What does a photographer invest in a shoot?

Posted on March 4, 2012


One of the things that just will irk and drive photographers insane is flaking on a shoot. Some also make us furious when they demand to be paid to be a model – especially when they have little or no real experience. No big deal, right? It was only TFP. All you have to do is go to the shoot, spend some time in front of the camera, and then magically, there are these wonderful pictures of yourself. Shouldn’t you be paid for it, too? Why do photographers get so upset? I need to qualify that I am talking about a real and professional photographer in this post before anyone sends me hate messages. I am not referring to GWCs in this post – people who we call Guys/Gals with Camera – that buy expensive equipment and then think they are photographers. Be sure to remember that there are costs for us at each step of working with a model throughout this post.

First, some of us spend a lot of time perfecting our craft. We have been spending a lot of time doing this. Many of us have spent a few years in training or apprenticing under another photographer. Frequently, there are additional conferences that we attend that makes us better as photographers. As cameras get better software in them and become more automated, more and more people think it is just the camera that makes the image. That couldn’t be further from the truth with this perception. There are also professional organizations that we also are members (frequently). In addition to this investments in time to make us better, there are also purchases of equipment. For some, it is fairly substantial. investment in camera equipment, studio equipment, and other tools. These often add up to thousands of dollars. Being a photographer isn’t cheap. In my case, I shoot both film (“traditional” or “silver process”) and digital photography. Depending on the photographer, they may have clothing, props, and other things for you to shoot in, too. Don’t forget the cost of a studio – typically around $100-300 per two hour block. These all cost money.

Second, there is a lot of time spent in preparation for a shoot. I often sketch out a minimum number of poses and ideas to the concepts that I will be shooting today. Back when I only shot film, I was very detailed and story boarded the entire shoot – each image. You have to realize that each click of the shutter cost money. I was talking with some friends who shot medium format film a few years back (OK, it was more than a few ;-). Back then, a typical three hour shoot only had 24 to 64 images taken. Can you imagine a session with only that many clicks of the shutter? Now, it isn’t unusual to shoot 600 or more images during a session. That doesn’t mean there aren’t those who don’t prepare for a shoot. Two types of photographers in this category are the spray and pray shooter (“machine gunner”) and chimpers. I am going to knock these two types of photographers because they are usually not prepared for a shoot and “hope” to capture something good. In the case of a spray and pray shooter, they hold the shutter down and just hope they will capture something good. Often, they rarely capture anything worth keeping. The chimper is someone who takes a picture, looks at what was captured, then changes something minimally and takes another. Then looks again, then takes another, then looks again and takes another. You get the idea. Taking an image is something that any trained chimp can do, right? It can’t be further from the truth. Planning includes outfits, accessories, props, location, makeup, styles, and the like to fill out a concept. Some people have highly detailed plans. Others don’t. It all depends on the individual photographer, but some degree has been planned for a shoot. Along these same lines, there is the time to negotiate and convey the concept to the model and maybe even meetings as additional costs.

Third, there is often a team of people who are involved. Depending on the shoot, there may be a MUA, hair stylist, fashion stylist, artistic director, and a number of other people. In reality, there are rarely all these people at every single shoot we do. It isn’t unusual for there to be just a model and me working together while I am teaching the model about posing, or test for a future shoot with that same model. Realize that each of these people cost money. Makeup frequently will cost around $100 or more for both hair and makeup. A fashion stylist adds even more. Professionals who do post processing work (Photoshopping) cost money, too, and they may have already been paid for their work prior to the shoot. Part of this cost of having a team is the travel expense in getting to the shoot. This may be your travel and the crew’s travel expense.

Finally, there is lost time from actually taking images that produce income. As a photographer, our time isn’t worth anything to reserve for the model, right? If there is a team, theirs isn’t either, right? We always have things we can be doing. In reality, there are things we can be doing, but most of the time, it is difficult to be doing them when we are waiting for you as a model to show up for a shoot. Then, when you don’t show up, our time is wasted. We have blocked out that time for you. The entire team gets paid if you don’t show up, so they really don’t care that you didn’t show up. They still get paid.

Calling when you are supposed to be there or some time after it doesn’t help with the costs to get to that point. Not calling only makes us furious. We have already invested a lot of our time and money.

I hope you can see from this post that a shoot costs money. A shoot costs our time and effort. A shoot also costs us money to be prepared for the shoot. As a model, you may be asking why we do this? In my case, I don’t do “free” photography and “free” training unless there is something that I see in the individual. I hope that after they learn what they can from me that they will continue to work with me. Often, they go on to better and greener fields. I also like to see others be successful, and hope they will do the same for new talent and help them out. Everyone has to start from somewhere.

This will hopefully give an insight to what goes on into a photographer’s mind. It should also give you an idea why a photographer complains about models who flake or complain about models who ask for money to be a model before they deserve being paid. I am not saying that neither deserve money, but that there is value that a photographer adds and it may take a few shoots with several photographers before you actually start making any money as a model. There is a possibility that you won’t ever make money as a model depending where you are located and if you can’t travel to a paying job. Try to keep this in mind before you flake or ask for money to shoot with a photographer.

If this isn’t enough to convince you to not flake, know that photographers do talk with one another. There is nothing worse than being a model with a bad reputation that no one will work. This is something you don’t want to happen unless you really don’t want to be a model. If you flake or are consistently late, that reputation will catch up to you. Don’t be that person.

Edit: One of my friends who reads this blog who is a photographer commented that there is a lot more to being a photographer than just taking pictures. The requires time and effort in many other areas – marketing, selling, accounting, infrastructure/IT work, and researching business. This all takes time, money, and effort. In other words, being a photographer isn’t just grabbing a camera, snapping a few images, and then handing them over.to you the model. Put another way, how often does your boss where you work just let you go off with a client and talk with them hot to use your product and then provide your company’s end product for free (no cost) or even having your customer demand to pay them to use your product? They don’t. If you are dealing with a professional, you should be realizing that this is what a photographer is doing for you. There isn’t a profit incentive to do something like this in the real world. There is value to the services that a photographer does. Don’t devalue them.

All information and images are ©2012 Don Krajewski on this post.


Posted in: Modeling