to make the production run smooth and coordinate the models, catering, where the models change, etc., etc. As you can see a simple product shoot can get complicated very fast. The more of this information we know up front, the quicker we can estimate the cost of the project and begin checking on the availability of crew and talent.
Now let’s discuss the other major factor that can effect, “ How long will it take?”. “Legal”.
Let me give you a vendor’s prospective and a little editorial opinion. We’ve both worked for many of the world’s top corporations and a lot of the countries top advertising agencies over the past 30 years. Over that time we have seen the legal end of a photo shoot only get more ridicules and complicated. As little as ten years ago, P.O.’s and Terms and Conditions were usually less than a page long. They were pretty standard and for the most part reasonable. Since then the legal aspect of photography/motion has gotten crazy. It’s not unusual to see a P.O. that is 3 to 5 pages long and a “Master Service Agreement” can be 10 to 20 pages long. Here’s my editorial opinion on this. It seems to have gotten more complicated when personal relations with the photographer/vendor started to get devalued. As few as 5 years ago there was a lot more in-person interaction between a client and photographer/vendor. For example, In-person client meetings, in-person portfolio showings, after hours get togethers and phone calls were commonplace. Now, most everything is primarily done via email, text, or face time. These give you very little if any real understanding of the person you’re dealing with. When you meet someone in person you can get a since if they are honest, trustworthy, passionate, flexible. With quick forms of digital communication it is much harder, if not impossible to translate these attributes. Ok, that’s my editorial opinion. Having said that, we all have to deal with the way things are currently. This usually means our terms and conditions are longer and more complicated also. It also means we usually have our attorney look over the legal paper work and suggest any concerns they may have on our behalf. After this, we have our attorney contact your attorney or legal department and hash out a revised legal document if changes are needed. This all takes time and money. Trust me, we don’t want to be thought of as hard to work with, but we need to make sure we protect our business interest, our ability to make a profit, and not get ourselves in hot water down the road. These are serious and important documents where every word has legal ramifications for both parties. Unfortunately, what the attorneys agree to often doesn’t get passed on to the person at the photo shoot. This can cause issues. I suggest making sure you know all the current terms and conditions of the contract before the shoot. It will help avoid issues why’ll shooting. The quicker we can get these documents the quicker we can get started with this process and the faster we can get your photography project started.
Part 5: How much will this cost?
How much is this house?
I’m not trying to be flip here, but clients working with professional photographers for the first time often approach the project based on their previous experience of hiring someone with a camera to show up and take some pictures. A commercial photo shoot is more akin to building a custom home, and so there are more steps involved, more decisions required, and therefore more time needed to accurately define the goals, requirements and artistic influences that will be used to create the finished product - from foundation to landscaping.
First presented with a client’s initially undefined “dream house”, the commercial photographer is essentially the architect of a photography project. There are basic questions to be asked and answered to clarify the wishes of the client and the general requirements of the project, and then it’s the architect’s job to research, develop and present options and suggestions to fulfill, and enhance, that basic idea. Expect several meetings to gather information, define the scope and refine specifics. Allow time for the photographer to consider new information and develop ideas, solutions, and strategies for effective production. We are building your custom home from scratch. There are many potential solutions to each phase of your project - and the architect has to design, evaluate and itemize each phase individually while ensuring its successful integration into the whole production.
Are you concerned about cost? So are we. No responsible photographer tries to inflate the cost of a project by adding unnecessary expenses or suggesting frivolous or indulgent solutions. But we are tasked with developing creative solutions and there has to be a place for the presentation and discussion of various ideas or treatments as we refine the specifics that will be used for your project. This is why a series of fact-finding meetings or a phone conversation is essential - before an estimate can be created.
Clients who request a price from a photographer based solely on their internally-generated description of a project do themselves a disservice, and virtually guarantee a high, and more importantly inaccurate, first bid. This scenario excludes the photographer from applying his experience and creativity to the development of an affordable and executable concept and forces the experienced professional photographer to factor in the extraneous costs involved in managing and delivering an undefined project.
Likewise, clients who either have not defined a budget or who refuse to share an accurate range of expense with a photographer in the development phase of a project will complicate the process, squandering valuable time and resources (theirs and the photographer’s) in the pursuit of unrealistic expectations. Just as there are many options to consider in building a house that can influence the cost without compromising livability, there are also production options which can be incorporated into the final production strategy that accomplishes the goals while attending to budgetary needs and without sacrificing effectiveness. Let your photographer develop a photo solution that meets all of your needs, including your budget.
And so - how much is a photo shoot?
Once the concept is established and the project is defined, the estimate is simply math. Sorry for continuing the construction analogy, but at this point it comes down to time and materials, and the estimate is relatively easy to prepare. A 2-bedroom house is this much. Adding a pool is extra. Don’t need air-conditioning? You already own the lot? How about a moat? See what I mean?
The result is an accurate, itemized estimate that can be explained, understood, justified and evaluated. Would you like to spend less - what can be modified or removed? Did it come in lower than you expected? Where might you consider adding value or effectiveness to the end results that would justify some additional expense?
And so the answer to how much a photo shoot/production will cost is based on knowing exactly what we are being asked to produce. The more information and specifics you can provide a photographer, the more accurate they can be with the estimated cost. For example: Provide layouts or sketches, how many shots you need, provide an in depth description of what you’re wanting to communicate, provide example photos that convey the look and feel you’re wanting to communicate. Do you want video motion shots at the same time? Photographers do realize there are times you don’t have all the information you need, but are being pressured to get some numbers. If this is the case, you will most likely get a very loose ballpark estimate until you get more information.
An experienced photographer is usually willing to ‘ballpark’ a cost based on the experience of years of production as a way of qualifying a project before investing in the meetings and concept development, which are required for an accurate estimate. An inexperienced photographer will quote a price over the phone or in an email, and generally under-estimate the complexity and commitment required to deliver a quality product.
I can say with certainty that a client asking for a ‘day rate’, or requesting a price without having a conversation with the photographer, will end up with a wildly inaccurate idea of cost, and be missing the opportunity to have a professional image maker develop a custom solution for their photography needs. You’d be surprised what a short phone call does to quickly help get you an accurate cost.
Part 4: What is Image Licensing?
A discussion of Image Licensing - or the licensing of any intellectual property - begins with an agreement to accept the the Laws of Copyright, first enacted in the United States by Congress in May, 1790. Copyright Law says that upon creation of a work in a fixed form, that work immediately becomes the exclusive property of the author who created it. No one else can claim copyright of the work, and control of its use is a the discretion of the copyright owner. A copyright holder has the option, but not the obligation, to permit the use of one or more of his/her copyrighted works. This permission is often granted through a license agreement that stipulates the specific work being licensed, the exact use(s) being granted, and the duration or term that the license will be in effect, after which time the license expires and ownership of the work remains with the copyright holder/creator.
Under treaty of “The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works”, over 170 countries agree to mutually respect each others’ copyright laws. Copyrighted work can be literary, musical, dramatic, pantomime, choreography, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, motion picture, audiovisual, sound recording, architectural work, mask works fixed in semiconductor chip products, or a computer program.
Copyright gives its owner the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license that work, and to produce or license derivatives of his or her work. Works are covered whether or not a copyright notice is attached and whether or not the work is registered. Copyright ownership occurs automatically at the moment of creation, and no one but the author can claim copyright to the work, unless the author grants rights to others in a written agreement. This is a very important aspect to know about photography. If a photographer photographs a project for you and doesn’t include in the contract a written licensing agreement, you have nothing. Per the US Copyright Laws, unless some form of usage licensing has been transferred to you in writing, you have no legal right to use the images. If you have a photographer shoot a project for you and just hand you a thumb drive with the images, you paid for nothing. Get the transfer of the copyright licensing in writing!
How does this apply to photography?
Photographs have a shelf life. Clothing and furniture styles change, old products are updated and new ones introduced, employees come and go, companies move and add locations and facilities. Commercial photographs need to change along with all of those business variables, and so a photograph that works today may or may not be the right image in 2 or 3 years. It sounds obvious, but before a photograph is created by a photographer, the photograph doesn't exist. It is the action of the photographer that creates an image. And it’s his control of an image’s use through licensing that is the foundation of the business model for professional photography. The license not only grants use rights to licensors, but provides a mechanism to prevent or prosecute the theft and un-authorized exploitation of an image by non-licensed parties, like a client’s competitors.
There are two fundamental advantages in the image license model to the consumer. First, since each different type of use is factored into the license cost, clients can purchase only the uses they need, instead of purchasing an expensive “all-use for all-time” license which would be prohibitively expensive. The second advantage is that if the image proves successful for the client, the license can be renewed at the end of its term, usually for a fee substantially less than the cost of a new photo shoot.
There is a third advantage, often overlooked by clients, is the very real incentive to the photographer to work even harder to create exceptional images. If the goal from the beginning is to create images that exceed the client’s expectations, and if there is a reward for that effort in the form of future licensing revenues from images that continue to offer value to our clients, the result is a win-win situation, with the client saving money on future shoots and the photographer being compensated for outstanding and timeless work.
Often clients don’t want to have to decide how their images will be used up front. Although that sounds reasonable, with a little investigation of advertising and publishing history, a fairly accurate expectation of uses can be identified. This is invaluable to both the client and the photographer so that, in the estimating process, the professional photographer can address requirements for resolution, size, media and methods for display and publication, and ensure that the images produced will meet the technical requirements for use.
This discussion won’t be complete without a mention of the wildly popular concept of “Work For Hire”. Irrelevant, yet often proffered in client-supplied contracts, “Work For Hire” is an attempt by corporations to gain the immediate copyright ownership for work done by employee photographers, without actually employing those workers. “Work For Hire” clauses typically assume that the company, not the photographer, will get immediate ownership of each image copyright upon creation (just as would happen in the case of works created by a company employee), but are accompanied by an “Independent Contractor” clause that states that the photographer IS NOT an employee, must work as a completely independent entity (providing his/her own equipment, transportation, insurance coverages, liability indemnification, tax responsibilities) and relinquishing any and all rights to use of the images they make, and standard employee benefits like guaranteed contracted employment, health care coverage, participation in pension and retirement plans, company-provided tools and equipment, coverage under blanket company insurance for liability, errors and commissions protections, and workman compensation in the event of an accident. Often presented at the last minute as a requirement for awarding a project that has already been negotiated, this is a one-sided, rights-grabbing tactic that inexperienced photographers often agree to without understanding its impact, but which experienced professionals recognize as an untenable demand and almost categorically strike from the contract.
If a client truly feels that they need the unrestricted use of an image, with unlimited rights in perpetuity (and on planets yet to be discovered in galaxies as yet unseen), a license can be created to give them those rights. It will, however, be expensive. Some might say ‘out of this world.
Part 3: How do I choose the right commercial photographer? What am I looking for in their portfolio and the first conversation with them?
Just as you have carefully defined your own business, photographers can be divided into a few basic categories, and then sub-divided into additional areas of specialization and expertise. Choosing the right photographer will require that you identify the general type of photography required for your project (architecture, food, product, fashion/glamour, portraiture, automotive, action), and then considering photographers who show additional experience or expertise in dealing with some of the subtleties of your particular project.
Many clients begin their search for a photographer with some kind of “shot list” - a general list of locations or products, or the number of photographs needed based on plans for brochure pages or social media space. Often those basic lists fail to consider the contribution of intangibles like style, mood, and message that will inhabit each frame, and will personalize and add meaning that brings the final images to life. At the point where you have decided to consider working with a professional photographer, you should be looking for someone who can turn your shot list into effective images - a collaborator who speaks the complex and nuanced visual language required to tell your story and can contribute ideas beyond your initial thinking.
REVIEW WORK ONLINE
The first step in selecting photographers to interview usually begins with viewing websites. Photographers generally try to define their area(s) of expertise in separate portfolios or collections of images representing their latest projects and their most accomplished work. Almost immediately you’ll start to see differences in visual styles from one photographer to the next, and the closer you look, the more you’ll start to feel that certain images work better for you than others. You may see work that’s been done in your industry, making those images more relevant to your project; and then you may see styles that you hadn’t considered that make you think about your photo shoot in a whole new way. Some photographers have just one look that they’ve honed and perfected, and some are versatile - successful and comfortable working in a number of different styles. As you react to the images, remember that each of the projects you are being shown may have been created for a client like you, with a shot list, aesthetic requests, specific locations, product requirements and business outcomes that shaped the final results.
IS THEIR PORTFOLIO CONSISTANT
You’ve spent a lot of time and money on your logo, your brand’s colors, the copy you use to communicate your brand. Your “Visual Branding” is just as important. It should have a consistent look and feel also. Although a photographer may specialize in a number of different categories, ( lifestyle, fashion, product, etc.), each portfolio or collection of images may be photographed in a different “Visual Language”, but each category should have a consistent look and feel. A consistent portfolio is directly related to our next point, “Experience”
Most photographers will also post a list of their clients. Combined with the images themselves, this can speak to their experience level and give some insight into the size and quality of the projects they’ve worked on. Don’t underestimate the value of experience. A valid (10-year?) track record in business means that they have successfully navigated the intricacies of a variety of clients and productions. They’ve identified and solved more issues than your single project can present, and know how to avoid problems before they arise. They work efficiently and responsibly, carry insurance, have covered the legal aspects of permits, location fees, model and property releases, copyright, trademark clearances, labor and employment laws, unions, taxes etc., and know how to provide all of the elements required to complete your images seamlessly through post-production, and to industry standards.
Take your time with this research, and assemble a list of a few photographers whose work you connect with, who create images you would be proud to have represent your business.
Of course an in person meeting is best, but a phone or Skype discussion is an option for out-of-town connections.
There is a person behind each of those images, and that’s who you’re going to be working with.
The initial meeting is your opportunity to put a personality with the images. Often a photographer will present work in an in person meeting that is assembled based on your description of the project, and may not have been on their website. Ask questions. There’s a story behind every image that may be relevant to your project.. Discuss budgets. Experience will come with an “investment” price tag - but understanding what it takes to produce an image will help you grasp the value of the photographer as a collaborator and creative problem-solver.
Evaluate your discussions. Are they listening to your ideas? Are they offering suggestions that parallel yours and presenting relevant new perspectives that you hadn’t considered? Are they knowledgeable about what’s needed to accomplish the project? Can they articulate the practical aspects of production as well as the aesthetics, and balance the two? And do you sense a genuine interest in your work and a commitment to taking your basic ideas and adding tangible value?
A good photographer won’t try to ‘sell’ you on his photography. In fact, he or she is, in that very same meeting, trying to evaluate you as much as you are him. The success of any project relies on good chemistry between personalities, and a common ground of mutual respect.
A good photographer is trying to thoroughly understand his client’s needs and aesthetics in order to create successful images. And a good client knows that hiring an expert is wasted if you don’t let them do their job, keeping an open mind to ideas and solutions that appear as a project evolves.
After having a number of discussions with the photographer, you will probably find that each one has a slightly different approach to your project. These may be basic stylistic differences, approach to producing your job, their previous experience on similar projects, and/or fundamental suggestions that they make that change your initial preconceptions about what the project should look like. These initial discussions and meetings are about ideas and possibilities - and your sense of the potential to achieve them. Understanding each photographer’s vision is essential to the next step - choosing the photographer for your project.