Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This entry stems from an incident that, while it happened over a year ago, still bugs me.

I’d had a call from a prospective client who asked what I’d charge to shoot a trade ad, an environmental portrait of three people to be made on a satellite "dish farm" in the rolling hills of Sussex County. It had to be photographed on a specific date as the subjects would be available only on that day (no alternate date possible).

I asked questions regarding usage, walked through the shoot, scoped-out the alternatives in case of inclement weather, determined my contingencies, wrote and faxed a detailed estimate to the prospective client. I waited a day and when I didn't hear back I called to ask if she got my fax.

Yes, she'd received it and said she had questions about some of my charges. As soon as she said that I knew I wasn't going to land the assignment. I knew it because if she was interested in having me shoot it she wouldn't have waited for me to call her... so, why did we discuss it? I wanted to know why I wouldn’t be shooting and I wanted the opportunity to make a case for why I should, rather than hiring someone else.

First she wanted to know why I was charging a fee that seemed to be more than for the half-day shoot she’d envisioned? This was to be a "simple portrait." I explained that nothing is a simple portrait, it's not a snap-shot and by the time my crew and I arrive at the location it's already been a half day and we haven't even begun to work. We still have to set-up, shoot, break down, etc. Post-production alone will take a full day and I wanted to spend a half-day scouting the location in advance, planning possible angles or where and how to shoot the job indoors if it rains. Last, my fees are set according to how her company will use the images... how often, for how long, in what specific media, etc. My fees (your fees, our fees) should be commensurate with the value received by the client. I'm not a plumber and I don't charge by the hour.

Next we moved on to my charges for insurance. She said that she's not used to that. I explained that any time I photograph at a third-party's location my insurance company insists that I name the property-owner as a co-insured for the day, whether or not the property-owner requires it. If I have an accident resulting in an injury, or damage to the facility, then I'm covered and so is the owner (and so is my client!!). My insurance company charges for this and I pass that charge along to my clients. Well, she didn't want to pay for insurance.

Next we wrestled with the concept of having wardrobe and a stylist as well as the wisdom of my plan to hire a groomer ("groomer" is photographer's double-speak for "hair & make-up artist," lest the guys think “hair & make-up” an affront to their manly electrical contractor self-image). Besides, this is advertising and advertising requires a modicum of production value. She didn't agree.

She also couldn't understand why I need two assistants on the job ("most advertising photographers work alone” ...they do??). She wanted me to eliminate catering, said there's no need to serve lunch for a ten o'clock shoot and certainly no need for breakfast for the crew (despite the fact that we start at four o'clock in the morning).

Next: "you said you’d shoot digital, you’re not using film, what are these processing charges?"

I mentioned that digital photography is more expensive and she'd actually save money if I shoot film. Raw files have to be converted, color corrected, retouched, noise added/removed, key-worded, archived, soft-proofed, transferred to a web gallery for selection, to portable media (duplicated with copies stored off-site), final files prepared and delivered on CD-ROM via FedEx or via FTP. It's an expensive proposition and it doesn't happen quickly even if she’s seen it done in the space of a 30 second spot, it actually takes many hours.

In the good old days, when I delivered a set of transparencies, the film had to be scanned, the scans color-corrected, sized and prepared for press. She’d have been charged for that service by her pre-press house and if I’m going to do work that a service bureau would charge for then, yeah, I charge for that too.

Why do I need to rent scrims, silks, reflectors and HMI lights ("whatever those are")? Well, if a client's counting on me and there's no sun that day I'd ensure the result by bringing my own sun, literally winning by rigging the game. I told her that I call this aspect of the mission professionalism. I simply will not allow myself to fail. You'd think she'd appreciate that, no?

After cutting the budget to the very bare minimum investment for her company, I still would have charged about $4600 for the shoot, and that's very, very low. "Oh, she said, "did I mention that we need to own the image outright? We require all rights, it's a work-for-hire."

I explained that if I did it as a WFH and transferred copyright I'd have to add a lot of zeroes to the bottom line, but I was willing to grant unlimited exclusive rights (not quite the same as WFH but it would meet her needs as well as mine). She said she'd talk to the VP and get back to me.

About an hour later I received an e-mail from her thanking me for my attention to her project, but that they'd decided to hire Photographer X because he would do it as a work-for-hire and only charge $1400, all in, and he’s an New Jersey ASMP member!!

Among the many benefits of ASMP membership is our peer-vetting of applicants, those not worthy (theoretically) don't qualify for membership. A standard, however loosely-defined, is maintained by our members. We also have ongoing and comprehensive educational programs to help our members remain current whether in the technical aspects of our trade or in prevailing business practices. Perhaps the best, most usefull benefit in practical application is the ASMP Find A Photographer search engine, whereby a prospective client can search for ASMP General Members by specialty or geographic region, the implication being that if a photographer is qualified to be an ASMP General Member, he or she is qualified to photograph your assignment. ASMP members uphold a certian standard, ASMP is a brand that can be relied upon.

At the end of the day, the fact that the winner is an ASMP member (here in New Jersey, one of my brothers) is the hardest for me to cope with. ASMP is not allowed to set rates, and I'm not suggesting that we do. But ASMP members are supposed to be well versed in their craft and utilize best practices in their business affairs. Again, there's a certain standard that should be upheld and my colleague failed me... and not just me, every other ASMP member as well and, doubtless but to a lesser degree, every other photographer too.


Blogger Matt McKee said...

Awsome summing of the situation, Joe! Been there, done that, got the pieces of paper (but not the shot).


9:24 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home