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The Business of Photography


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What Does the Client Expect?

One main thing to remember is that the client will expect best quality work, to professional standards, whether you're being paid professional rates or not. 

This demonstrates the folly of carrying out work for little or no fee, because you can’t say afterwards to a client ‘yes I know the photographs aren’t very good, but then you're not paying me much money’.

 The client will expect just what you have agreed to provide; it is essential therefore that you discuss his/her requirements before the shoot and agree what the outcome will be, both in visual and material forms. When you have completed this discussion, send a Confirmation of Commission, detailing everything about the job – the where, when, how and how much.

Before, during and after the shoot, try to remain assertive and positive, whilst not being arrogant or aggressive; remember that you're the professional, whom the client has engaged for your specialist knowledge, experience, and skills. Be helpful to the client, and engage him or her in decisions about the elements of the photographs you're taking, such as the viewpoint, the lighting, the perspective and other considerations.

You will have agreed before the shoot on the form in which the photographs will be delivered; they might be in the form of prints, transparencies or digital files, perhaps on a CD. Whatever the form of the final results remember that presentation is everything and so you should ensure that you deliver your work in the best possible way. If you are supplying prints to a commercial client, make sure your name is on the back of the print either in the form of a stamp or a self-adhesive label, and enclose them first in a clear-faced bag before putting them in a board-backed envelope together with a compliment slip, a delivery note, or the actual invoice.

When delivering prints to members of the public, present them in folders, ideally with your name or the name of your studio embossed on the cover; once again present them carefully and professionally so you're not sending your customers out of the studio with their prints in a Tesco's carrier. If you don't value your work enough to present it properly how can you expect your clients and customers to value it enough to pay you good money to produce it?

When supplying digital files on a CD or DVD, use a self-adhesive CD label printed with the studio name, address and e-mail address, and present the CD itself in a jewel-case.

Always retain the negatives if you're shooting on film, or a keep a copy of each and every file if you're using digital. Never agree to surrender the negatives unless the client is prepared to pay a healthy fee for them, and remember that the copyright is yours unless you decide to sell it, lease it, or assign it in some other way. 

How Good Do You Have To Be 

Depends on what you’re talking about. The in technical skills are easily learned, given time, intelligence and application. The business and interpersonal skills take longer. They say that the ‘expert’ is a person who has made all the mistakes, and though that’s a bit of a cop-out, it’s not far from the truth; you learn as you live, and there’s people (here’s one) who are still learning after a lifetime in the business of photography.

Logically, you need to be good enough to do the job that’s required, but more than that, you need to be able to adapt skills and techniques that you have learned, and used before, to each new job that comes up. This is one of the joys of photography; no job is just the same as those you have already completed; you might have done a hundred, a thousand, portraits, but you’ve probably never before portrayed the person in front of your camera. He or she is an individual, and you must treat them as such.

Further, you should be willing to adopt new styles and techniques without becoming slavish to the latest fad. Photographers still employing mottled-backgrounds for their portraits or producing misty wedding pictures have been out-of-date for years. Constantly review the websites of established photographers, look at photographs published in magazines, and go to as many exhibitions of photography as you can, discerning the goods and the bads of the pictures you see. And don’t just concentrate on current or future imagery; study other art-forms – painting, drawing, sculpture – and learn from their visual quality, composition and approach.

How good do you have to be? Good enough to satisfy not only the client or customer, but yourself, too. If you’re totally satisfied with your own work, you’re either a genius or you’re blind.

How Much Can You Charge?

The clever answer is whatever the market will stand, but you have to have a starting point, apart from those rates that your competitors charge.

To reach a base point, calculate your outgoings in terms of the fixed costs and variable costs. Fixed costs include elements such as rent, rates and employee costs, your National Insurance contributions and so on. To estimate your variable costs look at the previous period’s electricity bill, water rates, telephone bill and photocopying charges. Add to these your projected drawings, that is the amount of money you expect to take out of your business as your living costs. Divide that total by the number of days you expect to work during the year; bear in mind that however optimistic you might be you cannot hope to shoot five days each week. You need to put time aside for administration, preparation, and marketing. He so you might hope to shoot on (say) three days each week for (say) 44 weeks of the year, giving 132 potential working days. Your total costs divided by 132 will give you your day rate.

If you don't work on the basis of a day rate, you should calculate either an hourly rate or a charge for each job. Some people foolishly just estimate how much the project is going to cost them in terms of materials, and double or treble that. How many doctors, dentists, or particularly solicitors, do you know that charge on that basis? You must start off by assessing how much your time is worth to you, and only then add on the materials charge (marked up by at least 100%), and expenses, and reach a conclusion as to how much you need to charge for that particular job.

It is invariably unwise to undercut all of the competition, and only if you have considerable USPs (unique selling propositions) can you afford to be the most expensive in the district. However to be amongst the most expensive is often a good thing; people believe that if you're expensive, you must be good. Conversely they will look upon the cheapest photographer as charging less because he or she can't get the work otherwise. Additionally of course, if you can demand a good rate for the work you do it gives you some flexibility to be able to afford more advertising, better marketing, and perhaps the little extras such as the embossed folders mentioned in a previous section.

Whatever you do never do things ‘at cost’, and don't be taken in by the potential client who wants you to do this job for virtually nothing with the promise of lots more work in the future.

You need figures? OK; wedding photographers charge between £500 and £1500, with an average of £750 to £850, for a set of between 20 and 50 pictures in an inexpensive album.

A portrait session might be charged out at between £50 and £80, providing a set of returnable proofs and a 10x8 enlargement presented in a folder. Further 10 by 8 enlargements might cost the customer between £15 and £25 each.

Corporate work justifies a day-rate in the provinces of between £350 and £550, with a half-day rate at about £300 and an hourly rate of £75 to £85, all plus expenses of course. Routine digital work might be charged out at £50 an hour, with more complicated manipulation at between £75 and £100 an hour.

So you see that photography can be lucrative as well as enjoyable; the biggest single difficult thing for most of us appears to be the marketing of us and our work. But if you remember that people buy people first, that also should present few problems.


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