The most common questions I seem to get from aspiring unit photographers lately relate to how much we should get paid or how much they should charge for their work. So I’ve gathered together some thoughts on the topic that may be of use to other photographers attempting to determining what rate to charge (or accept) for services to a production. The thoughts outlined below are specific to drama and factual work work.
NOTE I don’t feel I can tell anyone how they should charge but I can give an indication of the relevant considerations determining your own rate. Please do not take this article as legally enforceable. You should seek your own independent advice if you are unsure of what rates to charge for your work.
National Minimum Wage and Freelancing / Self Employment
The HMRC lists Still Photographers that provide their own equipment as being “accepted as self employed” (see HMRC’s VTAXPER63200). This means that productions can hire you as a self employed freelancer.
If you’re engaged as a self employed (which HMRC allows for) then the UK National Minimum Wage laws don’t apply and you can be hired at whatever rate you negotiate with the producers.
Despite this, I would suggest that accepting a rate that works out to be less than NMW for a 10hr day is a highly unsustainable approach. I would encourage any one who plans on a career in the creative arts think long and hard about whether to agree to rates below this.
Other Rate Regulation
BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union) is the union that covers unit still photographers in the United Kingdom. BECTU does publish rate cards for many film and television job roles and you can find them on their website however they do not currently publish recommended rates for unit still photographers. As far as I am aware, BECTU rate cards are not published as enforcable, merely as guidelines.
BECTU did once did include unit still photographers in their rate card (PACT/BECTU Freelance Rate Card for contracts entered into on or after 1 April 2005). If you review that document, you’ll see that “Still Camera” is listed in the same group as Script Supervisors and as a slightly higher rate than First Assistant Camera (Focus Pullers). The current published BECTU rate (As at April 2015) for Script Supervisors and Focus Pullers is between £300/day (minimum) and £430/day (recommended) for a 10 hour day during “sociable hours”. I’m not a member of BECTU so I can’t comment with any authority on their rates but I usually ask for around the same as the production is paying the focus puller or script supervisor.
I understand that BECTU is currently (June 2015) seeking information from its members so as to include unit stills rates. So it is worth keeping an eye on them or even joining to keep abreast of the work they’re doing on UK unit stills rates.
For North American based photographers you can find out more about union rates and conditions from IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees)
For Australian and New Zealand based photographers you can find out more about union rates and conditions from Alliance (The Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance)
Kit Rental or Box Hire
Stills photographers are generally expected to supply all their own equipment. Many other roles (particularly camera department) ordinarily have equipment hired for their use through the job through rental companies. Where crew provide their own kit for use on the job they get paid an additional rate to cover hire of their kit. This rate reflects the cost of owning, maintaining and upgrading where necessary. These kit hire rates are ordinarily much lower than the cost of renting the same gear through a hire company.
I’m a strong advocate for maintaining this practice for stills photographers. If you were to price up the cameras, lenses, sound blimp/s other kit we use to hire on a daily basis you would easily be over £200/day in London and that wouldn’t even cover insuring that equipment. Your kit hire would vary depending on what equipment you have and how well you can negotiate but £50/day is a minimum rate to consider.
Single Fee For the shoot
This phenomenon seems to be a new one for me and mostly comes from low budget productions. The producers will ask for me to agree to a single fixed fee for services to the production.
Where this comes up, I simply divide the rate they’re proposing by the number of shoot days to determine my daily rate and use that to determine whether or not the project is financially worthwhile for me.
Where the stills budget is nominated by the producers as being fixed, you can then negotiate fewer days for the same rate in order to get your rate up to an acceptable level.
We don’t get a DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) to download and manage our files. This process accounts for at least one hour (often closer to two) per shoot day in my experience.
Some days you might get that work done on set during turnarounds or other down time it is most likely that post work needs to be done outside of shooting hours. In addition, I’ll often spend 1-2 days managing my files after a shoot has finished, outputting files, making final selections and edits for the client not to mention getting the images to the client. Often you can negotiate “wrap days” (as other crew often get) to cover this work time.
Specials / Gallery Shoots
These should be charged at entirely different and usually substantially higher rates to unit still photography.
As with Camera Dept and Sound Dept we generate lots of data day to day on film sets. It is my standard practice to include in my invoices an amount to cover the purchase of at least two matching portable USB drives for the production.
Travel Days, Accommodation, Per Diems, and Travel Expenses
These issues are common to all film crew and when negotiating with producers I expect these to be provided in line with industry norms and other crew members engaged on the same production.
So, with this post, I haven’t given any definitive answers to the question of how much a unit still photographer should get paid. Hopefully it does give you an idea of the considerations involved in deciding to accept or refuse a job from a remuneration perspective.
Do you think I’ve missed something? If so, drop me an email or comment below!
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