How much should I (photography student) charge an architectural firm to take photographs of their recently completeted projects?
May 8, 2007 1:29 PM   Subscribe

How much should I (photography student) charge an architectural firm to take photographs of their recently completeted projects?

A friend of mine works for an architectural firm and recommended me to her bosses as someone who could take some nice photos of some of their recent projects. All of that is just fine and dandy, except I have no idea what's reasonable in terms of what to charge them. Help!
posted by krisken to Work & Money (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: "Basically we have you take pics of our buildings that look good enough that we can use them in all of our marketing materials forever. It would probably require you to drive to different sites, spend time figuring out angles and light, and probably the architect involved on the project would have worked on getting the place cleaned up/ presentable enough for photos to be taken."
posted by krisken at 1:41 PM on May 8, 2007

Have you done any architectural work before? I'm a rank amateur, and would be wary about accepting a formal gig. Anything serious would probably require the use of a tilt/shift lens and I've no experience working with them whatsoever.

In any case, why don't you look through the sites of some professional photographers and see what they charge. When you've established a baseline, set your price at something a little less than average (given your lack of experience) and see what happens. If your offer seems shockingly high to them, you can always come down. If they're pleasantly surprised, you'll know that you can charge more next time.

Freelancers always have to deal with this type of negotiation when they start out - it's hard to figure out where to price yourself. But once you do it a few times you'll get a feel for what's appropriate, what the market will bear, etc.
posted by aladfar at 2:00 PM on May 8, 2007

I can't provide a totally complete, definitive answer because our marketing department has always handled this kind of stuff, but I have some general ideas of what you'll need to do. FWIW, I think pro photographers would charge us something like $500 for a final photo that we'd use in marketing materials, but I'm not really sure on the number there--sorry.

Anyway, you'll have to figure in time, because you'll be doing pretty good if you shoot one project in one day. You'll also be providing lighting, because unless it's a really odd building or you're doing exterior twilight shots (where you'll turn on all the lights in the building), you probably won't want to use the actual building lights--you'll get source light in your photos or odd conditions with tungsten or fluourescent lights. Just try compensating for different lighting types with a filter! Ha!

I'd guess your finished product will actually be a digital file of some sort instead of a print, but you'll be responsible for making it look presentable through photoshop or developing techniques or whatever.

If you're unfamiliar with archtectural photography where the architecture is the subject as opposed to the photo (like Robert Pollidori), I'd take some time at the library or bookstore in the architecture section and look through architectural monographs or magazines, which should give you a good idea of what you're looking for. At least make sure you hose down any pavement before you shoot.

It seemed like for a typical photo shoot on one project at my old firm, we'd end up with three photos that we'd use for marketing. You may well produce quite a few more to a finished level that they just don't want to use.
posted by LionIndex at 2:05 PM on May 8, 2007

Best answer: Everything depends on what your photos will be used for and for how long. It wouldn't be unheard of to charge many thousands of dollars if the photos are going to be used in nationwide magazine advertisements, for instance, but many hundreds would make sense if they're going to be hanging the photos in their boardroom and that's it. Quit devaluing your work because you're a student, too. A quality photo has value regardless of who took it and the only thing you do by agreeing to terms like "Well, you're a student and a friend, so we won't pay what we'd pay a pro" is make it harder for you and everyone else to make a living taking pictures.

Since you say that they're going to be using the stuff in all of their marketing materials forever, make sure they pay a fair price. You are providing them with a very valuable asset for their own future well-being and you should be justly compensated. In fact, a good way to think about it is that your photos will be crucial to every future dollar this company makes. All of the firm's clients need to know what sort of work this company can do and your photos will be integral to their "portfolio" of what they've done. The only reason they're asking a friend and a student is because they know you won't charge what you're worth.

Another way to think about this is that the job is sort of like a headshot for an actor and the absolute bargain basement for that in NYC (if I remember the posters right) is about $200 for 2 rolls of film run through the camera in probably 15 minutes time. Heck, the $500 quoted above isn't even considered a good day rate for an editorial assignment for a magazine. For corporate work, it's barely starvation wages. Oh, of course all of your miles will be reimbursed, too.
posted by msbrauer at 2:38 PM on May 8, 2007

Oh, one thing that came to mind after typing that. I once had a sale of several thousand dollars for less than 30 stock images to be used on a university website for a period no longer than a year. I was underpaid, but the size of the sale made a discount make sense. Granted, the website gets many millions of hits every year, but that might give you a little idea of what photos are worth.

Also, always use a contract stipulating usage and licensing terms. Never give up your copyright, either. Licensing is cheaper for the client than a copyright buyout and allows you to have future earnings. You never know what the future will bring and your photos could become very valuable. Here's a story about a single editorial photograph from a high school football game that earned the photographer at least twelve thousand dollars, and it's only that low because part of the sales were split with Sports Illustrated.
posted by msbrauer at 2:50 PM on May 8, 2007

Best answer: I do architectural shoots. Basically you charge the max you think your reputation and their budget can handle. If you're just starting out, I suggest $330 per site for a basic exterior shoot (no interiors: whole different ball game). Don't get greedy, but don't be skittish either. Don't let them talk you down any lower than $300. If they balk, seriously: walk away, they're jerking you around. I know you want the job, but they've got $300 for photos. I guarantee it. Thank your friend enormously and hope for another opportunity later.

Don't worry about the tilt-shift lens; if they're hiring you, they're not looking for that compensation (it has to do with the "curve" of buildings toward the top of the photo when taken with a standard lens. If you make the top of the building the horizon line - the centre - you can minimize the distortion without the tilt-shift lens. Read up on it on the internet so you know what the hell this is if they ask you about it). However, if at the end they say, why didn't you use a tilt-shift lens? You say, "Oh, I'm sorry, you didn't specify that you wanted that level of specialization and I priced this out as a standard shoot. I'd be more than happy to shoot it again, of course! However, I'm sorry but it will cost a second round plus expenses to rent equipment". They won't do the second round. But if they do, then you run around and find a pro to sub-contract the job to and hang around to learn.

I suggest you build a two-year licence into the contract. They'll want you to give them the pictures forever, of course. Put the two-year licence in and hope they sign without reading too closely. If it comes to a sticking point over licence, sell for an additional $50 per final image. You'll never re-sell such esoteric photos yourself, so jump at the chance. If they say "Ten photos - we'll give you $300 extra", go for it. Just sell the suckers. It's one thing if you have a shot of the lone shooter on the grassy knoll, quite another if you have a useless set of some light-industrial warehouse on the far side of town. In this case, sell. But not for nothing!

Make sure you get a shot list from them or develop one yourself: Front elevation, side elevation, view out top floor, entryway from exterior, two building details (roof cornices or landscaping, whatever), etc. That way you won't be running around like a fart in a storm taking shots from every which-way and not knowing what to submit at the end.

Charge seperately for mileage. $0.40 - $0.42 per kilometre is standard in Canada. Keep track of your mileage and then at the end halve it. Why? Because:

You'll need to go to the site several times. Note the orientation of the building (east? west? etc.) and go in the morning, go at mid-day, go in the late afternoon, but sometimes the landscaping will be perfect at noon, or you'll notice a reflection that sets off the doors, or somthing. So go at every time of day and hang around for at least half an hour each time. Of course, the best light will be early morning and late afternoon. Get sunset shots off the windows, etc. Take lots of extra pictures for your portfolio - the firm doesn't own these photos, you will. So shoot away. But you have to go several times - even five or six times - and catch the light in different ways. Different days will look different and they'll appreciate that. Hence the halving of your mileage - you don't want them knowing that you're green and went out there a zillion times, and also that they're basically paying for your apprenticeship.

At the end of the shoot give them high-res TIFFs and JPEGs unless it's an architecture firm with an in-house Photoshop team (they may want RAW - just ask, they'll tell you the format they prefer). Only give them the images you've contracted to do and maybe one or two other "money" shots -- i.e. shots you did in your spare time at full moon, or with a rainbow or some amazing cloud formation in the background, etc.

Overall, be professional. Don't tell them anything they don't need to know, ex. "I've never done this before! Hee hee!" No no no. Just be polite and professional and comment about the picture of their kid on their desk and be a normal person. When you get to the site, treat the staff and building managers professionally. Take as much time as you need and say as little as possible while you're working. Be nervous at home - don't waste time in the field jabbering.

Good luck!
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 3:10 PM on May 8, 2007 [7 favorites]

I work for a large construction company and we have professional photos done for our marketing materials. The last job I was on in Albuquerque, NM we paid the photographer around $6k for the photos and unlimited time frame print and online use.
posted by moosedogtoo at 3:12 PM on May 8, 2007

Reference point: My former firm that I was speaking of was a (high-end) residential firm, and didn't do much in the way of publishing. We only used our photos to show prospective clients. Still, if they're going $500/photo, that's about $2000 per shoot at a smaller scale building. Not too shabby.
posted by LionIndex at 3:19 PM on May 8, 2007

I'd give the photos away for free.
(disclaimer: I work for an architecture firm, but truthfully, the firm in question may be asking you to take the photos because they can't afford a professional)

You certainly deserve to be paid for your talents, so offer whatever feels fair to you and see if it sounds fair to them. Start at the high end of the range described here, but be willing to settle for less. I would say that the quality of the project you're photographing has almost as much influence as your personal talents; if they're hoping/expecting to get the cover of architectural record, you can ask for much better compensation than for some average promotional shots. Talk to your friend and feel out the situation.
posted by Chris4d at 4:51 PM on May 8, 2007

See here
posted by strawberryviagra at 5:48 PM on May 8, 2007

If I were an amateur accepting my first assignment, I'd be too nervous to charge. At least they won't be really upset if the photos don't turn out great. I would charge for the film and that would be it. It's more important that you feel comfortable and take good photos for inclusion in your portfolio and/or resume. If they insist on paying you, give them a low ball figure.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:57 PM on May 8, 2007

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