October 3, 2011

What Is A Picture Worth: Part Two

For years, young photographers have asked me how I charge for my services, so I feel it the opportune time to share with others the business of my photography. I also wanted to share with you a few bolts with the nuts, but that is to follow in the next few weeks.

As I am by nature a loner, I have no agent or agency that represents me. In the 45 years that I have been a photographer, only one of those years did I have an agent, who was somewhat unsuccessful in representing me. I seem to do it better by myself. I like to think of myself as a fairly astute business man (probably inherited in my genes from my father), as I like the business of photography almost as much as I like making the pictures.

It is close to a one-man shop for all your photographic needs. I have a studio manager, Michael, (who I try to keep in the forefront of all negotiations, estimates, invoices, correspondence, etc.) but I am there in the background if needed. There is also at the studio, Patricia, (who has been with me for over ten years and I hope she stays until I die) she is the archivist and printer and knows more about my work than anyone alive.

Both of these people are on every shoot, along with many others, as it is very important when it comes to printing the work, or negotiating usage rights, that all of us are as familiar with the process and the particulars of each shoot as possible.

There are generally three aspects to the business. Firstly, there is the assignment work. I am basically only emotionally and physically capable of shooting about 30 to 50 days a year. Although this seems small it is an enormous amount of work that keeps us all busy. I am not one to shoot everyday, nor would I be able, nor want to.

For example, three days of shooting probably requires the studio a minimum three weeks of work and that is assuming that there is no travel involved. If we have to travel to some distant place, it probably would add close to another week of work.

The shooting work goes something like this; a client with a general idea usually approaches me. Most often people do not give me very specific layouts. I am the art director as well as the photographer. I like this. It is usually a combination of people, my stylist Renate (The Wonder of 29th Street), the studio manager Michael, Patricia, myself and the client that generally comes up with the ideas the wardrobe, the props, and the type of location. This usually requires a day or two of production meetings.

After we have begun to have some idea of location and props, I usually will assign a location scout to do the preliminary location scouting. Sometimes we look through location services. In either case, after I find the few locations that interest me, we start the location scouting process. For a three-day shoot this usually means that I personally scout for 3 to 5 days until I find the right location or locations. We will then have 2 to 3 more days of production involving castings, wardrobe fittings, client meetings, and then the three days of shooting.

Upon completion of the shoot it takes the studio one week to process the film and provide contacts to the client. Then the client will place an order for scans, which takes the studio another 3 to 4 days to complete. So you see the initial 3 days of shooting easily turns into 3 weeks of work for the studio and myself.

The second aspect of my business comes from re-licensing my work to clients throughout the world. For this aspect of my business, there is also no agency that represents me. It is all done in house, kept very tightly regulated and controlled. This is how I like it.  All the fees are negotiated by the studio (next week I will tell you how I charge for my services).

The third, and most important part of my business is the selling of my work to collectors. Obviously, without the forty-five years of making photographs, there would be nothing to sell.  This is why I became a photographer in the first place, to create a beautiful artifact, the print.

Reproduction rights are great and an important source of income, but the actual print, created in the studio, is my life. Each image we choose to edition (and there are many) are in a lifetime edition of 25. That means (except for a few pictures that exceeded 25 before the decision was made to limit the editions) no image that is signed and editioned by me will ever exceed 25 copies. Whether edition number one is an 11 x 14 inch print and edition number two is a large mural print, the size does not matter. What matters is that there are only 25 copies made of any one image that are signed and editioned by me.

I love this. We work extremely hard on making prints that are beautiful. The black and white prints, up to a certain size are available as silver gelatin prints that are made in the darkroom or as archival pigment prints.

The prints are sold by dealers, galleries, and directly through the studio. People who are serious collectors are welcome to the studio to view the work in person and meet with me. Prices for the prints start at $3,500 for editions 1 through 5 in an 11 x 14 inch size. As a further example of pricing, edition 20 through 25, for the largest size mural print of 60 inches, is $55,000. So you can see there is a large range. This is important to me as I try to make my work available to people who seriously love it, but may not have the means to pay a great deal of money. When I was young I bought prints from many photographers that today would be considered tremendous investments. At this time there are approximately 6 to 8 images that are sold out of their edition.

There are many stories to tell about all of this, but I first wanted to lay out the groundwork. Next week the fun begins.

Comments

8 Comments »

  1. This was very interesting to read, thank you for sharing. I’m already looking forward to your next monday blogpost. :)

    Comment by els vanopstal — October 3, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

  2. Love your blog. I am looking forward to your next post. Thank you for sharing your workflow and business model.

    Comment by Shelle singer — October 4, 2011 @ 12:10 am

  3. Interesting read. Thanks.

    Comment by kieran — October 4, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

  4. I was hoping to one day find you roaming the internet.
    It all seems so simple, but a post like this opens a window into a world as exotic and unknown to most people as the furthest reaches of that place just off the edge of the map.
    The only blogs I read are those filled with honesty and personality, both of which you provide here. I hope you continue. I for one look forward to what comes next.

    Comment by Daniel Milnor — October 4, 2011 @ 5:35 pm

  5. [...] Rodney Smith, The End Starts Here. [...]

    Pingback by The Most Important Part Of My Business — October 5, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  6. Thank you Mr. Smith,
    and what a pleasure it is to be introduced to you!
    There are reads that are skimmed, forgotten, left. But I
    drank this up, belched, and then drank some more! It was
    exactly what I needed today…I look forward to reading more.
    Again, Thank you!

    Comment by Stephen J. Edgar — October 5, 2011 @ 11:07 am

  7. Wonderful! Alive, vibrant and full of character.
    And the pictures are pretty damned good, too.

    Thank you for sharing the hardest parts first.

    Comment by Dean Birinyi — October 9, 2011 @ 9:27 pm

  8. I took your workshop eighteen years ago, and to this day whenever I load a roll of Tri-X into my camera I recall what you taught us. I look forward to following your blog.
    Cheers,
    Tom

    Comment by Tom M Johnson — October 24, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

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