The 3 Most Common Types of Contracts in Magazine Photography

The 3 Most Common Types of Contracts in Magazine Photography

Bill Cramer is founder and CEO of Wonderful Machine, a curated directory of high-quality photographers, serving commercial and editorial clients worldwide. Bill helped write our most recent guide, Pricing Your Work: Magazine Photography. Below is an except from the guide. 

Photographers traditionally structure their invoices in terms of a creative fee + production expenses. The fee portion covers your talent, time, energy and the license for the client to reproduce your photographs. The expense portion covers the cost of additional personnel, materials, equipment and facilities that are sometimes required to execute a shoot.

Sometimes a photographer may choose to provide some of those expense items in-house, like when a photographer owns her own studio, has staff assistants or does her own retouching. Regardless, they are all billable items separate from the fee. And whether you’re actually breaking them out separately on the invoice or not, in order to run a profitable business, it’s important to understand where the money is coming from and where it’s going.

There are three common types of magazine contracts:

Day Rate vs. Space -

This structure is the most win-win for photographer and client. It scales the fee up and down depending on the time required to shoot the assignment and the space the photos end up occupying in the magazine. The fact is that art directors rarely know how big each story or picture will be until they actually send it off to
the presses. Between the time an assignment is made and when the magazine gets put together, changing events will affect the relative value of different stories. And when pictures or articles are unexpectedly good or bad, their prominence in the magazine will grow or shrink.

By paying photographers a minimum guarantee for their time, plus a predetermined bonus for extra pages (plus expenses), this contract allows photographers and clients to negotiate just once, then proceed with subsequent assignments with minimal negotiations.

For most magazines, $500 per day vs. $500 per page plus expenses is reasonable for first editorial print use and concurrent web use. So if they end up using one 1/2-page picture (or no picture at all), the fee is $500. If they use one full-page picture, the fee is still $500. If they use two full-page pictures, the fee would be $1,000 instead of $500.

A guideline we use to normally price cover space is $1,000 to $2,000, and the price of smaller pictures is often prorated:

  • up to 1/4-page: $200
  • up to 1/2-page: $300
  • up to 3/4-page: $400
  • up to full-page: $500
  • up to full-cover: $1,500

Flat Fee Plus Expenses -

Some clients want the convenience of paying the same rate regardless of how many pictures they use or how big. That will make sense for the photographer if the fees are high enough or if the fees are moderate and the photographer is shooting regularly for the magazine.

Sometimes they’ll win, sometimes they’ll lose, but in many cases, magazines offer a rate that’s reasonable for one 1/2-page picture, but not bigger. So this creates an awkward situation where the more productive the photographer is, the less they get paid per picture. This is not a recipe for a long-term relationship.

Flat Free All-Inclusive -

Other clients offer a flat rate including expenses. That can work fine when the expenses and the usage are very predictable and when the fee is generous enough. But photographers can be easily seduced by offers that seem great at first, but then when they actually back out all of the expenses, reality sinks in. It’s important even in these cases to work up an estimate in the usual way to see what your fee really comes out to.

Other parts of the contract to consider:

Terms and conditions. In addition to the fee and the licensing, there are a few other details you’ll want your contract to address:

  • Payment Schedule (normally 30-45 days from invoice)
  • Advance (Get expenses up front if they’re going to be more than $1,000.)
  • Copyright (Usage rights are effective upon payment in full – that way if they neglect to pay you, you can sue them for copyright infringement.)
  • Cancellation (If they arbitrarily cancel the shoot within 24 hours, they have to pay a cancellation fee at least to cover all the sub-contractors you booked.)
  • Client Representation (If they’re not going to attend the shoot to approve the shots, they have to agree to accept your interpretation of the assignment.)
  • Exclusivity/Embargo (After some reasonable amount of time – about 30 days – you can license the pictures to other clients.)
  • Indemnification (You agree to pay for each other’s attorney fees if one of you causes the other to get sued as a result of the other’s negligence.)
  • Credit (The magazine will provide a credit line with your name near your photograph.)
  • Tear Sheets (The magazine will send you a physical copy of the magazine or email you a PDF of the layout.)
  • Turnaround Time (You will charge a rush fee for file preps delivered inside of 48 hours.)

Expenses. It’s also good to have a list of potential expenses handy so when you’re putting together an estimate, you don’t forget anything. Here are the most common magazine shoot expenses (commercial rates are often higher):

  • Assistant ($200–$400/day)
  • Digital Tech (about $500/day plus workstation as necessary)
  • Digital Fee (about $300 for a web gallery)
  • File Prep Fee ($25–$50 for a reproduction file with basic touch-up)
  • Retouching ($150–$250/hour)
  • Producer or Photographer Production Days ($500–$750/day)
  • Hair/Make-Up Stylist ($600–$900/day)
  • Wardrobe Stylist ($600–$900/day)
  • Wardrobe
  • Prop Stylist ($600–$900/day)
  • Props
  • Backgrounds
  • Food Stylist ($900–$1,200/day)
  • Food (to photograph)
  • Equipment Rental
  • Studio Rental ($500–$1,500/day)
  • Location Scout ($700–$800/day)
  • Location Fee
  • Models, Casting
  • Certificate of Insurance, Permits
  • Meals, Catering
  • Mileage, Parking, Tolls
  • Vehicle Rental
  • Hotels, Airfare, Cabs, Tips

Pricing Your Work: Magazine Photography outlines what photographers should expect when pricing for magazine assignments. This guide will help you out the next time you’re developing an estimate for potential magazine assignments.

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There are 3 comments for this article
  1. steve at 6:16 am

    have read this guys rate guides a couple of times now,, and laughed myself silly, and wished myself rich – ok, in an ideal world, but having been a full time and highly published freelancer for 20 years, well it is bull – sure, fight your way into nat geo or NYT and maybe this is the way, things are way off the mark (abut 80% + off)- btw, I produce around 12 word and picture features a month in national/international mags, and still scrape by

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