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The Business of Photography

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So you have an enquiry for a photography assignment and not sure how to go about it, this post is about my experience as a professional photographer for almost 18 years. This post also tries to answer the calls and messages I receive regularly seeking guidance in respect of professional practices.

The photo shoot enquiries are generally generated by either the client directly or through the agency representing the client which could be an advertising agency, a PR firm or an event management entity.

Dealing with or through agencies is much more simpler as compared to the direct client. The various agencies are already aware of the existing deliverables, the prevailing commercial terms and timelines for an assignment whereas the direct client may not be aware of all these which many a times means educating.

Whether dealing with client directly or through agency first and very important step is to understand the assignment and deliverables. The agency most probably will have the artwork or a clear outline of the proposed photo shoot with number of days allocated for the assignment.

For the direct client, especially the one who is getting a shoot done for the first time, it is essential to be on the same wavelength and frequency. I always insist on reference images which can bring out the concept on client’s mind, this ensures that there is no confusion at the time or after the shoot. It is absolutely essential to inform the client about issues or difficulties which may arise during the actual shoot like some products may require extra time or the desired result will only be possible after intensive post processing. Some assignment will require hiring an extra hand like a stylist, it is always better to let experts in the field to take charge. The logistics also need to be worked out at this time- in studio or at location etc. This clarity will help in avoiding any conflicts and help in long term association.

The payment has two components – the amount and terms.

Amount of assignment charges vary from photographer to photographer but the reason for variation is the experience. An experienced photographer will definitely be able to get more assignment charges as compared to a newer one. Here I am trying to avoid quantifying any amount as some photographers are ready to work at really low figure, almost free, because of competition, opportunity of getting exposure etc. The experienced photographer does not charge for pressing the shutter release button but for the vision. The experience helps in getting better photographs in optimum time due to coordinating better with the team consisting of client, agency, stylist, lighting assistants and other members.

The amount charged can either be on the basis of ‘per day’ or ‘per product’.

If working on ‘per day ‘ basis, numbers of hours in a day need to be explicitly mentioned, generally 8 hrs for full day & 4 hrs for half a day. This means reaching on or before the scheduled time and not making anyone wait. Also it is important to inform about the number of shots possible in a day.

While working on ‘per product’ basis, minimum quantity of products to be shot during the day has to be fixed before the shoot, something similar to ‘cover charges’, the client will have to pay a minimum amount even if the quantity of product is less than what was committed. ‘Per Product’ rate is more applicable for e-commerce based clients which is volume based having similar products being shot under similar setups. The assignments, where compositions are involved like food,interiors etc, working on ‘per day ‘ basis is advisable.

Digital Processing Charges also need to be discussed while negotiating with the client. These can either be built in the photography assignment charges or mentioned separately. During the film days, the clients always paid for the cost of film rolls, processing, printing etc over and above the assignment charges. With digital photography, the photographer need to do extra work which earlier was outsourced. Also if the assignment requires intensive post processing which may mean outsourcing to an editing expert, the charges need to be mentioned clearly.

Terms of delivery and payment are equally important, with new clients I do not block a day without receiving an advance which is generally 25% of the total assignment charges and balance 75% on sharing the high resolution photographs. If the client cancels or postpone without giving adequate notice, the advance is not refundable(emergencies are excluded). A set of low resolution images is shared before actually handing over the final set. With existing clients the terms of payment have evolved over a period of time and are more flexible on account of the comfort level.

A typical estimate/ Proforma Invoice on Photographer’s letterhead ( now-a-days computer generated ) will have the following:

Photography assignment charges

Number of days/Number of products

Digital processing charges

Actual expenses (equipment/studio rental, travel etc if agreed upon)

Taxes (GST)

Terms of delivery and payment

PAN ( Permanent Account Number)

Bank Account Details ( if online payment is being made)

GST(Goods & Services Tax): In case the annual income from profession is less than ₹20 lacs, Registration is not mandatory. An undertaking to this may have to be given to the client.

TDS (Tax Deduction at Source) will be applicable which is currently 10% which can be adjusted while filling the Income Tax Return.

All the discussions, reference images, estimates must be put in writing, preferably through email. There has to be a proper record of everything discussed so that there is no confusion at a later date, verbal commitments can’t be relied upon.

A few things which must be always kept in mind.

Never over-commit, if it not possible to give finished images before a particular time, do not give an early deadline. Same applies for agreeing to click more photographs in a day than possible just because client is insisting. Handing over before time or shooting more than expected will build client’s confidence.

Punctuality and timely delivery hold the key, reaching before the shoot and keeping things ready before the arrival of client create a good impression. And since the hours are pre-defined, the discipline from client’s side will also be there. Also avoid taking frequent breaks, could be as simple as avoiding taking phone calls in between.

Once the assignment charges have been fixed( even lower than what you had in mind), give your best, never compromise on the quality just because the client has not agreed to your quote. You are a party to the agreement and there are no afterthoughts. After the scope of work and terms are decided, re-negotiations are strict no.

It is always better that either the client or representative of agency is present during the shoot, if due to certain reasons it is not possible, work out an arrangement with the client for showing the first shot through mail or message and getting the same approved. At times, the smallest of detail matter, which the client or agency can point out, this will help in setting the flow for rest of the shoot.

Be nice to people working with you. Loosing temper, not speaking politely to team members are not signs of professionalism. A good team will make things easier and shooting floor more lively and happy. Have a control over the situation and an ability to troubleshoot with a smile.

In case, there is a dispute at a later date due to any reason, try to reconcile with the client amicably. A fight may result in forfeiting payment and loosing future business prospects. Offer a re-shoot if there is shortcoming at your end, keep the customer satisfied.

Happy Clicking !

© Ravi Dhingra

The Mob

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For past few days we wake up to chirping of hundreds of birds, some kind of cacophony. But after a while, it becomes very silent. It has become a regular feature, the noise followed by total silence.

This tree outside our balcony becomes host to a group of visiting birds, they enjoy the hospitality and get busy with their gossip or maybe business plans and at times arguing loudly.

This is somehow not liked by the mob of crows who rule the trees in the vicinity, they come as a gang and make the chirping birds fly away.

But this mob has a Godfather, an eagle who is the ultimate boss, the crows also dread to be in his company. The tree becomes deserted when the eagle makes an entry and silence takes over after chirping & caws.

Smart Photography-13th Anniversary Issue

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13 years back, I was trying to establish myself as a professional photographer, photography was undergoing a transition, film was getting phased out and digital technology was taking over. Books and magazines were major sources of information and knowledge.

One magazine which has been on my subscription list since then, which I still read from front cover to back cover without fail every month, a magazine which helped me in expanding my knowledge base, Smart Photography, is celebrating 13 years of existence. And in the 13th Anniversary issue, I am one of the chosen 13 photographers in India from various genres to be featured. Thank you Smart Photography for the honour and wishing you many more years of success.