Friday, February 2, 2007

The Friendly Photo Editor

Consider the friendly photo editor.

They are the ones who fought for you, the photographer, so that you didn't have to be presented with a WMFH agreement. They fought for you to be paid a fair rate, and you didn't even know it.

Sometimes, they are upfront with you, and tell you that, while they know that their approved rate is low, that it is perfectly acceptable to bill for every piece of equipment as rental, since you either rented it yourself, or incurred the expense of owning it.

In some instances, these photo editors will direct you to bill prep days. They will find ways for you to arrive at their required line item maximum rates, but where your bottom line is what you wanted it to be in the first place.

Are these photo editors (the ones who tell you to hike your rate in other ways) helpful? Yes, in a way. No, in another.

For the "Yes" side, we suggest, it's the bottom line that matters. If what the publication is willing to pay equals what you want to be paid, then does it really matter how that number is arrived at? Many photographers just list:

  • Assignment Fee - $1,500.

But what about this:

  • Assignment Fee - $1,000.

  • Lighting Rental - $ 500.

Are we just assuming that the photo editor wouldn't pay that? That they assume we own the equipment? Isn't this a fair way to approach it? Some shoots are more complicated, and require more equipment, so this makes sense.

Yet, many photographers will trot out what amounts to $1k in equipment rental, and do the assignment for $750. I think that, when a good dialog exists between photographer and assigning editor, everything can be fairly worked out, for the most part.

Often, when I am speaking with a photo editor, and I ask "What budget are you trying to work within?", and following the answer, my next question is "are you including expenses, like an assistant, and equipment, post production, and so on, in that figure, or is that 'plus expenses'", and their answers are evenly split. Some say "that's including expenses", or "that's plus expenses", or, "that's plus expenses, but don't go over $X." It just depends upon how they prefer to outline the assignment.

Through this dialog, we can learn if it's a reasonable request, or not. Sometimes though, even the friendly photo editor does need a little help on this.

Consider now, the "No" side. The argument that advising you to bill for prep days, to bill for extra equipment, for a travel day when it really didn't apply, etc means that they are not completely friendly. They absolutely mean well. However, the "Yes" side is somewhat of a Machiavellian approach to assigning photography. The idea that the ends (i.e. bottom line is all that matters) justify the means. Here, for the suggestion that the photo editor is not friendly (but are well meaning I again want to emphasize) the ends should not be justified by the means. The PE should be given the leeway to sign off on whatever the specific line items are, rather than be subject to the bean counters telling them that X, Y, or Z is what is paid. Yes, yes, I know. This is supposed to be optimal, but it's not really realistic. Or is it? Is it fair? I think that if there is a range of fees, and the PE advises you that it is "plus expenses, including equipment", then I think that would work.

For me, and I think this is the best way, is to ask "plus expenses - assistant, lighting rental?" And if they say yes, then we're all set. If they say "oh, that's including everyting", then I need to see if that's fair when I add everything up. This takes the onous off of the PE, and back on us, to ask the right questions.
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