Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cost Justification Time

I just loved when John Nack over at Adobe revealed the color schema and iconography of the entire Adobe line (click here to see larger)

Which leads me to talk about software. Today, I committed to my upgrades to:

Yes, that would be the amazing CS3, the new Bridge, Lightroom, and the new Acrobat 8 Pro. All together, my upgrades ran just over $2k.

"That's A LOT of money, you say!"

I say, it's worth every dime. Each version, I do a reasoned analysis of the capabilities of the new upgrade. I did skip Acrobat 7, for example. I didn't see the cost justification for the number of seats I needed, and the functionality. However, with v8, I see the benefits.

When you're just flopping around thinking that post production doesn't cost much, or is no big deal, don't forget that on a fairly frequent basis, you'll need to be upgrading your software.

For those of you still using pirated versions of any software application, shame on you! Don't ever complain when someone steals your photographs, because that will make you a hypocrite. Then, when you have to shell out $600+ for a full (and, unless you're a bonafide student, that does NOT mean Academic version!) version of Photoshop, you'll understand why it is necessary to charge for Post-Production. Next week, check out Black Star Rising for more on post production charges justification.

For now, though, realize that your soon-to-be expense for your upgrades will only cover your use of the software for about 18 months, before you need to buy the next version, with whatever can't-live-without feature additions.

If you're not factoring in these software costs to your overall expense, you are setting yourself up for more bad business decisions as you "eat" things like upgraded computers, screens, and so on.
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Thursday, March 22, 2007

I Appreciate What I Earn

I've been doing a lot of readin' these past few days on forums and other blogs. (That's me, on the left, at my Remelli reading wheel. My laptop's on the floor to my right.) A lot of people are bitchin' about pricing, and RF, and so on. I've done that a few times here, hopefully somewhat constructively. However, in the end, I figure my revenue stream is fairly good. I can't see any lunatic justifying "earning" $0.50 off a license for a photo. You can't even buy a stamp with the $0.25 you have left after taxes.

My assignment fees range, of course, in the $500+expenses range easily to the nearing $2k mark for editorial, and start around $1k and frequently get above $3k for limited licensing of corporate work. I have also completed assignments that exceed $10k. In other words, my fees (and associated expenses) range according to complexity, extensive uses, and so on. For each assignment, I EARN what I am paid. (How the heck else do you think I could afford something so eccentric as a reading wheel??)


Try dialing 411 on your cell phone - $1.50
Try buying the local paper - $0.35
Try buying a hot dog and soda at Costco - $1.50
Try feeding a parking meter for an hour - $0.50

None of these things can you cover the cost of, with your after-tax profits of $0.25 from that $1 stock sale. You have spent more time working to produce that image than you'll earn on it, almost without exception, FOREVER.

I make no apologies for a fair, thoughtful, and earned revenue stream. I do what I can with portions of that, and my time, to give back to try to help others, and I am often saddened by others who don't have enough self-respect to charge similarly (self-determined) fair and thoughtful rates for their work.

And don't, for a minute, try to suggest that when you get paid $0.50 for the use of your image, you earned anything. You did not. Each use of that photograph represents a net loss. And, woe the businessman who sold everything he had below cost, loosing a few dollars on each, expecting to make it up on volume.

When I see people willing to work for photo credit, or for less than you could rent the equipment you are using and hand it to a monkey to make pictures, what I see people earning, is a reputation as a chump, or as a sucker.

If the local camera store rents a Nikon D2x ($125), single lens ($35), and strobe ($10) for $170, and you take an assignment for $150, you're the sucker. See, the camera store amortized that camera over it's useful (and functional) life, and determined what it cost them to have available for use, plus a moderate profit. When you use your same equipment (plus other lenses, and redundant cameras if you're professional), those same figures apply to you, and taking $150 is paying for the privledge of being that client's sucker. You didn't earn anything. You took a loss, and those losses will compound, over a year or two, and you'll be out of business. And, as PT Barnum once said, "there's a sucker born every minute", so, have no fear, someone will, in ignorant bliss, step in to take their chump change once you're out of the picture.

When you are paid a fair wage, plus profit, you appreciate what you earned. You earn respect from your clients as a professional that can contribute talent to a project. Two years ago, I was called on by a large corporate sponsor to cover a big Spring parade here in Washington. The fee plus expenses for a five hour day on a Saturday exceeded $3,500, with a limited rights package. Last year, someone got the bright idea that it could be done for (a lot) less, and I didn't get it (I asked and it was a lot less). I asked why (which I always do), and the client said price. "No problem, I hope to work with you in the future", I said, and I meant it. Low and behold, something didn't work out last year, because they came back to me again this year. "My fees have increased slightly since two years ago," I said. "No problem, please send along an estimate. This year we probably have two days we'll need you for", they said. "Great, I'll get those estimates right out to you. The rights packages will be the same, with a nominal increase in fees/expenses from two years ago" I said.

Two years ago, I earned that assignment's revenue. It was a profitable assignment for me. Last year, someone had the not-so-bright idea that a monkey with rental gear could do the job, so I did not do it. This year, I am appreciative that they have have returned and remember the level of service and quality images that were delivered when I did it last. I look forward to earning these upcoming assignment's revenue, and earning back this client's understanding of the value that I bring to bear on each assignment.

Respect, and especially self-respect, is not for sale to the lowest bidder, just ask the starlet hoping to make it big as an actress who starts out in adult flicks. For some reason, that just never works out for her. Ask the late night "if you've got a phone, you've got a lawyer" guy. Respect is earned, and not through nickel-and-dime "sales", but rather valuing your own work. Interestingly enough, it seems that the higher you price your time and licensing fees, the greater respect you get. Sure, you might have fewer assignments, but you'll have earned so much more respect for the work that you do do.

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Save the Date: March 28th, Philly Bound!

Best Business Practices for Photographers

Program description:
How do you operate a successful freelance photography business, even if you're a staffer? How do you determine your rates, handle supposedly "no-change" contracts, late-paying clients, and debates over rate increases. Simply put —the business of photography is just plain time-consuming and oftentimes daunting. How can you negotiate better? How do the needs of editorial and commercial clients diverge and intersect? During this presentation, John will address these topics and more as you learn to handle your business better and more efficiently. We’ll discuss considerations when developing rates and resources, designing a business model that accounts for everything from taxes to business expenses, plus several techniques for negotiating with clients.

Social Chit-Chat: 6:30 - 7:00 pm
Program begins: 7:00pm

Community College of Philadelphia :, Photo Studio B1-21 Bonnell Building, 1700 Spring Garden St 19130 215-751-8319

Other program details:

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Remembering A Legend

Monte Zucker, you may have heard, has gone on to his great reward. Monte first came into my consciousness when I learned that he and I shared the same lab, Custom Touch, in Hyattsville, Maryland. While I only met Monte once, he was legend amongst photographers, and rightly so.

A story I recount, I can assure you, is true. The story goes that Zucker, known to be the best wedding photographer in the business, was arriving to his appointment with a prospective bride, groom, and bride's parents, in the ultra-exclusive Potomac Maryland enclave. As he was walking towards the house, the florist, whom he knew quite well, was leaving. Monte asked if she was doing the wedding, and she said she was, and they'd just confirmed their budget for flowers. "How much?" Monte asked. "$30,000", came the reply. Monte contratulated the florist, and headed in to his appointment.

After looking through his work, and discussing his style, the bride's parents asked the unasked question, "How much for you to be the photographer?" Monte, not missing a beat, said "$30,000." The bill-paying parents were incredulous. "That's outrageous!" they said. Monte, always the calm and collected one, said softly "You're paying $30,000 for flowers, which will last one day. My photographs will last a lifetime, and always remind you of this wonderful occasion. They are certainly worth atleast as much as the flowers." With that, Monte booked the wedding.

We all have much to learn from Monte, not just from him as the consumate businessman, but more importantly, as a good person with a good heart. As is said in Matthew 25:23, "Well done, good and faithful servant...enter thou into the joy of thy lord." Rest in peace, Monte.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Hack Journalists and Paparazzi

When I picked up Saturday's Washington Post, I read the front page article by hack tabloid journalist Amy Goldstein, and then further read the trash written by that other muckraker Dana Milbank....

Oh, wait. Was that offensive? Hmmm. Reviewing the caption that accompanied Ms. Goldstein's article, dead center top above the fold, was the following caption:

"Valerie Plame strolls into the hearing room, the only sound the paparazzi's shutters."
Then, I read in Milbank's article the following:
"A hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building, March 16, 2007. Valerie Plame, playing herself, enters the room fashionably late, and 30 paparazzi start shooting. She walks with the slow poise of a catwalk model, pausing for the cameras on the way to the witness table."
Now, the photo is credited to the post's photographer, not a paparazzi. I know her. In other photographs from the event, published by Reuters, the AP, and (well, if you believe the reporter's count, and a round "30" seems a bit inaccurate to me) 27 others, are colleagues whom I know quite well, and they too are not paparazzi. To coin a phrase - "I know paparazzi. I've worked alongside paparazzi, and those men and women there that day were not paparazzi."

The word "paparazzi" is a pejorative. Just like calling the Post a tabloid. Just like calling Goldstein a hack or Milbank a muckraker. Those members of the Senate Press Photographers Gallery can courteously stand behind a velvet rope between two stanchions at the most intense of a news event, and all come away friends and bruise-free. The paparazzi require metal barricades be erected, and strong-armed security details to keep the true paparazzi from their prey.

Those photographers were the working press. The visual arm of the reporters you see clamoring for the Starr Report, the Iraqi Study Group Report, or any other hotly debated document's release. Do we ascribe to those reporters who are hoping to get the document and get it on air first or get their story onto the wire first, perjoratives?

I have known many a time a reporter has wanted a photographer with them on a story, because they know that having a photograph and solid headline will get their pieces read. A story without a photograph is less likely to be read, and a story with a large photograph is much more likely to be rememebered. These insights, from the EyeTrack III study reaffirm what photographers have already known, but some reporters might have forgotten. Clearly those that refer to their breathren in a derogatory manner need a refresher.
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The Importance of Markup

One of the things I have long held in high regard is my relationship with my agency - Black Star. They are a true photo agency, looking out for the best interests of their photographers, as opposed to those of Wall Street investors. Fair rates are secured, rights packages are licensed, and so on. They have had a blog running for awhile, Black Star Rising, and they've asked me to contribute to it (and I've created my own graphic to illustrate that). So, from time to time, I'll be posting over there, and encourage you to hop on over to the article that I wrote there instead of perusing it here. There are a bunch of other interesting articles to read there as well. The link for the article on the importance of marking up one's costs is: Markup? Yes Mark it up!

Check it out.

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