Photography: The price of art

By Pippa Considine, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 30 July 2004 12:00AM

Photographers can charge two or three times more to take pictures for an ad campaign than they do for editorial work. How do they pull that one off?

If an advertiser wants to spend money on a big-name photographer, then it's quite possible to shell out £15,000 a day or more. That's a lot of fish-and-chip dinners. It's highly unlikely that the same photographer will demand that sort of money for a magazine shoot. So why charge top dollar for one and not the other?

"If it's a shot of a product that's going to sell and people are going to make money out of that product, then there's a knock-on effect," Andy Clarke, the head of art at Saatchi & Saatchi, says. Take a multimarket campaign, where one image can get exposure (and hopefully bring in sales) across a continent, even across the world. So the photographer is going to charge accordingly.

At J. Walter Thompson's boutique agency, Label, the creative director, Robin Harvey, used to work as an art director at the publishing house Conde Nast. "There's a huge difference between editorial and advertising costs," he says. Fashion photographers will do high-profile work for top magazines for very little and will sometimes even cover the costs of an editorial shoot. "But they are only able to do editorial because they have advertising," Harvey adds. "They benefit each other."

Photographers' rates can vary from £500 a day to upwards of £15,000 at the highest end. Middleweight photographers charge something from £1,800 to £2,500 for work on commercials. Of course, some jobs will be just a half-day and others will be weeks, though on any shoot the rate will vary, depending on whether the day is spent travelling, on a recce or actually shooting. And rates will usually include a standard amount for usage, which goes up if you're talking a truly major campaign.

The higher cost of ad photography isn't just opportunism. There's also the question of the alluring prospect of creative freedom for a photographer, which rarely comes with a brief for an ad. "The main difference between editorial and commercial is that they're working to a brief given by a client and an agency," Sarah Pascoe, the head of art buying at DDB London, says. "Usually, with editorial, they're almost left to themselves."

It's not always true that photographers charge huge amounts more to work on an ad. Sometimes the brief is just too tempting to resist, regardless of the money. And sometimes a photographer is just not that demanding.

Cliff Lewis, Bartle Bogle Hegarty's head of art buying, quite often gets his man (or woman) at a lower rate than advertised. Lewis takes what he terms a "pragmatic" approach to commissioning photography. "We look at the budget and we don't let that become an obstacle to using the kind of photography we want," he says.

Tighter budgets have meant that most art-buying departments have sharpened their attitude to costs. There's also been a change in the food chain, allowing agencies to call the shots.

In the past, there were definite commercials photographers; to get a foot on the ladder usually meant becoming an assistant to a name in the business, such as Nadav Kander or Lester Bookbinder, before going out on your own. Now, the field is open to photographers from other backgrounds. Slick photography is not always the brief, and photojournalism is often the order of the day.

There are still ad specialists, but there's a glut of able photographers of all kinds. Pascoe claims that she uses just 1 per cent of the many photographers whose work she considers. Unless she is completely set on using a certain name, there's plenty of room to negotiate fees downwards.

Of course, you don't need to pay a photographer's daily rates at all if you use stock shots. Libraries such as Getty and Corbis regularly supply images for ad campaigns. Alex Bortiewicz, the head of photography at the online library Alamy, maintains that using a stock shot can be more convenient and reliable as well as cheaper. "The costs of producing commercial shoots are higher - models, location scouts' fees, etc can really add up," she says.

Clarke is sceptical about library shots. "There's always something that's not quite right," he says. And he reckons that it's not always the cheaper route. "I've had experiences where we've tried to get a buyout on a shot and it would have worked out to be more expensive."

Even the top dogs will sometimes drastically reduce their rates for an ad. "If we've got a great idea we can approach a photographer and go from there," Lewis says. Pascoe cites The Guardian or Harvey Nichols as the kind of clients for which photographers might lower their rates to get a chance to shoot something particularly creative. "Their portfolio is their credentials," she says.

But sometimes it's worth spending top whack on a big name not just for the resulting image, but also for the prestige of using a high-profile photographer.

The campaign images can become a story in themselves.

There are the big boys of fashion photography, such as Glen Luchford who worked magic for Prada or Mario Testino who helped to revolutionise the Burberry image. There are celebrity specialists, such as Steven Meisel, famous for shooting Madonna. Or for something a bit over the top, David LaChappelle will guarantee glamour.

In the past, it was only the Royal photographers, Lichfield or Snowdon, who meant anything to a larger audience, but now there's a more widespread interest in photography. "You can get PR out of it," Pascoe says. "People are more visually aware and know the names of photographers. With some high-profile jobs it makes sense to pay big money for the kudos of using a particular photographer."

But, Harvey warns, if you're buying into a photographer with his or her own style, you have to be careful how you brief them. He says that clients and agencies all too often use well-known photographers and then box them in.

The result is bland images that don't exploit the photographer's talent.

"If you're going to use top photographers, you need to work with them, otherwise you might as well hire anyone," he says.

ARE STOCK SHOTS FOR ADS MORE EXPENSIVE TOO?

They must feel like tourists. One price for them, less than half that for everyone else. For art buyers, going to an image library also means paying big bucks for the privilege of using a picture in an ad.

But how much more? And are the reasons art directors pay more than newspaper editors the same?

Broadly, yes. "A commercial photograph is seen as an investment rather than a straight cost," Giles Howard, the managing director of Corbis, explains. Also, agencies buy exclusive rights, whereas an editorial shot can be used by rival papers, which pushes down the price.

It is difficult to put a figure on how big the gap between editorial and commercial use of imagery is because the rates vary hugely. But on average, Howard says, a commercial shot will cost you two or three times more.

Quality, resolution and resizing are factors, too. A commercial image is usually around 50 megabytes while a picture for a newspaper between eight and ten megs. But that has little bearing on price. Resizing a shot, say to blow it up for a billboard, costs around £50 extra.

Rarely are images licensed for both editorial and commercial use, but Corbis has selected two classics which have featured in countless ads and articles since they were first taken. Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out was used in Apple's "think different" campaign and the Financial Times used it for the cover of one of its supplements last September.

The famous image of New York construction workers lunching on a crossbeam has been used in ads for Olympus and, again, Apple.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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