Cop-Outs, Contracts and Commissions, Part One

Maybe everyone who asks me for a free image thinks that I can provide it because it’s just a one-off. Many don’t seem to realise that a series of one-off freebies would result in escalating opportunity costs and then an inability to pay the bills. Maybe they really don’t understand about how a specialist photographer earns a living or maybe they’ve just not bothered to think, after all nobody tells a painter that their canvas doesn’t belong to them, and a photograph is owned by the photographer in exactly the same way. I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that instead of losing time in email discussions with people who expect free work in the future I’ll be able to point them to this weeks posts. 

Sometimes, when the world is big, bright, blurry and bewildering, all you can do is your best, (c) Carole Edrich 2013

Sometimes, when the world is big, bright, blurry and bewildering, all you can do is your best, (c) Carole Edrich 2013

How I pay the bills:

I earn a living through photography and photojournalism with one or a combination of the following;
·     as a photojournalist or documentary photographer,
·     by formal contract or editorial commission,
·     as a commissioned artist,
·     as a commercial photographer (such as for PR and advertising),
·     through penalty fines from those who steal my work,
·     per photo or number of images after the event (personal stock),
·     through stock photography.

I’ve ordered these by the proportion of income I gained from them over the last three months. It’s ironic, but I now make more money from people who have stolen my work than I do through agency stock photography and my own stock photography combined.
What are formal contracts and direct commissions?

These occur when a client expressly asks for something in advance. They can be for anything from news or conference photography to family portraiture and range from brand imagining, corporate or academic brochures, images to support a particular article and actors’ portfolio shots. They might be editorial commissions agreed in advance of an event or a result of a pitch with or without some of my speculative work. They can cover random images, fine art, documentary photography, research or  ad-hoc projects.

Most of my editorial commissions come in advance because the editor knows me already, because I’ve been recommended by someone they trust or as a result of my pitching an idea.

    What is an editorial commission?

A contract to produce a piece of work, usually involving images and accompanying words, from an editor. This might be for print, news or the internet or might accompany, document or support a TV program or film.

How I value my work

My charging represents the value of the work I do and the length of time it takes. Find more about it on the post What’s Involved.

If the client chooses to own all of the images they’ll most likely be paying a fixed price or day rate. If the client has agreed to buy a minimum number of images from several shoot(s) or event(s) they’ll most likely be paying a deposit and sliding costs per image. Any requirement may change the value of what I’m producing and what I can charge, and the extent to which the client wants exclusivity and use to which the image(s) will be put are always considered.

Tell me about speculative exercises, stock building and the value of practice!

    Speculative exercises

Sometimes it’s necessary to take the photos before getting the commission, especially when I’m looking to convince a new editor that my work is worth taking on board. In such a case I might set up a shoot or go to an event expecting to make good later.
There are no guarantees with this kind of work, so it’s important to be careful about what to choose.

    Stock building

As a dance photographer it’s vital that I have up to date images for as many different dance types as possible, so that when an editor asks if I have images of that dance I can deliver immediately. Although I contribute some news images to the photographic agencies I tend to concentrate on building my own image library. Dance photography is so specialised that contributing volumes of work to such agencies just doesn’t pay and building my own stock library is a long term investment.

    The Value of Practice

It’s also vital that I keep my skills honed. To get good quality low-light, high-motion images of any kind it’s vital to make sure that I have a practiced eye and fingers that move without conscious thought. That doesn’t mean I need to process the images I’ve shot. Doing that on the off chance that someone might possibly buy one image carries a considerable opportunity cost.
In such a case I might set up a shoot or go to an event expecting to make good later. There are no guarantees with this kind of work, so it’s important to be careful about what to choose.
Are there any exceptions?

Of course there exceptions to everything. I’ve met some fantastic performers who just can’t afford to pay and when I’m able to do so I’m happy to discuss alternatives. I’m also more likely to make an effort for someone who has consistently supported me over a long period of time than I am for a stranger. However, I’m a professional photographer and need this work to pay my bills. Also, agreeing totally different sets of rules every time I shoot an image or find myself with a different opportunity isn’t a sustainable or business-like thing to do.
If we’ve agreed nothing in advance or if the exceptions aren’t clearly specified, the whole agreement defaults to what I’ve written above.

In exceptions, the price might go down but it might also go up. Examples include;
·Value added production photography
·Photography for advertising
·Commissioned projects
·Fixed price agreements
·Really good PR
·Charities, non-profits and similar organisations I already believe in and want to support
·Performers with whom I want to establish a mutually beneficial long term relationship
I have a limit on all the above. Sometimes it takes so long to calculate a safe estimate for a fixed price contract that I might decided not to try. I also know I can afford to charge less or explore other alternatives for a small percentage of my work, so whether I’m willing to talk or not also depends on what else is going on and if I’m doing other work for which I’m not getting the income I need.
This series started with Help me get you coverage and What’s Involved?

One More Thing

If you’re a dancer who wants free images

by and (c) Carole Edrich