Monday, 28 March 2011

Event Photography Myths and Must Haves

Event photography covers a wide range of photographic subjects. Subjects I have covered recently include couples at dinner and dance evenings, sponsored abseiling, celebrity 'grip and grin', provision of a Santa's Grotto system and youth sports. These are examples of the diversity of the type of photography that event photography can cover. Some require a portable studio type set up and others require weather proof camera equipment and specialist clothing. Some will require viewing/sales stations and others are printed as they are shot.

To cater for this diversity of subject, location, end product and sales method requires a system that is flexible and can be configured to suit the event. The system can be viewed in isolation as the hardware that everything connects to but I prefer to view the system as a whole. Taking this view, the system includes people flow, work flow, image transfer methodology, processing applications, processing hardware, camera hardware, lighting equipment, power source, staffing, staffing skill set, back ups, system robustness and fall back planning.

If we use a black tie event as an example we can bust the first myth. Myth number one 'It is like printing £10 notes'. Right, ok, I must have got the wrong printer then because mine just seems to print pictures and I have to take them, display them, print them, mount them and sell them. If anyone knows where the £10 print button is please let me know. There is no reference to it in the instruction manual so I'm assuming it is a hidden feature.

Each part of the process has a cost associated with it. Some of them are direct costs like the cost of mounts and others are indirect costs like the cost of the PC/laptop and software to use on it. Some costs will vary with each job, an example would be travel and parking.

At a lot of black tie events pricing has become fixed around a simple formula. Prints are £10 each and buy three and get one free. So, £10 each or if bought in batches of three then just under £7 each. Ummm, what happened to printing tenners? Looks like I'm printing seveners now.

Out of your seven pounds you are going to pay an assistant (unless you really can shoot , sell and print at the same time), pay for the cost of the print, pay for the printer usage, pay for a mount and pay for a bag to put it in. Pay for the printer usage? Yes, every time you hit the print button it not only costs you a bit of media and paper but also costs in wear and tear of the printer. At some point the printer will need maintenance and at another point it will need replacing. For the purposes of costing I work out the cost of the media per print and then use the same figure as a ball park cost of printing. So, for a 9x6 print on a DNP DS40 the cost of media is roughly 28p per print. I allow the same again as the cost of printing therefore my total cost of print is 28p x two ie. 56 pence. A reasonable quality mount is going to cost 60 pence and a clear faced bag is about 4 pence. My immediate costs of printing and mounting are £1.20 per image. Down to £5.80 per print now.

If we assume that for a typical black tie event we will sell 60 images (60 couples with an average of an image per couple) and we are paying the assistant £60 for the evening (not unreasonable considering the evening will probably start at 4pm with set up and will not finish until midnight ie. 8 hours) then £1 out of each image is going to the assistant. We've still got £4.80 an image left so not all doom and gloom.

A lot of venues and organisers are asking for a 'commission' or kick back to the event to off set some of their own costs. It is not unusual for them to ask for 10 to 20%. I usually ask for an attendance fee which negates any 'commissions' but it is becoming more common and organisers see us taking money and think they should have a share of it. Everybody else gets paid and presumably makes a profit for the service they provide at the event but event photographers are somehow different and not only should they not get paid but they certainly should not make a profit. Organisers, we need to make a profit so we can make the investment to do the job well and also to ensure we are still around to do it next time you have an event. Ok, so lets assume that one way or another your arm has been twisted and out of all the seven pounds you are taking that 10% is going back to the organiser. I cannot stress how much I disagree with this method of getting work but some feel they need to do it and it is affecting the whole industry. I can see it changing over time as photographers realise it should be the exception and it is unsustainable but for the time being we live with it. The bottom line is 70 pence of every print is now going to the organiser. I have seen some demanding 20% or higher. It must be fun finding a new photographer every time you have an event. Anyhow, we now have £4.10 left from our sale.

Out of that £4.10 you still have to pay for camera equipment, lighting, insurance, software, computers, transport etc. If you allow £1.00 a print for equipment usage and 50 pence a print for insurance and transport you probably will not be far off. This leaves us with £2.60 as our profit per print at this point.

We still have not covered the photographers time cost and this should include equipment preparation, set up on site, the photography, packing away and equipment sorting and unloading. Let us assume that for our typical event that the photographer works 10 hours including travelling etc. At £6.00 per hour (near enough the minimum wage) the photographer takes £60 for himself. Yes, your skill and craftsmanship is going to earn you roughly the same as flipping burgers. Great, this leaves £1.60 a print in profit.

Out of our 160 bright shiny pennies we have to pay for training, professional fees, membership of trade organisations, marketing, web site, Internet service provider, PAT testing etc. Not much left to pay tax and NI is there?

To do the job properly you need two of everything. You need spare camera equipment, spare lights and ideally a spare printer. These are hidden costs but without them the income from a job could be lost and your reputation badly damaged.

Then we have all the little costs like business cards and wastage.

Don't get me wrong, it is a job I love but I also love my family and I have to provide for them. I want to do well and I set myself high standards so maybe my costs are higher than others or I am too cheap for the service I provide. To some extent the product pricing is dictated by the market and event photographers find themselves walking a fine line between being cheap (and branded as such) or expensive and not getting the sales volume required to maintain the business.

Printing tenners? I wish.