Live From the Inbox

I get a fair bit of email asking me for advice, explanations, etc., and while I try to keep up with it, I have to admit that sometimes I get pretty much overwhelmed and give up on it. Having emailed photographers myself, asking for help, I know it sucks to get no reply, but the truth is that I average around 30+ emails a day, and at least that many phone calls and text messages, between clients, friends, a lover, and of course other photographers. And I spam-blocked my own Flickr-mail account long ago, when I was getting inundated with “so-and-so made you a Contact!” emails. So if you’re Flickr-mailing me, don’t expect a response anytime soon – I check it (maybe) once a month, if I’m not too busy.

Anyway, what I’m getting to here is that I thought this might be an opportunity to start a new series: Live From the Inbox. Why waste a good response to a great question on just one person? So below are a sample of questions that have come in lately, in the hopes that there might be a gem or two of information that more than one person can use.

David writes: “…I am beginning the adventure of real estate photography and showcasing, mostly by way of virtual tour. I consider my self to  be a fair talent as have been doing this for about a year now but i am having some difficulty pricing my work.  My problem, as I ‘m sure most photogs trying to go full time,  is  trying to get a fair value for my efforts  without going crazy or at the same time undervaluing the trade…I was curious if you would have any advice on where the price point (ball park )  would be on full house coverage..”

Dear David: I’ve been meaning to write a full blog post on this for a long time.  Pricing varies quite a bit regionally, and not just based on overall cost of living, either. Some cities just have better-developed PFRE markets than others, and where there’s good market awareness (such as in Seattle, or Brisbane, Australia) photographers can get higher rates simply because pro photography is considered absolutely necessary, not just a frill. In Pahrump, Nevada, things might be different. That said, there are a few points to consider.

First off, you need to do your due diligence and figure out your true cost of doing business (CDB). It’s a pain in the butt exercise that will pay off big time later on. I’m assuming you’ve already done this. Next, find out what the competition is charging. Obeo and CirclePix have pretty comprehensive coverage in North America, so start with their websites. Vicaso, Open2View, and other chains are good to look up, too. Believe me — your target clients have received plenty of marketing from those companies!

Larry Lohrman once opined that you could estimate the fair value of real estate photography by pegging it to the cost of a furnace inspection, multiplied by 1.7. I thought this was wacky as hell when I first read it, but it actually works pretty good. While you’re finding out the cost of furnace inspections, check into window washing, too. What do they charge? How about the cleaning service? Landscape/lawn care guy? Termite inspector? You need to know what the typical expenditures are that your clients are making, and you need to know where you fit in terms of value. I can tell you, I was shocked to find out what the window washers charge around here, and it emboldened me to raise my rates. I mean no disrespect to the window washing crew, but dammit, my overhead is a little higher than theirs is!

Absolute $$ amounts are useless here, because of the regional discrepancies I described above, but in my experience, talking with a lot of photographers from different areas, the “normal” range seems to be $125 – $400 for delivery of 12-15 still photos. Whether you’re positioned at the low end or the high end of that scale will depend on many, many factors, including your skill, your reputation, your networking abilities, and where you live and work. I could go on and on with this, and I probably will devote a full blog post to the subject at some point, but hopefully this gives you something to think about!

Moving on….

Anonymous writes: “…Do you know of an alternative tripod similar to the Slik SDV 20 you mention on your Gear Bag video?  I noticed in one of your shooting videos that you keep your umbrella semi closed sometimes.  May I ask why you do that?  What effect does that have over a fully open umbrella?”

Dear Anonymous:  You’re right – sadly the Slik SVD-20 was discontinued…but there are a few good options out there. The best Slik tripod I see now is the U8000, but models come and go pretty quickly at the low price points. I’m using a bunch of Sliks that I found in the bargain bin at my local camera store — they were already discontinued before I even discovered them! What you’re looking for is a video tripod that is as tall as possible (I wouldn’t buy one that was less than 55″ high) and as light and skinny as possible.

As for umbrellas, the reason to use an umbrella in a partially collapsed position is to make it smaller. That’s good in situations where you’re positioning it carefully in a “safe zone” between two reflective surfaces, but you don’t have enough room for the full diameter of your brolly. For example, I use the Westcott 43″ double-folds, and sometimes despite my sneakiest positioning, I’m still catching the edge of the umbrella in a window. If it’s just the edge, I can just collapse the thing partway (this is where the double-fold umbrellas really shine) and make it’s size small enough to avoid the reflection. Sure, the smaller size means a smaller light source, but it’s usually still big enough, and certainly better than nothing at all.

Let’s see….what’s next…..

Anonymous writes: “…How do you deliver your photos to your clients? Do you make an online slideshow and have your clients link to this site via the MLS or their personal page? I noticed that you have a clients-only area on your page. Do you simply upload the finished photos and have your client download single photos to display themselves?”

Dear Anonymous:  I deliver images as JPGs (usually) via the Client Area on my website. My website was built by LiveBooks and they have a pretty good back end that allows me to upload Zip archives, and generates a link that I can email back to my client for download. My clients can also enter a password and access all of their projects that are stored on my site. I don’t make slideshows or websites or any of that stuff — clients just download their photos and then create the presentation themselves.

And one last one…

Anonymous writes: “…I just dropped one of my SB-80’s, and the battery compartment flung open, but it seems the flash still functions… I just want to know how much abuse it can take before I need to replace it.”

Dear Anonymous:  They can take an amazing amount of abuse!! I’ve dropped mine from 12 feet up onto a marble floor, and they still work. Not saying you can’t break one, but it’s astonishing how tough they are. Way better than, say, the SB-600, which seems to break if you look at it cross-eyed.

OK, that’s it for now. I’ll leave you with this bit of advice. If you’re going to email someone asking for help, follow the norms of letter-writing. Everyone who wrote in above did so in a courteous and clear manner (I redacted everything but the core questions). All the emails started off with a “Hi Scott”, or “Dear Mr. Hargis”, or “Hello.” Everyone signed their name to their email (I forgot to copy all the names, hence the “Anonymous” thing), and everyone used more or less standard English. Call me old-fashioned, but if you email me like this next guy did, be assured your message will get deleted immediately, or possibly mocked on this blog:

“Hey – i need ur help fast, how do U shoot interiors have a big shoot coming up, send me ur tips thx.”

Like, whatever, Dude.

8 responses to “Live From the Inbox

  1. nice blog entry Scott, some useful info!

  2. Scott,
    Thanks for such helpful information.

  3. how do U shoot interiors? send me ur tips thx hahaha… that’s funny, man.

    I just recently dropped an SB80 on tile from fairly high up, myself, and the thing still works, baby! W00t!

    Furnace inspection multiplied by 1.7? 1.7???

  4. I drop ’em all the time, and the only thing that breaks is the WAD. Whoever comes up with a DIY kit to fix them is gonna make a mint.

  5. Great info on this post. thanks for sharing.

  6. Sadly, I once looked askance at my Sb600 😦

  7. Valuable post, Scott, thanks!

    Looking Glass Camera is Berkeley currently has a stack of Slik F143 tripods going for $25 each. They showed a markdown from $40, but online pricing is consistent with the $25. Stands right around the 55″ you recommend.