Editor's note: the following is a tongue-in-cheek, oftenirreverent, question and answer column published in the ASMP News solelyfor the entertainment of our readers. It does not necessarily reflect theviews of ASMP, the local chapter or other ASMP members. All opinions andanswers are solely those of the author, and he is welcome to them.

Readers' questions about any aspect of photography, or life ingeneral, are welcome and Dr. Photography will answer them in future columns,if he happens to feel like it. Send mail to:
Dear Dr. Photography

Dear Dr. Photography,

I can't believe what I've heard recently. Afteryears of trying to figure out how to charge for various different day rates,I read the news that "The day rate is dead" and I'm now supposedto base my prices on usage. I've had enough trouble trying to educate myclients about why my various day rates differed. Now I have to start allover again and try to figure out how to charge for usage? Why the changeand who the heck is responsible?

Fuming in Fremont


DP: Ha ha ha! The jig is up and youare the last person in the industry to figure it out. Basically, all theother photographers in the country got together and changed the way theycharge for photography simply to confuse you so much that you would throwyour hands in the air and quit the business entirely, thus reducing theircompetition. It is their hope that you take up something like banana slughusbandry and never touch a camera again.

In all seriousness though, banana slug husbandry is a noble professionand lots of former photographers are practicing it in places like your hometown of Fremont, where small banana slug ranchettes are all the rage. ButI digress...

The most recent change in the way photographers price their servicesis simply part of the continuing evolution that every profession enduresas its practitioners discover new ways to drain cash from their victims...or rather, clients.

In the early days of commercial photography, photographers worked mainlyas traveling salesmen, wandering from town to town with their dark tents,strange boxes, glass plates and noxious chemicals. They were treated withthe same disdain as snake oil vendors, since they asked their clients tosit in uncomfortable positions for long periods and then exploded gunpowderin their faces, claiming that it provided for a better light. This was awidespread practical joke that early photographers used on their clients,who generally came to a photo session dressed in their Sunday best and leftwith faces and clothing burned beyond repair. What these clients got fortheir unnecessary suffering, was a single small photograph of themselveslooking like they were in the process of passing a kidney stone.

There really wasn't much one could do with a photograph in those days,other than to look at it and put it away on a shelf in hopes that no oneelse would ever see it again. Magazines couldn't reproduce photos, advertisersnever even considered using them to show a product and boring vacation slideshows hadn't yet become vogue. Consequently, the value of a photograph wasrather limited and photographers generally earned about five cents for aday's work (mind you, five cents went a lot further then because you couldn'tbuy things like cellular phones or Nike shoes).

Eventually, the time came when people found new ways to use photographyto promote their businesses. This created a demand for skilled artisanswho could create the magical, realistic looking images known as photographs.Consequently, photographers discovered that their skills and equipment hadtangible value.

Just as this transformation occurred, however, a young wisecrack namedGeorge Eastman patented a small box known as the "Brownie" andcoined the phrase "You push the button, we do the rest." Suddenly,photography was readily available to the masses, and all the mystique ofcreating boring images of loved ones disappeared, along with the abilityfor professional photographers to charge exorbitant rates for their services.

Since that time, the business of photography has expanded into previouslyunimagined areas -- fine art, corporate communications, photojournalism,advertising, motion pictures, television and the new electronic media. Whileall of these fields are branches of photography as a whole, they are actuallycompletely separate types of businesses.

Dr. Photography knew one misguided former photographer, who wanted tostart a construction business, after a salt evaporation plant opened nearbyand threatened to dehydrate his thriving banana slug herd. Having learnedmuch during his tenure as a photographer, he planned to structure his feesas a building contractor in a similar manner.

When he built a new home for a client, he planned to charge them morefor his services if they really needed the house than he would ifthey were just wanting it for fun. He planned to charge subsequent usagefees every time his clients entered their houses, invited guests to visitor used the home he constructed for them as collateral for financial transactions.Additionally, although his clients would have paid him for all his expenses,overhead, labor, profit, creativity and usage fees, he expected to retainownership of the original home and be free to sell it to as many other clientsfor their simultaneous, non-exclusive use as he could. These were all practiceshe knew successful photographers used. Fortunately, no bank would financehis business and he is still riding herd on 37 banana slugs in what is nowa salt marsh at the southern tip of San Francisco Bay.

Other photographers who blindly follow the crowd and price their servicesaccording to standards from another branch of the industry, are destinedfor the same failure. The inevitable comparison of day rates among the differentfields of photography, ultimately has led to the demise of the day rateentirely. The latest trend, is for photographers to charge a creative feebased on the value and the amount of work required for a job, plus expensesand usage fees that reflect the value of the photos' future use to the client.

Sure it may seem a little confusing at first, but your option is to dealwith amortization and depreciation of banana slug futures as your 10,000head herd slowly dehydrates into fertilizer and contaminates your neighbor'ssalt pile. (Dr. Photography would appreciate hearing from any experts outthere who can explain the market for these animals. Are banana slug shoesgoing to be the next fashion trend? Banana slug steaks in the supermarket?And just how do they actually get banana slug milk from those things?)

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©1992 Scott Highton
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