31 January 2009

Controlling the Cost of a Photographic Assignment

Professional photography is of great value in advertising, marketing, magazine articles,
competition submissions and office d├ęcor. Good imagery is a powerful tool for
conveying the quality of your work.
Like architectural design and development, professional photography is a
custom service that can be molded to meet your business goals and stay within
your financial constraints. If your needs seem to outweigh your means, don’t
be discouraged. Following are a few ideas to relieve the pressure on your
You aren’t the only one who might benefit from photographs of a project.
The owner, interior designers, landscape architects, contractors, consultants,
product manufacturers, tenants and others probably have similar pride in the
building and a similar need to market themselves. With some forethought,
all may be served by a single photography assignment where the costs can be
distributed equitably, to everyone’s advantage. Photographers who specialize in
architectural work are quite familiar with such arrangements. If this is your plan,
it is essential to let the photographer know about it before the initial estimate
is prepared.
The production fees (the photographer’s professional time) and expenses
(e.g., travel, consumables, props, rental equipment, assistants, models and stylists)
are generally not affected by the number of parties unless their separate interests
require different views or special setups. A sharing arrangement means these cost
elements may be lower for each participant.
Each party will be charged a separate rights-license fee, which is based on the use
he or she will make of the images. In addition, each participant will pay separately
for any special deliverables, such as large-format prints, web galleries, or image
files formatted and sized in different ways.
After reviewing the assignment parameters, the photographer will provide a written
estimate that states the terms of the cost-sharing agreement and names the primary
commissioning client and other participating parties.
Alternatively, the photographer may draw up separate estimates for each of the
parties. This relieves the commissioning client of any responsibility for collecting
payment from the other participants. It also clarifies the cost-sharing details when
different parties need different views. For instance, it’s unlikely that the interior
designer will make much use of the exterior photography, while the architect
probably has limited use for photos of the furniture in the lobby. Nevertheless,
each of the parties will get the benefit of dividing the costs that are incurred in
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While all the participating parties will be sharing the expenses and the production
fee, each party will pay separately for the uses that he or she will make of the
images. The building owner may need only brochures for prospective tenants, for
which an advertising brochure license would be needed. The designer might require
website use and glossy prints for a portfolio. The architect might be interested in
web rights, large prints for the office lobby and permission to submit images for
competitions. Whether the assignment paperwork is framed in terms of separate
estimates or a single estimate with primary and additional clients, each party is
asked to sign a license agreement.
A vast array of uses and rights can come into play for any particular situation.
Some common standards exist. PLUS (Picture Licensing Universal System) has
compiled a glossary of licensing terms used in the photography and publishing
industries. Visit www.useplus.com to browse the definitions.
Suppose that an owner, a contractor and an architect discuss a cost-sharing proposal
for photography. Two of them agree, but the contractor decides not to participate.
A few weeks later, however, he needs to print capability brochures and asks to use
images from the shared photography session. Because he forfeited the option to
license the images at the pre-negotiated license fee and terms, he is now in the
same position as any outside party requesting use.
Photographers are usually willing to license images to third parties but typically
charge these parties at least as much as the original group for several reasons, including
different delivery requirements, deadlines and license terms. The photographer and the
latecomer will have to negotiate new agreements from the ground up. From the photographer’s
point of view, this is an inefficient way to do business. Multiparty licensing is
cost-effective because it allows streamlined planning and preparation for photography.
In addition, the latecomer can choose from existing images—while the original group could anticipate only the outcome of the assignment they had commissioned. There is also the factor of simple fairness: If non-participants could get photography at the same cost as participants, the benefit of cost-sharing arrangements would be negated.
Clear communication among all participants is of prime importance, whether the
photographer contracts only with the commissioning party (acting as liaison and
collecting the other parties’ respective shares of the fees) or contracts with each party
separately. The benefit can quickly be lost if the parties don’t share an understanding
about goals, timelines and licensing rights.
n All participating parties must sign an agreement before photography begins.
n Each participant is charged a licensing fee
commensurate with his or her specificusage needs.
n Each participant is responsible for ordering and paying for his or her individual deliverables.A practical wait-and-see approach has its place in obtaining photography, as in any business decision. Sometimes the wise course is to license after the fact; other
times, it is best to commission a separate assignment. If your requirements are
congruent with the other parties’ needs, there is no benefit in standing aside from a
multiparty agreement. Rather, there can be considerable advantage to joining with
other parties, not only to minimize cost but also to participate in the job planning
and thereby ensure that the resulting images are useful for your business purposes.
Schedule photography well in advance and plan for some variability in the timing.
Creating photography on a rush basis adds to the expense, while a relaxed schedule
means that your photographer can work through any last-minute glitches without
incurring extra expenses.
The weather, too, can be a factor. A tight schedule means that foul weather and
other uncontrollable variables may become problems. In contrast, an extended
schedule may provide the opportunity to highlight your design with dusk or night
illumination, different people, moving vehicles and even a variety of changing
seasonal elements.
Another aspect of planning for photography is ensuring the site is prepared before
the assignment begins. Are the windows clean? Is all the construction equipment
out of sight? Is electric power on? In a pinch, problems can sometimes be retouched
away, but this adds to the postproduction time and can mean compromises in
image quality. It’s usually easier and less expensive to prevent the problems while
on site.
In addition to minimizing the travel expenses, engaging a local photographer will
often allow the most flexibility in scheduling the work. It can also simplify getting
back on schedule after a weather delay.
The American Society of Media Photographers operates a free “Find a Photographer”
service at www.FindaPhotographer.org that lists several hundred specialists in
architectural photography. Only qualified professionals are in this database, and
you can search by geographic location and by specialty. The search results include
full contact information, sample photographs and website links.
It goes without saying that the number of views is a major factor in the job’s cost.
Each view must be composed and lit; the location must be cleaned and the background
cleared; all props and personnel must be in position. Each view takes time
and costs money. Get the most value from a given budget by listing concepts you’d
like to illustrate and assigning a priority to each. Your photographer can then make
sure that you get the most important images while staying within your budget.
A good photographer can bring to bear a wealth of experiences and skills to get
you the images you need at the lowest feasible cost. Just as small changes to a
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building’s specs can make a big difference to the cost of construction, so small
adjustments to a photographic assignment can drastically alter the cost of images.
Your photographer can advise you about the options and trade-offs that are available, giving you the freedom to
balance the costs and benefits to your advantage. The quality of the photography you use to represent your designs is a reflection of your firm’s values and affects how the market place perceives your business. There will always be someone willing to photograph your project at a lower price. A “bargain” can easily turn into
an expensive problem when the resulting images do not meet expectations and have to be re-photographed.
Commissioning a professional architectural photographer is an investment that can
prevent frustration while saving time and money. Most importantly, the photographs
you receive will be a valuable resource for your marketing as well as a source of
inspiration and legitimate pride.

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