Category Blog

Why professional photography isn’t cheap

maine commercial photographer

There’s a question I hear more than almost any other, in a few variations:  why do photographers charge so much?

The implied statement is that photography, and professional photographers, are prohibitively expensive.

It’s easy to dismiss the questioner as being cheap, and unwilling to see the value in professional photography.   Instead, I think it indicates a lack of clarity around what photography costs and the reasoning behind it.   In other words, it’s a very appropriate question to ask.   Photographers are sometimes their own worst enemy when it comes to pricing their photography, and it’s no surprise that to the casual outside observer it looks like voodoo trickery.

Being a professional photographer is expensive.  It costs money to pay for equipment, insurance, professional fees and development, marketing and everything else that goes into a photo business.  When they hire assistants, producers and others to help those contractors are getting paid out of pocket, up front.  Things add up, quickly.

When you figure in all of the costs and divide that number by the number of full days per year that a professional photographer might expect to actually create images for clients, you get the Cost of Doing Business (COBD) number. For example, if a photographer has total costs and expenses of $60,000 per year and plans to photograph 60 days per year, their CODB would be $1000 per shooting day, on average.   This is their nut—the number they must make each day they shoot in order to break even. Anything less, and they are losing money.

Photographers who charge less than their COBD fall into one of three categories:  1) They don’t know their ‘numbers’, 2) They are purposefully (strategically) low-balling to get the work or 3) They don’t rely on photography as the main source of their income and livelihood.

Photographers in the former two categories need to adjust their approach if they want to stay in business long-term.

At the same time, images have never been cheaper. There is a glut of relatively high-quality stock imagery on the market, available for free or close to free (and I’m not counting the photos that are ‘borrowed’ and illegally used, a common practice).

For sake of discussion, I’m leaving out the discussion of stock photography.   I’m writing primarily about “custom photography”—that is, when a photographer is hired to create specific, high-quality images of for a brand or company that are completely unique and exist nowhere else.

In a world of endless choice and imitation, ‘unique’ takes effort. ‘Unique’ has value. Effort plus value equals fair compensation. Clients can expect to pay a higher fee—higher, at least, when compared to the almost-free price of images freely available on the internet—because you’re getting so much more. It’s not necessarily expensive….it’s comparatively expensive.

So there are two things, really, that clients are paying for when they purchase ‘custom’ photography.  One is the creativity, experience, vision and effort of the photographer. Let’s call this the ‘service’ component. The second is the value that they get out of the images they receive—i.e.,what they actually use the images for, whether it’s advertising, general marketing on a company website, printed brochures or to hang on public display.  These are all different uses, spelled out with a license agreement, and come with different price points. Let’s call this factor, ‘value’. The more value you need (the more the images are going to be used), the higher the price.

Photographers are all different.  Some will package both their service and the usage together, while others will line-item every single use.  Whichever way they choose to do it, it should make sense and fill two needs: their need to charge enough to keep their business going and the client’s need to get the best quality for the best possible price.   In most cases, quality comes with a price, but also with the peace of mind in knowing your work is being handled by a pro.

The good news is that, in this world of endless choice, there is a photographer—and a quality—to match every budget.

Client Work: iBec Creative

ibec creative

One of my favorite things about commercial photography is working with agencies like iBec Creative, a web design and digital marketing agency located in Portland, Maine. I’ve worked with iBec and owner Becky McKinnell to create original imagery for their clients for several years and it’s always been an enjoyable partnership.

The difference this winter, of course, is that I had the opportunity to turn my lens on iBec itself. The company has grown impressively over the past decade and now wanted some imagery that showcased their greatest assett—their people—and the environment in which they do their work.

I spent just a portion of one day with the team; with the goal of producing editorial-style images and portraits that captured the energy, environment and feeling of working there.

Some clients prefer having a firm shot list in mind for a shoot, but iBec was comfortable with letting me photograph whatever I wanted, and to tell their story in my own way.

Here are a few of the final images—a sort of a ‘day in the life’ of a modern creative workplace.  Enjoy!

 

ibec creative

ibec creative

ibec creative

ibec creative

ibec creative

iBec Creative

 

 

Five Clicks: Inspiring Reads for Cool Kids

I read, a lot.  But, that wasn’t always the case.  A few years ago I realized I was reading less and less, and decided that was a problem I’d like to do something about.  At that point, with a new business, a young child and plenty of ‘stuff to do’, I was averaging five or less books a year.

Last year, I read 46. “Read” is a relative term, since I consume less and less physical books each year and more e-books and audio books. As a result, I feel like my brain is being exercised and stimulated and the ideas and enjoyment I’ve gleaned from reading has made a big difference in my quality of life (and the way I do business).

Here are five of my favorite reads from last year (2017). All of these books held my interest from start to finish, of course, but more importantly they stayed with me long after I put them down.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiate As If Your Life Depended Upon It, Chris Voss
Former FBI Chris Voss takes you inside actual hostage negotiations and then explains the psychology behind his tactics. Then he uses real-world examples of negotiation that are a little more useful for the rest of us: negotiating a pay raise, a good price on a car, or dealing with contracts and estimates. I love books that change your perspective in fundamental ways, and this book definitely did that.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
If you are a closet nerd and/or are fascinated by 80s-era geek references, this book is for you (If you liked Stranger Things at all, you’ll love this book). I’m not going to spoil the story here, but I would highly recommend that you listen to the audio book version. It’s narrated by Will Wheaton, of Star Trek: Next Generation fame, and brilliantly so.

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, Ryan Holiday
I read anything I can from Ryan Holiday, all the while regarding his intellect with a bit of envy. This book is an introduction of sorts to the philosophy of the Stoicisim, repackaged for consumtion by modern audiences. The amazing thing is that, due to the nature of stoicism, it doesn’t need much cleaning up to resonate. Worth a read or a listen (I did, four times).

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman
If you’ve listened to gurus like Tony Robbins or even charismatic positive preachers like Joel Osteen, you know what positive thinking is all about. I’m not against positive thinking at all—I’m a fan in general of positive thinking but always felt that there was something missing. Sure, the “Secret” makes you feel good, but….how the hell does visualizing success and saying positive affirmations actually make you happy? This book explores what Burkeman calls the ‘negative path to happiness’, in which the negative thoughts in one’s head and the negative realities of life aren’t sugarcoated or ignored, but recognized and confronted. Great read.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg
There are so many books out there on forming positive habits and breaking destructive ones, but this one—written by NY Times investigative reporter Charles Duhigg—breaks down the research behind habit formation and gives science-based tools to start forming better habits–today. It helped me to stop getting overwhelmed and to start taking action on great habits that I’ve managed to keep, now many months later.

Why Story Matters More Than Ever

brand stories
Alex Bessler, a young Mason at the Triangle Lodge No. 1 in Portland, Maine. These portraits of Maine Masons help tell the story of an evolving and dynamic fraternal organization with a deep sense of tradition and history.

What makes a good image a great image?

Conventional wisdom is that great images should be perfectly formed, flawless, masterpieces of technical expertise combined with a singular artistic sensibility.

If that were true, Robert Capa’s blurry, darkroom-damaged images taken during the Allied landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day would have never seen the light of day.

Instead, they are considered among the most iconic images of the 20th century. Once seen, the haunting images are never forgotten.

Capa’s images are compelling not because they are perfect, but because they tell a story of the hardships, danger and drama of war.

Brands looking to create connection with fans should keep in mind that when it comes to great imagery, ‘story’ is Job One.

Visual content—whether still images or video—should reflect a unique brand story.

All the rest of it—technical aspects like framing, layering, rule of thirds—are just icing on the cake. For some brands, where refinement and elegance is part of their ‘story’, such precise technicality becomes a critical part of their story. For other brands, images that are too highly polished and contrived would be out of place.

So when you think about your brand and the images you’d choose to represent it, think first about what your brand story is and approach your content creation with that story in mind.

brand stories

Showcase: GMRI

GMRI

I’m excited to share a small project I worked on last year with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), based in Portland, ME.

I’m used to working with education clients, but GMRI is unique. They manage to blend their missions of performing world-class science and cultivating scientific literacy, all while working with Maine’s coastal communities whose economies rely on Maine’s coastal fisheries.

The institute’s facility stands along a stretch of Portland’s working waterfront.  It’s a busy stop for fifth-grade schoolchildren from around Maine who experience the hands-on, high-tech lab known as LabVenture.  Meanwhile, researchers collect samples of acquatic life in Casco Bay, do cutting-edge research on the marine ecosystem, and work with fishermen, retailers, restaurateurs and others whose livelihood depends upon the health of the coastal waters.

GMRI

Client Work: Bangor Savings Bank

Bangor Savings Bank

 

Over the past year I’ve been lucky to work with Bangor Savings Bank on a variety of shoots showcasing their small business customers from around Maine.

If you’ve ever been into a Bangor branch in Maine, you’ll have seen images of their business clients prominently displayed. When I first moved to Maine I remember loving their campaign because it showed real Maine people in authentic, real ways. In truth, that campaign is the reason I choose to step through their doors and opened my first business checking account, way back when.

I’d guess the campaign still inspires people to sign up for accounts, just it did for me.

I’m excited to be able to show off the first of the images—taken of Ryan and Richard Carey, owners of Portland’s Noble BBQ last summer—featured on the Bangor website this week.   The brothers were fun to work with and their barbecue sandwiches, incredible.

2017: A Look Back

As fall morphs into winter and the holidays begin, it’s a good time to reflect on the year that is coming to a close.

It’s been a great year, though I’m getting a little sick of the term “fake news”. Who’s with me?

I’m very thankful for my many clients, both in Maine and elsewhere. Among other thing I had the opportunity this year to photograph:  a luxury high-end yacht company, a major-league bat-maker, an immigrant and former refugee from Egypt; cancer survivors and caregivers, Portland restaurateurs, a bunch of Maine Masons including Bob Crowley of Survivor fame; students in Port Clyde; some really cool structures, and many, many fun and interesting people whose portraits I made both on location and in the studio—200 and counting, to be precise.

The greatest thing about doing what I do is the inspiring and fascinating people that I get to meet.  The images I get to create are kind of the bonus extra, like the chips that come with my Chipotle burrito.

On a personal note, my daughter Maggie is gunning for ‘high honors’ in her fifth grade year and the smart money is definitely riding on her. She’s way smarter than dad. Beth finished her intensive year of training to become a full stack web developer and already has a dozen clients (my plan to buy a limited-edition golden Leica, a photo vest and fedora, and then retire to a life of gentleman photographer is well on track).

Until that happens, though, I’m going to keep on doing what I love and what keeps my clients happy.

So here’s to an eventful year and one that I’m grateful to so many for—my amazing clients, my family, and to the efforts of so many folks besides myself.

 

Client Showcase: Architectural Images for Zachau Construction

maine architectural images

I’m happy to show off architectural images I recently completed for Freeport, ME-based Zachau Construction, a builder of some very cool and unique properties in Maine and elsewhere.

The wide-ranging project included architectural imagery of some of their projects to showcase on their website.  Some of the images involved photographing people in the environment and others were more ‘straight’ architecture.

Now that the work has been published, I can release some of it here. I really enjoy the technical challenges inherent in doing this kind of work for my clients.

 

maine architectural images

 

 

maine architectural images

 

maine architectural images

 

maine architectural images

 

maine architectural images

A Healing Place: The Dempsey Center

healing This spring and summer I had the pleasure of working with the amazing Dempsey Center in Lewiston, Maine. The non-profit provides wellness and other support services to those whose lives have been touched by cancer—providing everything from wig-fittings to counseling to classes on topics like healthy cooking and yoga. It’s an amazing, healing place. Cancer has touched me and my family in very direct and personal ways, and so I was even more eager to find out how the Dempsey Center works and how it changes the lives of the many people who come through its doors.

healing

Once I was there, photographing, I realized that the space itself was as important as many of the wellness activities they offer. It’s a peaceful place of healing, with spaces to sit alone or with others, and plenty of quiet places for meditation and reflection.

As a photographer, it was an important reminder that the location and setting are a critical part of the story.

As I worked to tell the story of the Dempsey Center, I met and interacted with many of their staff and clients. It was truly inspiring to meet these folks and to hear their personal stories—all unique, all extremely personal.

It’s my hope that these images capture at least some of the feel of the Dempsey Center and of the wonderful people who work and heal there. Head over to Fitzgerald Photo to check out more images.

healing

Pho-tastic: Cong Tu Bot

The Portland food scene keeps getting better and better.

This fall I was fortunate enough to photograph Cong Tu Bot, a Vietnamese restaurant owned by Vien Dobui and Jessica Sheahan, published in the November issue of Down East Magazine and written by Food Editor Joe Ricchio (years ago, Joe was also involved in one of my favorite shoots of all time, involving a bottle of white wine and a Russian Ural sidecar motorcycle).  But, I digress.

Back to Cong Tu Bot.

The colors of the walls, the plastic chairs and the decor makes it feel like you’re walking into a food stall in Saigon.  The food looks (and tastes) amazing too. Jessica and Vien, who are married as well as business partners,  operated several pop-up Asian noodle bars in Portland, honing their offerings, before opening Cong Tu Bot.   Their dedication and experience definitely shows.

So pick up a copy of the latest Down East to read more.  Better yet,  just cut to the chase, and get over to Cong Tu Bot.

 

cong tu bot

cong tu bot