Photography Math… there is more real time involved than most people think.

April 25, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

© 2016, TerryMercer.com

Let's do some math, something most people (on either side of the camera) don’t consider, know, or often think about…

Getting the right gear for the job… is not even calculated into the equation, as that could be a few hundred to tens of thousands. You can look in tons of places, and see people telling you what equipment they use, promote, or even found that didn't work well for them. The vast majority of clients don't care, and wouldn't have much of a clue about employing fill flash, spendy 580 or 600 EXII's or Alien Bees… or even what a light meter really does. It's not their job to know, and frankly unless they are striving to be a photographer, THEY DON'T CARE! They want finished work that accomplishes what they want.

They won’t understand the benefit to post processing and professional services, unless you explain the differences, and then most only believe what they CAN SEE. They care about THEIR FINISHED PRODUCT. No more, no less, other than the cost. Face it, they generally want the most they can get for the least amount of money; and most firmly believe ‘a photo’ is limited to the few minutes you spend to ‘snap’ the picture thanks to cellphones & cheap digital cameras. Most non-photographer people have become jaded to accept ‘better than nothing’ over high quality keepsakes; well-exposed images that took the background, foreground, angles, lighting, shadows, eyes, and distractions into account before (and after) the shutter was pressed.

The following are some important factors a person should really consider BEFORE selecting a photographer:

~ Budget (first and foremost... how much can you spend, for what)
~ Camera Persons SKILL (look at their work, would you be happy with it)
~ Expectations (are they achievable & realistic, within the budget)
~ Logistical challenges (how is the lighting, space for gear, security, and time - it will impact cost)
~ Experience (for that type and style of shoot, have they ever done it before, and are you happy with what they have done)
~ Technical expertise (with the equipment, and goals... CAN THEY REALLY DO IT? And they experienced enough with THAT TYPE OF SHOOT, that they understand where they will need to be, and can actually get there... and deal with what ever the location and situation tosses at them)
~ Geographic location (some of the best locations have legal & logistical limits, space & lighting could be issues, safety and security might also be issues)
~ Deadline, and Necessity to get it right the first time (i.e., staged & repeatable vs once in a lifetime)
~ Limits (maybe part of logistical challenges, but different ~ that expression caught only happens once)
~ Creative solutions (conceptual input can be helpful or not)
~ Style (different than Skill... look at their other work... are you generally happy with it)
~ Reputation (do they keep their word, do what they say, and accomplish what they promise)

Far too many clients 'feel' the 30 or 60 minutes of actual shooting is all there is to it, and balk at the $200 or $500 or $1000+ for that 'little bit of time they are in front of a camera.' At the same point, there are far too many people with cameras ‘giving away’ their time, without any goal or awareness of actual investment, costs, value, time, or professional CONSISTENCY. Some experienced photographers offer discounts during their off season, or do it to test new equipment or learn something more or new, but most are just hobbyists hoping to get their foot in a door or trade for other goods & services.

Most photographers struggle to ‘make a modest living’ and are often trying to make their images faster, easier, better, or just stand out more so client’s might actually SEE THE DIFFERENCE!  

TIME… it really MATTERS ~ there are only 168 hours in a week, 1440 minutes in a day, and unless you know some secret, we ultimately only live once. This is something virtually any client can quickly understand:

Preparing your gear (charging batteries, formatting memory card, testing camera(s), testing flash(es), off camera options/batteries… backups… and other necessary items).  And either double checking it and/or having backups for your backups. 1 hour

Traveling to the location *getting there on time (and getting back)

1 hour

ACTUALLY Shooting the event (average is often about 40 to 90 minutes of actual time, minimum, positioning, unpacking gear, set up, even if it’s a quick 30 minute shoot… unless there are people waiting in a line, and there are multiples to be shot)  

1 hour+
Downloading files from the camera (memory card) to the computer... most people don't understand that EACH image is 10 to 20+ megabytes in size, and even with fast cards, and a fast computer, it takes a bunch of time to just transfer the images to the computer before they can be seen, much less worked with (or on). 15 minutes+

Post processing the images (basic sorting, rating, edits & cropping) – doesn’t count the learning curve of any software employed, or the cost of that software, or even really the time spent individually tweaking images (zit or blemish removal, softening skin, whitening teeth, brightening eyes, removing obstacles from the back ground, playing with the colors or process, etc.)

2 hours+

Exporting the images to High-resolution usable format (from Camera Raw)

30 minutes
EITHER posting proofs to the internet AND/OR traveling (again) to meet the client 30 minutes+

Actual discussion with the client, creating images to tweak more – if necessary or wanted       

1 hour

Doing whatever is necessary to get the product to the client (internet, thumb drive, prints)

30 minutes

Backup/Archival of the files (so that memory isn’t lost)                    

15 minutes

So we are looking at nearly 8 hours of actual work, just to really do a single 30 to 90 minute shoot, from the actual start to finish. Of course some can be faster, some slower; it really depends on the topic, subject, setting, and expectations. Ultimately, having a line up of people is a lot faster, but there are fewer 'poses' and fewer images to sort through, merely because there is a line... waiting for their turn in front of your camera. And, all of that is after you have already invested thousands of dollars in gear, and have spent thousands of hours learning how to use all the hardware & software. So, ultimately, at $200 minimum, if you are honestly using your camera FOR A VIABLE BUSINESS, you’re left with about $10 to 15 an hour after all the basic expenses are paid, help is paid, and the government gets their piece of the pie. The person asking if you want fry’s with your burger is often making more than you as a photographer, and they don’t have any business overhead, added responsibility, stress, or personal liability, other than getting to work on time. Impressive, huh?

You can find information about the 'Cost of Doing Business' (CODB), the gear, accounting, hard goods - like paper, ink, printing, and yes those nasty things called insurance & taxes, and even backgrounds, lighting, and props... all stuff that costs the camera person tons of money, but Clients don’t care WHAT make or model of camera you use, the number of megapixels, or how much it all cost you.

Far too many ‘feel’ photography is so easy these days, anyone can do it. Granted, every cell phone has a camera... but even most cameras aren't consistent in 'automatic' settings. Although film is usually not involved; there are still thousands of dollars in just storage space (quality digital files are large, and add up quickly). Tens of thousands in equipment (hardware & software), and countless hours learning, experimenting, and honing skills to do it well & right consistently... but you'll inevitably be price shopped. That's life. However, when someone is tasked with taking pictures in terrible or ever changing lighting, or situations they don’t have ready backups for or experience with… then, wow, your special moment may be just a memory in your head, because they WILL miss the moments more often than not, and 'better than nothing' is the best you'll get! Professionals that know the importance, have backups, alternate plans, and a means in which to GET THE SHOT NECESSARY, NO MATTER WHAT. But you’re stuck, because some parent is apparently happy with ‘better than nothing’ because it’s cheap, or buys into a hobbyist’s attempt to start their own variety of a photographic Lemonade stand. It’s basic business economics. You usually get what you pay for, especially when experience and skills are necessarily involved. If something is really a ONCE IN A LIFE TIME... and you're spending tons of money on hair, makeup, clothing, etc. why leave the pictures up to a beginner (or a cellphone)???

Ask yourself, if you value your time & reputation. What happens if you have a contracted shoot, and your gear is stolen or damaged during the shoot? It’s not common, BUT DOES HAPPEN! What if you’re sick? Do you have a backup plan? The client doesn’t want excuses, especially not on ‘once in a lifetime’ type of occasions! That’s a huge liability if you don’t have contingency plans… for what if scenarios!

There are often and usually ONLY three ways a photographer is paid...

1) for 'the shoot' ('setting' or 'shoot' fee - or day rate - which may or may not have 'packages' or 'rights' associated with them) -

2) for what they actually sell (downloads, prints, or licenses) the only question is TO WHOM the images are sold, and how much work will it be to turn the images, the photographs, and artwork into dollars (and that depends, to a large degree, as to where the photos were taken, how they might be used, and whether any photo release(s) were signed by the person in the image... which directly limits or expands what can be done with the image(s) after the shoot) - or

3) under some shoot contract (often limited to commercial purposes, or for a special event, like a wedding).

Even most of the newspaper and magazine photographers are no longer 'salaried' - but rather 'freelance' these days, or 'contracted' (on a case by case basis), unless they are also editors or syndicated, or in management. Few photographers are salaried, and fewer are guaranteed any income when sick, disabled, or on vacation. Most 'Freelance' or 'stringer' photographers fall into the second category... meaning they only make money when people actually spend money purchasing their goods (or services). A 'stringer' is a freelance photographer that is regularly used by a newspaper or publication, but often paid by the size of the image or number of words. Back in the old days, the measurement was often done by the inch, and a string, rather than a tape measure, was used... they are generally a step up from just a freelancer).

Just because a person regularly works at, with, or seemingly for a venue does NOT mean the venue pays them. In fact, often the venue GETS SOMETHING IN RETURN for free (or very little money), just because they are enabling that photographer to work semi-exclusively on their property, and to sell their images... and if they don't sell, they don't make any money. The photographer is gambling on their images to be good enough quality, unique enough, that people are willing to spend money for downloads, prints, or licenses (the right to use the image commercially). So, the next time you see a photographer working a concert or special event, if they are doing a good job and working hard, and producing good to great images... reward them... whether with cold hard cash money (i.e. tip or purchase), or just a acknowledgement like 'great job,' because you might be what paid the gas or food bill for them just to be there that night!

Consider for a moment, a tow truck driver is paid because he has a tow truck, and knows how to use it. They are paid per mile they tow, with the cost of insurance, taxes, fuel getting to & from the tow, and their skill at doing the job correctly. Why should a photographer be any different? After all, they often have as much or more dollars invested in gear, and usually far more time because of everything that happens after the shoot. Show some appreciation for those that work hard... helping you capture your once in a lifetime memories!


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If you have any questions about photography, please feel free to ask. I might not know the answer off the top of my head, but odds are I can either help you find the answer or know someone that knows the answer. After nearly 45 years of playing with hundreds of different cameras, both film and digital, I probably don't know specific 'make and model' info... but I UNDERSTAND PHOTOGRAPHY, and the PRINCIPLES & CONCEPTS of capturing and creating good to great images.
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