Our photography business practices

Frequently Asked Questions


1: How long have you been in business?

Just over 30 years. That includes 15 years with a daily paper and 13 years stringing for two wire services. Editorial work beyond the newspaper has included lots of business portraits, custom and corporate magazines, annual reports, public relations and corporate event coverage. Commercial assignments have included retail ads, posters, book covers, calendars (powerboats, motorcycles, swimsuit models), video and record album covers, new houses (interiors and exteriors), resort hotels (interiors and exteriors), and I forget what else.

2: Why should we hire you?

I know that the photos I produce must serve your business communications purpose first and foremost. You don't want just pretty pictures. You need photos that work to enhance your brand and add credibility to your business message.

Having photographed an emperor, kings, queens, princes, princesses, a Dalai Lama, prime ministers, presidents, international diplomats and executives, I know how to conduct myself properly.

For better or worse, I sweat the small details in every picture so you never have to. I also understand that "customer service" is a verb.

3: How are you different from other photographers?

Many years of newspaper experience has taught me how to produce a good picture of anything, anytime, anywhere, and have that picture say something.

Great technique is important but nothing tops human interest. I know how to find and enhance human interest in almost any situation. Real people doing real things is the number one attention-getter.

Quality photography is not just about making great pictures, it's also knowing how to edit properly. Good editing comes from a combination of understanding photography and knowing what the client needs. Successful pictures don't just happen by themselves.

4: What type of photography do you specialize in?

On-location editorial and commercial photography for use in media handouts, press kits, public relations, company web sites, social media and other marketing materials.

Corporate photography for companies, from small to multinational, that understand the value of using quality photography to enhance the perceived value of their business.

Business portraits, customer or testimonial portraits, business conferences, annual reports, public relations, corporate library photography, corporate magazines, factory and office photography are some of what I do.

5: What's the difference between editorial, commercial and retail photography?

Editorial photography is for informational or journalistic purposes. It's used in newspapers, magazines and books. Editorial photography provides information rather than trying to sell something. Corporate photographers often shoot editorial photography.

Commercial photography is used to sell or promote a product or service. This photography includes advertising, publicity, public relations, marketing materials, product packaging, etc. This broad category includes both corporate and advertising photography.

Retail photography is purchased directly by the consumer and is for personal use. This is mostly family portraits, family events, school portraits, pet portraits and weddings.

The difference between these categories is not so much the photography but rather the use of that photography. For example:

  • A newspaper hires a photographer to do a portrait of a company executive for a newspaper story about that executive. This is editorial photography.
  • A business hires a photographer to do a portrait of its executive for the company's annual report. This is corporate photography (also considered commercial photography in a very broad sense).
  • An ad agency hires a photographer to do a portrait of a company executive for one of the company's upcoming advertisements. This is commercial photography.
  • The executive hires a photographer to do a family portrait of herself and her children. This is retail photography.

6: Why do we need a professional photographer?

A professional quality photo isn't created just by owning an expensive camera. It comes from the professional photographer's technical skill, creative talent and experience. A professional can be relied upon to always get the best pictures. This helps you minimize risk which can save you time and money.

A professional photographer can usually anticipate a problem and then deal with it before it becomes a problem. Even if something unplanned should happen, a professional knows how to react and recover. This saves you time and money.

The right photographer is not the cheapest one. It's the photographer who understands what you need and then delivers as promised.

An amateur knows how to push the shutter button on a camera. But a professional knows when to push that button. This is a subtle but very important difference.

A professional has a lot at stake on every job while an amateur has nothing to lose. Can your business afford to have an amateur practice photography at your expense?

7: Why can't we use low cost or free stock photos?

Here's a 2010 study showing why a business should avoid cheap photography.

People are visual, newspapers and magazines are visual, the Web is visual. Authentic photos of your products and key employees are a must. These pictures give your customers a sense of what they're buying and with whom they're doing business. Stock pictures say nothing about your company except that you're cheap.

A photo can instantly answer a customer's many questions about your product or your company. A photo really can be worth a thousand words. Stock pictures can't do this.

Using stock pictures, or no photos at all, can actually create questions or doubts about your business. This will leave your customers' wallets closed.

Only authentic photography can tell your story to your customers. Remember that the pictures your business uses are not for you; they're for your customers. Do your customers deserve stock pictures or real pictures?

8: Do you have a studio?

I specialize in location photography and will bring the studio to you. If the need arises, I can rent studio space. I have about 18 years of studio experience and was a newspaper's go-to photographer whenever studio lighting was required.

9: Is your business insured?

Yes, $2M commercial liability insurance and this can be enhanced to suit your needs.

10: What information do you need for a photo estimate?

A photographer needs lots of information from you before they can provide an estimate or quote. If a photographer asks only where and when the assignment is, then you've got the wrong photographer.

Not all of these may be applicable, but a photographer might need to know:

  • How will the images be used? (Newspaper ad, company web site, annual report, book cover, brochure, etc.)
  • Where will the photos be used? (Locally, nationally, worldwide)
  • How long will the photos be used? (Just once, a few months, years, forever)
  • What message or idea are you trying to convey?
  • Is there a style or look that you want or don't want?
  • What's the purpose of the portrait? (Press release, annual report, book cover, magazine ad, etc.)
  • Should a portrait use a studio-type backdrop or will a location serve as the background? What look or mood do you prefer? (The purpose of a portrait may dictate the background.)
  • Does a headshot have to match an existing portrait?
  • For event coverage, about how many pictures do you need? (A dozen, several dozen, more?)
  • For events, do you have specific coverage needs? (Full coverage may require more than one photographer.)
  • If you let the photographer know your budget, the photographer can let you know what's possible. For example, if your budget is $500, you might get two hours of conference coverage. But if your budget is $2,000, you could get all-day coverage. You will never, ever get $2,000 worth of photography for $500.

Pricing and Fees:

11: What do you charge for...?

The short answer is that the price depends on the exact details of the photography and each job is different.

The long answer is that a photographer's fee is usually based on two things:

  • the photography (photo fee plus expenses) and
  • the picture usage.

Some photographers will lump everything together into one number while others will itemize everything.

The photography fee (also called "creative fee") compensates the photographer for their experience, talent, time, the assignment logistics, etc.

Expenses cover the cost of assistants, stylists, equipment rentals, consumables, etc.

Picture usage (also called "licensing") compensates the photographer for the use, or value, of the pictures. This fee depends on where, how and how long the pictures are to be used. Licensing is the common standard for most intellectual property, including books, movies, music, software, artwork, etc.

Two everyday examples of licensing:

  • It costs one price to license one copy of software. But if everyone in your office needs to use the same software, then the licensing fee goes up. More usage means a higher fee.
  • Buying a song for personal use is inexpensive. But if you want to use that song in a movie soundtrack then the price goes up. Commercial use means a higher fee.

12: Why don't you charge by the hour?

Charging by the hour means:

  • It's to my benefit to work slowly. (Customer loses).
  • Jobs that require complex lighting or long equipment setup times would cost more. (Customer loses).
  • A picture that's used only on a business card would cost the same as a picture that's used in full-page magazine ads. (Customer loses).
  • Customers become fixated on hourly rates and shop only price. (Customer loses).
  • The value of photography is measured by time. (Everyone loses).
  • Some customers expect the photo fee to be prorated down to the minute and sometimes even right down to the time actually spent pushing the shutter button. (Photographer loses).

The above issues might be avoided if a photographer uses variable hourly rates but that would defeat the purpose of having hourly rates.

Pricing based on photography plus usage means you pay only for what you need.

13: But I can get a portrait done at Sears for $7.99.

Department store and grocery store portraits are done at a loss. Cheap portraits are a loss leader to get you into the store to buy groceries, shoes, gardening supplies or whatever else. It's all about volume, not one-to-one customer service.

Do the math. Low price needs high volume. High volume demands minimal customer service and minimal product care.

As a photography specialist, I produce custom photographs at your convenience, at your location, at your specifications, at your deadline, to suit your needs.

Why risk your business image to a minimum wage, department store part-time clerk?

On April 6th, 2013, Sears (USA) and Walmart (USA) respectively closed all or some of their portrait studios. The company that operates these in-store studios has been annually losing tens of millions of dollars. Talk about being a loss leader.

14: Do we get a discount for multiple business portraits?

Absolutely yes! As long as each person is photographed with the same lighting setup, in the same location, at a similar time, most photographers will offer a discount.

For example, rather than having me come to your office four times in a month to photograph one person each time, you could save about a thousand dollars by having all four people photographed on the same day.

15: What is "post-processing" and why is there an extra charge for it?

In the old days, film was sent to a lab for processing into usable negatives or transparencies, and maybe also proofs or contact sheets. All of this cost extra.

Today, all digital files need to be processed into usable "digital negatives." Post-processing is not retouching.

A raw file is the first draft. A post-processed image is the finished product.

Post-processing might take a few minutes per picture or it could take ten to twenty minutes. Now multiply that by the total number of pictures. This can add up to many hours of computer work. That's why there's an extra charge.

Basic post-processing includes corrections for crop, colour balance, contrast, brightness, saturation, perspective, sharpness and lens aberrations; minor defects and blemishes are removed; full IPTC (caption) information is added.

If you require special keywording or captioning to suit your business needs or archiving system, let us know and we will do it for you.

Pushing a camera shutter button only starts the picture, it doesn't finish it.

16: If we give you a credit line, will you do the job for free? It'll be good exposure for you.

Unfortunately, credit lines can't pay for cameras, computers, software, utility bills, groceries or anything else.

While some may think that a credit line has promotional value to a photographer, that's not often the case. Of course, this is not to say that photo credits can be left out. Remember that credit lines are the law in Canada.

17: Can I get the receipts for your expenses?

No. I'm an independent contractor not an employee. Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) requires me to have all receipts to verify the expenses listed on tax form T2125. The CRA does not require any customer to have any of these receipts. Yes, some expenses are marked up. Yes, this is a standard practice of all businesses.

Copyright and Licensing:

18: Why is copyright important?

Like all other creators of intellectual property, such as architects, designers, illustrators, writers, musicians, painters, performers, sculptors, filmmakers and software engineers, a photographer can – and must – control the use of their work. This is called “copyright”.

If a photographer loses the copyright to their images, they lose not only the use of those pictures but also all future income from them. Loss of future income equals loss of business success.

Maintaining copyright is not about artistic ego. It's about business survival and, hopefully, profitability, for which all businesses strive. Simply put, a photographer who doesn't care about copyright is not a professional.

All individuals and businesses, including your business, can benefit from copyright and other intellectual property rights.

19: If I own the picture, don't I also own the copyright?

Physical ownership doesn't equal copyright ownership. As you probably already know: when you download software or music, you own the digital file but not the copyright to that software or music; when you buy a DVD movie, you own the plastic disc but not the movie copyright; when you buy a book, you own the paper but not the copyright to the book. Photography is the same.

There's a reason why a farmer keeps the cow and sells only the milk. Unless otherwise agreed, we retain copyright ownership in everything we create and license usage rights to the customer. Licensing is the common practice for all intellectual property.

20: Can my license be changed later to allow for more usage?

Yes! If you later decide that you'd like to use a photo in some other way or for a longer period of time than in the original license, just let us know and we'd be happy to negotiate a change to your existing license. Extended licenses are almost always discounted from the initial licence.

21: Can I buy all rights?

This is always very expensive, as “all rights” includes at least 50 years of: editorial rights in all countries; advertising use in all media in all countries; worldwide TV and movie rights; book publishing rights in all languages; product rights for such things as calendars, posters, coffee mugs, mouse pads and T-shirts; resale and sub-licensing rights.

Also, if professional models were used in the photos, their fees may also have to be increased to compensate them for the increased photo usage.

Buying “all rights” is like buying a hotel when you just need a room for a week. It's like buying a car when you really only need a weekend rental. Very rarely, if ever, would a client need to own all copyrights to any image.

A few more:

22: What does your photography contract say?

Like many other businesses, all professional photographers condition their work on a contract or a set of "Terms and Conditions" (T&C). Here's a look at my T&C.

23: What should I wear for my business portrait?

Generally, medium to darker tones, ideally solid colours, no bold patterns. If no jacket is worn, wear a long-sleeved shirt. Here's a post with some business portrait tips.

24: What if I choose the wrong portrait of myself?

You will not be stuck with a portrait you don't like. If you're not completely happy with the business portrait you've selected, you can exchange the picture for another one.

After your finished business portrait has been delivered, if you have a change of heart then just let us know.