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The owner of a salon wants me to take photos and then give him my files so he can blow them up and hang it in the salon. He hasn't mentioned paying me. How should I invoice him? Also should I handle the printing in my end, or should I give him the files? I would really like some of your wisdom on this. Thanks

Here’s where photography is like prostitution… at least the kind I’ve seen in movies…

"Like what you see?" If so… then you talk money.

If you want to get paid you bring that up as soon as there is interest.

"I’d love to do this job for you! What’s your budget?"

That gets the topic right to the front of the conversation. There’s no getting around that question. They may ask how much would it cost. That puts the ball back in your court. The best way to approach that is to start asking more questions. How many people will need to be photographed? Will they be booking the models for this or will you? Can the shoot happen in the salon or do you need to find another place to shoot? How soon do they need it? Do they have a lab to make the prints or will you need to handle that for them? Are they going to want to use these on their web site and social media pages? What kind of look are they going for? Are you going to need to rent gear or get an assistant for this? Do they want this to be an ongoing project or just a one day shoot? Who will be doing the make-up? What about wardrobe?

When you start the barrage of questions you show that you are knowledgeable about what you do and you will most likely be bringing up a lot of things they don’t even know they need to be thinking about. Sometimes folks just think… “Come take photos and put prints on the walls.”

That’s only two steps of a process. Take pictures. Put them on wall. You and I both know there’s a lot more to the process than that. 

  1. Negotiate rate and deposit.
  2. Invoice for deposit.
  3. Schedule time.
  4. Find models.
  5. Schedule models.
  6. Re-schedule shoot based on availability of models.
  7. Find hair and make-up.
  8. Book hair and make-up. (Well, make-up at least for this job)
  9. Find photo assistant.
  10. Book photo assistant.
  11. Coordinate space to shoot (furniture may need to be moved and rearranged if shooting there. Off site place might need to be booked)
  12. Clean gear. Charge batteries. 
  13. Pick up rentals if needed. 
  14. Arrive for shoot.
  15. Do shoot.
  16. Re-set furniture in salon.
  17. Pack up and go home.
  18. Return rentals.
  19. Post production.
  20. Work with client on edits.
  21. Order test prints.
  22. Get prints approved.
  23. Order final prints.
  24. Invoice for final payment.
  25. Arrange for framing.
  26. Hang prints on wall. 
  27. Deliver final images to client, models, make-up artist.

I’m sure I’m leaving stuff out. It’s early and I haven’t reached my coffee quota yet. In this 27 basic steps of stuff notice how “Do shoot” is number 15.

So… Salon owner wants you to do shoot (#15) to put prints on the wall (#26). And this is all for free? I mean, I’m for doing free work as you get started but I’m also for educating yourself and your client about how much work this is actually going to be. As you start talking to them about the process they see that this is going to be more work. Not just for you but for them as well.

So you have that discussion at the start. Don’t roll over in bed and then wonder how to get paid after you just got screwed. I know. I’m crass. But it sort of drives the point home… so to speak. :)

If they want this for free and it’s the sort of thing you’d like to take on then you hand as much of that list above over to them. They find the models. They schedule the make-up. They rearrange the furniture to accomodate your needs. They pay for rentals. They pay for assistant. They pay for printing. They pay for framing. They hang them on the wall. They get final delivery of images and they are responsible for sending them to the models and make-up artist because they are the one who booked them. 

You are responsible for picking up the rental gear, finding the assistant, doing the shoot and post production. You can order the prints for them or let them take care of all of that. If you do it add some to the print price. If you can get a 20x30 for $50 then charge them $100 for the print. Make something for your time. Or get 10 free haircuts. Get something. They get something of value for having these prints hanging on the wall. You should get something too aside from experience.

If they say they have the budget of, let’s say $500 for the whole thing. Find out how large of prints they want and how many. Find out how much that will cost for printing. Subtract that from $500. Let’s say you have $250 left over. You need $75 in rental gear. That’s $175 left over. Count up how many steps above you will need to take care of for them. Let’s say you have to do 12 of them. Any 12 of those can take an hour of your time each (not counting the shoot time). Let’s say you shoot for 6 hours. 18 hours into this project for $175. Oh! Post production! Let’s say 4 hours for that. Dealing with the printing will be a minium of 2 hours. 24 hours of work for $175

(maths, maths, maths) That’s about $7 an hour you’ll be working for. 

Yes. I know. How about gas, and insurance, and gear deprecation, and food, and on and on. Start to figure ALL of your costs into this and you’re probably around $3 or $4 an hour.

Oh wait!!! $50 for a roll of seamless??? Damn. You’re at $5 an hour. Now you’re down to $2 or $3 an hour after you put in all of your expenses that aren’t at the surface. Shit.

You can do better than that at McDonalds. You can deliver pizza two nights a week and make more money.

Armed with this knowledge of how much goes into a shoot like this. How much time you’re going to spend. How much money everything will cost you… Having this knowledge lets you look your client dead in the eye and say it’s going to cost $2,000.

WHAT???? $2,000?????? 

Yep. You have to do this, this, this, this, this, this, and this (x20)…. You’ll be spending about X hours on the job. To do it… and really do it right you’ll want XYZ gear. You’ll need an assistant to help you, because, you know, you don’t want to put some crap photos on their wall. You want to be professional. They wouldn’t use bad products on their client’s hair right? Pick up a bottle of their shampoo. It’s probably expensive. You could go to the drug store and get a bottle of shampoo for $3 compared to their $20 shampoo why should anyone pay more? They’ll tell you why. You’ll tell them why they need to pay you $2,000.

(NOTE - I don’t talk my specific numbers on this blog because each job I get varies so much I don’t want fully published numbers online. I have a question about this in my inbox. I’ll get to that today.)

Until you work with experienced photo editors and art directors and the like, you’ll be working with folks who don’t understand everything we do. They don’t see all the work behind the scenes. They just see “shoot photos” and “put photos on the wall.” It’s your job to educate them. Do it nicely. Be respectful. Don’t mock them for offering you a low ball estimate. Don’t think they are stupid. They are ignorant. They just don’t know.

So take their $500 budget. That’s YOUR fee. Type up an estimate…

Photography fee :: $500
Assistant :: $175
Make-up artist :: $250
Post production & retouching :: $150
Seamless :: $75
Rental :: $100
Printing :: $350
Total :: $1,600

Now then. I padded these numbers a bit. Not over the top. Not “real world” in some cases. But notice where I took care of some of your other expenses so you aren’t losing your shirt completely here. 

$500 for your fee. Flat. Done.
$175 for an assistant  You take your time to find and train someone. You’ll have paperwork to deal with at the end of the year in some cases if you hire them a lot. You pay them $125. (+$50)
$250 for make-up. Hire at $200. (+$50)
Post production. This is on top of shooting. (+150) 
Seamless. Added $25 here and $25 extra on top of rentals.
Added $100 to the prints.

(maths, maths, maths) That’s $900 to you now. Your basic hourly rate is now $37.50. You want to work for $37 an hour or $3 an hour? Which rate will you actually be able to live on? And raise a family? And pay your rent? And feed yourself? And get that new camera body you need? And fix that lens that broke last week? And update your computer in 8 months? And put a new set of tires on the car? And maybe let you put some money away for retirement? And maybe take a bit of a vacation? And pay your taxes? Can you do all that shit for $3 an hour? No. You can’t do any of it for $3 an hour. Suddenly you’re rate should be north of $50 an hour. You’re still not making enough on this. But…. now you know. You see the numbers. You break it down.

When you see the numbers you can go forth with confidence to ask for the rate that you need to make. You can educate your customers. Suddenly Bob Jack down the street with a DSLR and zero effing knowledge looks like a complete hack. Why do they want a hack doing this job for them? They want this done and done right. They better find the money to pay you. It happens. Trust me. It happens.

When you show the value of what you do folks find the money.

Right? You find the value in that new camera body. You can’t get a D4 for $500. It ain’t gonna happen. You have to find the money to get that camera. Nikon isn’t going to hand them out. $1,500 for new lights. $2,000 for a new computer. $800 for a new RAID. $1,100 for a new lens. $500 in Pocket Wizards. $1,200 a month for rent. $400 for new tires. Shit adds up. Charge accordingly. 

Cheers,
Zack

PS - You don’t “blow up” pictures unless they suck and need to be blown up. The client wants “enlargements made” of the photographs to hang up in the salon. #PhotographySpeak :) 

ETA - I typically pay my assistants and other crew the face value of what I charge to the client. I typically charge what I need. If I can get $250 for an assistant then I pay the assistant $250. If I’m close to losing my shirt on the quote then I may pad a tiny bit into expenses. It takes time for me to find my crew. It takes time for me to train them. I take them to lunch after the job. I cover their parking. I deal with their invoices. I write out their checks. I deal with the IRS paperwork. That stuff takes time. So I can sleep at night when I charge one rate for their work and not pay that full rate back to them. There’s other work involved. IF I make the rate I need to make and I can pass that full rate on to the crew then I do so. It’s a personal choice. Some have gotten in heated discussions around this topic. Thought I’d expand my thoughts on it.

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