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Sunday, March 7, 2010

"Mr. In-Between" (Part II) ~ Jay Stafford

Alright then! Where were we? Oh yeah..."Frugal" people asking an amateur photographer for his or her services. Do you, the good amateur, charge for those services or not? Please bear in mind that this is a opinion. This has mostly worked for me, but as the commercials say, your results may vary! Let's consider your time and costs. How much is your time worth? $20/hour? $50/hour? $100/hour? Your call on that. How about your costs and expenses? Gas ain't cheap and you'll have to travel. You'll need enough film or memory cards for several hundred photos. Plus you'll need new batteries for your cameras, flash or lights. Notice I said cameras, plural. ALWAYS carry a spare camera -even a point-and-shoot is better than nothing if your primary camera breaks down. You can't re-shoot a wedding! Do you do your own post-processing? Got chemicals and paper for your darkroom or paper and ink for your printer? Don't skimp on ink or paper - use only high quality. Believe me, it shows! Or, do you send your film or digital stuff to an outside lab for developing/processing/printing? If you do, you know that costs a bundle!
After you determine the value of your time, how much time will you spend shooting the gig (travel time not included)?
First: Weddings. I'm talkin' the full shebang here. Pre-wedding photos, days or weeks in advance of the ceremony. The bride and groom at a lovely site: beach, park, grassy field, mountain stream, etc. Estimate two hours for that. Before ceremony photos with the bride, groom and wedding party dressing (guys, you'll need a female assistant for this and gals, you'll need a guy), getting out of the limo, etc. Figure at least two hours for that. The ceremony itself. Some are long and some are short. Give yourself two hours. Post-ceremony where the bride, groom, wedding party and families pose for group shots. One hour for that. Then the reception: Four to six hours normally. That's a total of up to twelve hours (weddings are a LOT of work if they're done right!) Figure an equal amount of time, minimum, if you do your own post-processing.
Next: Parties, Birthdays, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, etc. Like a wedding reception, figure six hours. This is actually conservative. Some parties last all day and night...check with your "client" on how long the event is expected to last. Oh, and cool it on the booze - you're workin' here, not one of the partiers! Post-processing should take about the same amount of time.
Finally: Portraits-groups, individuals and/or pets. Here I'm going to assume you don't have your own studio and will shoot outdoors, in one location. Two hours minimum. You and your subjects will have to be flexible and patient. I've had to delay outdoor portrait sessions for up to two weeks. Mother Nature isn't always cooperative. In cases like that, and if time is pushing you, you might consider the portraits be done in the clients home among comfortable, familiar surroundings (no sunlight, so think about your lighting). Again, give post-production and equal amount of time, or maybe more if Grandma wants her wrinkles smoothed out or Junior has a big zit which needs touchup. Remember, these are portraits which may hang over the mantle in a beautiful frame. It's YOUR job to make the subject look as good as possible!
Lots of other events requiring photographers come to mind such as speeches, store openings, ribbon-cutting ceremonies, book signings (hear that, Tina?), etc. I think you get the idea of time and cost estimating and don't forget post-processing.
Now, the BIGGIE: Who do I charge and who gets a "gift"? Let's begin with total strangers, people you've never met who may have been referred to you by someone you know. CHARGE 'EM! The full boat - your time, expenses and per-print. Draw up a contract showing who, when, where and what you're going to provide. Get signatures and at least half the estimated money up-front! Since you don't have the total overhead of a pro, it'll be less than the price a pro would charge, but don't forget the customer will expect the same professional results!
How about mere acquaintances? Not a stranger, but not your best buddy either. Co-workers and neighbors-down-the-block types. CHARGE 'EM!! You may want to reduce your hourly value a tad, but maybe not. A total stranger may see your work and question why Fred got the same thing cheaper. Again, do the contract and up-front money thing.
Next, good friends and tight-knit neighbors. This is where it begins to get tricky. Contracts, up-front money and full charges may strain the relationship. Remember, these close friends and neighbors are NOW customers, and where money is involved you may find yourself losing a friend and getting the cold shoulder in the neighborhood (neighbors talk!). I suggest not charging full boat, but get your costs reimbursed and give 'em a break on the per-print prices. You may want to try BARTERING. You provide your skills, time and services and they provide something of equal value back to you build a deck, fix the plumbing, paint the that. It works and may even tighten the relationship!
Finally, there's the dreaded F-A-M-I-L-Y!!! We can choose our friends, but we can't choose our family! DON'T CHARGE!!! Not a penny! Believe me, you don't want the money-induced, strained family relationships. Not worth it! Besides, good luck getting money out of your brother-in-law! Know what I mean? Instead, wedding photos make a great and generous wedding gift! They'll love you for it! Portraits make a super Christmas, birthday and anniversary gifts. Bartering also works well with family members. Just as long as there's no money involved!
All that being said, you still have one more choice which will allow you to avoid all that work, hassle, strained relationships, non-payments and such..."Awww, gee Charlie, my camera's in the shop for repairs and won't be back 'til (whenever the event is)!" Your call...they approached you!
To wrap up, I want to thank Cy and Patty, Jessica, Dylan and Tony whose photos I took and which grace these two posts. And, I especially want to thank Tina for asking and allowing me to sit in for these past three blogs. I hope I haven't driven away any followers from ya! Now, get out there and make "Letters From Alcatraz" a best seller! Love ya girl!
Respectfully submitted,
Jay Stafford
Photos copyright 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mr. In-Between (Part I)

Howdy Folks!
Yep, it's me again...sitting in for the Blogger-In-Chief, Tina, who's nursing a bad case of writer's cramp from all the "Letters From Alcatraz" book signings. Ahhh...such sweet agony!
How many out there reading this are good amateur photographers? Not professionals, but just as talented? Ever been asked to photograph a wedding, party, portrait, etc. by a friend, neighbor or family member? Did you do it? More importantly, did you CHARGE for it?? During my 40+ years as an amateur shutterbug, that's a subject often debated by many other good, talented amateurs I've met. Some say "Yes! Always charge!" Others say "No! An amateur shouldn't charge!" Still others are caught somewhere in between. That's me...Mr. In-Between. I say it depends on who's asking for my services and the type of gig to be photographed. More on that later.
First off, why are they asking you, an amateur, rather than going to an established professional? We'd like to think it's because we're close friends, neighbors, coworkers or family and they trust us to do a good job because we're damn fine photographers. We'd like to think that, but we'd be...WRONG! They ask us because they're frugal (a politically correct term for CHEAP!) They've checked out the pro's, saw how expensive they are and, "Hey! You're a buddy! Right?" What they don't see or understand is WHY the pro's are expensive.
Let's compare an established, professional photographer with, say, a doctor. Doctors are expensive. Everybody knows that and expects it. They go to school for many years, serve more years as interns, have hugely expensive equipment and, unless they're working for an HMO, have medical assistants and office staff and the expense of buying, renting or leasing a suite of offices. A good thing for most patients is that medical insurance helps lower the out-of-pocket expense. You need a doctor? You go to a doctor. You don't go to Uncle Charlie who's only medical experience is puttin' on a Band-Aid and pickin' up his meds at Walgreens!
So why are pro photographers so expensive? Well, the last time I checked, Blue Cross and Medicare don't cover photography (x-rays, yes, but not weddings!). And, to a lesser extent, the pro photographer has studied, practiced and honed his/her skills for many years. Most have been assistants or interns, if you will, to established pro's. They also have hugely expensive equipment, an office/studio and pay a staff of assistants and outside processors to get the job done. Today, set up and maintenance of a web site is mandatory. Like the doctor, the pro photographer has to constantly keep up with the latest in equipment, techniques and trends. Both the doctor and the pro photographer are MAKING A LIVING at their careers and the cost of doing business ain't cheap!
Now that we understand just a little about why pro's are expensive we can understand why our "Buddies" and family turn to us. They know we have some camera equipment, have probably seen some of our work and, "Hey! Uncle Charlie (or Aunt Betty) will do it for little money...or FREE! He doesn't have all the expenses the pro's do!" What they don't say is that they've seen the work of the professionals and will expect the same quality from you!
Now, back to the original question: Do you, as a good, talented amateur photographer, charge your friends, neighbors, coworkers and family for your services? Well, I've done weddings, parties, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, family portraits, individual portraits...all that stuff (some are shown here). I've done it for family, close friends, mere acquaintances, neighbors, complete strangers. Do I charge? Well, it's only my opinion and practice, depends. What opinion??? Depends on what??? Tune in for part II and I'll tell ya!
Respectfully submitted,
Jay Stafford
Photo's copyright 2010