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Pricing & Negotiating: Tag-Teaming with TV Crews on Ad Shoots

Monday March 15th, 2010

by Jess Dudley

I recently quoted a job for one of our photographers to shoot a number of environmental portraits of real people, for a major New York ad agency and their pharmaceutical client. Each of the subjects was a patient using the drug made by the client. The pictures were going to be used in print ads and collateral material, to help illustrate the improvement in the patients’ quality of life since starting the drug regimen. This project was different from most because the ad agency wanted to shoot TV commercials (with a separate video crew) on the same day, using the same location, models, stylists, wardrobe and props. Shooting print and video simultaneously offers a number of efficiencies for the client. It certainly makes some parts of the photographer’s job easier, and it helps create continuity between the two final products. But it adds some estimating and logistical challenges as well. In the end, our photographer was awarded the job, and Jess also served as on-site producer and digital tech.

Here is how I approached the initial estimate:

Request For Bid

Since the client had a lot of experience commissioning photo shoots, they were able to express pretty clearly what they wanted to accomplish, and what their expectations were (though there were still a lot of unknowns). The art buyer sent us a letter (known as a “request for bid”) with many of the details that we would need in order to put together a proper cost estimate. Then, I followed up with questions.

When you’re working with less experienced clients, you’ll need to be more proactive about getting all the information you need. We use this cheat sheet to prompt us for all the items we’ll need to consider.

Here’s what the client asked us to bid on in the RFB:
  • 6 portraits of real people
  • On location at a suburban home (near the photographer)
  • You’ll have to schedule the still photographs around the video shoot
  • The video crew will find the location and dress the set (you may need additional props)
  • You’ll be able to share some of the wardrobe, stylists and catering with the video crew (and you may need to share part of those costs)
  • We’ll want unlimited use of the pictures for a year (mostly for consumer ads and print collateral)

The Fee

At the most basic level, I think about the total cost of any job as a function of time, materials and licensing.

Lumped in with “time” is not only the actual time needed to prepare for and execute the shoot, but also the difficulty, level of skill, and rareness of skill required. If it’s a job that hundreds of other photographers could do and want to do, it’s not worth as much as a job that only three people in the world could do or would want to do (either by virtue of special skill or unique style).

“Materials” broadly refers to all of the production items that you have to pull together to add to the photographer’s vision, in order to pull off the shoot. These might include: assistants, digital techs, retouchers, location scouts, locations, permits, insurance, studio rentals, hair & make-up stylists, prop stylists, props, wardrobe stylists, wardrobe, vehicles, travel, meals, catering, models, casting, equipment rental, set construction, etc.

“Licensing” describes how the client is going to be able to use the picture(s). Broad usage for a long period of time is worth more than narrow usage for a brief time. Advertising use is normally worth more than collateral use. Collateral use is usually worth more than publicity use. And publicity use is usually worth more than editorial use.

I normally bundle the “time” and “licensing” into one “creative fee,” taking all the factors I can think of into account. The client had already produced a similar project before, and I was able to see the results of that, which they seemed to be happy with. The approach they were looking for was relatively low-tech, simple, flattering portraits, with naturalistic lighting, showing the patients in a warm and friendly way. What they valued most was having a photographer who could bring out the personality of the patients.

My normal rule of thumb for unlimited use of one image for one year, for a major brand, is that it’s worth about $10-20k. In this case, the pharmaceutical company was a major player but the drug itself was no blockbuster. For advertising use especially, I will normally charge by the picture rather than by the day. Even in cases where I’m quoting by the day, I’ll put a cap on the number of images we’re including for that fee. In this case, I felt that the first image held most of the value and each additional image was worth much less. Since they were very similar portraits, just with different people, each additional image merely complimented the first, rather than providing unique material.

The fact that the actual time, difficulty, and technical/creative demands would be relatively modest put some downward pressure on the price. The fact that it was a client with global reach, and they needed unlimited use (including the potential of national advertising) certainly put some upward pressure on the fee, and the one-year duration was a limiting factor. The fact that the location, props and models were going to be provided for us put downward pressure on the price. The fact that the project was local to the photographer put downward pressure on the price. The fact that the photographer had to work around the video crew was basically neutral. It just required that the photographer have patience and a manageable ego.

As a point of reference, I’ll sometimes check Getty or Fotoquote to see what a similar stock photo would fetch. But in the end, you just have to consider the totality of all the information you have, and use your intuition to determine the price. For this one, I decided to quote $14k for unlimited use of six images for a year.

The Production Costs

The art buyer wasn’t sure, at the time of the initial estimate, which production items were going to be paid for out of the video budget and which were going to be paid for out of the still budget. So to play it safe, I assumed that we were going to have to pay for everything we were going to need (or at least our fair share):

  • 1 digital tech: so the client could see the results as we went along
  • 2 assistants: to help move the equipment around, and stand in for the subjects
  • 2 hours of retouching per image: should be more than enough for non-supermodels
  • 1 production day: for me to pull together all of the production items
  • 1 scout day: for the photographer to walk through the location and map out a plan with the line producer
  • 1 location fee: we don’t have to find it, but we’ll need to help pay for it
  • 2.5 wardrobe stylist days (1 to pull, 1 to shoot, .5 to return) and some wardrobe: we were only going to need to augment what the video crew was already providing
  • Hair/make-up stylist: you might think that a makeup stylist could work on both sets, but because the stills and video were happening at the same time, on a hot day (requiring constant powdering), and sometimes hundreds of feet apart, I decided that we’d need our own dedicated person
  • Props: unlikely, knowing how thorough video prop stylists are
  • Travel, misc.: minimal for local shoot
  • Catering: breakfast and lunch for our crew of 4
  • Equipment: also minimal, so I chose not to charge separately for it
  • Sales tax: some situations require the client to pay sales tax, but rather than speculating on it, I just say, “plus applicable sales tax”

Here’s the proposal (estimate and terms & conditions) I sent to the art buyer:

Later, more details came in so I had to revise the estimate. The project changed from 6 people to 5, and they also wanted to license a head shot of each subject, which they would simply crop out of each environmental portrait. To me, it was a wash. It was 10 images instead of 6. But the head shots weren’t really adding a ton of value for the client, and shooting 5 subjects instead of 6 was less work for the photographer. So I left the fee at $14k.

The art buyer also decided that she would determine our share of the location fee, wardrobe, and catering, and she would just tell us the number after the shoot, to add as a line item on the invoice. We would quote our other production items in the usual way.

That all settled, she signed off on the estimate, and sent me a check for $13.5k to cover expenses.

We had a pre-production phone call with about 20 people to iron out how the day was going to go. Then we did a walk-through of the location the day before the shoot, along with the video director, prop stylist, and line producer.

The shoot went really smoothly. The video crew shot their thing, then sent the subjects to us to do our bit. We made adjustments here and there to the wardrobe and grooming. But otherwise, it all went off without a hitch.

A couple things (in general) to remember about price quotes:
  • A proposal should include at least a cover letter, estimate page, and terms & conditions page. This job was relatively straight-forward, so it doesn’t need much explanation. More complex projects will require a more extensive description of how you’ll approach the shoot and how you’ll solve the technical and creative problems it presents. You’ll have to convince the client that you know what you’re doing, and that you’ll be able to deliver the final product.
  • Be clear about whether you’re offering an estimate (where the expenses are detailed, and will vary somewhat in the final invoice), or a bid (where you’re offering one lump price, and as long as the client doesn’t change the parameters of the job, that will be the exact cost).
  • Be clear about who you are contracting with (normally the ad agency).
  • Be clear about who you are conveying the image license to (normally the client).
  • If the client (or anyone else) is going to provide some normal production item (like catering or props), acknowledge it on the estimate so there’s no confusion about it.
  • Be clear in cases where the client is paying for any of the production items directly, rather than through you. If you are going to be on the hook for a lot of expenses, you’ll want to make sure that you either get the expense money up front, or that the creative fee, production fees, and/or mark-up justifies the risk.
  • Avoid having your payment be contingent on the ad agency being paid by their client. It’s very hard to collect money from someone with whom you do not have an agreement.
  • In the same way, be clear with your subcontractors. Normally, it’s the photographer’s obligation to pay subcontractors in a timely fashion regardless of whether they have been paid by their client. If you want your subs to share in your risk, the golden rule dictates that you have to tell them that at the time of the booking.

We delivered the pictures. The client was thrilled. Here’s the final invoice:

Final Invoice

A little less than a year later, the art buyer contacted me for a quote on extending the licensing on all 10 images for an additional 2 years.

When a client relicenses a picture, I normally discount the rate on that use. As the pictures age, they tend to (though not always) decrease in value. In this case, I figured the second year was worth about 3/4 of the first. And the third year was worth about 3/4 of the second. So I sent her a quote for $18k, which she accepted.

You can contact Jess Dudley, our resident pricing and negotiating expert, to find out more about Wonderful Machine production and consulting services at 610.260.0200 or

One Response to “Pricing & Negotiating: Tag-Teaming with TV Crews on Ad Shoots”

  1. […] In addition to corporations, ad agencies seem to be increasingly interested in creating image libraries. We recently quoted on a project for a west coast ad agency who was working with a theme park client that needed a variety of pictures for use on their web site and in advertising. The agency asked us to quote a four day shoot, where the still photographer would work along-side a video crew, photographing families enjoying the various rides and attractions in the park. (See our related post on working with video crews here.) […]

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