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Written by William Manning

How much is a photo worth? This is not an easy question to answer and in many cases we as photographers have little or no say on what price is placed on a photo sold through a third party. What we do have control over is either play the game and hope for the best or sell directly to the client and work assignments. There really is no easy answer. The advantage of selling through a stock photography agency is their marketing resources. They can reach a world wide audience with a wide variety of pictures for the client to choose from, where we as individual photographers will never have the ability to reach such a vast market nor do we have the image selection to offer a potential buyer. The other choice is assignment work, and the truth is these are hard to come by and in many cases don’t pay well (of course this depends on the type of assignment). What I suggest to photographers who want to make a living or generate a supplemental income from photography are two things, understand the market that will use your genre of photography and two, know what you have invested in creating your pictures and what you have invested in time to get your photos into the market place.

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Lokrum Island and Cruise Ship off the coast of Croatia in the Adriatic Sea. This has been a good selling stock image.

I want to focus this post on the investment we as photographers have in creating our images. I think it will open many eyes and I believe those that are serious about making money, it will help you in deciding on a direction for selling your work. Before I dive into this, I want to briefly take a look at business. I think we all can agree that as photographers, we take pride in the product we create with our cameras. Agree, if not than you’re probably not going to do well selling your work. If you’re one of those who take pride in your product then I want to share a tip with you, people and businesses all over the world who might use your picture also take pride in their product or service. Why is this important? Because we are all trying to make a profit or generate venue in a challenging market. When a business produces an advertisement, writes an article, creates a product, etc… they have invested money and lots of it, therefore they have to recoup this investment plus add a mark up. Often, I believe many photographers overlook their investment when selling their photos. If a company chooses to use your photograph to help sell their product, service or deliver their message than they saw something in that photo they felt will do exactly that, sell or at the very least attract a viewers attention. They like your photo, no different than the advertising agency they hired, or the graphic designer, the writer, or the media outlet. That client carefully chooses who and what will be involved in getting the word out about their company, and it all comes with a price tag.

Imagine advertisements, product labels, newspapers, magazines, websites, etc… with no pictures. How well do you think these things would sell? I would guess not very well, in fact online magazines are using many more visuals to tell a story because people are reading less. Pictures help sell and/or capture the attention of an audience. Are your pictures important? You better believe they are.

Costs of Doing Business

Let’s take a look at what we have in invested in creating our photography. The numbers I mention from this point on are real numbers (unless otherwise noted) that I compiled from my own records. I also want to state these numbers can and probably would change depending on the subject and also the outlet in which they are sold. Most of the sales numbers in my case came from Corbis with a much smaller percentage of sales coming from Alamy.

Before I (we)  can create a single image I need equipment. This list obviously will vary depending on the photographer. The following is a list of equipment I use on a regular basis with the exception of the Canon 500mm lens.

Camera Equipment: (some of these numbers may be a little conservative, but fairly close)

Canon 5D … $3500, Canon 1D Mark II … $4500, Canon 17-40mm … $680, Canon 24-105mm … $1250, Canon 100-400mm … $1300, Canon 500mm … $5300, Canon 24mm TS … $1050, Canon 1.4 and 2X tele … $325, Canon 550 flash … $300, Gitzo Tripod … $350, Really Right Stuff Ballhead … $500, Camera and lens plates … $400, Camera bag … $250, Memory Cards … $300, Laptop … $3000, Portable Hardrives … $300.

Total Camera Equipment Investment: $23,305

Office Equipment:

Apple G-5 … $4300, Apple 30″ Monitor … $1800, Calibration Software … $300, Adobe Photoshop … $699, Adobe Lightroom … $399, Photo Mechanic … $150, DXO … $299, Nik Software … $399, Wacom Tablet … $250, Multiple External harddrives … $800, Books … $150, Laser Printer … $460.

Total Office Equipment Investment: $10,006.

Items that keep my office running:

Web Hosting … $300, Website Software … $699, Business Stationary … $150, Shipping (stamps, FedEx, etc…) … $500-$600, Continuing Education (workshops, seminars, etc…) … $200 – $800.

Total: $1849. (using the lower numbers) These number do not include utilities, which I did not include because I have a home office, but it is still an expense in itself.

The numbers above will vary from photographer to photographer, but if you are truly wanting to generate income from your photography you need to take a real look at these expenses. The total from the three categories above total $35,150. You might say, “some of these are one time costs”. True to some extent, but you will replace equipment from time to time as new technology is developed or simple ware and tear on the equipment. Computers and hard drives go down and technology changes. Software updates every couple of years, this is also an expense that needs to be taken into consideration. Running the office has its costs. As you can see I already have a pretty good overhead before I create any photos.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at two examples and break down expenses and income. You might be surprised.

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Note: I’m a contributer to the Photobizcoach blog, for photo techniques and travel locations visit my Photoconnection blog.

© William Manning: all material on this blog is the copyright of William Manning. No reproduction on this material is allowed without written permission from the author/photographer.

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