Category "Motion"

Shooting Motion With Stills – How To Do It, What To Charge And What Rights To Give

I received an email the other day from an established still photographer who was feeling the heat to get with this motion business. The subject of motion was brought up twice in one week by editors he works with all “tethered to the rise in magazines producing iPad content.” He was having the “panicked realization” that he needed to start learning this new skill set and start buying expensive new equipment and software. He wanted to hear from some folks who’ve already made the transition to adding motion to their stills shoots to “get an understanding from them about what they are charging in the way of fees, the rights they’re granting, the production charges that get folded in.” He fears that most editorial clients are “going to do what they did when digital came out and say, hey, we’re not going to pay anything additional for this since we’re already paying you for the still shoot.”

So, I picked up the keyboard and contacted a handful of photographers from a full blown commercial director to someone who told me that shooting motion saved his bottom line in 2010. I think you will enjoy their thoughtful, varied and honest responses. I’d love to hear more in the comments.

Photographer 1
I figured this was starting to happen to folks. In the commercial world we keep the two budgets separate, because they really are two different animals. That being said I know mags are starting to pressure photographers to shoot video, sound, etc.. At minimum if they wanted video and sound, I’d make sure they pay for a seasoned camera assistant (that has experience with 5D, 7D, etc..) and an experienced sound person + their gear. You might pressure them to let you charge some extra rental for video accessories, monitors, and camera support, follow focus, etc.. which can cost two or three times the cost of the camera itself.

You can make it look good without a crew, but so many things can go wrong when you start shooting video with sound, to have a few people helping is huge. Also, if you are just getting started doing this I’d stay away from the whole post production monster, it’s such a big learning curve AND super time consuming, it can be very frustrating. But, I will say on the other side of the coin, if you are really serious about telling stories with video or film, sitting in an edit bay working with an experienced editor is a great way to learn. You can see all your mistakes and what a cut needs, to move it forward. Content is everything.

On the money front I get paid a creative fee to:
1. shoot stills (and then we license those images for additional $$$, but retain copyright)
2. direct and/or shoot video (usually the client owns all that footage, the agency/client pay a fee and walk away, unless I’m involved in post, which we are doing more and more of).

We also make money by owning the production company (a lot more responsibility, but we have much more control over the production, and we control the budget on our end) it’s standard to charge a production fee when you are running the production. I’m not sure editorial clients understand yet how complicated it can be to create visually engaging footage with sound. If they just want some rough footage with sound from a mic mounted on the camera, that’s one thing, but if they want a cohesive piece that actually works as motion with high production values.. that’s another beast altogether.

Photographer 2
I do hope people realize that you cannot tack a video shoot onto the back end of a photo shoot without compromising your photography (and your video). If you have an hour with a subject and you have to spend valuable shooting time dicking around with video you are likely going to miss the shot. Besides, making a video of any quality requires a fair amount of time committed also. Definitely more that 15 min.

I don’t know of any sane photo editor that would sacrifice quality of image just to get some b-roll for the website. I know some people like it, but I personally hate BTS video and I most certainly don’t feel like taking video of myself taking photographs. On a lot of my shoots there is an EPK crew hired by the client lurking in the background and I have to spend time trying to keep them out of my way. Annoying.

I know photographers are experimenting with different methods and different techniques in video with varying degrees of success. I see a whole lot of video that should of stayed on the editing room floor, but if you get the opportunity to charge a fee for your services then you should charge what you feel your services are worth. There are no standards for video right now. Everybody is just making this shit up as they go. But to put things in perspective when I moved to New York in 1985 the day rate for editorial photography was $400-$500 a day. 25 years later the editorial fees are still the same. How much more do you really think magazines are going to cough up for a 3-minute video clip?

I think people are seriously underestimating the complexity of video and if they think they can just quickly learn sound design and Final Cut and storytelling and directing they are gravely mistaken. These jobs are not photography. But if you can get away with charging for things you aren’t really very good at then more power to ya. That said, you could easily hire people to fill these positions for you. I have hired assistant camera guys, gaffers, sound guys and editors for $250 a day (and that is the cheapest you will find skilled people for.) And I have charged some camera and lighting rental used for video as part of the photo shoot.

Photographer 3
I realized I might not be the best person to respond to this question as I don’t really do much editorial work. Most of the video work I have done has been direct with my fashion clients and some advertisers. I know the trend of putting editorial content on iPad is driving a big changes in the editorial industry, but I can’t really speak to any of that. I can at least offer some general observations based on my limited experience. Maybe some of it will be helpful.

Shooting even a simple motion project requires quite a bit of specialized knowledge. I wouldn’t recommend anyone tackling something like this without having experienced professionals to back them up. And it’s important to keep in mind that the post production of a motion project can be a complicated and time consuming process that requires expensive professional services. One day of a motion shoot can sometimes turn into a solid MONTH of post-production. Even to quote a client on the production expenses of a motion shoot can require an expert! This all must be kept in mind when talking with clients about their motion needs. If you are lucky, they have some experience already with motion, so they know budgets for this kind of work are huge… by comparison what you quote will seem like a bargain. If the client has no experience, you will need to educate them on the associated costs to produce motion. There is no way for it to be folded into a still budget, and I think most clients realize this.

For simple motion projects that are done in conjunction with still photography shoots, I think the best way to figure out pricing is to base it on your experience level and what kind of production you have the ability to put together, how much your actual costs are going to be (keep in mind how much time you will spend in post) and come up with a flat charge based on that. And of course, you have to keep in mind what the clients expectations are. If they just want something basic, you can probably put this together yourself, with the right people to help out. But if they are coming to you for a high production value project, you need to be realistic about what you are capable of putting together, because it’s REALLY easy to get in over your head with motion.

For small motion projects, like behind the scenes videos that are shot at the same time as a still shoot, I started out only charging a flat fee of $800. That was basically at my cost, and I was actually losing a lot of money if I factored in how many hours I was putting in learning Final Cut during the editing process. But it was worth it because I had no experience with motion, and it was a way for me to learn without too much pressure. Over time, as I built my knowledge, and my ability to put together a higher end production grew, I raised the fees for this service. I am currently charging a flat fee of $2,500 for this simple motion project. I can do it this inexpensively because I own my own equipment, and I do a very basic production… I make sure the client understands that this is not going to look like a SuperBowl TV commercial. My main out of pocket expense is having an experienced and talented camera operator for the shoot, which will cost me about $600. And I know I will be doing a day of editing afterward. With each motion shoot I am building my knowledge and experience, I am hooking this client into the idea of coming to me for future motion projects, and I am building a reel that can be used to get work from other clients. We have been booked on several corporate videos, music videos, and a web series all based on starting out with these $600 little video projects.

The only usage I limit is TV Commercial, otherwise the client can use the video how they want for as long at they want.

Photographer 4
The question of how to handle changes in business that are brought about by technological innovation, cultural shifts, new laws and other forces are always interesting. Commercial photography is no different than other industries in that regard, and it’s frighteningly similar to all the other technical crafts or arts that have suffered through changes. Anyone who has In Design on their computer right now would all be well-served to talk to people who used to set type, and they should have spent some time with the monks who used to copy books by hand. Kindle anyone?

I have urged my assistants and other people in the industry to look at this from the point of view of the client, as we are all clients of many industries, and make our decisions based on what we think is rational criteria. If a client asks you to shoot, produce, provide or edit video along with the still photography, first look at the request from the client’s point of view. There are numerous technological and economic reasons for the request, and, quite literally, photographers now can provide something to clients that we didn’t have the capacity to provide before, with little extra effort. A clip for the iPad site on the web seems reasonable to me, especially considering a photographer’s talent in seeing the scene and the new capabilities of the cameras involved.

I have found in the last 25 years that the question of “what to do/charge/produce” is best approached by noting how different it would be from what’s been done so far. Practically, how much more difficult is it to record video than to shoot a still frame of an editorial subject? You may need more equipment than for just the still, but not that much more, especially for a clip on the web. Editing software comes as part of the Mac operating system, and while FCP Suite is now $1K, FCE is pretty cheap. Virtually everything I see on the web as a clip could be produced in iMovie.

So you should charge more if the client is asking you to add clips to the job, but not by much, and additionally the client should expect few still setups for a given amount of time. If they want edited footage, you should charge for that too, based on whatever retouching fees you charge. If you charge $1.00 for an hour of retouching time, it makes sense that you’d charge something near that for putting footage together. If the client wants clips along with the still take, figure out how much longer it would take to produce them and any other costs involved, and propose adding that to the estimate. A lot of the decision making is in the specifics, but for small jobs, a $1,500 fee might go to $2,000 and have fewer still images. On larger productions, we’ve added a camera operator and sound man to work under my direction to shoot the scenes that we set up for stills. It slows us down from our normal pace, but the client is forewarned, and happy.

If the client doesn’t have more money for more production, then they have a choice. If it’s a flat fee job for still images, and they want to add video clips, there will be fewer still images to pick from. The fee they pay you is based on your time at a certain level of expertise. It’s up to you to determine what you can produce in that amount of time (or for that amount of money – same thing.)

In my mind it makes sense to keep the rights to the clips the same as the stills, and I find that this makes sense to most clients as well. We have had jobs where the video was licensed separately from the stills, but in those cases, the video was for a certain purpose that didn’t relate to the purpose of the stills.

It’s heresy in the little pond of commercial photography, but the truth is that the quality of the still or video images doesn’t often affect the outcome of their use. A big client of mine – and by “big” I mean a company that is a household name and also pointed to frequently as being a cool and powerful force in advertising – told me a story of his daughter, shooting a video on her point and shoot, putting it together in iMovie, and by virtue of her father’s position in an enormous company, linking it to part of their web presence. That little video drove traffic and exposure up in that area of the company, a company who risks almost being overexposed in consumers’ minds. Was there posterization in the shadows? Absolutely. Bad focus? Check. Shaky, cell-phone quality sound? Yep. Was it effective? Very much so.

So put yourself in your client’s position in your own industry. You have a certain budget, and that budget comes from your boss or from common sense – think of your own willingness to spend money on a car, a plumbing call or for music on iTunes. In your client’s shoes, you know you need a certain number of readers or customers to make your business work – how do you get them? Your daughter’s video drives people to your website, strengthening your brand and maybe even leading to sales. Sure, a professional’s video might be cooler, better done, have fewer “technical” mistakes, but does it drive sales?

Instead of reacting to the requests for video with “now they want something for nothing,” start asking questions. What are they trying to do with the video. Who are they trying to reach? How can you help them? Become valuable, or better yet, irreplaceable. We will all pay more for that assistant that’s reliable, motivated, intelligent and devoted to the production going smoothly, so become that person to your client. Charging for that is easy. If your favorite irreplaceable assistant said he couldn’t afford to work at the rate you’re paying, wouldn’t you offer more?

Here’s the point: our clients, editorial and commercial, are running a business, for which they need customers. We are their partners in making that happen, and their challenges and changes aren’t personal, vindictive or immoral, any more than our own designing of a promo card isn’t an attempt to drive designers out of business. I’ve survived in photography for 25 years – albeit not perfectly – by approaching the business of photography as a business, combining the clients’ needs and limitations with my own, finding the common ground and then doing the best job I can.

Photographer 5
So yeah, a really important question – and of course with all the bullshit competition photographers feel for one another it’s turned into one of those total unknowns, wild west, each person pricing it on the spot things …

To some extent we’re all fiscally ignorant about how to charge for video work. I’ve taken on video in a couple capacities – editorially if I’m asked to try and pull some video content out of what is most first and foremost a stills shoot, I just do what I can, and for no extra charge – for a couple reasons … one, I see it as a gift that I’m being asked to do it, and don’t have to deal with a videographer that I have no history with, so that the overall production remains firmly in my camp – and two, what a kick ass opportunity to flex that muscle … you build your archive of video material, which you use to show off your skills when there really is video money in a budget.

I often shoot small video clips even when it wasn’t asked of me – no loss if it’s crappy, and such a plus if there’s a nice offering you can send off to the art department. Video has become such an important part of things, web content as well as iPad editions, that editors can’t be left in the dark about what they’re gonna get – they need assurances, which means video can’t be an after-thought – it must taken very seriously (which often means that both stills and video are compromised to some extent). So the idea of knocking out a stills shoot, and when something rich was going on that felt like great video content just switching modes on the 5D Mark II, are fading fast … my new approach, which everyone seems happy with, is to bring on my own video guy to work alongside me, someone I know and communicate well with, and charge accordingly for their rate – or frankly, just make it work with whatever budget the PE, AD, CD have put out there …

The money conversation becomes interesting when there’s real money involved, a robust budget from a commercial client… they love your photography and that’s why you got the job, and they’ve seen your video work and are satisfied & confident that this can be one-stop-shopping… then how to go about it? In two cases this past year, I shot stills and video for sizable, week-long projects, and in both cases I also hired a second video shooter and sort of self-assigned my primary role as the director of the whole production. I know at this point that I’ll get the necessary stills – I’m careful never to be too relaxed about it, but there’s a degree of confidence that comes with time that is helpful to lean back on when you need to take in the bigger picture – in this case, of where we’re at on both fronts… if I’m not thrilled with the video that I can see we’re getting, I jump in and pick up some of the slack, re-establish the energy & look of what we need to achieve and if I can see that video is right on target then I keep shooting the stills, and more importantly, steering the overall ship in the right direction (a task that isn’t talked about nearly enough).

As for money, in my experience, videographers don’t make nearly what still photographers can make on a commercial job – so we’ve estimated the job out with a slightly larger creative fee (for essentially playing the role of director of the thing) and brought on a trusted second or even third shooter solely dedicated to video. I paid them shoot day rates of between $1,500 and $2,500 and travel day rates of $750-$1,000. They seemed quite happy with that in both cases, but again it’s important to stress that this isn’t a Heineken commercial going to air – this is web content. Production expenses increase, for sure, because you’re talking about more people, more equipment, hotels, meals and flights, but I’ve always seen the goal as how to envelop video without it crushing the budget – essentially, how to make my version of capturing video as well as stills more attractive than another solution that’s gonna bum me out – like the ad agency piggy-backing a totally separate crew on top of mine which usually only serves to generate more stress and animosity on set, which of course hampers the efficiency and, let’s face it the enjoyment-factor, of doing the job right.

Equipment wise, it’s not expensive at all, unless you’re going Red. I shoot sort of real life, documentary, life-style type of work so lighting is kept as simple as possible (and if we need video & stills in the same condensed window of shoot time we opt for continuous lighting instead of strobes so that both parties have the set-up they need, and then it’s just a matter of dancing around one another, or laying out the timing of things so that everybody gets their moment). The 5D Mark II is a beautiful machine, as we all now know, and there are great solutions for audio that aren’t that complex, so there are fewer and fewer reasons not to bounce back and forth between stills & video on that camera based on what’s happening in front of you. The Panasonic systems, HVX-200 or HPX-170, are moderately priced rentals, as is the Sony EX-3… beyond that I don’t know much about different video bodies to work with. Granted rights, similar to stills, excluding advertising – and truthfully, I stay out of that… agents navigate that territory better than I can.

Ultimately my take on video isn’t that it’s another place to make more money, it’s a skill we all better get comfortable with and build into what we already do. Hell, so many industries have been crushed or disappeared entirely with the fall of the economy – if all we need to do is get comfortable with a similar medium and make that a part of what we deliver on a job, I see that as getting off easy – PLUS, what photographer hasn’t always wanted to play around with moving pictures?

Cost Of Motion Productions For Photographers

- - Motion

I received an email from Photographer/Director Jason Mitchell of Purebred Photo challenging me on a assumption I made in a question to Clint Clemens about how photographers are simply shooting motion cheaper than traditional motion crews can. He was correct to challenge me on that, because it was simply a hunch I had without anything backing it up. I love hearing from people in the field and found his comments so interesting I asked him to expand on them with some examples for everyone to see. Here is Jason’s response:

I think it’s important to talk about the cost of motion production and the idea that photographers can somehow do it cheaper. I think that this is a misconception born out of the often smaller production costs of shooting stills as compared with a motion campaign, and sprinkled with the cost of acquiring on dSRLs vs. high-end motion cameras. If in reality the cost reduction is due to a smaller crew count, less expensive cameras, cheap lights and reduced overhead, then most motion production companies are already doing that. However, they do not talk it up as they prefer to focus on the larger jobs that pay better, have a properly skilled crew, and often better results. It boils down to the level of quality and control you can achieve when you are approaching a project as a solo vs. cooperative effort, the difference is in the details.

I bring this up because in your question you feel quite certain that photographers can do it cheaper. I feel I must put it back to you that everyone can do it cheaper (and already have been). But what motion teams are good at also incorporates another element (other than the obvious editing and sound as Mr. Clemens addresses): the evolution of a story. The deeper you dig into the motion world, the more you will come back with the idea that the story is king.

The barrier to entry in motion production for photographers is not all that high. The simple answer is to hire the same people who have been doing motion work for decades. It is up to the photographer to incorporate this collaborative effort, decide which elements to focus on and which to delegate. And their approach may be more novel as they are coming with fresh eyes and fewer presuppositions on what the ‘requirements’ are for solid motion production. But the costs of production relate directly to the ability to support and communicate the narrative.

So, here are two examples that I could offer up to support the rhetoric — where we kept the budget low but strove for higher quality.

Job A: OOH targeting transit in NY, SF and London and Viral still and motion banners for [Redacted]  through agency [Redacted].

This one was a bit unusual (as if anything ever isn’t). It started out with only still deliverables but the client couldn’t commit to a date. As the job progressed they added on more desires for the outcome, including motion banners to support an interactive experience in the web browser. The producer was a friend I had worked with and problem solved with before and he had just run into two problems. The client pushed the dates into a conflict with the photographer who had originally bid/secured the job so he was down a photographer. They added motion, which that photographer had no experience with.

When he called and talked about the project, it was a week away. They had booked a studio and talent but needed a new (and new type of) acquisition team. And to boot, they had already settled on a budget for the project of $8300 to cover camera crew, equipment and lighting for a two day shoot — the agency was acting as the production company and handling the hair/make-up fx, prop stylist, talent, studio and post. I was available for the time and had the ability to take both both formats down so I could gladly help him out. But to complicate matters the two clients couldn’t agree if the materials should be high key or low-key to match existing work, so our punch list was growing exponentially.

I wanted to shoot strobes for still to freeze the action and needed hot lights for the motion — I chose HMIs to match daylight of the strobes. I brought on a gaffer and a 1st photo assistant for both days, each familiar with the different lights. Cameras were a Nikon D3x for poster-sized stills and an HVX200 that had plenty of resolution for web banners. I focused the budget on what I would help augment our ability to quickly handle the shoot. On set, I sistered the two (hot and strobe) lighting setups to quickly move between them. In the end, we had more issues with coaxing the talent to stay fresh than we did with the multitude of setups, so we saw overtime on day one.

So a minimal budget equaled a minimal approach — cheaper cameras and small crew. A complexity added by the client resulted in having to focus heavily on utilizing every iota of talent from the crew to make it work.

Job B: 3x 15 second web commercials (virals) for [Redacted] through [Redacted] .

This we bid out from the beginning. After a little back and forth it was clear that they had marked out $25,000 for the project to include production and post on three 15 second web commercials. The agency would be handing talent costs, but otherwise we would be delivering finished spots. The original estimate called for a lot of agency involvement in pre-production in casting and location scouting. In reality they were busy on other projects and simply weighed in online.

To make it meet the budget, we planned for one day of production with three locations. The shots were simple, all ‘oners’ where there was just one shot for the whole spot (a logo and some VO is added in post). We had SAG talent so the reads were all gold and we were able to push through the setups in short order. And we kept the locations close to each other and ended up only moving the trucks once (we shot one exterior outside on the street of the interior location). The crew was robust but minus a couple of the ancillary multiple roles, and I could Direct/DP to keep costs and crew count down. There was a total head count of 21 including 5 agency and 1 client.

I was able to negotiate a couple of price reductions in rate or kit costs with crew members that I had a good relationship and took care of everyone very well on set (great craft, a motor coach to work in and I ordered the larger grip truck). We shot on the Red with a kit 18-50mm lens for versatility in our locations and the ability to reframe the image in post (critical to time and budget concerns). We took advantage of the sun at our first location with shiny boards, a single HMI and LED at the second, and a mixture of lighting for the third location. The day included a lot of time to set up the camera and lighting to do a simple dolly move and allow talent to walk around in the frame. The formula was just right for the size of crew to the scope of the project while allowing time to dial it in on set. The time spent augmenting reality with the lighting and focus on the details made the spots much better than if we had simply run and gunned it.

A modest budget, achievable with less, not full market rate for all matters concerned, better for having more.

So there are two examples of where we kept the budget low but maintained the right kind of quality in the production. Hope this helps illustrate that not every commercial you see is a bajillion dollars. But if you have more time, effort and talent to put on you can address the important details.