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|| News Item: Posted 2003-03-02

Let's Talk Business: Digital Images Don't Cost Anything Do They?
By Rick Rickman

Photo by
I was reading a conversation recently between several of our members about what they charge for digital shooting. It was an interesting conversation because one member was talking about why he loved to shoot digital because he made so much more money and it saved him from buying film.

The premise that digital shooting is better because it doesn't involve shooting images on film and thereby is cheaper may be true if you look at the savings to the environment. However, if you look at how much more time it takes to edit, prepare your images for delivery, and make sure that your client can see them, you really have to wonder if this digital shooting is not actually more expensive.

It's certainly fair to say that in terms of the gear needed to provide the images, it's certainly much more expensive to shoot digitally. Purchasing the cameras cost 2-3 times as much as film cameras. Purchasing and updating the computer gear required to do the work certainly isn't a savings of any kind and lastly, the time requirements to get the job done is now more demanding by a factor of 2 -3 times as well.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it certainly is wonderful to see the immediate results by peering into the back of those silly cameras and we all look so marvelously sophisticated doing it. However, it's time to be real here. Photographers in general have never been very good at assessing good business practices.

In the days of shooting film there were inherent costs involved in doing the job. Most of those inherent costs were being rolled over to the client, as they should be, so making a living as a photographer was a doable thing. We naturally charge for the film shot on a job and in many cases good freelance photographers were actually marking up the cost of film a bit to make sure that there was a profit in the business at the end of the day.

If it took you a day to get somewhere and a day to get back we billed for prep days or travel days to make sure that our time was being paid for. If it took a day to deal with the film and editing, many knowledgeable freelance photographers billed for a post production day as well. All these items that free-lancers were encountering were costs that had to do with the production of pictures for a client. Simply put in business speak, these were billable items.

Now a jump back to the present. Here we are in 2003 and we have members of Sports Shooter talking openly about how much easier and cheaper it is to shoot digital. In 2003 we are paying twice as much for the cameras we use. We spend hundreds of dollars on cards that contrary to some people belief, don't last forever, and we are spending almost twice as much time completing and delivering the images we produce on assignment.

Well guys, I don't know what plane of existence you live on but that doesn't sound to me like shooting digital is easier and cheaper. In a sense of fairness we have to admit that some aspects of shooting digital images are easier. You can balance your light sources easier.

You can produce instant Polaroids. You don't have to care tons of filters. That being said, the time it takes to get usable images to your clients is now longer. If you aren't charging for that time and the skill involved getting the job done right then you are doing yourself a great disservice.

Most successful photographers who are shooting digitally are billing for the time and equipment involved in producing the images. There are some set parameters out there that many successful photographers are using to gauge these fees. Lets take a moment to break some of those down.

If you're shooting digital and using cards, how do you bill for use of those cards? Many photographers are charging a digital capture fee. These fees vary but a pretty typical capture fee is between $25.00 & $45.00 dollars a card with a 1 card minimum charge per assignment.

Most successful photographers also bill out their time for preparing the images for delivery. That involves downloading from the camera, doing minimal white balancing and contrast adjustments and editing. This fee also varies a bit but a good standard is $150.00 minimum an hour with a one hour minimum per assignment.

If the client wants larger files that are color adjusted and basically ready to go the fee is between $150.00 & $175.00 an hour billed on the quarter hour with a one hour minimum per assignment. I personally bill out this work at the $150.00 per hour rate. I always make sure my clients see the images they way they are supposed to look and that usually take between 1-3 hours work for about 30 images converted to large files.

Most photographers are charging a $25.00 - $35.00 fee for burning CDs if that is necessary or if e-mailing or ftp-ing images are required then a fee of $100.00 per transmission is the standard.

I've stopped using Polaroid on my jobs but I use an Apple PowerBook and a card reader to download the images. I charge a rental fee for the PowerBook and card reader of $150.00 per day and a digital Polaroid fee of $200.00 for most editorial jobs.

For advertising jobs I bill out this service at a flat fee of $950.00 per day and I hire an assistant designated to do the digital Polaroid workflow at $300.00 per day.

It comes down to these folks: The cameras are changing every two years now. If you aren't charging fees for the services you are providing in this digital age, a time will come when you have to replace cameras and gear and you won't have to money to do it. If you can't update and upgrade your cameras, you may find yourself in a precarious position.

Instead of talking about how much easier and cheaper it is to shoot digital, lets commit to talking on a much more realistic plane. Let's discuss what it really takes to do the job well and how to establish a working business model that allows us to avoid the mistakes of the past and actually forge a viable path to a more productive working scenario.

Of course if you don't want to worry about being in business in five years or so and, photography for you is just a transition to something else, then by all means keep giving your time, talent, and skills away for free. Keep fooling yourself that digital photography is cheaper so you can actually believe that taking less for your work will still allow you to make ends meet.

Sometimes living in a fantasy world is fun … for a while anyway. Now get out there and take some great pictures and, buy your significant other something nice just because they afford you the luxury of being a photographer.

(Rick Rickman is a freelance photographer based in Southern California. He is a regular contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter on business issues and will be part of the faculty of the 2003 Sports Shooter Workshop & Luau.)

Related Links:
Rick Rickman's member page

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