Pricing Your Work, Tip #3: 6 Ways to Help You Profit from Magazine Assignments

Pricing Your Work, Tip #3: 6 Ways to Help You Profit from Magazine Assignments

This is the third in a series of blog posts exploring pricing your work from our 3 free guides written with Bill Cramer, CEO of Wonderful Machine. We’ll be sharing tips via the blog this week on how to price your magazine photography, corporate & industrial photography, and photojournalism. Get the guide Pricing Your Work: Magazine Photography here.


Knowing the correct protocol to take before signing any kind of contract will help you determine if a magazine assignment will be profitable for your business. Here are six tips from Bill Cramer, founder and CEO of Wonderful Machine, from our free guide, Pricing Your Work: Magazine Photography.

1. Be prepared when a client calls.

When you get a call from a magazine about a potential assignment, you have to be prepared to respond appropriately. You’ll normally hear from the art director (at a smaller magazine) or a photo editor (at a larger magazine).

They will often be working on a fairly tight deadline, so you’ll need to be pretty decisive. They’ll briefly describe the project and they’ll want to know whether you’re interested and available. If the answer is yes to both, you’ll need to know more details.

2. Ask questions.

When you speak to a potential client on the phone, you won’t want to jump into a conversation about money right off the bat. Listen carefully as they describe the project, and be prepared to ask as many questions as necessary in order to visualize what you have to do to execute the job and to work up a quote.

If you’re an established photographer and you get the feeling that it might be a low-budget job, you won’t want to spend a lot of time talking creative before finding out what their budget is. But otherwise, we suggest asking all the other questions first. As a matter of style, it’s important to show that you’re interested in doing the assignment. Asking the right questions will demonstrate your enthusiasm for the project, and it will also give the client the confidence that you know what you’re doing.

You’ll need to understand the assignment from a creative standpoint, from a production standpoint and from a licensing standpoint. Some questions you’ll need to ask the client, others you’ll just need to ask yourself.

Photo by Jim Jordan

Photo by Jim Jordan

3. Understand the client’s creative needs and expectations.

What’s the subject of the assignment? What’s the story about? What genre of photography are they looking for: portraiture, fashion, still life, architecture, reportage, travel? Do they have a draft you can read? (The text can often inspire picture ideas, but if you do get a copy of the story, do not show it to the subject.) Are there pictures in your portfolio or on the web that are similar to what they’re looking for? What do they envision for the shoot?

Sometimes a photo editor is going to have a specific concept or style in mind that they’ll want you to adapt to. Other times, they’re going to want you to come up with the concept and do it in your own style. It’s important to have a clear understanding of their expectations and what’s appropriate for that publication.

4. Understand the Client’s Production Needs and Expectations.

Before you have a conversation about money, you need a clear concept of what work actually has to happen (and by whom) to get the job done. Some shoots will just require your camera, your subject and your imagination. Others will involve assistants, lighting equipment, sets, stylists, props, wardrobe, locations and more. You will have to learn what level of production is appropriate for different types of assignments. If it’s a small photo in a small magazine, you might have to beg, borrow and steal to make the picture the way you want to. If it’s a feature or cover for a big magazine, they’ll probably have the budget to pay for all that stuff. Think about the final picture in your head and work backwards, listing all of the things you’ll need to get there.

For example, if you’re shooting a magazine cover and your subject is a woman, you will al- most always have professional hair and make-up. If it’s a man, you’ll usually just bring your own powder and bib and make him up yourself. For many shoots, the stylist can make a huge difference—perhaps none more so than food stylists. If you’re shooting models in the dessert, will you need a mobile home to do hair, make-up and wardrobe in? If it’s just you and your assistant, you’ll probably get your meals on the fly, but if your shoot involves cast, crew and clients, you’ll need to arrange for catering. Are you going to pay for the location or can the magazine offer them a credit in lieu of a fee? When you have a lot of production elements to arrange, who’s going to handle it? In many cases, the photo editor will act as producer. But if you’re doing it yourself or your assistant, studio manager or a professional producer is doing it, you’ll want to make sure you get compensated not only for those out- of-pocket costs but for organizing those production elements too.

Photo by Steve Boyle

Photo by Steve Boyle

5. Know How the Client Wants to License Your Photos.

Generally, at the very least, they’ll want to publish them in the print version of the magazine. And these days, most magazines will want to use the pictures on their website and in the tablet version of their publication. But there may be other things they want as well. Do they want to be able to reuse the pictures in future editions of their magazine? How about foreign edition use? Pro- motional use? Article reprint use? Other third-party use? Some photographers will naively give away these additional rights without knowing that they’re often worth more than the original shoot.

For example, when a magazine licenses an article reprint, that constitutes commercial rather than editorial use, and it can be worth a lot. Then there’s the issue of “space.” A cover picture is worth more than an inside picture. Several large pictures inside the magazine are worth more than one small picture. If it’s your first magazine assignment and you’re just happy to be published, or if you make a ton of money on ad shoots and just shoot editorial for fun, it might not be an important consideration for you. But if you want magazine photography to be a significant part of your business (and if you care about how your actions impact other photographers), you’ll make yourself aware of all these factors and you’ll negotiate to get full value for your efforts.

6. Read the Contract First; Don’t Agree to Anything Over the Phone.

Now that you’ve got your head around the project itself, it’s time to talk money. Most magazines will have a budget in mind and a standard contract that they’ll want you to sign. We recommend that you never, ever agree to anything over the phone with anyone you haven’t worked with before. It’s too easy for you or your client to forget the details of a phone conversation. Instead, tell them that you’ll take a look at their contract and you’ll get right back to them. Some magazine contracts ask for the world, and they expect to get it. Some ask for the world and expect photographers to cross stuff out. Others just offer reasonable terms to begin with. It’s your job to make sure that the fee they’re offering is commensurate with the time, energy, talent and licensing you’re providing.

Your negotiating leverage is a function of how much they want you to shoot the job, how much you need the work, and your willingness to walk away from a bad deal. Most magazines have a fixed budget and they’re willing to negotiate usage. Other magazines won’t want you to modify their contract, but they’re willing to bend on the fee. For some magazines, it’s just take-it-or-leave-it.

Let’s get started with tips for pricing your magazine work, you can get the guide here:


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This article was written by

Marketing associate at PhotoShelter

There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Tom Parkes at 12:41 pm

    On the subject of contracts (6.) if you’re just starting out, be aware that photographers DO quibble contracts all of the time and your contact will probably not take offence. In fact, if the contract is unreasonable, they may well be on your side and work with you to reach agreement. Some publishers have several contracts ranging from all rights forever down to what they actually need but your contact is being obliged by their employer to issue the most all encompassing version first. Personally, I’d be cautious of simply striking out parts of contracts you don’t like. You may find that no one ever actually reads the returned contract and your amendments go unnoticed.

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