Some thoughts on fees.

Petty Cash Receipts - Fees

The other day I was having “debate” with a client of mine about the fees I charge. He was moaning that a few hundred quid seemed like quite a lot of money for what was effectively a half day shoot. At the time I argued my case with all the old, well-rehearsed arguments, but not long afterwards it set me thinking about what my “fees” as opposed to any expenses I bill for, represent, and I came up with this shortlist:

  • The time I spend taking the photographs.  During which, of course, I am exclusively at their disposal, and obviously can’t earn money from anyone else. Time taken can be a bit of a circular argument, as clients will often hit you with the line “it’ll only take you half an hour”. This may well be true, but on many occasions the ability to shoot something in half an hour is a considerable skill in itself, and should be reflected in the fee. I’ve had countless portrait shoots where I’ve had only 20 minutes with someone, but still managed to get everything the client wanted – cover, inside features shots, informal shots etc. If the client’s got what they wanted, why should they care if it took me 20 minutes or 4 hours? This time factor also includes an unspecified amount of pre and post production work, not to mention digital workflow
  • All my years of experience.  For me this is normally manifested as confidence in my abilities and the fact that I don’t panic when things go tits up, but it spreads into a host of other areas.
  • My technical expertise.  The fact that I can solve a wide range of technical problems and thereby present a wide range of possible options and approaches to a shoot rather than being a one trick pony.  Consider this my skill in the craft of photography, underpinning the idea that it’s worth paying a professional decent money to get a near 100% guarantee of delivery of results.
  • All my professional camera/lighting and computer equipment. Currently I think this adds up to about 40 grand, and the money for it has got to come from somewhere. Plus there’s the fact that if you charge professional fees you’re expected to be using professional equipment. I also include in this section all the annual costs associated with this, such as Insurance and depreciation.
  • My travelling time. It’s very rare for me to actually bill for travelling time as an extension of my fee, and I’ve even been known to allow an overnight stay to be swallowed by my normal day rate.
  • My creativity, imagination and all the ideas I can bring to a shoot.  All that stuff that makes me “me” and not the same as the next photographer.
  • The final usage the images are put to. The area of usage is a whole vast article in it’s own right, but not enough people on the client side seem to understand that if they want to use an image for “all uses” it’s going to cost them accordingly.
  • My professionalism.  By this I mean everything from taking the first phone call to delivering the final job. Business stationary, office equipment, internet services etc, all cost money and have to be paid for. Likewise my backup/archiving infrastructure needs to be paid for – clients take it for granted that if they lose their own copies of the images I will have backups, but building and maintaining such a system takes time and money.
  • Running my car. I got into another debate recently about billing for “mileage” rather than just handing in receipts for petrol. I shouldn’t even need to explain that cars don’t just consume petrol, but need taxing, insuring, servicing, MOT-ing, and paying for in the first place. Plus I’ve got a set of very expensive furry dice.

Now, many of you will have spotted that at no point do I mention my fee being used to pay my mortgage, buy food, go out on the piss, pay for my mistress/drug habit/thai bride and so on. The list is by no means exhaustive, but next time a client is squeezing you, feel free to pull anyone of these from the list and throw it gently in their face. Gently, mind you.

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