What Ever Happened to B&W?

If you’re an emerging stock photographer and have never entertained the idea of taking a black & white stock photo, I’d encourage you to try it. But, fair warning though, it’ll be more an experience for the soul, not for the sale.

B&W is no longer popular among photo editors at books and magazines (our targets here at Photosource International). In rare cases (about 5%), b&w still claims attention in commercial photography. And b&w claims even more attention in fine arts photography, where the photographers take a day job to be able to sustain their efforts to produce art photography.

If you flip through current newsstand magazines, you’ll see very few b&w photographs. The general public, it was proved long ago, prefers color to b&w. (Is your TV still b&w?) Editors always conform to management’s marketing research.

The change to color started in the mid-80’s, and by the mid-90’s the changeover was almost complete. Only small publications with limited budgets or a special focus use b&w today.

As an emerging photographer, you may wonder how well b&w fared in the early days of stock photography. In my own case, back in the early 60’s, I put my b&w photos with one of the few early stock agencies called “Photo Researchers.” (The agency still exists today.)

When we moved to our farm in 1966, I began selling my b&w’s via the mailbox. The delivery system was simple, and I encouraged photobuyers at publishing houses to keep my b&w pictures on file at their central library. They would send me a check each time they used one of my pictures. The honor system worked.

When I wrote the first edition of my book, “Sell & ReSell Your Photos,” in 1981, I advised photographers to use the mailbox as their delivery system. The system was easy. I would send off a package of my b&w’s “for consideration” to a potential photobuyer whose photo needs matched one of my specialization areas. If my photos were accepted, very often that meant I’d found a client for life, unless the theme of the publishing housed changed, which rarely happened. From time to time, I updated my collection of photos at the publishing house with new b&w prints, and the photobuyer returned photos that were no longer needed. These I placed in a file in our barn, which my grandchildren one day can sell to PBS or an historical photo archive.

Slowly, in the mid-80’s the preference for color grew. Photobuyers now wanted color transparencies. This gave rise to the age of “lost images.” Many photographers and photobuyers alike, found they were incapable of tracking the transparencies they were handling. It wasn’t pretty. Lawsuits multiplied and photobuyers began dealing only with a circumscribed number of stock photographers who were savvy in their business acumen. Veteran stock photographers who are reading this will well remember the turbulent transparency mess we had to live through before the Digital Era came along and gave us a break.

Superstars began to emerge in the industry. Photobuyers were willing to pay the high fees of certain stock photographers in exchange for “hassle-free” service, knowing it was safe to deal with them and their valuable transparencies. Photobuyers also placed confidence in the emerging stock agencies of the mid-90’s, who introduced overnight transparency delivery to clients.

And then it all changed in the early 2000’s. Digital delivery made transparency delivery obsolete. The line between superstars and gifted amateur photographers was erased. Anyone with a sensitive eye who could produce high-resolution images with their digital camera became eligible to sell their photos on-line.

Yes, b&w disappeared. Color now rules. Even though b&w prints were easy to distribute and sell to photobuyers in the 70’s and 80’s, digital delivery is even easier in the 2000’s…a lucky happening for the independent stock photographer.

Few stock photographers today specialize in b&w. If they do and are successful in their marketing, they are a rare breed.

Who knows? Maybe someday in the future, the public taste in photography may change back to b&w, if only temporarily. Prepare now to deliver and capture some of your digital images in b&w.

Freelance Work – What to Charge, Part II

Now that you know how much your industry is getting paid, you can decipher how much you can charge as “billable” hours. You can count on working 10-12 hours a day, five days a week as you get yourself going. Most entrepreneur’s work that or more anyway. Point being: plan on working a lot [and remember you’re doing it for yourself]! And you will need to check e-mail in your off hours to make sure there are no customer questions that need to be replied to immediately. You will bill your clients for the amount of time it takes you to complete their project from start to finish. Take into consideration how much work you will have to do before you ever start it and add it to their invoice as well. Your billable day will look something like this:

Your average day:

* Plan on spending 4 hours on administrative and marketing tasks

* 4-8 hours on projects [depending on how many you have and how long you’re willing to work]

* You need to put 3-4 hours into the most “important” project and 2 on each of the others per day

* Take on 2-3 projects at a time to have 20-40 billable hours–If you take on more, expect to be working longer hours

“So what if I want to charge per project?” Some creative minds like to charge per project. If you do charge per project, know exactly how many actual working hours it took you to complete it and divide that by the amount you’re charging in the end. The problem with per project is that there are unforeseeable events that will undoubtedly occur during that time [that usually occur because of the delay of your client and not your software and so on] and it’s hard to increase your pay rate as your expertise and experience increase because you have only the vaguest idea of how much you actually make per hour. In short, have a per hour rate regardless.

If you have a client that gives you a specific time frame and budget, take their time frame and divide it by your hourly pay rate. For example, if a company x asks you on Monday to design a logo for their business stationary and website by Friday for $200, calculate your pay rate. You charge $44 per hour, so that’s about 4.5 hours. You know it takes about 8-10 hours to complete a logo in as many sizes that want, plus they want 10 different examples before they pick one. If you’re just started out, you may want to take the pay cut to get the business and referrals thereafter. Yet it would be better negotiate with an e-mail or phone call (whatever mode of communication they have chose to use) and give them your counter-offer until a price is reached. It would be better to do this job at $400 for the project or tell the company that you charge $44 an hour and will only do 3 hours worth of design to create their 10 options [and complete however many you can during that time] and will take the last 1.5 to spend on the logo they choose.

All and all you’re well worth it. You have what it takes to provide such excellent creative work for clients that you can’t just work with one company. Plus you love the freedom to choose how to set-up your work day, travel, and live the life you want. Before you ever send over an invoice, review the above tips and set your hourly rate. Figure out their cost per project. And do whatever you can to put your creativity and the client first.