I’ve had the opportunity this year to learn from some amazing photographers (like Steve Kozak and Tony Corbell). Last week, I drove to Dallas for another opportunity, to hear Steve Whittaker‘s presentation on “The Business of Architectural Photography.”
Steve is a true gentleman and a professional from whom any photographer could learn, so it was well worth my time to make the drive to Dallas. I already “knew” Steve from the list serve on which both of us are members through ASMP’s Architecture Specialty Group, but the differences between someone like me and Steve include a few decades of experience, a few zeroes in the value of our gear, and a few staff members. Despite that, Steve has taken the time to call me personally before to discuss questions I’ve posted. So, it was a true pleasure to meet him in person. Here are a few take-aways from Steve’s lecture.
- Use the term “Assignment Fee” or “Project Rate” in reference to your time on-location; avoid using the term “day rate.”
- Calculate your Assignment Fees/Project Rates as follows: # of jobs you shoot per year / your cost of business (which includes not just office expenses, but also retirement + insurance + the cost of delivering images [i.e. online hosting and services like Dropbox, etc.]).
- Steve includes overtime charges for more than 10 hours on location, and administrative fees for tasks such as procuring a COI or writing letters to attorneys, etc.
- Steve does not provide receipts to clients, nor does he bill expenses at cost. His logic: 1) he is not the client’s accountant 2) markups cover the time he and his staff spend planning the shoot, making travel arrangements, and renting/shipping gear, etc.
- Use the term “retainer” not “deposit.” From a legal standpoint, retainers are non-refundable, deposits are. This helps protect photographers in the case of last minute cancellations, etc.
- Require a retainer for new clients.
- Charge a fee for advanced actions in post-production (i.e. pole removal, etc.), but not for basic file cleanup, which should always be included. Construction issues (i.e. a crane on-site) are always the client’s responsibility. Clients should be advised of these fees during the estimate process to avoid surprises later.
- A document becomes a contract with two signatures. Make sure you add your own signature, along with the client’s, and that both parties have a copy of the countersigned version.
Scouting / Planning
- Send a shot list with schedule to client and get their approval before shooting.
- Make sure the client confirm that all of the equipment on-site is functional before arrival (power, fixed lighting, etc.).
- For adjacent-building roof access, contact property management and security.
- Use apps and websites (weather.com) to plan around bad weather and ensure safety when using lighting or other electronics for exteriors.
Shooting / On-Location
- Steve brings along a “project binder” to every location that includes items such as 1) a letter of authorization (i.e. permission to be on-site) 2) COI 3) Contract and 4) and other related documents. Steve uses this as needed to reassure nervous security personnel.
- Property releases are not required when shooting from a public space (like a street) or from an adjacent building. Just be sure not to block sidewalks, traffic, and/to have permission to shoot from the property manager of the adjacent building(s).
Post-Production and Image Delivery
- Charge for post-production time (deliverables) separately/in-addition to the Assignment Fee/Project Rate. Steve suggests a per-image rate.
- Send client a list of recommended changes to images (i.e. pole removal, etc.), and the commiserate charges before performing such work. Get their approval/wish list before proceeding.
- Include language in your contract requiring the client to approve the images within 5 days of delivery (or another appropriate time limit).
- Don’t use the term “sell.” Photographers don’t sell their work, they license it.
- Include language in your contracts such as “Any 3rd party requesters must order usage or licensing directly through ____ (your business name).”
- Generally speaking, avoid “buyouts.” When a client requests a buyout, Steve’s suggested rate is 10x your Assignment Fee. This will motivate the client to think about their actual needs and goals, and therefore narrow the usage to a more practical and affordable scope.
- Install the licensing information in the images’ metadata.
Thank you, Steve! I learned so much. Thanks for all you are doing to elevate the profession and pass along your knowledge to the new class of photographers. Hope to see you again soon!