So you’ve just received an estimate from your friendly neighbourhood commercial photographer and are probably wondering “HOW DOES THIS PERSON SLEEP AT NIGHT!”. But before you swear never to speak to them again, let me introduce you to the art that is commercial invoicing.
Running a photography business is tricky in that:
Our time, skill, and unique way of seeing the world is the engine that generates the bulk of our income
We don’t enjoy some of the benefits of traditional workplaces like paid sick days, paid vacation time, extended health care, etc.
A typical year involves seasonal highs and lows, where weeks of the phone ringing non-stop can be followed by months of nothing
To account for the unpredictable nature of our career paths as well as the unique services we offer, the creative industry has come up with a set of pricing standards to allow for fair compensation of the value that our work creates for our clients. A commercial photographers’ invoice can be broken down into a combination of the following fees and expenses.
This is where the standard costs for all expenses related to the making the shoot happen. Some of the items that would show up here include:
Hair and makeup artists
Parking and catering
Studio and equipment rentals
Because we don’t have large departments and teams to spread out the work required in running our business, for many commercial photographers, any time spent doing “A” means little time spent not doing “B”. Therefore, time spent traveling, booking meetings, organizing call sheets, casting models, hiring on set resources, etc. ultimately means time not pursuing new clients and booking shoots. So these rates, help us to offset those opportunity costs. Some of the line items in this category might include:
Pre-Production Days - dedicated time for shoot logistics and meetings
Travel Days - dedicated time traveling between locations
Casting Coordination - dedicated time to hire resources and cast talent
Retouching & Digital File Handling - dedicated time for managing shoot files and retouching images
This one sounds like something a sketchy bank throws onto your monthly statements and hope you never notice. But on a commercial invoice, this line item is where we essentially pay to keep our lights on. Every wise photographer has calculated how much overhead they carry and what it costs for them to continue doing business as a creative.
A natural light, on-location lifestyle photographer would have less overhead to carry and a lower creative fee per project than say, a studio-based fashion photographer whose style requires multiple high powered strobes.
If you’ve noticed, this whole time we’ve only talked about expenses. And just like you during budget night, there’s nothing more depressing than only focusing on how much money is being spent away. Our friendly neighbourhood commercial photographer hasn’t actually made a profit yet on this shoot. And as a creative who lives in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, I know there’s not much joy in just getting by - no matter how much you are passionate about what you do.
The idea behind the license fee is that we make our profit (the money that will go into retirement funds, and vacation planning, and eating ice cream with loved ones along Kits Beach) from the value that our images provide to our clients. It also helps protect us from clients using our images to perpetually generate profits without compensating us fairly for our creative contribution to their profit making.
If a brand uses one of my images for a worldwide advertising campaign that becomes the key generator of hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales for the next 3 years, the license fee serves to try and compensate and reward my efforts for being part of that campaign.