Why Day Rates Don’t Work

Source: Why Day Rates Don’t Work. For advertising/commercial photographers. Hope we can all learn from our mistakes. Please send me your comments/feedback/questions.


Why Day Rates Don’t Work

Disclaimer: I am speaking only from my experience in the business of advertising/commercial photography. The following article may not be true for other specializations, but then again, it might be.

Many years ago, when John and I were just starting to consider ourselves professional photographers, I was totally ignorant of what to ask my clients. I did not know that I had to ask for a full description of the work that they needed done, and to inquire where they would use the photographs that we would produce. I was just excited that we were finally charging for what was a hobby, and simply quoted a fixed amount as a per day rate. In fact, I had no idea how to define “day.”

On my first attempt to quote a day rate, I simply said, “Photographer’s Day Rate……P(amount).” I had a subscription to an American photo magazine, which mentioned that US photographers charged a day rate of US$1,000.00 (This was in the 1970’s). I simply multiplied that by the exchange rate of US dollars to Philippine Pesos. (Note: I don’t remember the actual exchange rate then, so let’s suppose that the exchange rate was Php25 to US$1.00). I quoted a day rate of P25, 000.00. My client – the PR Manager of a local bank was shocked. He said he did not even earn that much, and how dare we charge that much, etc. In short, we did not get the job. I had thought that it was a fair quotation but it did not seem that way to him. I deliberated on this experience long and hard, and justified my quotation by thinking what it actually included. My “Aha!” moment then came to me – I knew what that price included, but my client didn’t. At the next opportunity, I typed,

“Photographer’s fee, plus use of camera and lighting
equipment, services of an assistant, round trip transportation
from studio to client’s office, films, processing and submission
of contact prints and slides……………………………………………………P25,000.00

The next client approved our quotation without questions. Hurrah!

(Later, I found out that the figure that the magazine cited as a photographer’s day rate was simply for his creative fee, and there were more additions – usage rights, studio rental, photographer’s assistant, direct expenses etc. I could not bill those charges to my clients, but consoled myself by saying we were not in America). ☹

At that point, however, I still had much to learn; and at this point, the learning actually continues. Through the years, as I learned more about how to price, I saw that a day rate that does not completely or adequately define what a quotation should (to be tackled in another article) can be confusing to both the photographer and his client. Here are some early lessons.

Lesson #1 Not defining the scope of work for the day.

I learned from another photographer who also charged a day rate, that when he almost came to the end of day at the place of his shoot, after he thought he had covered all that he needed to shoot for his client’s annual report, he was asked to shoot ID photos of all employees. It was not indicated in his proposal, but neither was it defined as not included. He had no choice but to comply.

Lesson # 2: Not defining the hours.

What is a day? Is it 24 hours? I learned this lesson when, after approving our day rate, our client – a big hotel in the south – sent me a schedule of photo-shoots that started at 4am and ended at 2am the next day. And they thought they were being kind to us by only scheduling 22 hours of work!

Lesson # 3 What if you can’t shoot on the day you thought you would?

Things happen. Maybe it rained when you were supposed to shoot outdoors. Maybe the talent got sick. Maybe your plane got delayed. You’re getting more than your fair share of Murphy’s Law, but you’ve reserved this day for this particular client. You turned down other clients. What happens then? Can you still charge for this day, even though you were unable to shoot?

As more mistakes were made, and with the realization that a “Day Rate” left many things undefined, we expanded our definition so that we could be clear as to what we were supposed to do, and what the responsibilities are for each party – photographer and the client – for the expected and the unexpected.

There’s more to follow, on what to consider when pricing for photography. Please send in your questions, share your experiences, and tell me what you would like to read on this blog, or this Facebook group.

Learning and Keeping Lessons on Photographers’ Rights

Copyright Poster4 final (1)The other night, we opened our (photo studio) doors to some 40 other photographers who came to listen to talks on protecting their rights. We invited three speakers, Atty. Louie Calvario of the government agency, Intellectual Property Office; Atty. Joey Tapia, an arts and entertainment lawyer; and Alvin Buenaventura of the Filipinas Copyright and Licensing Society (FILCOLS).

Originally scheduled for three hours, the talks – which promptly started at 6pm as earlier announced – lasted five-and-a-half. It was such an information-packed evening that would have gone past midnight and into early morning, if we had not signaled that it was getting late and we could no longer accommodate all the questions that were being asked.

From my many experiences attending seminars and workshops, or reading books, I know that it is easy to be inspired by what we hear or read – especially if it is something we are hearing for the first time, or when what we hear is something that applies to us, or something we can profit from or use. At that moment, all the bulbs are lighting up and exploding in my head, but I’ve also learned that those myriads of bits of information can disappear from my mind and consciousness fairly quickly, if not done, applied or implemented within a couple of days after receiving them.

This, then, is my effort to ensure that what I learned the other night – tons of potentially profitable information that I could apply to our business of photography – will serve my company and me, and as I pass them forward, my students and colleagues in the industry.

So, while I was listening to the speakers but unable to take down notes as I had to attend to the attendees, I am now taking some quiet time to recall the information, stories, and advice that I heard from our three speakers. In a way, this is also my to-do list.

Atty. Louie Calvario spoke on photographers’ intellectual property rights as protected by Philippine law. Even I was surprised to hear that Philippine laws, more than American copyright laws, are protective of rights of authors and creators. I also learned that, in addition to registering our business name with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Trade and Industry, that we should register our name and logo with the Patent Office and with the Philippine Intellectual Property Office. I also took note of the advice that although works – in our case, photographs – are copyrighted at the moment of creation, without need to register them, it would still be safer and photographers would have a tighter claim, if they would register their works. Works could be registered singly or as compilations, such as books or a collection of proof sheets – and can be registered in hard or digital copies, with the National Library or with their office. Registration fees are for each registered work or collection of works, not per picture/photo. There is so much to learn about copyrights and related topics, so I think I will get a copy of the Philippine Copyright Law.

Atty. Josephina “Joey” Tapia talked on “Contracts for Photographers” and went to describe all the elements that should go into a contract between a photographer and his client. She advised the audience to always read contracts, and to be careful of working on a project before the contract has been signed (and of course, read) and before down payments had been received.

Since she covered all the elements that should be incorporated into contracts, and I was unable to take down notes, I probably should invest in some professional consultation time with her. I should bring for her scrutiny a copy of our standard contract, as well as contracts from a few multinational clients who insist that we sign their contracts.

When asked for advice on how to protect a photographer’s rights when the photographer deals with friends and relatives who won’t sign contracts, she still advised us to get contracts signed, but if that is truly impossible and yet we still want to do the work, then she had a very practical advice – use email to record our conversations and negotiations.

Sometimes, the situation between photographer and customer/client reaches a very unpleasant status (disagreements about expectations of quality, deadlines, payments and other issues). Atty. Tapia described the different non-litigation procedures that we can have recourse to, but when it has to come to the most unwelcome option – suing in court – she warned us of the high cost of suing, not only in terms of actual expense but also of time, especially here in the Philippines. She also warned that if we’re up against a big, powerful company, we might find ourselves with no law firm willing to take up our case. The reality is – even the richest, most prestigious law firm would rather represent, not us, but our big, powerful client.

Ultimately then, the best advice she gave us was for photographers to have a contract that names the contracting parties and defines all expectations, timetables (start and end times), deliverables, conditions, payments, penalties and other conditions that we add to our contracts, even conflict resolutions. While conflicts are unwelcome, we should still define penalties and alternative solutions for non-performance of contract terms and conditions, and if it must come to taking the dispute to court, our contracts should also indicate where cases should be filed. We should read and understand contracts before we sign them, and of course, make sure that these contracts are fair and favorable to us.

Our third speaker was Mr. Alvin Buenaventura, Executive Director of Filipinas Copyright Licensing Society, Inc. (FILCOLS), the “collective management organization (CMO) in the text and image sector operating in the Philppines.” I have attended talks given by another collective management organization (FILSCAP for song writers and composers), but I invited Alvin because FILCOLS would have more affinity with photographers. I also hope that someday, photographers could organize themselves and become affiliated as a group with FILCOLS.

He did not disappoint. Although he had heard me speak of the difficulty of organizing professional photographers, he narrated how their now 600+-member organization started with only eight members. He then showed photos of members receiving checks for the publication or reproduction of their works – with the money having been collected through the efforts of the large organization, not of the individual members running after infringers. They are also affiliated with counterpart organizations abroad that act to protect the rights of Filipino authors and image makers (I hope someday, we can say “photographers”). Speaking mostly in Filipino, he is very confident that in a few years, we can be accredited as a separate collective management organization or as an affiliated group – all we need is for one person to spearhead the effort to organize Filipino photographers. Is anyone up for the challenge?

Although not officially listed as a speaker, Jenny Bonto, executive director of Artists’ Welfare Projects, Inc. spoke on the different programs and campaigns that they are offering to all Filipino artists. Membership is free. https://www.facebook.com/Artists-Welfare-Project-Inc-720458124693734/timeline/

There — I’ve written down the important points that I learned, so that I could have something to come back to. I need to do this so that I can keep, apply and benefit from all the information and nuggets of wisdom that I heard on Wednesday night. I hope that those who attended this very special seminar will do the same, and share them, especially with those who wanted to come but could not.

Combining Love and Business in Photography – Five More Tips

One of the questions I received online after our talk in Davao City (at the 3rd Mindanao Photo Expo) came from a photographer’s wife:

“I am currently working but I want to give it up to concentrate on our business. My husband will not permit me to resign. What should I do?”

To fully understand their situation, I had to ask her a few more questions. She told me where she was working, what kind of work she was doing, and how much she was earning. I also needed to understand what kind of photography her husband was doing, and how much he usually earned – on a good month or a bad month.

Being a photographer’s wife myself, I understood her predicament, and this is how I shared my two pesos’ worth of advice. Perhaps other photographers, or photographers’ wives, would like to share their sentiments so that she could hear from more than just me.

My first advice was for her to compute what is really her take-home pay. This is not the amount that she withdraws as salary (which she told me) every 15th and end of the month, but what is left after she deducts the cost of working – transportation, eating out while at work, cost of clothes or uniforms, salary for a yaya (nanny) if they have young children who would require the presence of one while their mother was at work, and other expenses that she must incur to stay employed.

She was quick to point out that her husband earned more than she did. As a wedding photographer, he was charging an x amount per wedding, and doing four or five weddings a month.

At first blush, it looked like she was comparing their gross incomes, rather than what each really brings to the kitchen table. I advised her not to compare her take-home pay with her husband’s photography package, as she was comparing “apples and oranges.”

It appeared that both needed to do some accounting. And since her husband’s contribution to the kitty may vary from month-to-month, they have to faithfully record income and expenses, month after month, until they can find monthly averages based on yearly totals (maybe even culled from several years).

To help her decide if they could live on a single income (and a variable one at that), I also advised her to do a family budget.

If she is intent on giving up her job, I suggested that she asked or studied how her joining her husband can help promote his business or help increase his income or profits. What specific responsibilities could she assume, such that, if she took care of those, then he could be more free to do more of the profitable part of his business. For example, in my partnership with John, I did the front end (selling and marketing) and for a while, until I could hire someone, also the back-end (accounting, billing, collecting). I also attended meetings – bidding conferences and preproduction meetings– so that he could focus on the earning part of his work, which in his case, is actually shooting. Of course, all those tasks help to complete the photography project, but certain tasks more directly produce income. Meetings are necessary, but I could do the meetings, but I can’t do the shoots.

In wedding photography, he could perhaps assign doing initial interviews (sales) to her, as well as supervising subcontracted work, such as album making,

Of course, this does not preclude her actually learning enough photography to be a wedding photographer herself. She could start off as his second-shooter. With her doing this, he would not have to hire a second shooter. This she could do on weekends, and even while she is still a full-time employee. If she became a good enough photographer, then she could accept to photograph a different or separate wedding, thereby doubling their income as a couple.

If you or your spouse are in a similar situation, I hope that you consider these before you make your decision.

1. Work your numbers. Compute your actual contribution to the family kitty (your take home play less your expenses to allow you to work). Do the same with your husband’s income – not what he charges his clients, but what’s left after he has paid all expenses that he incurs to do the job). Compare what you earn with what you can potentially earn given different scenarios – if business were very bad, bad, good, very good etc.

2. Remember that leaving your job and joining your husband in his photography business could be like “putting all your eggs in one basket.” Would you want to do that? What would be your recourse if his business went sour? How can you diversify your incomes?

3. If you and your husband are convinced that you should be in business together, don’t give up your day job yet. Gradually work your way out of your day job, and into your husband’s photography business, although some people get an extra challenge from jumping right in.

4. If you want to help boost your husband’s business, list down all the different tasks that he does, or those he asks others to do for him. Assign values to these tasks, especially if they represent actual, identifiable income or expenses. Check which ones you can do or which you can learn. Which ones are you good at? If you are good in sales, and can raise your husband’s fees, then you could be more valuable to him doing that.

5. Consider how your working separately or together can impact on your marriage, family life, or your children’s lives. Remember that there are considerations more important than money.

I hope this helps.