Essay - An Insult to Photographers
by Rob Gray
I received an email
the other day requesting that I submit a tender to photograph
all the images for the brochures of a large travel company (who
we'll call Big Time Tours for the purposes of this essay).
At first it looked
like a dream gig, free tours to exotic places, easy photography
as the end product only needed small reproductions, and I get
I soon learned
however that they were offering an insulting amount of money,
presumably on the assumption that anyone would love to get a free
I declined the
offer to tender then wrote this letter to the manager.
A couple of weeks ago I was approached by ****
from your art department, and asked to consider tendering for
a position of photographer on your tours, with a view to providing
photographs for use in your brochures.
While I was initially interested, further discussions
revealed that the budget for photography on each tour was a mere
$1200. I subsequently declined the offer and that was that…until
I thought even more about the job.
I now feel that I should write to you and explain
my thinking on the flaws in the proposal, as put to me. The salient
points are as follows,
- Roughly 300 photos are required from each tour.
- The photographer has to work with limited time
as they are part of the tour.
- The photographer has to pay for many of the
meals over the (nominal) 20-day period.
- It is assumed that the photographer can supplement
their income by shooting personal stock images while on the
tour. These images however should not be exact duplicates of
those supplied to Big Time Tours.
- Big Time Tours will not pay for the photographer's
time scanning images from film, you expect digital files.
Let me address these points.
Point #1. While I appreciate that the images in
your brochures do not have to be masterpieces, they must be good.
To produce 300 good photos at least 1000 should be taken, possibly
a lot more depending on the exact circumstances.
Point #2. Working fast is no problem in itself
, but it severely limits both the quality and quantity of images
that can be produced. It almost totally precludes the production
of late afternoon and early morning photos which, almost invariably,
are the best scenic photos.
Point #3. Paying for meals is not a minimal expense,
especially as at many of the tour locations one would be forced
to use the nearest cafes/restaurants which would have inflated
"tourist" prices, or to eat in the hotel due to a shortage of
time, at similarly inflated prices.
Point #4. Let's skip the "exact duplicates" part
as there would be little time to hunt for separate photos. If
the photographer did shoot exact, or similar, photos for his own
use and produced 300 for Scenic, we can assume that he also got
300 good images for his own use. The rule of thumb for earnings
from stock images is $1 per image per year. Therefore, each tour
would, in theory, produce another $300 pa. in earnings.
Point #5. It's fair that clients don't usually
care whether the images are scanned or shot on a digital camera.
But either way the client will pay, either for time spent scanning,
or because the photographer has to amortise $50,000 of new digital
A look at one of your current brochures shows a very high percentage
of aerial photos and photos that are setup, with models and/or
special lighting and/or special circumstances that almost certainly
will not be available on most tours. These I assume are currently
purchased from stock libraries at prices you may feel are expensive.
However most of them would cost several hundred to a thousand
dollars and more to produce, all costs considered.
Let's roughly analyse the photographer's costs
and time spent. Firstly time,
- 20 days on tour actually taking photos.
- At least 2 days before and 2 after in transit
to/from the tour start point.
- Therefore 24 days in the field unable to deal
with day-to-day business.
- Five days scanning and producing catalogued
- Assume 8 hrs per day lost to this job, that's
232 hours, in fact it's a lot more than that as few small business
people work a mere eight hours per day. Many jobs that are done
after hours would not be able to be performed while on the tour.
- 1000 exposures = 28 rolls of film x $12 per
roll for purchase and processing = $336.
- Travel and, in some cases, depending on the
country in question, extra medical insurance, say $200.
- Meal costs, over and above "normal", due to
being in the field, say $200.
- Long distance phone calls, over and above "normal"
due to being in the field, say $200.
- Other miscellaneous costs that occur just because
you're in the field, say $100 (very conservative, a couple of
taxi trips will eat this amount).
So, in return for neglecting the normal operations
of his or her business, the hapless photographer receives $1200
gross and nets $164. Even assuming only eight hours a day on the
job, that's 69c an hour! If we include the $300 theoretical first-year
earnings from personal stock photos taken on the tour, we are
now up to $2 per hour. Still not good.
A professional photographer's rate is usually
several hundred dollars a half-day, plus expenses. Even with a
vastly reduced rate to allow for the large amount of work on offer,
the $1200 budget is, in my opinion, just not viable.
Let's look at it another way. You get 300 photos
for $1200, that's $4 per image. I believe there's nowhere in the
western world you will find someone to produce professional photographs,
specifically for a client, for $4 a piece.
I suggested to **** that a rate of around $5000
was closer to the mark, a highly discounted rate because this
is not just a one-off job but a continuing relationship. Even
at this rate that's only $16.66 per photo.
After all this you will still need to buy a lot of images from
libraries. For example, of the 11 Big Time Tours brochure covers
I've seen, I estimate that a photographer working on the tour
would only be reasonably certain of capturing two of the cover
photos, and possibly another one or two if things fell into place
on the day.
My suggestion is to look for a student or unemployed/retired
person who is willing to commit the large amount of time required
in return for some free trips and some pocket money. Another idea
employed by some companies is to ask their patrons to submit their
best photographs, either directly for sale to the company, or
in the form of a competition in which you keep the rights to all
Most tourists would be thrilled to have some of
their photos published in a travel brochure.
Please accept this letter in a constructive light,
that is certainly the intent.
OK the rule of thumb I mentioned for stock images
has probably risen since I was in a stock library. But then I
doubt the photographer would get many useful stock images within
the constraints of an organised tour.
I'm still waiting for a reply.