The Business of Photography Redux

by William Lulow

Since I seem to be on a tear about the “business,” I thought I would expound a bit more on the theme. All of us “professionals” always walk a thin line between what we think a job is worth and what the market will bear. There are clients who don’t have big budgets for items like stylists, assistants, location vans and wardrobe people, but still need to get photos of their products. I’m always trying to educate people about what goes into a professional photo shoot. There are many people in the background who actually make the photos look better, more professional. And, they are part of the cost of producing a quality shoot. It’s seldom just the photographer and the model. Even in a portrait shoot, a hair and makeup stylist can make all the difference. I’m reminded by a colleague who used to assist the late photographer Francesco Scavullo, that there were several professionals on the set whenever he did a portrait session. There were the assistants (two of them), the hair stylist, the makeup stylist, the prop stylist (Scavullo used to like to photograph his subjects on the floor of his studio and often needed fancy pillows, or other props), as well as the regular staff of his studio. So, even for a portrait, there may be eight to ten people participating.

But, it’s these types of “add-ons,” if you will, that make the difference between a “Scavullo shot” and a normal portrait. Scavullo was rumored to charge a few thousand dollars for his portraits, but that was also because of his reputation.

So, charging what the market will bear is dependent on what market you’re looking for and what those people consider regular costs of producing a top-notch photograph. There is also the very real and accepted practices in the advertising industry, for example, of charging higher fees the more places the ad will run. This is why I have stated that it is important for photographers to know how their photographs will be used and where they will appear. A small company may need a picture of its CEO for a website and he or she may think that the photo shouldn’t cost all that much. But, if that same shot was going to be used on the cover of Time Magazine, it would command a much higher fee.

Likewise, clients have to realize that there is really no such thing as “web use only.” Most small businesses I’ve worked for, really use the images I provide in a number of different places. If I’m doing a corporate portrait, for example, that picture may be used in an annual report, for the web, in a magazine, in a press release, for private use or any other way that the client wants. As a matter of fact, the greater the number of uses, the higher the fee should be.

Photographers’ fees are never a simple matter. Many things have to be taken into account. So, when a client says, “Oh, it’s just a quick shot for the web. Doesn’t have to be great!” That’s nonsense. If you take the time to go to a location, set up your equipment (even if you do flash-on-camera) take the trouble to set up a shot in a studio, it’s worth it to make it the best it can be.