Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Becoming A Contract Photographer/Photo Editor

As staff positions at organizations around the country are cut, the workload needed to be accomplished on any given day does not. The common refrain I hear from people who are separated from their jobs is "how will they do all that work without me?" - and that's a fair question.

The two primary ways they will do that work, is to load it onto remaining co-workers or they will hire a contractor to do the work. Whether it's photography, or photo editing, you need to figure out what you're worth because you are now in that "contractor pool".

So, what are you worth?

(Continued after the Jump)

When you're a staffer, it's pretty easy to figure out what you're paid per hour. With 52 weeks in a year, multiplied by 5 days a week, there are 260 week-days. Most staffers just use that, and that equates to $192 a day, or $24 an hour, for a $50k a year job. However, there is a huge hole in this thinking. First, it doesn't factor in your vacation, paid sick days, or holidays, nor training. All together, you're looking at 9 weeks of combined days when you're not being productive for the company, but you are still being paid. With this in mind, that $192 a day jumps to $231 a day, that you're more accurately worth - thus about $29 an hour. Do you see how easy it could be to undervalue yourself by $5 an hour?

But wait, there's more! You're a contractor not an employee, and thus, you are required to cover your own health/disability/life insurance, equipment you need for work, training, and so on. As an employee, these would be paid by your employer - now, you're your own employer. What are they worth? The Contract Employees Handbook has a really great online resource for talking through your benefits. There, they suggest that your benefits package is likely worth about $35,000 a year. So, take that $50k salary and add in $35k to arrive at a much more accurate $395 a day, or $49 an hour.

Crazy how, as an employee, you did the over-simplified math, and concluded that you were worth $24 an hour, when, when all is said and done, you're worth to the company is over double that! No wonder companies are getting rid of staffers and then hiring in contractors who don't do this type of math and undervalue themselves!

Further, companies are shedding the obligation to keep people on the employee roles when times are tough. There should be a premium paid to you since you are not guaranteed the next days' work as you were when you were an employee. Thus, there should be a premium on what you are being paid for you to assume this risk. So, perhaps that $49 an hour jumps to $55 an hour - again, which equates to just $50k a year. If as an employee you were earning $80k, that equates to $535/day, or $67 an hour, and adding in a premium for your assuming the risk as noted above, you could be properly valued at $75 an hour as a contractor - again, if you are worth $80k a year.

It is important to note here, that none of these figures calculate in anything having to do with rights to images, but rather, labor, time, and knowledge for physical work for which the benefit to the company stops when you stop working. Intellectual property (IP) in the form of images/video would continue to work for whomever owns the IP to them. So, recognize that if you are shifting from employee to contractor you need to factor in the value of your IP and what rights the contracting party has to them (if any) once the contract has ended.

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.


AdvRdr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AdvRdr said...

edit for incorrect wording

As someone's who made this journey, I can say you are 100% correct!

Some companies recognize the lack of benefits and pay accordingly (paying contractors more than their salaried photo editors) -- most others do not.

It is common these days for a well respected company to offer a meger $28/hour contract when they should be around $50/hour. They know too well that there are plenty of willing laid-off and hungry people eager for work.

Unknown said...


One thing you forgot to take into account. It's highly unlikely for many individual photographers to work 260 days a year. I'd be willing to bet many don't do 200 days/yr. Heck, some of them probably aren't even working 100 days per year. Now lets run those numbers!

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