31 January 2009

Understanding the Estimate

Understanding the Estimate for a Photographic Assignment
As a creative professional, you undoubtedly understand the importance of accurately
defining the scope of work in order to determine your firm’s design fees. Similarly,
to prepare an estimate, a photographer must have a detailed description of the
Before you request an estimate, list the aspects of your project that you think might
best represent your designs. The list should identify:
n Assignment description with any specific concepts, architectural elements, or
design features you’d like to highlight.
n How the images might be used: documentation, portfolio, editorial features,
advertising, design competition submissions, websites and so on.
n Other parties, such as contractors or consultants on the project, who may want to
use the photos.
n Deliverables needed, such as digital files, prints or transparencies.
These are the major factors that a photographer needs to know in order to frame
an accurate, detailed estimate. Based on all these factors, the photographer submits
a formal estimate for the assignment. A photography estimate includes the assignment
description plus three other components:
n Licensing and rights granted
n Creative/production fees
n Expenses
Let us look at each of these in turn.
A description of the project will include its name and location, the number of views,
a list of deliverables and a timeframe for completing the assignment, plus any
extraordinary circumstances, such as dawn shots, all-night sessions, views from
cherry pickers, or aerial photos.
In some cases, the photographer may propose alternatives to your initial specifications.
As a creative professional, he or she may be able to visualize some ideas
you hadn’t considered or to find ways to get the desired results at lower cost.
A photograph, like an architectural design, is considered intellectual property. The
photographer owns the copyright to the images he or she creates and has the
exclusive right to license their use. Licensing agreements are specific with regard
to use and should answer three basic questions:
n Who will use the images?
n How and where will the images appear?
n How long will the images be used?
This information may be detailed in the licensing section of the estimate, or it
may be supplied in a separate licensing agreement that grants specific rights to
commissioning clients. If several parties agree to share in the cost of an assignment,
the photographer will develop a separate licensing agreement for each individual
client to cover the permissions and rights.
A photographer’s fee typically has three components:
n Creative or production fee
n License fee
n Expenses
Unless there is reason to separate them, some photographers will quote an
umbrella “creative fee” that includes both the production fee and the license fee.
However, when several parties have agreed to share costs, they usually need to
license different rights, and the production and license fees will generally be stated
Creative or production fee. This component reflects the time and skill it takes to
complete the assignment. Variables include the total number of views, scheduling
and deadlines, site logistics and artistic considerations such as unique vantage points
or special times of day. Intangible variables include the experience, creativity and
vision that the photographer brings to the assignment.
In addition to the time spent behind the camera, a photographer’s preproduction
and postproduction time is included in the production fee. Preproduction tasks may
include client meetings, advance site visits, meetings with the facility’s management
to organize access, conversations with building engineers to arrange technical coordination
with lighting, landscape maintenance and other site-specific preparation.
Postproduction tasks commonly include image editing and selection (which may
involve more client meetings), digital processing (color correction, minor retouching,
compositing), and preparing master files for final delivery. It is not unusual for
the postproduction work to consume as much time as the photography.
License fee. This component (sometimes referred to as the usage fee) reflects the
value of the authorized uses for the images. The value is determined by a number
of considerations, including how widely and for how long the images will be viewed,
reproduced and distributed. Typically, the more extensive the use, the higher the
fee will be.
Licenses use specific language to describe the rights being conferred. A glossary of
licensing terms used in the photography and publishing industries has been compiled
by PLUS (Picture Licensing Universal System); visit www.useplus.com to browse the
To obtain the best value, negotiate a license for the entire group of images
based on your current and planned needs. There’s no point in paying for a right
that you will never use. However, it is smart business to negotiate a commitment
regarding the cost of additional rights that you might need in the future.
Expenses. If the job will require travel, specialized equipment, prop rentals, specific
insurances, or fees for location access, these will all be indicated on the estimate.
Likewise, the anticipated cost of hiring photo assistants, stylists and models will be
part of the total. There may be some contingent costs, such as for weather delays.
Expenses for digital photography may include charges for image capture, digital
processing, master file prep and postproduction tasks such as color manipulation
and digital retouching, archiving and file delivery. For film photography, expenses
typically include material charges for film, processing and supplies.
Just as a breakout of fees and responsibilities between architect and client allows
the client to make adjustments to the project, so breaking out the components of
the fee structure allows architects to work with the photographer in changing the
proposed scope of work with a minimum of disruptions.
For example, suppose you initially asked for an estimate based on creating
images to be used for brochures, office displays, exhibitions and a website. After
you see the images, you decide to also submit them to a magazine in conjunction
with an article on your project. This constitutes an extra use, for which there will
be an additional license fee (and perhaps additional expenses to deliver optimized
images), but the production fee would not be materially changed.
Likewise, you may find that the estimate for the work as originally proposed is
higher than you had budgeted. Find out where there is room to reduce costs without
sacrificing the objective of visually “telling the story” of the project through the
essential views. In addition, the photographer may have suggestions for capturing
more successful views without significantly increasing the costs. We offer some
practical recommendations on page 10.
People outside the graphic arts are often surprised to learn that equipment and
processing costs for digital photography are actually greater than for traditional
film photography.
Digital technology saves time and money “downstream” when the images
are used in various printing and publishing applications, but it requires the
photographer to spend considerable postproduction time to get the best results.
In effect, the photographer has taken over the work of the film lab, print lab and
prepress house. The specialized tools for capturing and processing high-end image
files are expensive and (as with most computer systems) are quickly obsolete.
Both digital and film techniques can yield fine images. In specific circumstances,
the photographer may prefer one or the other for technical reasons.
Delivery considerations
If the image is to be delivered digitally, it may have to be processed in several
different ways. Each destination has its own particular requirements. UPDIG, a
coalition of imaging organizations, describes current best practices for a wide
range of applications on its website, www.updig.org.
It may seem as though there are endless variations for delivering high-quality
images, but your photographer will be able to simplify the options as you
decide on your needs.
The estimate will have a space for your signature. By signing and returning a copy
to the photographer, you indicate your acceptance of the assignment description,
license and total price. At that point, the estimate becomes a contract.
Attached or on the back of the estimate will be a set of Terms and Conditions. As
with any contract, one purpose is to agree on each party’s responsibilities if problems
arise and how any disputes will be resolved. Another purpose is to state the industry
norms. For photography, these include copyright, photo-credit requirements and
what alterations (such as compositing) you can make to the images.
The photographer’s estimate is more than a financial document; it can serve your
creative and promotional planning needs as well. It is a tool that can help you meet
your business objectives, your documentation needs and your marketing goals.

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