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.