It has often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. That in itself already makes photography quite good value.
But have you ever wondered what exactly is involved in a photographer’s fee? How such numbers are arrived at?
After all it’s just being paid to take some pictures, right? And let’s face it we’ve all got a mobile phone with an ace camera, or even a fairly decent digital camera, with a gazillion features, so why bother paying someone when we could probably ‘do the photos ourselves’?
Well, to make a fairly straightforward comparison, we can all buy paint brushes and oil paint, but are rarely able to daub a masterpiece in the first or even several attempts later.
Or consider that we can all go out and buy a violin, and, actually make it produce a sound by dragging the bow across the strings (so easy!) yet, how long will it take until those sounds are acknowledged as music?
I believe we should return to the novice holding the violin in 10,000 hours, or 10 years, as specified by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers’.
But there’s more, it’s not just a simple matter of see you later ‘in 10 years time’ or ’10,000’ (random) hours later, the success is dependent on the specified duration of time being filled with ‘deliberate practice’.
Experience and ‘Deliberate Practice’
So, some consolation to anyone who has ever struggled with a violin or a paintbrush or even a camera. These items are tools, specifically designed to do a particular job - to make sounds in the production of music, to apply paint in the production of art and to record light in the production of photographic images.
What they share in common is that they are all operated by an individual who, through deliberate practice can excel in the language of each to produce high quality, creative and insightful work.
Experience and deliberate practice accumulated over a significant number of years, becomes an integral part of a photographer’s technical skill and their creative ability, forming their unique vision, or style. Yes, this aspect is definitely part of the photographer’s fee.
I made a slightly scary calculation today that my involvement with photography has extended to at least 28,000 hours. While this admittedly has not been 28,000 hours of deliberate practice, it would have definitely passed the 10,000 mark. The rest of the time being at least conscious practice.
You cannot fake years of deliberate practice because it will simply be there, in evidence, in the consistent creativity, insightfulness and uniqueness of the work.
So the benefit to you is that you are paying for experience, which goes a long way to ensuring that you will be delighted with the results. However not all experience is equal and in the relevant subject area. Therefore you need to do some research first - to find a photographer whose work you find effective and enjoyable and inspiring, then they will be of value to you. If you are going to feel delighted with the results of the commission, the first step is to look at their work and then have a meeting with the photographer to discuss your brief, is it a good match?
You need to feel that the photographer is actually interested in your brief, enthusiastic about the subject matter and in how you would like the subject to be represented. After all, you are paying for these photographs and you need them to promote your hard work in the way that you intended. The photographer may also like to chime in with some ideas of their own and this is great if it drives forward your objectives in a creative and productive way.
A second part of the photographer’s fee relates to their post-production image editing skills. In all of the interviews and articles I’ve read about photographers, there is consistency in that they all acknowledge that post-production takes at least the same duration of time as the on site photography, if not more.
But why? If they are that good, why do they spend so much time in post-production to make the images look great?
A key factor is of course because serious photographers are recording images in RAW format for optimum quality.
RAW format is the equivalent to an analogue film negative. It is an unprocessed image file that contains a wealth of information that requires digital processing to realise its potential.
As Ansel Adams remarked:
“the negative is like the composer’s score. Then, using that musical analogy, the print is the performance”.
A RAW file takes time and skill to process, using Lightroom and Photoshop. Adjustments will be made to White Balance for colour temperature, to balance exposure of bright tones and dark tones, to dehaze, to adjust colour saturation and contrast and many other specifics that are involved in the processing of the RAW file, or digital negative.
Processing a RAW file is not just about working to a tick list, like assembling a piece of flat pack furniture. It’s about pre-visualising the intended outcome of the image and then exploiting the digital processing tools to achieve the intended creative outcome for the image.
To continue the music analogy, a beginner violinist or pianist may be able to respond competently to a music score, with the notes flowing in the right order, but yet, they may seem formulaic, illustrative rather than insightful playing. With deliberate practice they are able to play the music without the score in front of them and imbue the music with their own emotional and stylistic grace and flair.
So, the photographer’s time, skill, experience and fluent control of post-production is part of the fee and the benefit to you is that the photographs appear effortlessly natural and graceful in the creative telling of your design story.
Image Usage Licence
A third, and often misunderstood element of a photographer’s fee is the Image Usage Licence.
When a client hires a photographer, they are paying for the images to be made + a licence to use them under certain specified conditions.
A photographer will always maintain the copyright to their images which means that no one can store, edit, or reproduce them without permission, even if they are hired by a client to produce photographs. The only exception is when a photographer is employed as a member of permanent staff, then the copyright belongs to the company.
Although the photographer owns the copyright, they give a Licence to Use Images, under certain conditions which specify where the images can be published or posted, and for how long.
These terms of usage will be discussed during the brief stage, to ensure that the client can use the images where and for how long they require for a particular marketing project. The terms of the licence become part of the contract and the fee.
Simply put, the client ‘hires’ the photographs.
Image Usage is a significant element that contributes to a photographer’s fee, in addition to the high technical and creative quality of the images, representing your project in engaging and inspiring images, telling the design story, the usage is what generates much of the value to the client, the level of exposure for your own project, the wider the audience for the longer duration.
So, the photographer’s fee includes the Image Usage Licence given to the client. If this is not listed separately on the quote then it will be an inclusive part of the fee. There is always a usage element to the fee.
To recap, a photographer’s fee comprises five elements:
1. Experience and Skill - that cumulation of years of deliberate practice that a photographer can offer to ensure that you receive high quality images in technical terms and that also creatively tell the design story of your project.
2. Pre-Production - the research and planning that a photographer will do before the on site photography takes place. This may relate to the history or design of the project, it will certainly include a study of any visualisations, plan drawings or floor plans provided by an architect and it will certainly include plotting the schedule for the exterior photography to co-ordinate the position of the sun with the key facade.
3. Production - technical skill in camera operation, creative ability with available light and perceptive attention to detail and balance in framing well composed images, during on site production of photography
4. Post-Production - technical skill and creative ability to process RAW image files to develop the full potential of the image that represents your project in its best light.
5. Image Usage Licence - the conditions under which you can use the image and for how long. The benefit of wide exposure through different media, globally, and for a specific duration, to build awareness of your project to an increased audience.
There are five significant elements that comprise a photographer’s fee. The benefit to you is a certainty of quality and coherent storytelling that represents your project in an engaging and inspiring way, using appropriate visual language which is reassuring when your work will be mainly known through the images that you publish and post online.
An image is worth a thousand words, which is of huge value in an international, multi-lingual market.
It may be worth considering next time that you decide to whip out your mobile phone, or digital camera set to Auto, to ‘take some photos’ of your hard won project that you are just about to promote online, whether that could actually prove to be more expensive than hiring a photographer, in the long term.