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 read in your last issue about a photographerwho gets $4,000 a day for advertising photography. How on earth can anyonejustify charging that much just to take pictures (and how can I get awaywith doing the same thing)?

Giving More for Less in San Francisco


DP: Before starting a dissertationon day rates, Dr. Photography feels it is important to let you know that$4,000 per day is nowhere near a high record. Some photographers have beenknown to charge (and receive) $20,000 or more per day (plus expenses) toclients who aren't willing to shop around. (Dr. Photography also regretsthat he is neither in the employ nor on the wrap party list of these photographersand thus, has not yet realized a share of their bounty.)

Setting a day rate really amounts to the basic economic principle "Whatyou are worth is what you can get."

Photographers and their professional organizations have come up withnumerous clever ways to increase the amounts they charge such as: sellingrights and usage, not photography; marking up expenses; investing in Lottotickets and keeping their studio refrigerators full of beer (this is oftenreferred to as the business of "stock" -- from the phrase "Joe...make sure the refrigerator is stocked with beer before the shoot...") All of these however, are really clever distractions to keep clients fromrealizing the true worth of a photographer and his or her services.

The determining factor of the worth of any professional, be it a photographer,lawyer, doctor or laboratory rat, is simply the vocabulary they use in theirprofession.

Doctors, using such phrases as "lateral posterior paragluteal myoparesis"and "deviated septum rhinoplasty", can clear well over a halfmillion dollars a year. Lawyers, using such words as, "Whereas, pursuantto the plaintiff's liability exoneration...", can bring in a few millionper case. Even politicians, who are known neither for their great intelligencenor their moral standards, earn several hundred thousand a year with suchphrases as "At this point in time, my constituents are ignorant ofthe implications of my misappropriations." Laboratory rats, whichhave a vocabulary of only a few squeaks and scratches, tend to make farless than your average politician or lawyer, even though their respectiveworth may be far greater.

Which brings us to the problem that photographers have in getting thebig bucks. Most photographers describe their business and the tools oftheir trade with only one and two syllable words such as: "f-stop","light meter", "take the shot", "push process"and "blame it on the lab". If you are only making a few hundreddollars a day, this could be your problem. The photographers who make thereally big bucks use such terms as "specular highlights", "diffusereflections" and "subtractive contrast control of reflective illuminance".

This principle of vocabulary vs. income, should be first applied tothe name and title that you put on your business card. "Bob's Photos"is a very short and sweet title, but it's not likely to generate much businessbeyond photographing the neighbor's dog in exchange for a couple of brewskies. "Photography by Robert Pickwick" will get you a little fartherand looks much better in your Black Book or Showcase ad. (However, if yourname happens not to be Robert Pickwick, there is no guarantee.)

Dr. Photography's years of extensive research have shown that the additionof staff to a business always seems to correspond with an increase in theamount of business. This research has also shown that engineers in any field tend to make about 10 times what the rest of us do and thatconsultants have an unlimited upper income level. Therefore, wecan postulate that while "Bob's Photos" may earn a few thousandand all the Bud he can drink in a year, "Photography by Robert W. Pickwickand Associates, Photographic Engineering Consultants" will easily netover a million in its first year of business. (Granted, the printing ofhis business cards will cost twice as much, but it's a small price to pay...)

The secret of such success now becomes obvious. I mean, what does ittake to be a photographer, anyway? Basically, all you really need is acamera, at least one functioning eye and the ability to multiply and divideexposure by two. Most clients know this, which is why they will initiallybalk at paying a photographer more than $4.85 per hour. (Most art directorsalso hate the idea of having to work with someone who is earning more perhour than they do.) A good photographer will soon set such a client straightby inundating him with a prolific new vocabulary and explaining that advancedphotographers use mathematical rules of thirds and inverse square exposurecompensation. Generally, the client will decide that it is worth $10,000a day just to get the photographer to shut up and take the picture.

Just remember, that the higher your day rate, the less you have to work. An editorial photographer who earns $200 per day is going to have to work500 days in a year to make a six figure income. Whereas "Robert W.Pickwick and Associates, Photographic Engineering Consultants" canwork less than an hour and take the rest of the year off.

Your worth is only limited by what you charge.

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©1992 Scott Highton
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