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Portions of this column were originally written for the July 2003 edition of News Photographer Magazine.

Mark Loundy is a media producer and consultant based in San Jose, California. Full bio.

The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Press Photographers Association.

July, 2003
By Mark Loundy

Yes, I'll admit I'm a fool for you
Because you're mine, I walk the line

— Johnny Cash

Are photographers fools for love? Some staff photographers certainly live in a fool's paradise. They use their employer's resources to support below-market rates freelance business. Hard to believe? Let's take a look...

Employer-paid health insurance, retirement fund, worker's compensation insurance

Using staff-issued equipment on freelance jobs

Marketing Expenses
Making contacts on editorial assignments that develop into commercial jobs
Daily credit line

Office Expenses
Using employer's computers, Internet access, phones, desk, stationery, etc.

There's more, but you get the idea.

Johnny_CashSo our hero is cruising along. Life is good. The day job is secure and the freelance gigs are helping pay for the weekends at the lake and the new car.

He has no idea that he's walking next to the edge.

Whammo! Reality hits. It turns out that the economy has been affecting ad linage and the paper's bottom line has suffered. The major corporation that owns the paper tells the local manager to fix the problem — or else. The quick fix is to cut staff and that's what happens. The photo department is converted to all-freelancers who get $50 per assignment. Our hero is over the cliff and on the street.

That's OK; he can fall back on his other freelance gigs, can't he? Of course he's been reading this column and monitoring the Editorial Photographers Group and is up-to-speed on determining his cost of doing business.

So he gets out a sheet of paper and writes down all of his monthly expenses. Let's see, home office, auto, phone, equipment, repairs, health insurance... Holy flashcards! $250 a day? That can't be right!

But it is. Our hero sees that he needs to triple his rates and quintuple the number of jobs he does. When he tries to raise his fees, his former clients go hunting for some other photographer with a day job and below-market rates. He finds that his lowball pricing has destroyed his own market.

Our hero ends up going to real estate school.

"Good business practices aren't just for freelancers," or "There but for the grace of the bottom line go I."

The Good
BulletNone this month. Hello? Is this thing working?

The Bad
BulletThomson Media for their all rights perpetual contract and their $100 unlimited Web use fee.

The Ugly
BulletNone to mention this month, but we know they're out there, lurking in the shadows.

Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.

  • If you have completed an assignment and a client decides not to run the story for reasons unconnected with the images, you should still collect the full fee. Some clients will try to pay a substantially lower "kill fee." If you've delivered what you contracted for, you should be paid the full rate. It's a good idea to address this in your contracts, so there's no misunderstanding.

  • A great resource for determining what to charge for a job is to see what other successful pros are charging. Unfortunately, most of them treat this data like nuclear missile codes. One who doesn't is Washington, DC-based photographer John Harrington. Thanks John!

  • Copyright © 2003 Mark Loundy
    All Rights Reserved