Unlike a lot of commercial assignments, magazines tend to know in advance what they want to spend on a shoot. But even so, when assigning editorial projects, photo editors will sometimes leave the budget out of the initial conversation with the photographer. Many photo editors are so accustomed to working within the same editorial budgets that they sometimes forget to bring it up. And even though photographers don’t want to give the impression that it’s all about the money, delaying that conversation will only make it more awkward later. When I do ask about the budget, oddly some magazines don’t want to say. I say oddly because all editorial budgets are pretty modest and it would be a lot more civilized if they just said what they wanted to spend and the photographer could say whether they could do it for that price. The alternative is a game of cat-and-mouse that just wastes time for both parties and gains very little. Recently, I found myself in one of those situations. I received an email from the photo editor at the international edition of a well-known American lifestyle magazine. She was interested in hiring one of our Mexico-based photographers for an upcoming assignment:
I’m interested in possibly hiring XXXXX for a shoot I have in XXXXX. It’s for a feature we’re doing about an organization that trains kids in a sport called XXXXX. It’s an inspiring story of how one man was able to completely turn his life around through the sport, and now helps others.
I would need portraits of several people, and a few reportage-style shots of kids playing XXXXX and interacting with the leaders.
Could you give me an estimate on what it would cost to hire him for this shoot? I’m thinking a maximum of 2 shooting days.
I know XXXXX is based in XXXXX so the assignment would involve travel costs. I’m trying to keep the budget down, so this is not ideal, but I really like XXXXX’s work and how he shoots people, and would love to see him do this shoot.
What I got from that correspondence was that while they were hoping to keep it cheap, they weren’t so cost conscious that they weren’t prepared to fly the right photographer in for the shoot.
Before replying, I decided to check on the travel expenses (airfare, lodging, car rental, meals – they totaled about $900.00). Since her email suggested that the she may not want to disclose the budget, I wanted to try to gauge the budget in another way. I figured if it was reasonable, my travel estimate wouldn’t dissuade her. So I then began asking questions to get a better sense of the project so I could accurately prepare an estimate:
Wonderful Machine: Can you tell me a bit more about the project?
Photo Editor: We would like XXXXX to shoot two portraits of the current leaders of the organization. One will be shot at his home, the other at the practice facility just before or after practice. Additionally we want a portrait of both leaders together and a variety of photojournalistic images of the leaders interacting with the kids and coaching.
WM: Do you care whether they’re vertical or horizontal images?
PE: I’d like to see a mixture of both.
WM: Lit or available light?
PE: We’d prefer available light only, but if you have to use a little fill to get the shot, we’re fine with that.
WM: How many pictures do you plan to use in the article?
PE: 3-4 images on 2 pages.
WM: Are you open to a day v. space rate contract?
PE: We’ll have to do a flat rate for this project. Occasionally we’re able to use day v. space, but not for this type of article.
WM: Do you have a draft of the story we can read?
PE: Yes. I’ll send it over.
WM: You said at 2 days at most, if we’re trying to mind the budget, would 1.5 days of shooting suffice?
PE: Definitely. We could probably shoot it in a single day, but I’d like to set aside the following morning in case the home we’re shooting the portrait at isn’t very close to the practice field.
WM: Will this article be used in the U.S. edition of the magazine as well as the international edition?
WM: What is the circulation of the international edition?
PE: About 4 million.
WM: What’s your deadline?
PE: Anytime within the next three weeks.
WM: What’s your budget?
PE: We haven’t set a budget for this shoot.
WM: I priced out the travel expenses at roughly $900.00. Is that going to fit within your budget?
PE: The seems about right.
Lastly, since the shoot would be happening abroad in a somewhat unfamiliar market, I double-checked assistant rates with the photographer. Though it seemed a bit low to me, he’d worked with a local assistant for $200.00 day in the past.
Based on the number of shoot days, the number and complexity of the images, the number of pages, size of the images, circulation, distribution, flexibility in schedule, and a few comparable editorial assignment rates, I came to rest on 700.00/shoot day for the photographer’s fees and quickly checked my number against the a few pricing resources:
Corbis priced the licensing at 720.00 up to 1 full page.
Getty priced the licensing at 575.00 up to 1 full page
Fotoquote priced the licensing at 850.00 up to 1 full page.
Blinkbid‘s bid consultant does not offer pricing for anything but advertising.
Interestingly, magazine creative fees seem to have little to do with circulation. You’d expect big circulation magazines to have more money to spend than small circulation magazines (and that photographers would want to charge a premium for that usage). But I think that photographers also tend to feel that the bigger magazines offer more exposure for their photos and their name. So those two factors tend to offset each other. The exception of course, is for big name photographers working for big publishers (especially Condé Nast) who can have surprisingly fat contracts.
Given that my guy was an excellent photographer but not a household name, I arrived at the following breakdown:
Since the schedule allowed the photographer to fly in late in the evening the day before the shoot and travel home in early afternoon on the second shoot day, I chose not to charge for a separate travel day. At this point, I called the photo editor to review the numbers. She asked if there was anyway to come in at 3000.00. Who knows whether the PE knew that was her budget from the beginning or whether she would have asked us to reduce our fee no matter what we quoted. Either way, the expenses were stripped to the bone as it was, so the only place to cut was the fee. My own gut feeling was to hold steady because clearly she liked my photographer and I couldn’t imagine that she’s scuttle the deal over 100.00. But my photographer would not have it. He would rather meet their terms than risk losing the job. So we agreed to the 3000.00 flat.
Here are the revised numbers (though since it was now a flat rate, we didn’t need to submit receipts, we just billed exactly 3000.00):
I sent the final quote to the client in the body of an email. Generally, editorial clients don’t need to see a formal estimate and will provide their own terms and conditions, so I prefer to keep these estimates simple and informal. However, once the shoot is confirmed, it’s important to formalize the details. If the client doesn’t provide an agreement like the one attached below, you definitely need to get them to sign your own that details the fees and terms of the agreement.
The photo editor was happy that we were able to meet her price. She sent one of the more photographer-friendly contracts I’ve seen lately. After reviewing it, there was nothing particularly disagreeable so the photographer signed and returned the agreement and a few weeks later shot the assignment.