The Business of Commercial Photography: The Survival Guide

 

Lesson Info

Estimates & invoices - Advertising, Photo Libraries

Alright, so moving on to advertising, where this is very different from editorial, like we said you get a call, you have a job. Usually you'll hear about this really cool project and you're one of maybe three people that they're also talking to. So it's not yours, it's easy to get emotionally attached but you're not gonna win them all. You're maybe not gonna even win a third of them, it's kind of like baseball in that sense, you maybe get out more than you get a hit. And then Marin, maybe you can talk a little bit about what comes at that point, after you've gotten a call. Yeah, so, generally during the bid process, there are three really key factors. And this is for larger commercial work, when you're working with an ad agency. There is the initial creative call, there's the estimate, and then there's a treatment. Those are the three things we cover off on during the bid process, in general. So I might get a call, and they might say, "Is John available in April for this great shoot?

" And I will say "yes. Cancel your vacation." (laughs) And then they'll say "great, do you think we can get "on a conference call sometime this week?" And we'll organize a call so that, we talked a little bit about roles before, so that John will have a chance to talk to the creative directors and the art directors on the job. Where I'm doing better at my job, is when I offer them something they might not have even asked for, which is, hey, would you like to see a PDF of applicable work? Are there boards that I can see, or inspiration that you guys are working with that would help us better understand what you're after? Any bit of information we can get, or give, gives us an advantage. So, I have had jobs recently where they didn't ask for a treatment, but I offered to make one. And they said, "oh, our creatives, just when they saw it, "they just knew that this artist was perfect for it," and we actually canceled the rest of our creative costs. So we kinda got in there early, with hitting them over the head with how perfect this artist was for the job. And then they just got attached. It doesn't happen all the time, but it's a possibility that it could, and why not? So, if we do the initial creative call, we get to hear a little bit about the job. Sometimes I'll ask questions before the call, is this a triple bid? Is John the only one that shoots celebrity? Oh, actually, it's all celebrity photographers, and John has the least amount of experience with professional athletes, or, this is not true. But with whatever it is, and then I'll say okay, in our treatment, we need to show them all the athletic work you've done and really get them to understand that this is in your wheelhouse, even if it's not on your site. So we have a sense, strategically, of what we can offer in the treatment. Do you want to talk more in depth about calls and treatments now, or? Yeah, I think we could. I mean I think, as we've mentioned earlier on the creative call, it's, again, it's a chance to hear from the creative team on what they're envisioning, or some of the things that they've already talked about with a client, maybe some of the things they want to avoid, or some of the things that they really wanna hammer home, and so for me it's a chance to really hear and give them a clear idea that I'm listening and I understand, repeating back to them that I'm listening and I heard that hey, they really want this to feel premium, and so we're gonna make sure that that's communicated clearly. And then, it's also a chance for me to explain how I would like to do this. Again, they're not asking me to just fit some box, they wanna see what's my approach. Because, all three people that are talking to me might have very different approaches. And so, it's letting them see how you problem solve, how you work, what you're gonna bring to the table. And you wanna be excited about it too, that's why hopefully you're in line with the type of work you wanna be doing, through personal work. So you wanna express that excitement, and how you see all these different aspects. For me, another part of it too, is with a business, a background in business, I understand that people aren't paying artists all kinds of money just to make something beautiful. A business has a goal, they're trying to get more foot traffic through their stores, or they're trying to increase brand awareness, or they're trying to increase internet sales, or whatever that is, and so I like to understand what is the goal of this? I know they're not hiring me just to make something beautiful, so what is the, what should this image, or images, or video, make someone feel compelled to do or think? And the better I can understand that, the better I can work in my strategy, ways to better reach that goal for them. And so, that's how I approach a creative call, is just listening, and problem solving, and then expressing in another way, how I'd like to do it. And there's also another element, which is, this is sort of that X-factor, but they wanna know what type of person John is. These, there's a lot riding on these shoots, and there's a big risk, and they wanna know, is he gonna be fun on set? Is he not gonna talk to the client at all? Is he, if it's a travel job, is this somebody that I can spend 10 days with, and not be annoyed? Is he gonna talk too much, is he gonna talk too little? Is he gonna be so shy that we're afraid he won't be able to engage with the talent? There's, a lot of times, it comes down to, this is true in politics and everything, but it comes down to likeability. If you are on that initial conference call, we know that they like your work. So that's sort of the base ground level. This is an opportunity to show something else. And it, I hear it, I don't say much on these initial conference calls, because I want the creatives and John, or the other artists, to connect and have a spark. But I hear it, and I can always tell, like, oh, they hit it. They have a lot of commonalities, they feel like they've already done the shoot, it feels like a team that will jive well together, because it's a very intimate and stressful situation, doing commercial photo shoots. There's a lot that's being demanded, there's one day, there's a lot of money on the table, or two days, or whatever, but there's a limit. And there's a lot to get done. And then finally on working with ad agencies, you don't have the job 'till you've got a signature, you got that ink on the paper. So it doesn't matter if they say "hey, "we're gonna sign off," or "you got the job," like, you need to get something signed, because it's not yours until you have that signature. This is a, this is an estimate for a smaller company, and the, this is, in a lot of ways, below what we would typically charge. But the reason that we wanted to do this is because there was a period of time where I was considering a different type of photography as I was getting into advertising. I think I more had the mindset of "how can I make money" as opposed to "what do I want to do?" And so, this was something I thought, this is access to a brand, and a type of photography I don't normally have access to, so I felt like this would be a good portfolio-building opportunity to hopefully leverage into something else. But, here it was very scrappy. They had just a very limited budget, and so it's not a matter of what's it actually cost, it's like, how can we make this happen and do good work within these constraints? Marin, I don't know if you can, wanna talk, you were mentioning the other day about, kind of... I mean generally these people do have a flat budget, we will work backwards and we'll just adjust everything accordingly to make it work. So, we spend a lot of time hacking away at line items. But one of the things that John and I were talking about the other day is that when you're dealing with a constricted budget, it's really important that when there are these casual conversations on the call, like, "hey, we're gonna get scrappy, "we're just all gonna help out, don't worry about it," I put all of those promises in the estimate. So, if you're on a call, and they said, "we're totally fine to just "shoot it in John's house, that's great," I put that in the paperwork and I say "location: John's house." Because, inevitably, when there's a lot of hands on this, somebody else from another department will be like, "oh, we'd love to see a choice in the locations "that you're gonna book for this." And they don't know what the budget is, or they conveniently forgot, or sometimes people on a call will say "we can just limit it to two talent to save budget numbers," and then a different art director says "oh, I'd actually like to have six talent." Well, if it's not written on the estimate that we agreed to two talent for this flat rate, or for this fixed budget, then there's, then you're stuck. I mean, there's actually, I've really, I've seen photographers just get caught trying to, wanna please a client, and they end up losing gobs of money, because they're like, "well, we were on set, "and they said they wanted eight times more, "and so I just felt like I wanted them to be happy "and work with me again." But, that's not the way to please a client, that's a way to go out of business. And what you can gently do on set is say, "oh, I'm so sorry, I would love to do that for you, "this is what it would cost to do that. "Let me know if you wanna do that." Or, this would be my suggestion of a solution for that. Recently somebody said that they wanted to have a basketball court set up in studio, for a shoot. But they had a fixed budget, and I actually had halved the budget, of what we had originally given them. But I was able to do it by listing everything, because I had hair and makeup groomer, and she said "okay, let's take out this line, "let's take out that line, and we don't need this." So instead of just taking out those lines, I said "handled by client, not applicable." So these were all the things that we discussed. I keep those line items in, and we had talked about when there's a discount, you say, "50% discount," so that they, the next time they come to you, they understand that that was a deal. That's not what this costs. So everything you can put into an estimate, you should. Can I ask a question? So when John's on a photo shoot, and it changes because they decide they wanna add some people, he calls you, and then you get on the phone with probably the art buyer, and you make another estimate that's signed. How would you recommend, like... Well that's why I said for them it would be best if they could just, if they can know it right away, just say "hey, I'm happy to get another person "to help out on set, it's gonna be $250 dollars to get a PA, "to be an extra set of hands." So, and then, if they say, (all laugh) if they say, all of these things are actually real! (all laugh) If they say that "oh, it's gonna cost money? "No, forget it," then that's fine. But, I always, it's my job to get these things in writing. Sets are frantic, so, if you don't have an agent to do that for you, maybe you get an assistant, or maybe you follow up, make a note of it and follow up after the shoot, and just say, "hey, I wanna make sure that we're all in agreement, "that you had agreed to getting an extra four plates made "at this restaurant, so that we could shoot it "in different ways, this is what it would cost, "it's not part of the original agreement." And these are the things that do keep photographers and agents and producers up at night after the shoot. I mean, it's actually hard work. It's not all fun and games, and we have to track these things over time, it's something that people will text me about on set all the time, standard days are ten hour days, people don't understand sometimes that you just stay until midnight to get it done, which is great, and the photographer will often work without overtime, but you can't do that to your crew members who aren't making that much money. You've gotta account for their time. So, this is a larger ad campaign. This was for a non-profit, actually, and I think our first estimate was triple what this was. And, that was what it cost, and the agency was fine with it, it was where it needed to be, but the client wasn't. They had never done a photo shoot before. And they were in the midst of some growth that they were never experienced before, so for them, they just, I don't know where this number came from, but they were like, "we just can't do anything "above 25 grand," kind of thing. And so, there's only so much we can do, we're not gonna just do the shoot and just do it for free, or cut costs, and so, it was something that was, we were looking forward to creatively, and so we expressed that, but the agency said "okay, "you know what, we wanna obviously do this project "for this client too, maybe there's something "that we can take on." And so there's a give and take, so in this case, the agency says "we will location scout, "and we will get the location permits, "we'll handle all the catering, "we will take care of all the talent, "we'll have a studio teacher," which is someone who's, if you have children talent on set, and you can see there's all kinds of lines on here that the agency covered, and so that was, that allowed us to bring costs down. And then also, it was originally scoped for a three day shoot, and so we made it a two day shoot. That's another way that we can. Again, we're not just saying okay, fine, we'll just take less money, that's not what's happening ever here, really. What we're doing is we're problem solving. And so we're saying, alright, we need to get this down, maybe there's a different approach. And there's usually, there's a cost to all that. We don't wanna do it unless we know we can do a great job, but maybe the difference between a two day shoot and a three day shoot is, we don't obviously have as much time on each set, so we do have to be a little more calculated, and we don't maybe necessarily get to be as picky. We do have to kinda rush things through because we're now doing three location shoots in one day, as opposed to two. But in this case, that's how we were able to work together to get it down to the number that they needed it to be. But you can see again here, some of these numbers are quite different from what we did on the previous shoot. Some of that comes from experience, some of it comes from just the size and scale of the shoot, too, what was needed also required a lot more as well. Let's see. This is for a much larger national campaign for a national brand, and so then again you can see how the numbers have changed. What was required of us was much greater, and also, as Marin talked about, the use and the benefit of, well, how this work was gonna be used by the client was much greater. There's the difference between if someone's gonna put a billboard up on the side of a rural road, and if someone wants to put a billboard up in the middle of Times Square. They're gonna get a lot more value from that Times Square billboard because there's so many more eyes on that, and so that's kind of part of what helps gauge the creative and licensing fee. And this is, just to get into the nitty gritty here, so before I was talking about, okay, let's say it's $10 thousand dollars for one year of advertising, you'll see that here it's three years. So chances are, that my number did not start at 16, my guess is that my number started at 20. And there was a negotiation. They probably said "oh, the client thinks that's too much," okay, then I would say, well, do you think that this is fair? So where I start with general guidelines, I move things around a lot. When I can, I charge $5000 dollars for a pretty light day. But if I'm trying to hit a number, I'll charge three. Or maybe I'll charge 15 hundred. But I will always charge something, because I do have to represent that time, but I'm flexible within that, and if it's the difference between John making $28 thousand dollars or $24 thousand dollars, or making no money, I obviously would rather him make $24 thousand dollars. So, I have my eye on that prize the whole time, I'm not trying to be difficult or make it so that they can't do it. But I also explain to them what the industry standard expectation is, and then we go from there. You'll also notice that I say 20 final images. I always ask people how many final images. I put every piece of information I can on there, because you, this used to happen in editorial a lot, but it happens now in commercial jobs, where people don't ask how many final images. And then I'll talk to this photographer, they'll be like, "I was up until four in the morning, "because they just asked me to retouch every image "from the shoot, because they couldn't figure out "which images they wanted to use." Gosh. And, they didn't know that they could say no to that, or they didn't, like I would push back and say, "we need you to decide which images you want, "and they'll retouch those images. "I'm not sure if you understand this, "but it takes the artist several hours "to retouch each image. "And if you do want every image retouched, "then this is how much it will cost." So I quantify everything I can, when I work with our set designers, and they'll say, "this is for five set-ups," I say "five set-ups" in my number, so that if the client comes back and says "oh, we're adding four more set-ups," I can say, "okay, our scope had five set-ups, so let's," then I can, then I have an opportunity to re-estimate. If I just say a flat number for sets, and the client changes their mind on how many different props and sets they want, then I have nowhere to go, and they will push back, because they don't understand what goes into it. And this is just the expenses for that same shoot, so it's not, again, it's not just the fee that we're charging, there's also all these expenses and things that need to happen, and so in this case there's also a celebrity talent rider, which is not something that you'll necessarily always encounter, but they have things in their contract that you'll have to cover as well. Massage therapist, that's my favorite line. (all laugh) We have joked since then about what would be in our riders, and after being at Creative Live this week, I definitely would put High-Low Candies in my rider. (all laugh) [John And Middle Woman] Hi-Chews. Hi-Chews? Hi-Chews! (laughs) "High-Lows." I don't, I'm gonna have to work on my rider. But I mean, you'll see things like, I mean, we learn on every, and every shoot is different. And it's actually really fun and interesting to learn how people do things, but it's also shocking. They could have a really tight budget, and I would have to bring John's fees down, to possibly make way for a massage therapist for this celebrity talent. So, you have to take into account the immovables that people will not do without. And, make it work. He lost the massage therapist though, because I wouldn't budge on this one, so. (all laugh) So, photo libraries, what is a photo library, Marin? I think you maybe mentioned this a little bit earlier, but. Yeah, nowadays people are wanting just a library of assets to use, over time, maybe throughout the year, so they might shoot one or two libraries a year. And then they can use those assets on social media, maybe on their website, maybe in trade shows. And that way they can keep things feeling fresh and new, without doing a new photo shoot each time. And when people ask about pricing for libraries, again, it depends on how it's gonna be used. So, if it's print advertising and billboards in Times Square, it's different than if it's a social media library. But I tend to start at $20 thousand dollars for a library for one year, and then 30 for two, and then, you know, let's say 50 for unlimited. This is not something that happens every day, truthfully. And especially not at our agency, because we don't specialize in lifestyle photographers as much. But it does happen, and we're happy to do it. And they, this is the type of photographer who is breaking cameras and taking thousands of pictures a day. They will hand over a drive, or have the agency bring a drive that they load up. The digi-tech would load it up and hand it over, and then I would put in some, "hard drive" in the estimate for storage. For a social media library, it would probably be half that. I would probably charge about $10 thousand dollars for a full library. Let's say the fee for five or ten images would be 75 hundred, or 5000, if it's a library I'd bump it up to 10 to account for this. It's basically covering several photo shoots in one. How many images? Account for a library? Yeah. I generally just ask them if it's a library. If they're viewing it as a library, or single images. I mean you can usually tell, because you can't really include post in a library, it's just sort of like a color balance correction on the whole thing. But they're not like precious single images, there's no shot list. There's shot direction, or there's a scene. We're gonna do one library location, we're gonna do one park location. But you're generally not getting a shot. You're getting kids playing, and somebody going on a hike, or you're getting a whole look and feel. It would be applicable to the kind of work you do. And you can pitch it, and say you know, "it does cost a little bit more, "but I can shoot this as a library, "and then you can have tons of assets for the year." People don't realize that they can actually offer things to clients that they don't ask for. And, charge more for it when it's appropriate. Not really actually just as an upsell game, but you just might have more to offer that they don't know that you have. John might say, "I don't know if you know this, "but I actually do a lot of film as well." And they might say "oh my gosh, we're so glad to hear this, "because we didn't want to go through "a whole estimating process "with a whole different production company, "and have to do that. "We really love you and your voice and your vision, "let's just do it all here." It's win-win for everybody. Would you usually specify a minimum or a maximum number of images that you're gonna hand off, or is it? I think the whole notion of paying for a library is that there is no maximum. Is that that's what they're paying for, is unlimited. Okay. Mm.

Whether just starting out in the commercial photography industry, or ready for a new chapter in your career, John Keatley shows you how to survive in a competitive field. Known for being innovative, creative and thinking outside the box when it comes to his photography, John applies those same skills into running his business. In this in-depth course, John shares some of the key elements that allow you to be an artist and a business owner. You’ll learn:

  • How to find your style and attract the clients you want
  • How to create a bid
  • The importance of drafting a treatment
  • Estimates and billing for your work
  • Planning and scheduling your production
  • Tips on memorable branding
  • The difference between an Art Director/Agent/Art Buyer
  • Techniques for editing your portfolio

If you’re at the start of your career or ready to expand your client list, this course will be the game changer you need to create a solid foundation for a thriving business.

 
 
 
 

Reviews

  • John & Creative Live - Thank you - Best. Class. Ever.! This is a GREAT class! If you are a photographer, this is definitely a MUST GET class, but even if you work with photographers as part of a creative team - you have to take this class. (I'm a Photo Stylist) John covers it ALL in this class - it really, truly is a Survival (Success) Guide. John is so detailed, honest, and generous in his knowledge/experience/wisdom in the commercial photography industry in helping you understand the business and really succeed (& stand out). When I see that John is teaching a class on Creative Live - I'm in! (I have his other valuable courses as well)
  • I was lucky to be part of the studio audience for this course. John is an awesome teacher and did an outstanding job of making sense of a very difficult side of photography for a creative to understand. He shared his 18+ years of experience, including the good and bad he has gone through. The "special guests" alone are worth the cost of this class. John has an amazing team working beside him behind the scenes. Their perspective on his business was priceless!
  • Thanks to John for being so open his experience in the commercial photography industry and giving us so many real world examples. I especially appreciated the contributions by the non-photographers in the second day of the course - Nichelle and Maren. Nichelle gave a good perspective on the finance and business communications side. Maren is John's agent and offered her insight on how agencies worked. I've heard photographers discuss working with agents before, but it was helpful to hear an agent answer questions directly about her experience.