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

Readers' questions about any aspect of photography, or life in general, 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 photographer who gets $4,000 a day for advertising photography. How on earth can anyone justify charging that much just to take pictures (and how can I get away with doing the same thing)?

Giving More for Less in San Francisco


DP: Before starting a dissertation on 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 been known to charge (and receive) $20,000 or more per day (plus expenses) to clients who aren't willing to shop around. (Dr. Photography also regrets that he is neither in the employ nor on the wrap party list of these photographers and thus, has not yet realized a share of their bounty.)

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

Photographers and their professional organizations have come up with numerous clever ways to increase the amounts they charge such as: selling rights and usage, not photography; marking up expenses; investing in Lotto tickets and keeping their studio refrigerators full of beer (this is often referred 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 from realizing 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 their profession.

Doctors, using such phrases as "lateral posterior paragluteal myoparesis" and "deviated septum rhinoplasty", can clear well over a half million dollars a year. Lawyers, using such words as, "Whereas, pursuant to the plaintiff's liability exoneration...", can bring in a few million per case. Even politicians, who are known neither for their great intelligence nor their moral standards, earn several hundred thousand a year with such phrases as "At this point in time, my constituents are ignorant of the implications of my misappropriations." Laboratory rats, which have a vocabulary of only a few squeaks and scratches, tend to make far less than your average politician or lawyer, even though their respective worth may be far greater.

Which brings us to the problem that photographers have in getting the big bucks. Most photographers describe their business and the tools of their 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 hundred dollars a day, this could be your problem. The photographers who make the really big bucks use such terms as "specular highlights", "diffuse reflections" and "subtractive contrast control of reflective illuminance".

This principle of vocabulary vs. income, should be first applied to the 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 business beyond photographing the neighbor's dog in exchange for a couple of brewskies. "Photography by Robert Pickwick" will get you a little farther and looks much better in your Black Book or Showcase ad. (However, if your name happens not to be Robert Pickwick, there is no guarantee.)

Dr. Photography's years of extensive research have shown that the addition of staff to a business always seems to correspond with an increase in the amount 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 that consultants have an unlimited upper income level. Therefore, we can postulate that while "Bob's Photos" may earn a few thousand and all the Bud he can drink in a year, "Photography by Robert W. Pickwick and Associates, Photographic Engineering Consultants" will easily net over a million in its first year of business. (Granted, the printing of his 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 it take to be a photographer, anyway? Basically, all you really need is a camera, at least one functioning eye and the ability to multiply and divide exposure by two. Most clients know this, which is why they will initially balk at paying a photographer more than $4.85 per hour. (Most art directors also hate the idea of having to work with someone who is earning more per hour than they do.) A good photographer will soon set such a client straight by inundating him with a prolific new vocabulary and explaining that advanced photographers use mathematical rules of thirds and inverse square exposure compensation. Generally, the client will decide that it is worth $10,000 a 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 work 500 days in a year to make a six figure income. Whereas "Robert W. Pickwick and Associates, Photographic Engineering Consultants" can work 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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