Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Consider a PJ's minimum price

We've discussed billing schedules, and how they determine whether the PJ or client is taking the greatest financial risk. We need to understand how to convert this assessment into income through price structures. But first, we must understand how much we invest each day we wake up and make images - even non-professionals.

What is the minimum price?
Getting paid $0

What is the minimum price?
We've already established a PJ has invested $60k to more than $100k by the time they get booted out of college and into the cold world (not including the lost income for those four or five years). The PJ, or more likely a bank, wants to make this money back in the next few years. Otherwise, the PJ is just another sad person living in the park and clutching a box of camera parts, rocks and twigs.

Let's suspend this fact for a moment and consider how much it takes to get paid $0.00 for a shoot. This would be the absolute minimum price for any shoot. Otherwise, we're paying to shoot and heaping more money onto an already smoldering pile.

In college (and this blog), aspiring PJs are warned repeatedly about how this industry devours them. We warn that only the most talented and tenacious PJs survive. We warn about how little money PJs earn for the amount of work demanded of them. Yet, young PJs continue because they know they'll be the one who survives. It becomes a badge of courage to outlast the hunger and poverty.

Consequently, many young PJs are almost afraid to get paid anything for their work. OK, let's see how much it costs to make nothing.

Getting paid $0
Each time a PJ picks up a camera it cost money. Each time a PJ goes to an assignment it costs money. It also costs money to get an assignment. Then, it costs more money to do anything with the completed assignment. These are the costs of doing business. We'll get to this total soon. Today, we'll only consider the equipment.

If something goes wrong before or during an assignment, PJs must rent or borrow equipment to temporarily replace damaged equipment because they accepted the assignment, and their reputation is on the line.

Instead of getting crushed by this reality, let's factor this cost into our $0 of income. Let's also ignore quantity of time invested and knowledge the PJ has acquired about photography. We'll only consider how much it would cost to equip a PJ for one day to make images for $0.

To make publishable images, we need to rent a camera, a flash, some lenses and some flash cards. This is the first digital camera rental company that popped up on a Google search, so we'll use their prices (which are on the low side).

For a minimum shooting rig - a body, 3 flash cards, lenses (17~35mm, 50mm and 80~200mm) and a flash - the cost for one day's rental is $220. A small SUV rents for about $49.95 per day plus mileage.

Already, PJs must make $269.95 per day to earn $0. This is ignoring insurance, deposits, wasted time getting the equipment and all the other factors involved.

For this money, PJs have no camera bag, tripod, synch chords, etc. This is the minimum clients would pay to shoot any event themselves.

If clients did it themselves, they could count on missed shots, out-of-focus frames and bad exposures. Possibly the whole day would be a waste of time and money. There might be one publishable image, but it wouldn't be something most PJs would place in their portfolios.

In a worst-case situation (the carload of equipment bursts into flames the morning of the shoot), $269.95 is also the minimum the PJ pays to complete an assignment. If a PJ's starting price is below this amount, they threw more money onto the burning pile. If this was considered for 360 days of the year (I admit it's unrealistic), the PJ would need to make and spend $97,182 to earn NOTHING.

Again, we aren't even considering the self-employment tax or any of the other multiple factors against this annual figure. Now can everyone smell the smoke from selling images too cheap?

Please absorb this harsh fact before we continue.

Enough for now,


CarmenSisson said...

Well said. I am hoping you will go on to expound this theory assuming the PJ owns a basic set of equipment instead of having to rent it. You might also point young PJs to the NPPA's Cost of Doing Business calculator.

Mark M. Hancock said...

It's all part of the plan. :-)

Shena Kaye said...

God bless you for posting this...lol. I have been searching for something like this. well...i have been searching or YOU it seems...lol.
Im an experienced photographer who shoots documentary work. I have been asked to shoot a medical documentary out of the country for a client and im scared to death to leave the USA for one thing let alone know how to charge for such an assignment. you just covered 75% of what i needed to put into words to my client and myself.

Kudos to you and ill be watching your posts from now on. sending you big hugs

shena kaye

Mark M. Hancock said...

Thanks Shena. Get your immunization shots, don't drink the water and good luck on your shoot. :-)