Bohemian Rhapsody :: Part 1 of 3

The audible sigh.

The deer in headlights look.

Abduction by aliens, never to be heard from again apparently brought on by receiving a quote for photography. 

The TAKE MY MONEY! No questions asked, deposit received so quick you know you’ve just royally screwed up a bid.

I’ve experienced every one of these.

I’m hoping to shed some light on the topic and offer some clarity. Photography, like any other professional service, ain’t cheap. There are different levels of service and quality of workmanship that one can choose from. Think gas station car wash for $8 vs. car detailing at $250. They are both just washing the car. Why the price gap? It all comes down to what you value. Some folks are more efficient than others. Some folks care about putting out great work and want to see you succeed. Some just want to do it as quick as possible and cash in. Still others are good photographers but sadly, are poor business people and don’t realize that the fees they are charging aren’t sustainable and they will soon be out of business. 

I’m going to walk you through a shoot and show you a typical quote for how this would have been priced for different usages and what the deliverables would look like. We’ll talk about different pricing models and how to make smart purchasing decisions whether you are an art director, photo editor, or any other type of photography buyer that will keep your business afloat and ensure that the photographer you enjoyed working with so much will still be in business the next time you want them to give you a bid. And since we have a varied audience here (hopefully) I’ll be talking about the gear and techniques used to make the images along with a little “what I was thinking” commentary while working on the job. Hopefully, you photographers reading can also gain some insight or can add to the discussion into pricing your work. So, here’s the backstory so that we’re all on the same sheet of music.

I was recently talking with my friend, Clarka Wickliffe, a commercial model with a popular fashion blog, about a project and she recommended Angela Amezcua as a model. I contacted Angela, later a member of the cast of several editions of the Bachelor TV show, about my project and told her I’d do a shoot for her in exchange for a shoot for me. She accepted and we went to work. Around the same time I’d asked a makeup artist / hair stylist friend of mine named Maria Albright if she’d bid on a job I was working on. We’d never worked together and she had never worked on a photo set before so she was a little nervous about bidding on a job. So, we collaborated and decided she’d like to work on a few small jobs to get the hang of things before formally working on a set as a paid position. I went ahead and told her about the shoots with Angela and it seemed a perfect fit.

I went to work in Evernote establishing a mood board and posted a few location photos that I’d scouted. Angela told me she wanted something a little more artsy rather than the typical commercial stuff she shoots. She also wanted the wardrobe to be more bohemian in nature. I always find it helpful to establish a playlist of tunes that help fit the mood and I submitted one of the greatest gifts to human kind, Ida’s “Will You Find Me.” (PS - If anyone wants to find this on vinyl and gift it to me, I’d kiss your face and give you a little back rub).

Angela sent me some photos of the potential wardrobe options along with some photos that she liked for various reasons of either location or vibe. I submitted more photos that I liked and Maria submitted photos for makeup and hair as well as a few shots for styling purposes and a couple potential locations she’d scouted. We bantered and defended the merits of the submitted photos, locations and started defining some direction. On every shoot, my hope is that everyone walk away with what I call a “wallhanger,” something that everyone can get good mileage out of. We serve the client first and foremost but from there I want the stylists, models and myself all to have something we can add to our portfolios. I felt we were all going to get a winner except for me. I’m not a fashion / lifestyle / model shooter. So, I sort of assigned myself an editorial job for this. I thought “ok, if NYLON were hiring you to cover a new recording artist and needed 3 images, how would you handle this story? How would you envision space for text?” At the same time I needed to think on the “what if’s”. “What if you get the cover? What if the label would like to license these same images after the magazine was done or what if PASTE wanted to license these images down the road? What if NYLON didn’t like my creative concepts and wanted something a little more straightforward? NYLON likes mostly naturally lit photos and PASTE takes either. Further, what if a commercial interest comes up and they’d like to license an image for advertising? Food for thought. You still need to serve the client in front of you, first and foremost, Angela.” I never told Angela or any other crew members my fake editorial thoughts.

We scheduled an evening shoot but I felt that we’d be rushing and our ideas felt a little premature. So, we rescheduled for three days later but at the very worst time of day. Noon. Blarf. It was going to be unseasonably hot, 91 degrees. While it wasn’t ideal, it was what we’d been dealt with the given availabilities. I knew in order to pull off a shoot at this time of day, I needed one or more extra tools that would give us a better shot at making things happen. The number one tool I could use was extra hands. Good assistants are hard to find. It’s a thankless job at times. It’s especially difficult to find a good assistant when you have a ZERO DOLLAR BUDGET. I reached out to a friend of mine, Jonathan Durango, a fine shooter himself, who had previously assisted me. He obliged me and we all met up on a Saturday at 10 AM to start hair and makeup along as well to discuss the images, location possibilities and to pack the truck accordingly. 

After ironing out our first concept and final location plans, Maria and Angela got to work on hair and makeup while Durango and I packed the truck. I knew we’d need a variety of options for all my editorial thoughts. One of my newest secret weapons is my customized studio / location cart that I can roll right into the back of my Honda Element, mostly pre-packed. This cuts down on some time during the initial packing as well as once we hit our location. It also affords me the ability to pack the kitchen sink. We are pretty much a mini rolling grip truck it seems. Yay! Thanks Obama! (I’ll do a little post of this guy soon to show the ins and outs of my cart and solicit your thoughts and ideas. It’s a community. We give and take.)

It was a 15 minute drive to our first location and we were on set pulling the first frame at 12:15. We were in an open field with no open shade and very little on the horizon so as not to have to deal with distracting power lines, buildings, etc. (PS - I wish we’d had clouds this gorgeous the day of shooting.)

We had to set up an 8’ x 8’ silk to soften the harsh light from the noon sun. We had a decent breeze blowing which posed a safety risk in our silk turning into a giant sail. Remember the most important tool I mentioned before, the assistant? Yeah, without him, we’d be screwed. And remember the makeup artist, she also was used to help hold reflectors / because of wind and crappy sunlight. All hands on deck. Fire Ants struck about the same time.  Are we having fun yet? This team was a bunch of troopers. So, we marched on, knocked out this location in about 30 minutes. Everything here, was shot available light. I went ahead and grabbed a few double exposures here that I had already been running through my mind, one as a potential cover image where text could live nicely. We repacked the truck and headed to the next location in the woods, about 25 minutes away.

We arrived,  unpacked, changed wardrobe, freshened up hair and makeup and went to work. At this location we had two wardrobes to shoot and I’d packed a Navajo print blanket for Angela to cover up with for a few frames. I went ahead and put together light modifiers for the strobes and had it ready to roll as I knew we’d have a chance for some lit shots in addition to our naturally lit shots. We put together a smaller scrim for this location as we were in the woods now and had the cover of trees to do most of the heavy lifting in the diffusion department. We ran over our imaginary deadline of 2:30 but only because everyone knew we were close to an extra concept that just needed a few more minutes. We wrapped up just after 2:30 and pulled a crew photo and then Maria drove Angela back to her car and Durango and I repacked the gear and headed back in. 

Upon returning, I unpacked the truck and got everything back to it’s home but not before pulling the SD cards and getting two backups of the images. After that everything went into post production. Editorial generally has lower budgets and therefore cannot afford much post processing. Clean and simple is the name of the game. The most important thing as far as that goes is getting it right in camera so that you don’t need any time in Photoshop later. Again, stylists and assistants come to the rescue here. Extra eyes on set to help catch stray hairs and correct odd clothing wrinkles, makeup touch-ups needed, etc. I edit for the client at hand within their budget. When it comes to my portfolio, I’ll edit for my needs and then, edit further / differently for the needs of stock buyers.

So, that wraps up our narrative. We’ll hit the ground running with part 2; I’ll show all the photos that I deemed usable for the project and my intentions for them as well as quotes for the assignment, licensing for multiple uses and in the next few days as time allows, I’ll hit the gear and techniques in part 3. If you have any questions, please pop ‘em in below and I’ll try to answer them in the follow-up posts or in the thread itself. 

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