Saturday, March 7, 2009

Staff Photography - Disney Style

Staff photography, in some arenas, still exists. A search on reveals a few positions that are open, but most are filled by word-of-mouth. The Office of Personnel Management is responsible for filling jobs within the Federal Government nationwide, and every state government has various staff photography jobs for a variety of reasons. Then there are those jobs working for catalog companies for furniture, clothing companies, and so on. Yes, some of those jobs are done by freelancers, especially the on-location stuff, but often, the clothing-on-white-seamless images are done in-house. By and large, these staff jobs are safe from cuts, especially those for the government.

While I have had the opportunity to have Disney as a client in the past, they have staff photographers at their resorts, and in a series of commercials they are running, use the job of photographer to sell the notion of a Disney vacation, under their new tag line - "What Will You Celebrate?" In fact, over a series of three commercials, lasting a minute each, they tell the story throughout a television program, within their theme "Short Stories".

Below, the three commercials are strung together, and worth a watch:

Interestingly enough, the value of photography - and the memories made with still images - is front and center throughout the pieces. So, what does Disney charge for these services?

(Continued after the Jump)

If you are having your wedding at Disney, here are their wedding photography rates. These rates are fair and reasonable when you consider the brand value of Disney, as well as the fact that you know you will get excellent photography, and an amazing setting as your backdrop. For these photographers, it is, no doubt, repetitive, but for each couple, who will never see other couples' photographs, it's an amazing memory.

At Disney Parks, you can get their Disney Photo Pass, and in one central location following your visit, wherever you had your photo taken by a Disney photographer, you can view and order the images online.

At this podcast, at around the 26 minute mark, you can hear an interview about the Photopass Portrait Sessions you can get for around $150 for 30 minutes of time. Here, you can learn more about what those photographers do. Unlike the photographers who wander other resorts or ball parks for just over minimum wage, these are full-time employees that likely are paid a living wage and have benefits. During the interview, the person being interviewed notes "all of your portrait images on a separate CD...and you are paying for that professional service... and you are getting copyright releases on the photos as well" which means you can turn up with the portraits to Wal-Mart/etc and legally get prints made from those files. Combining the portrait session with the around-the-park services costs you $200, so you get your own photographer(s) all over the Disney park for $200.

How does this work? How can this be profitable? Well, this works out to be $300 gross revenue per hour for these photographers that Disney collects. If you're a photographer working for Disney 40 hours a week, even if they're paying you $20 or $30 an hour, and earning $40-$60k a year (plus benefits), that's a decent starting wage as well as a tidy profit for Disney and also covers their overhead for back-office staffing, and so on.

Likely, other resorts offer similar staffing positions, and if there is a resort near you that does not have a package of photography they offer, taking the above models and considering how they could work for you and how you might sell them on it could help you make your own staff job a reality. During the initial contact, you can easily use the Disney URL's to convince a resort without photo services to offer them, since Disney is seen as the gold standard for resorts, it becomes an easier sell.

Will these be the most creative images you'll ever make? Nope. Could you get tired of working the same location over and over? Yup, probably. Will your photos be life-changing photojournalism? Definitely not. However, your images will make someone's trip memorable for sure, and you can remain a photographer instead of packing away the camera and changing fields entirely.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Anonymous said...

Dear John:

What a great blog this is. At other daily sites all you here from the pro's is;

"Your stupid post is why non of us hot shot pro's post here any more."

Now I know why, they don't really have anything to offer or they are just so full of themselves they can't post for fear of critisism from their peers.

Thanks for having integrity, compassion and independence of being. It's soooo refreshing in this industry of boors and theives.

Rich Mattingly said...

Great post, John! My family and I are at Disney right now enjoying a vacation and I was contemplating chatting up a photopass photog today (my wife threatened me not to yesterday since she gets furious when I talk business on vacation). Now I'm safe, and I'm extremely happy those hard-working folks are making a decent wage for the amount of hustling I saw them all doing yesterday in the Magic Kingdom.

Neil Rossmiller said...

Thanks John!
I've been a resort photographer for 27+ years and the reason I still have a contract is that we operate the business as a professional studio. There are many opportunities out there for photographers, young and old, to gain a foot hold in this field and to actually take back some turf. The dominant players operate on speed rather than quality and anyone willing to work hard can acquire a very solid base for a portrait business by operating as a pro studio.
Remember: oppernockity tunes only once!

Neil Rossmiller
Rossmiller Photography
Park City, Utah

- ALP Images - said...

One small fact from a previous full-time salaried Disney photographer (catalog work), many photographers on staff are no longer full time employees but rather "casual" employees who must follow a strict 29 hour a week rule. Believe me, a casual employee does not receive benefits or bonuses.

One particular department within Disney that I am extremely familiar with has one casual employee (he is the lead photographer BTW), two "temp" photographers who rotate around the 29 hour rule, and two full-time independent contractors who are used as a team (one is a stylist and the other was shown how to turn on the camera and push the button).

This isn't a rant against the Mouse (per say) but rather an eye opener on how corporations run their departments now-a-days in order to save money and keep stock holders happy.

Carrie Russell said...

odd factoid, I was in the group that helped start Disney Photo Imaging (Photopass). The photopass photographer's actually make a lot less, though they can get lots of hours typically. We worked out the system so well, that pretty much anyone is hired, it's a machine now.

Fotografi said...

Interesting, not only the post but also all the comments.

Brad said...

I'm the author of the Definitive Guide to PhotoPass (thanks for the mention and the article itself) and figured I'd chime in a bit on the comments with what I can contribute.

While the cost of living in Orlando is quite a bit less than that of NYC, the hourly pay rate for a PhotoPass photographer isn't that spectacular. Unless it's gone up a bit, a trainer gets less than $11/hour.

Also, as I point out in the guide (and I try to be delicate about it, but since others have mentioned it here), you do not have to be a pro to be a Disney PhotoPass photographer - in fact, it can work against you. If you poke around the net, you can find the job description and it's interesting to note that an essential qualification is to be able to carry the equipment, but knowledge and skills in photography is simply a desired qualification.

Not to say that all PhotoPass photogs are virtual amateurs either. MANY are enthusiasts and supplement income by hiring themselves out for private events. It's a very mixed bag. Some know how to shoot manual and some rely on auto settings (and when they changed lenses a couple of years ago or so, it caused big QoS problems). On the plus side, most are there not just for a job but to make memories for the guests at the park.

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Nicholas said...

Why would you want to get married at Disney? It's for little childrens.

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