Fair Pricing of Student Photography

Regularly, advisers to student publications try to appropriate student photography, writing, graphics and video as belonging to the Journalism Department where they advise, or to the college or university. They are wrong.

Until a student publication gives the student journalist a salary, all their equipment, health benefits and a W-2 form from which to file income taxes, student work remains the property of the student who created it. As soon as the student creates it, the student owns it.

Advisers who come from newspapers often do not understand this law. Newspapers have been notorious for not respecting their own copyrights; even throwing away vast files of images. Advisers coming from the magazine world are used to negotiating rights from independent photographers and writers and cartoonists. Yes, many ill-mannered editors and photo agencies will attempt to force a photographer to give away the copyright, but good photographers know that is when one walks away from that job or agency.

You create it, you own it!

Student media advisers often have no idea what an image is worth. Again, they usually come from the newspaper world where deep staffs mean few outside stories are purchased. For any student media adviser, permit me to discuss the formula for pricing student photographs.

One must take the following into consideration:

  • One must first determine the amount of equipment taken to the shoot.
  • One must determine the time it took to shoot.
  • One must determine the use to be made of the image.
  • One must determine the amount of time it takes to prepare the JPEG for the client.

Now, let's apply it:

Most of my students use their own photo gear. They generally have $2,000 in equipment in their camera bags. It costs about $75 per day at Samy's to rent a D-70 and lens. So figure to rent the camera bag costs $200. Most students do not carry insurance on their gear, so dropping a piece of gear is a disaster. You must calculate self-insurance into any costs, thus the rental charge.

And don't forget that $2,500 Macintosh computer most photogs carry.

Day rate for a competent shooter (above Photo 102) is $75 an hour or $450 per day (how long the day is negotiated). Also, one has a an equal time of prep before each assignment and an equal time of editing after each assignment. End result, if one charges $450 for one day, one will work 24 man-hours. The average photographer earns only $20 per hour once prep, shooting and editing are accurately calculated.

(Now, there are those who say the shooter was already at the event. Selling the image is clear profit. Not really! If you play Cheap Charlie when you're young, you'll get tagged as a cheap photographer. YOUNG PHOTOGRAPHERS AND WRITERS MUST GET THEIR PRICES UP AT THE START OF THEIR CAREERS TO AVOID BEING TAGGED AS HACKS! Ben Newby of The Tulsa Tribune taught me this and it worked for 20 years. We are training pros, aren't we?)

The use of the image is important. THE USE OF THE IMAGE MUST BE RESTRICTED IN A SIGNED CONTRACT WITH THE BUYER. (A hand-written letter of intent, written by the buyer, is a very solid contract.) If the buyer just wants to frame it for his mother, it has one value. If it is for the PR department's brochure, one must price it as if a pro was called in to shoot the PR brochure. And if it is one of a kind, negotiate for the best price possible. If a student athlete becomes a Laker, the photographer wants to protect that shot for the time the athlete is featured in SI.

Absolute minimum prices, based on American Society of Media Photographers' rate sheets, for photographs sold with signed contracts.

  • Framed picture: $20 (It took the photog an hour just to PhotoShop the image on her computer)
  • Image of PR Brochure (one-time use): $250
  • Image being used in a PR campaign (multiple use, billboards, etc.): $1,000
  • Future NBA athletes behaving badly: $25,000

So many instructors and newspaper editors see the sale of an image shot on location as "pen money." Found dollars.

If a student is to buy the next lens, the next Lightroom software, the photographer must charge a living wage. I say that because I put myself through East Los Angeles College and the University of Missouri as a photographer. And today, because I protected the copyright, my images are in the Western History Archive at the University of Oklahoma preserved for generations of researchers to come—including the images I shot at ELAC when I was just a student.

Students often under-charge for expenses, too. If you paid for it, invoice it. Make your own Invoice.

"Get a complete education in Copyright by reading James Boyle's THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: Enclosing the Commons of the mind"

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