What I Learned From Steve Whittaker (Architectural Photography Tips)

Steve Whittaker: The Business of Architectural Photography at the Art Institute of Dallas, 11/10/11 (iphone 4)

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.

Recommended Resources

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!



About Mosaic Collective, LLC

I am Holly Baumann Ambuehl, founding member of Mosaic Collective, LLC, which was founded in early 2017 and is based in Central Illinois. I own and operate Mosaic Collective with my partner in business and life, my husband, Nathan. Mosaic Collective, LLC houses our rental property, my consulting contracts (with the nonprofit and public sectors on various work), and also my commercial and portrait photography business, which has been doing business as Holly Baumann Photography since 2008 long before the formation of our LLC. My blog posts feature client work, but I just love to write, so I also write about owning a business, food and drink, travel, and sometimes, my personal life! I am always honored when clients trust me to capture their vision, and equally so when my readers converse with me about what I've photographed or expressed here. I hope we'll have an opportunity to collaborate professionally and/or become friends. I'd love to hear what you think! - Holly
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One Response to What I Learned From Steve Whittaker (Architectural Photography Tips)

  1. Holly:

    Thank you again for attending and for writing that wonderful comment. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!



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