Upload & Sell: On
Joe is a hoot isn't he Jeff. I guess I should be (and I was) thankful, my last 2013 check from Getty was $1562.37, representing about six weeks of sales. What Joe describes is reality. I have no idea what his bottom line is annually, but as you mentioned a page or two ago, he has overhead. The guys that shot for Geographic had big budgets thrown at them, but the logistics and time involved on those assignments ate those numbers up pretty quickly. The Geographic has always been great at figuring what an assignment might run, but factoring in that the photographer gets a bump from being a "National Geographic Photographer", so the shooters didn't deposit what you might imagine. The downside for Geographic shooters has always been that they spend much of their career in a tree warding off malaria, waiting for the shot that will save them the verbal abuse festival that Geographic editors are so famous for, along with getting them selected for the next eight months in a sleeping bag at 19,000' assignment. While those guys are out doing what they do, assignments of all denominations are being awarded around the world, some of which are actually lucrative for the photographers involved. Geographic guys understand the in's and out of landing editorial assignments, but they are pretty much clueless when it relates to agency and corporate work. In addition, they've been out of pocket so much of their career that they don't have the relationships and the network.
Oddly, assistants aren't terribly expensive, 200 to 1,000 bucks a day depending upon skill level. The low end being someone who has the "skill" to schlep bags and set up light stands, the upper number is someone who will unpack all your gear, then do a pretty competent job of getting the first composition lit, while the photographer stretches and sips his or her Cappuccino, arriving an hour or two after everyone else. The best way to build a relationship with an assistant that you feel has the chops to be a great photographer down the line, is to hire them full time. The upside is they'll always be available, and you know what you're getting. The downside is, you're training someone to snatch your client list once they have enough knowledge to shoot for them. That might seem harsh, but it's reality, and the scenario repeats itself over and over. Can't blame the assistants, anyone with any moxie wants their own gig, you just have to decide if you're willing to put yours at risk to lighten your load for a time. A single decent full time assistant will add a minimum of 50K to your expenses and double the expense portion of every quote. Gone are the days that agencies preferred that you have multiple assistants because they billed the end client a percentage of the cost of the shoot, more cost meant more money to them. That isn't how it's done anymore, the market place has pared their pricing to the bone. In many cases an assistant will cost you the assignment. Editorially speaking, just look at the aviation publications who used to hire freelancers for their feature articles every month, in many cases the editors are now the photographers as well. FLYING, Plane & Pilot, Pilot Journal, Warbird Digest, the list goes on and on. They all represent business that is no longer there for the freelance shooter, except for an occasional stock image sale and that won't float the boat.
I am very grateful for the steady flow of assignments that I'm blessed with, but you all are witnesses to the vigilance it takes to keep the pipeline full. One has to be as adept at knocking on doors and maximizing every relationship, as you do being technically competent.The photographer with loads of talent, great equipment, and lots of time on his or her hands has been a common thread running through our industry, and long before digital made virtually everyone a pro.