Monday, April 25, 2011

Business 101: How to Price Stock Photography

Through the course of the year, I get a lot of emails and phone calls from fellow nature photographers that have questions about how I run my nature photography business -- everything from how I got started, to how I make money self-publishing my own products, to how I price images for clients that want to purchase prints or stock photos.

As a result, I've decided to start up a new 'Business 101' monthly blog/column.  Please feel free to post your comments and questions below, particularly if you have future topics you'd like to see covered.

This first column is based on a question I received via email a few days ago regarding how to price stock photo usages:

"...the tourism office has seen a photo of mine that they would like to buy off me and use in their shop on things like mugs, etc.  It is a good thing I was talking to them on the phone, because I was like a deer in headlights with the offer.  I don't have any idea what to charge, or what I should do now, but I have a meeting with them next week and should probably go in with some kind of proposal!  Any suggestions or help would be appreciated."

I'm sure many of you have run into the exact same thing.  A client or potential client finds an image of yours and decides that they might want to use it in a marketing campaign, on a brochure, on product packaging, or for any of about a thousand other possible usages.

So how do you price out a request like this?  How do you come up with a quote or a proposal?  And how do you ensure that you don't price yourself out of the game immediately by either quoting too high or quoting too low (which is more common than you may think).

Let's start with a few basic tips and pointers.

I use two tools to figure out a ballpark price for image usages: one is a software program called Fotoquote, which holds true to its moniker as being the "industry standard for pricing photography." It's easy to use and provides an excellent baseline for figuring out how much to charge for just about any usage.

However, I also add a second tool to the mix now that the internet is so prevalent in our everyday lives.  After checking the pricing on Fotoquote, I then visit a few of the major stock photography websites to get an average price range from them, as well.  Sites like www.alamy.com and www.gettyimages.com provide me with additional ammunition for my initial proposal or quote.

But as soon as any of you purchase and download Fotoquote or go visit one of these stock sites and try to price out an image usage, you're going to run into a roadblock or two if you haven't done your due diligence and asked the right questions of your potential client.

Using a simple example, let's say the client wants to use your owl photo on the cover of their real estate brochure.

How much is this great horned owl worth on the cover of that brochure?

To properly help you determine a fair and accurate price for this usage, you need to know as much about it and your potential client as you possibly can.

- will the image take up the entire front cover or just a part of it?
- how big is the brochure going to be in terms of dimensions? How many pages will it be?
- how many brochures are going to be printed?
- how long will the image be used for (i.e. how long will the brochure be in circulation)?
- will the image be used anywhere else, as part of an internet campaign or a newsletter or ??
- what is the brochure selling or advertising?  Is it local, regional, or national real estate?
- is the company a mom-and-pop operation or a big conglomerate?

I also often ask what sort of budget the client has in mind for the usage to determine if they're worth continuing to talk to. I have a minimum stock price of $150, so if they don't have a budget of at least $150 per image, then I politely let them know that my work is more valuable than that and costs me a lot to produce, so I ask them to look elsewhere for their images (more about this below).

All of this feedback from the client will then help you establish a price for your image using Fotoquote and the stock photography websites.

However, it's not always quite this cut-and-dried.  For instance, if I feel my image is one that would be tough to find elsewhere - in other words, tough to replace with someone else's image - then that gives it even more value.

A portrait of wild Canadian wolf is not that easy to find and only a handful of photographers might have similar images, whereas the opposite holds true for an image that's easy to find and could easily be replaced, like a standard summer shot of Lake Louise on a blue sky day.

A wild wolf portrait may hold more value than a standard shot of Lake Louise or Niagara Falls

Be very careful of underpricing yourself, because once a client knows that you're 'cheap', it's almost impossible to reverse that thinking.

I think a lot of photographers put too much credence into clients' tall tales about how much today's economy has hurt them.  The fact remains that clients will pay for quality and for unique images that have value to them and their businesses. So rather than lowering your prices to make a sale or because you think you have to, consider selling the client on the value of your photography instead.  John Harrington, a well-known American stock photographer and author, recently wrote a great article on this called 'Five Reasons Photographers Should Sell Value, Not Price.'

Harrington also wrote the book, Best Business Practices for Photographers, which I highly recommend for anyone wanting to run a successful photography business.  It's an incredible resource which covers a variety of business topics, including a full chapter on how to price your work to stay in business and another one on why what you charge a client has to be more than what it cost you to make the images.

So now that you're equipped with a few tools and resources, let's revisit the stock photography question that preceded all of this information:

"...the tourism office has seen a photo of mine that they would like to buy off me and use in their shop on things like mugs, etc.  It is a good thing I was talking to them on the phone, because I was like a deer in headlights with the offer.  I don't have any idea what to charge, or what I should do now, but I have a meeting with them next week and should probably go in with some kind of proposal!  Any suggestions or help would be appreciated."

What would you do if this happened to you?  How would you proceed?

I would start off by calling them again and revisiting exactly what the meeting is going to be for.  Do they want a price and/or a proposal at the meeting, or do they just want to discuss possible usages?  There is a big difference between the two: for the former, you'll have to start asking questions immediately to try to get a much better idea of what they're hoping to use the image for so that you can come up with a price quote for the meeting;  while for the latter, you can relax a bit, and go in with a set of questions to ask so that you can then come back to the office from that meeting with the criteria you need to figure out a price range and forward them a formal proposal or quote.

At this point, it's impossible for me (and it should be impossible for you, too!) to provide a price for this based on what the photographer has told me so far.

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I got an interesting email from a fellow pro in Smithers, B.C. this past weekend.  He had been helping out a local amateur photographer who had been contacted by a big European advertising agency regarding an image of hers they had stumbled across on the internet.  Rather than rush into a sale like that proverbial "deer in the headlights", she had the good sense to call my friend and ask him for advice.

After several long emails and phone calls, he was thrilled to find out that she went into her negotiations with the ad agency with her newfound knowledge and came out of it with a whopping $13,000 sale!

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If any of you have questions or comments on this first Business 101 column, please let me know, I'd love to hear from you!

Happy sales,

John

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Inspired by Others: R. Eric Knight

When John Knight sent me a number of shots two weeks ago of his son Eric's adventures in wildlife photography in Prince Albert National Park in northern Saskatchewan this winter, I was thrilled to see a series of fantastic river otter images as good as anything I've seen come out of Canadian waters with wild otters.

I immediately asked John if Eric would mind if I posted a few on this blog and voila, here are my two favourites from Eric's day out in the field.

A river otter peers up at wildlife photographer Eric Knight (c) R. Eric Knight

I asked Eric how he managed to get so close to the otters with his 100-400mm lens, as river otters are notoriously tough to photograph, except for in a few locations like Yellowstone.  Apparently, he wore full winter camouflage and "plopped down in the middle of a snow drift" on the shores of Waskesiu Lake near an opening in the ice.  He said that by the end of the shoot, the otters had gotten used to his presence and that he was "pleasantly faced with trying to decide between five different furry subjects, all struggling to impress [him] with fish pulled from the depths of [the lake]."

An otter pokes up through the slush for a look (c) R. Eric Knight

If you're interested in seeing more of Eric's work, you can view a gallery of it on his father's photography website.

Happy shooting!

John

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dolphins, dolphins, and more dolphins

I came across a fantastic video today of a 'dolphin stampede' this morning on Facebook and it got me thinking about my experiences with Pacific white-sided dolphins in 2009 while I was scouting out locations for my August 2011 Orca Marine Photography Tour.

In a week's time on the water in Johnstone Strait (which is exactly where the week-long photo tour is going to be), we ran across three gigantic pods of these wonderful dolphins leaping and playing in the water.

Pacific white-sided dolphins at play on the B.C. West Coast

Trying to get these guys as they leapt about in the water was one of the most challenging things I've ever attempted in wildlife photography, and there were several instances in which I missed glorious 25-foot leaps. Still, it was amazing to witness hundreds of dolphins flying about in all directions like a circus troupe.

Pacific white-sided dolphin, Johnstone Strait, British Columbia, Canada

A Pacific white-sided dolphins leaps out of the water in the Inside Pass, B.C., Canada
Pacific white-sided dolphins at play on the B.C. West Coast
Here's a short video I took on one of the days showing a bit of what you get when traveling through here on a boat in the midst of dolphins. Please ignore the terrible commentary, ha-ha!


For those of you that may be interested in coming along on this photo tour, you can read up about what we'll be photographing on my Canadian Wildlife Photography Tours website.  There are currently three spots remaining on the tour, which departs Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island on August 25th, 2011.  I hope a few more of you will be able to join me for this amazing trip!

Happy spring shooting.

John

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

What can you do? Read 'The Will of the Land'

In the wake of last night's posting about the untimely death of Meadow, the young Banff wolf killed on the railway tracks on March 7, 2011, I have received a deluge of personal emails, blog comments, and Facebook fan page comments asking, simply, "What can we do?" to put some pressure on Parks Canada and the Canadian Pacific Railway to address the situation in a meaningful manner.

So what can we do?  In his gorgeous new book, The Will of the Land, fellow Canmore wildlife and nature photographer Peter A. Dettling tackles this issue head-on.  Peter's book is a revelation to the idea that Banff National Park is supposed to protect its wild inhabitants, not cater to the whims of corporate greed.

The Will of the Land is one of the most important books to come out regarding conservation in Canada in years.  That it focuses on my (and Peter's) mountain backyard and features some of the most breath-taking wildlife photography you will ever see is an added bonus to the must-read text for anyone that cares about the state of Canada's national parks, and in particular, Banff National Park.

The Will of the Land by Peter Dettling, Rocky Mountain Books, October 2010

In the book, Peter chronicles many of the relationships he developed from years in the field in Banff working on this project.  While many of you may have seen Peter's name from time to time in national publications and magazines, much of the reason his work has not been seen as much as other equally-talented wildlife photographers is because of the incredible amount of time he spent ignoring the call of his desk and office to search for and photograph many of the subjects of this book, like the Bows (the Bow Valley wolf family), Jolie (a Banff grizzly), and others.

Jolie and a mate © Peter Dettling

I have mentioned in previous articles and posts about the time I spent photographing the Bows in 2007 -- a total of 47 days in the field in order to get 4 good photo days/opportunities with the wolves.  Yet that considerable effort pales in comparison to the amount of time Peter spent in the field in Banff in 2007: over 250 days.

The dedication Peter showed on this project clearly shines through in The Will of the Land. The first 100 pages entrance the reader, leading one along a journey with Peter to visit the personal connections he has made with the animals he's photographed and spent so much time with.  The stories are fascinating, the photographs equally as captivating. But then the book takes a decided and purposeful twist, bringing to the forefront the hard questions that need to be asked and exposing the worst of the ecological problems that Banff National Park faces.

Trains race through Banff National Park, creating a death zone for wildlife © Peter Dettling

The book takes a rare look into the "realities of nature's growing struggle against developing tourism, ill-conceived transportation routes and questionable wildlife management practices."  And importantly, in doing so, Peter does not sugarcoat the truth with a collection of pretty pictures surrounding the tragic and often harsh words.  Rather, he exposes the worst of the park for all to see in graphic, vivid photos of his closest wild friends, the wolves of the Bow Valley family, after their deaths.

The Bows no longer exist in Banff National Park.  Delinda, Nanuk, Chinook, Ranger, Lakota, Fluffy, White Fang, Silvertip, and Sundance no longer walk the Bow Valley.  The same goes for Field, Blondie, #16, #66, and so many more grizzly bears, all that have died at the hands of man.

© Peter Dettling

Peter's book comes at a time when it is needed most.  Many Canadians, like myself, are extremely disgruntled with how our Parks are being managed and protected.  I am fortunate enough to have a voice with Parks Canada occasionally, to be on committees and boards, or to provide input to research projects.  However, I've become disillusioned with this as well, not sure that it's helping at all.  So in the face of this comes The Will of the Land, Peter's own impassioned cry for help with something even better: a vision for the future of Canada's most famous national park and a way that you can help make that vision a reality.

If this has touched a nerve with you at all, then I urge you to pick up Peter's book from a local bookstore (Cafe Books in Canmore, the Viewpoint in Banff, or any Chapters, Coles, or Indigo location across Canada) or order it directly online from Canada or the United States (Amazon).  It is a book that could change the way we view our national parks forever, and I'm proud of my friend and colleague for having the faith and perseverance to bring this significant project to fruition.

For more about Peter Dettling's photography and projects, please visit his website at www.terramagica.ca.  For more about the book, please visit http://www.terramagica.ca/Porta_website/projects.html.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Another Banff Wolf

On March 7, 2011, Banff's Pipestone wolf family lost another member when Meadow, the smallest member of the pack, was run over and killed by a Canadian Pacific Railway train in the Bow Valley.

I got the devastating news the day before I left for my holiday in Europe, with too little time to do much to get the word out about the tragedy. However, I did manage to send the local newsapers images of Meadow, along with several quotes and stories, in the hopes that her death would not be in vain.

For the first few days in Europe, I got up before my wife and went online to scour the Banff and Canmore newspaper's websites in anticipation of the backlash that was sure to arise from the loss of another of Banff's most prominent wolves to human causes. Sadly, all I could find was a tiny backpage mention, though a week later the paper had a scathing and heartfelt Letter to the Editor from my friend and colleague, Canmore wildlife photographer Peter A. Dettling, asking once again why Parks Canada was not acting in the face of this ongoing debacle.

A month later, just as I had feared, Meadow's death has now been all but forgotten -- another case of 'another month, another dead wolf/bear, another incident that Parks and the CPR do nothing about'.

In February 2011, it was a train mowing down an unknown black wolf near the Town of Banff.  Last June, it was a male grizzly.  Last May, one of the Bow Valley's last remaining female grizzlies.  Last winter (2010), it was Raven, a Pipestone wolf pup, thrown more than 30 metres by a speeding vehicle on the 60 km/hour Bow Valley Parkway.

And this time it was Meadow, a small, all-black female pup named by wolf behaviour expert Gunther Bloch.  She had become separated from her parents several days prior to the accident and was hanging out with her siblings, Chester and Lillian, when she was killed.  That her parents weren't around was likely a key factor in her death, as she was by far the most skittish of the pups and the most likely to panic without her parents' direction and expertise in traveling on the dangerous railway.

Meadow from the Pipestone wolf family, at six months old

Because of Meadow's slightly nervous disposition, she was often harder to photograph than the rest of the members of the pack.  Fortunately for me, whenever she was with her parents or older sister, Blizzard, she would often stay out of the trees just long enough for me to get a few good shots of her.

Meadow (left) coming up to greet her older sister, Blizzard

Meadow's death is just another in a long line of wolves and bears that I have known and photographed, only to one day get the call that they've died at the hands of humans.

Meanwhile, Parks Canada plods on with their caribou and bison reintroduction programs, keeping a blind eye to the fact that we have far more pressing problems in our flagship national park.  Why aren't we fixing the existing issues before tackling new ones?  Why hasn't Parks Canada or the CPR done anything about the death sentence that they have consistently provided for the past 125 years for Bow Valley wildlife?  Why is this suddenly readily-available caribou and bison reintroduction money not being spent right here, right now, on the problems we already face.

Let me put it more bluntly.  Who cares if we have bison and caribou if we don't have bears and wolves?

The count is already at two wolves just three months into this year, and Meadow is long forgotten on the desks of those who are supposed to be in charge of protecting her and her family.  What's next in store for Banff's wildlife?  And hopefully, the question isn't really: Who is next?

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Return from Europe!

Hello all, my apologies for the lack of posts of late, but I went on a real holiday (sans camera) to Europe for the past three weeks and tried to avoid going near a computer for the most part.

I departed Barcelona, Spain yesterday under sunny skies and +22 degrees Celsius temperatures and arrived in Calgary to a blizzard and -6.  It was more than a little depressing, to be honest! To make matters worse, the driver-side windshield wiper "broke off" at the airport, making the drive back to Canmore even more exciting than it needed to be on the slippery roads.

However, the sun is back out and shining today, melting my winter worries away.  I'm excited to see spring arrive, so today's Photo of the Day is from last spring just outside Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, Canada.

A stunning rainbow lights up the prairies just outside of Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, Canada

For those of you interested in attending any of my landscape photography workshops, I've got two coming up this year: one in the Bugaboo Mountains in August doing some heli-photography in the wildflower meadows of the Bugs, and another with world-renowned landscape photographers Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Chrysanthou in Banff in October.

Happy shooting!

John

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