Real World Estimates: A Mash-Up of Product and Architectural Photography

By Jess Dudley, Wonderful Machine Producer

I recently helped one of our photographers estimate, negotiate and produce an architectural interior/product shoot. The client was a high-end furniture manufacturer in the northeastern U.S. working with a mid-sized ad agency in the southeastern U.S. And the project was to create a series of ads showing entertainment centers in beautiful residential settings.

Though this project has a lot in common with many routine architectural interior assignments, it ended up being worth much more. Most architectural assignments come from architecture firms, builders, or building owners, not ad agencies. And even though pictures from those assignments sometimes get used for advertising, the primary use is typically for brochures, web sites, publicity, portfolios and contests. It’s fairly customary for architectural photographers to charge a day rate (often around 2000.00 – 3500.00, depending on how much the photographer is in demand) plus expenses (capture fee, file prep, equipment fee, assistants and travel), for up to about 5 pictures. Architectural photographers can also often bump up this fee by licensing the pictures to related clients for the same property (like the architect, builder and owner).

This job was different because it was specifically shot for advertising use, it was a product picture more than an architectural interior, it required a fairly high degree of styling and other production, plus there were models and special retouching to boot.

Our estimating process normally begins with the photographer speaking to the the art director about the creative requirements of the job, and me speaking with the art buyer, art director or account executive to understand the licensing requirements. I then talk with the photographer so I know what production elements we’ll need in order to support his/her creative approach.

The art director will explain the concept to the photographer (sometimes with sketches or swipe art). And it’s up to the photographer (along with some input from me) to figure out the most effective approach. In this case, the job was to show entertainment centers in a beautiful home. The photographer had to decide whether it made more sense to build a set in a studio, or to work on location. Some photographers might opt for one or the other depending on their past experience, comfort level, and of course factoring in time considerations and cost, in addition to how it will affect the look of the picture. In this case, we proposed to shoot the job on location.

Another important creative aspect of this shoot was going to be the room styling. You can be the best photographer in the world, but if you don’t have anything to photograph, you’re sunk. And while there are many photographers who shoot interiors that are already styled in advance, a project like this requires the photographer to help conceive and direct the room styling. And to do that requires having a working relationship with a stylist who is going to understand both the sensibilities of the photographer and know what’s appropriate for the client and their specific project. We were able to show the client pictures that demonstrated that our photographer had a lot of experience collaborating with a very talented stylist, and this gave the client the confidence that we would deliver a high-quality product.

I’ve found that art buyers are often more comfortable talking money with an agent rather than directly with the photographer. That way, nobody’s taking anything personally. It’s just business. If they really want to work with that photographer (rather than just fishing for a price), they will often cut right to the chase and give the agent a good idea of what their price expectations are. That’s not to say that an agent should simply offer up the price the client wants. But it certainly saves a lot of back-and-forth for both parties when the photographer can scale the project appropriately.

There are times when a client either doesn’t have a particular budget, or they don’t want to say. If the client is inexperienced handling that type of project, the photographer/agent may simply have to work harder to understand what’s at stake in order to deliver a proposal that’s in proportion to the overall goals and wherewithal of that client. Sometimes, the client doesn’t want to say what their budget is because they might want to see several completely independent approaches that they can choose from. Again, in those cases, you’ll be forced to make an educated guess at the level of production the client might want. But regardless of the client’s price expectations, the actual picture requirements and the licensing needs will largely determine the value of the job. It’s also important to understand that the low bid does not always get the job. Sophisticated clients will be reluctant to work with photographers whose bids are “too good to be true.” Most good clients are looking for good value, not cheap prices. So pricing a project appropriately, and in proportion to all the specs, will give you the best chance of landing the job.

After getting the photographer’s thoughts on his creative approach to the project, I spoke with the art buyer. And as is often the case with relatively small advertising projects, she was a little vague about the licensing she needed. After I explained that the price was going to be heavily influenced by those variables, she decided that she wanted a quote on Advertising, Publicity and Collateral in the U.S. for 2 years.

Still unknown, though, was the number of images they were going to need. It’s actually not that unusual to not have all the information you want when it comes time to construct an estimate. What’s very important to remember, though, is that even in cases where your client is vague, your quote will have to be specific. If the specs subsequently change, you can revise your quote accordingly. In this case, I chose to work up two versions of the estimate to show the cost for 4 pictures and the cost for 6. I offered a fairly deep discount on the last two pictures to give them an incentive to do more rather than less.

Estimate Version 1
Estimate Version 2

The client opted for the 6 image estimate.

After we received the signed estimate, the first thing we needed to do was find the locations. Prior to estimating, the client expressed an interest in shooting at two of the many beautiful homes in the photographer’s portfolio, one contemporary and one transitional (you have to learn your vocab when working with architectural clients: modern, transitional, traditional, contemporary). This made scouting a snap. The photographer pulled his files of the homes that fit the mold and presented them to the client. They were so enamored with one of the locations that they chose to shoot both days in the same home.

A nice benefit of shooting both days at the same location was that we’d need less setup time/breakdown time, and it gave us more time for pictures. The client decided that they’d like to add a seventh shot and try out a few variations of the others, including adding models. As I was working up the revised estimate, I decided to simply pro-rate the seventh shot, but I felt that the variations with the models were worth more than the others. The models changed the feel of the pictures significantly, and required another skill set from the photographer. Also, a whole different ad concept could be developed around these new model variations. As such, we felt they should be licensed independently of the original shots.

Also, the client inquired about several exterior stock images to retouch into the windows. The photographer had a stock library for just such occasions. For nominal fees he licenses exterior stock images to drop into windows, turning an ordinary residential bedroom with a view of the shed in the backyard into a hi-rise condo with a view of a metropolitan skyline at sunset.

So we worked up our final quote – adding in the models, the additional situation, and the exterior stock images:

Final Estimate

The client accepted that, so I sent over an invoice for a 50% advance:

50% Advance

Now the production went into full swing:

I coordinated the location. The homeowner agreed to our location fee and allowed us to store furniture and equipment overnight.

I collected location and model releases. It’s very important to get signed releases. Otherwise, the client will not be legally entitled to use the location and models’ likenesses to advertise their product. You don’t want to spend all that time and money producing a shoot only to later find out that the homeowner or model wasn’t clear on your intentions.

Coordinating with the stylist was the most time consuming portion of the production. The rental location gave us a great start, but we had to consider whether the existing carpet, paint colors, drapes, and props were appropriate, and what we needed to add or replace. We had many, many conversations between the stylist, photographer, and client to get all the details right.

Hiring, renting and managing the assistants, digital tech, equipment, caterer, and models was pretty straight-forward. Between the photographer and us, we have a long list of regular sub-contractors, and we also keep a thorough vendor database that we can use when we need to.

Though very hectic, the shoot went smoothly. Between all the shuffling furniture from room to lawn to room, moving around lights and digital cameras and workstations, art directing and shooting – there was never a dull moment. We squeezed in all 7 shots, no holes were punched in walls, and the client was very happy with the results.

Once back in the office, I began the tedious (but important) process of copying all of our receipts and organizing the invoice. We keep meticulous records of every expenditure so that everything is accounted for, everyone gets paid properly, and the client gets billed appropriately. Also, I try to present it in a way that makes it easy for the client to understand. I put copies of receipts in the order that the line item shows up on the invoice. And if a receipt isn’t self-explanatory, I indicate exactly what it’s for. After a long day of scanning and collating, I sent over the final invoice:

Final Invoice

For more information on Wonderful Machine’s consulting services, please contact Jess Dudley at jess@wonderfulmachine.com or 610.260.0200.

There Are 15 Comments On This Article.

  1. Massively useful, thanks for this post, Jess.

    I’m a photographer currently in talks re. a small ad campaign project and this has given me a good idea of how to estimate for such a job.

    It’s also relevant because the main body of my work tends to be interior/hotel photography-related, not advertising-related (a similar scenario to the photographer in your article I suspect?) and I was in danger of underselling myself with the upcoming ad project.

    -Peter-

  2. Jess and Rob, I very much appreciate the opportunity to see current invoices and business practices, thank you!

    I tried to post this awhile back, and it would not post:

    When I first started reading “aphotoeditor” I was under the impression that much of the content was about established business in the photography industry – with a special focus on editorial photography. Maybe I was mistaken, or things have changed here over the last year +. Because so often there seems to be amazement and wonder over very common aspects of this business which have been in place for years, if not decades.

    It’s nice to see some of this published and shared here. For those that are new or considering working in this field there are places where this type of information (and much more) has been available and continues to be available (including mentoring). Why re-invent the wheel, again and again?

    continued below:

    • @Bob,
      The content of “aphotoeditor” consists of things that interest me. If something doesn’t interest you, skip it. Also, I expect the content to change quite a bit over the next few years as I add new columns and explore topics I know nothing about.

  3. As it’s been the case in previous situations in this forum, the amounts are pathetically slow and this photographer and agency are setting a very low standard for pricing in National Advertising campaigns, helping the demise of all shooters in the not-so-long term.

    18 grand for 7 images brings about 27 hundred for each final , retouched image for use Nationwide in print plus colateral plus who knows what else?????

    I bet you, the guys at that agency are laughing their asses off, and this will be a fine joke for the rest of the year, and a cool precedent for years to come for them to keep lowering the bar to what should be REAL pricing for these sort of campaigns.

    To these “consultants”, please consult with the large organizations like ASMP and APA ,which are working hard to define better business practices to all shooters, before embarking in the dark, doing this kind of actions that harm everyone in the business.

    Jorge

    • @Jorge Parra,

      Jorge,

      Do you think this is related to supply and demand?
      Possibly a good enough mentality?
      Or both.
      (Why pay more for good enough when there are so many that will do it for less?)

      Or is this a matter of leaving money on the table, lowballing, etc. due to ignorance of healthy business practices?

    • @Jorge Parra,
      Send me REAL pricing examples from this year or last. I’m happy to publish them but nobody has an example to give me. Last time I asked I got estimates that were worse. Less talking more action please.

  4. Bob, there are tons of different reasons to account for so many different prices in different markets. When you are discussing a local, or regional campaign, you will find remarkable differences, just as the cost of doing business and all operational ( Production) expenses are affected by local factors. People from NY may find odd the pricing schemes of Wisconsin or Miami for these reasons and every shooter has to consider both the value he is providing to the campaign and fine-tune pricing in reasonable accord to local factors.

    BUT, when we are talking of National campaigns, things are all too different, as those regional differences do not play any major role. The Ad Agency has already discussed and got approval for a massive publication/distribution of the images in several media nationwide. This Media Buy is no longer a small thing in terms of millions of dollars, and the exposure the product or service experiences is also massive, just according to the plan.

    It follows that the same image, the same photo the same digital file may be worth a few bucks if the usage is going to be a simple portrait frame in a private house, but is worth many thousands if the same image is going into print and billboards on a local campaign, and way much more if the campaign is national, or international. This is the basic logic behind the licensing system, no complex thinking or rocket science. More usage means you charge more. If you estimate based on ” shooting days” you are charging by the time it takes you to shoot, and remove the usage factor to properly estimate your real fees.

    Setting the bar this low for a national advertising campaign means having very little knowledge of the licensing system, it’s power to not leave money on the table, and negotiate properly. If you shoot yourself asking for a fraction of what the real pricing is, both Agency and client benefit from it, but you will never know how much money was left there for you, money the client was willing to pay, given the proper merits of the arguments and the Value provided by the photographer.

    The good enough mentality , may not apply here. We read the shooter had a splendid archive of images to help with the production of the entire shooting, saving time, efforts ( and money ) to the client by skipping Scouting fees,( and not charging a stock research fee was a mistake just as well). In short, we have a good professional being handled poorly by some third party who apparently knew less than the shooter himself about proper pricing.

    Add to that that maybe a fee involved for ” Consultation Services” rendered to the shooter, so his actual income is still less than the total amount described in the invoice….

    As I said, photographers do themselves a BIG favor by becoming part of the trade Organizations like ASMP( American Society of Media Photographers), APA( Advertising Photographers of America), EP ( Editorial Photographers), etc. All these groups work hard in the educational and business aspects of our art, and even just visiting the public areas of those sites is in itself an educational and motivational tool for everyone.

    I concur with others who have requested that Rob sets up a section on the Blog to provide all these links, preferably with banners from the organizations, so the many shooters who some here for information, also have the alternative to get it from the actual sources.

    Best

    Jorge
    synthetichabitat.com

    • @Jorge Parra, lol, Jorge, you are preaching to the choir. I understand how it’s supposed to work. How it has worked in the past, and how it still works today with those select few image makers at the top.

      I wonder about now. The present markets where clients have gotten used to crowdsourcing, cheap cheap cheap stock, very low cost social marketing, and a current GLUT of image supply.

      Quality, quantity, price are all relative. So aside from ideals, I question the present market environment. How and where our present and future clients will source images/media.

  5. A National campaign is a National campaign is a National campaign.

    This is supposed to be about the same yesterday as it is today. Even if a good part of a media plan is aimed at the web instead of print, pricing should not have gone that low for the Advertising market. Photographers did this to themselves.
    You think I am preaching to the choir, but then again, why is it that so many photographers don’t have a remote clue on how to estimate properly, leaving so much money on the table? Why are so many people still estimating based on shooting days?

    Rereading the invoice, I came to notice the fees are meant to be spread over 2 years, so cut in half everything on a yearly income basis. Go figure…

    As stated everywhere , Photographers are their own worst enemies, and if you wonder about the market today, with the influx of tons of “good enough” images and shooters, and don’t notice the downfall in pricing in the industry is mostly due to very poor business practices, and photographers accepting pathetic deals and signing contracts issued to them, instead of issuing their own contracts to be signed by their clients ( even plumbers do this!), and do nothing about it, then stay in ” LOL Mode” as much as you can, but don’t be surprised when you have to suddenly change careers in the near future.

    I would suggest re-thinking the business models first, but quickly and
    effectively.
    Again, estimating using shooting time/days/hours as a reference is so old century….

    Check the websites sof the organizations mentioned, You will need more than a weekend to entirely read everything that is available there to educate yourself, and joining one of those orgs may be the best investment in your career in recent years.

    That said, I bet you, only a few take this advise seriously.

    Jorge

  6. Space quotations!! :))
    Not so long ago I did work for the European agency (- quarterly corporate magazine) and have received for this shooting 320 euros :))

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