Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1998/12/15

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Subject: Re: [Leica] What should I charge?
From: Donal Philby <>
Date: Tue, 15 Dec 1998 19:59:05 -0800

Bill Larsen wrote:

> I have seen rates thrown around on this thread.  I just
> don't understand how you arrive at you pricing.  One of my
> main indirect expenses is insurance..
>  Is there
> something different about professional photography that I
> have to date been missing?
  Perhaps you would like to share any
> great bargains in insurance?  

Difficult subject to talk directly to, but I will try.

First, insurance is least of my worries.  My base overhead is around
$4000/month.  So I need to bill that much before I even consider taking
any home to feed the cat.  That includes studio, office supplies,
insurance, new gear, repairs, etc.  This does not include production
costs like film and processing, travel, models, assistants, etc.

But given all that, you can fumble around and figure what it costs you
to do business, but frankly, just check out the market.  I just
rough-bid a job in San Diego (one of the rare ones here in town for me)
and asked the potential client what the bids were running.  She said
from $800 to $1500 a day as a basic day rate.  And in SD you don't get
much more for local clients and there are too many photographers who
give all rights without a whimper, so that is your baseline.  I
understand in LA this is about doubled for standard things.  For bigger
national clients with lots of useage the rates go up.  Usually "day
rate" is a base minimum that you can work for and then adjusted for the
importance of the work. 

The PR style work we discussed here recently is usually lower paying
because it doesn't have the useage (or value) or the skill levels or
equipment levels needed for the higher paying markets.  

I took a seminar once from a very productive interiors shooter and we
penciled out the real cost of being in business and it turned out that
to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 a year, a photographer
needs to be billing around $180,000.  Few do.  The nice thing is that
once you crack the nut, the profit margin goes up nicely.    Of course,
this depends on expenses--travel, models, production costs of various
sorts, film, studio.  I suspect my film and processing expenses this
year will approach $20,000.  For fashion catalogue shooters, they'd do
that in a month, if hard at it.

I did a two hour shoot some months ago that billed at $6500.  I went
over estimate by 15 minutes on the shooting time and the model fee
overruns were $550.  Which the client demanded that I eat.   Plus I had
clothing, styling, makeup, prop rental, two assistants.  The photo ran
worldwide in  airline catalogues.  It took several days to put that two
hours together, casting, finding, etc.  And the last part of the job my
assistant handed me a Pentax 67 with the strobe plugged into the bulb
socket, so blank film.  Fortunately I had backed it up on 35.

So, the costs are costs, but the market is the market and is the
stronger of the two forces, unless you are an extraordinary talent with
a unique and highly marketable style.  Also, if you can work nationally
for larger companies, the fees go up--and so do the expectations and
responsibilities.  Top level advertising shooters (the highest paid of
photographers) can regularily command $5,000 to $10,000 a day and a few
(Herb Ritts) get $20,000.  Plus expenses!  But up in these atmospheres
the players have tremendous business momentum, lofty talents (directing,
managing, negotiating, as well as photographic.)

Last I heard a spread in the Black Book, a sourcebook for the
advertising community, was $14,000.  So the stakes are high.  

I haven't discuss magazines, because that is another situation
entirely.  the above is about "service" photography that ends up in
brochures, ads, billboards, newsletters and so on.

Hope this helps.

- -- 
Donal Philby
San Diego