The Value of Post-Production

Long gone are the days where we made the last frame, sent it to the lab via courier, and it returned to show us the glory of our work (or where we’d made a disastrous error.) Yet, this “ship and forget” system meant more time shooting — doing what we love and, hopefully, are most talented at. Today, a photographer’s time is spent far differently. And the biggest leech of our creative time is ((post-production)).

Tags: ((photography)), ((John Harrington)), ((post-production))

Post-production: the time from final capture to ingest process from raw to TIF/JPEG/DNG and the necessary noise reduction, metadata application, and proper redundant archiving. We are responsible for all this extra work — no if’s, and’s, or but’s. Where we used to have from sun-up to sun-down to make images, we must now allot a larger-than-we’d-prefer time period to essentially be our own lab.

As if that weren’t bad enough, we must also continually invest in the infrastructure (CPU’s, monitors, applications and upgrades, drive storage, and so on) as well as the requisite learning curve for all things new. It used to be that a 1960’s-era manual focus camera could compete with the latest 1990’s auto-focus camera, provided both were loaded with current-technology film. Try now comparing a Nikon D1 file with a Nikon D2x file, with just a five-year gap in evolution between them. There is a world of difference.

Where does all this time loss and additional investment in capital leave us? Simply put — charging for post-production. We already have a model that is comparable in the video industry. Once a video journalist completes his assignment, that tape is nowhere near ready for broadcast. It must first be ingested from linear to non-linear, or if already non-linear (for the new cameras), copied/ingested from storage media to the editing bay. It then must be logged, graphics added, and otherwise edited, billed by the hour.

Back during the dawn of digital, I sat down to calculate the time for a variety of projects, so I could accurately estimate my post-production time both to know how much time to set aside each day and, also, to begin to fairly establish fees for those services that would appear on my invoices. In the beginning, it was a challenge because I was always explaining myself. Now, I only have to explain it about 20 percent of the time. Yet, there are many colleagues who are not charging, and giving away of their butt-in-desk-chair time.

For me, I have calculated a fee of $125 per hour, one hour minimum, billed in one hour increments, for post-production time. Batch processing of 100 images or less takes an hour, and incurs a charge of $125. Between 100-250, two hours, $250, and between 250-500, four hours, and a charge of $500 applies. Output time is separate. It could be an upload to an FTP space, it could be output to a CD, or proofs/contacts. Each carries an additional charge. For a CD, for example, it’s $75, $175, and $250, respectively, for the same ranges above.

Just last week, I invested over $2,000 just in the necessary software upgrades from Adobe. I’m not bothered by this fact, because they are the tools that help me do my job, just like a lens or softbox. Rather, I planned for the upgrade, and had the necessary revenue set aside to make it happen.

Lastly, remember, if you’re not doing the raw processing of your images, your clients will have to expend time and resources to do so. By doing the post-production for them, you are saving them time and exercising creative control over how your images will be rendered when they make it to the printed page. Charging for this service is not optional; it’s absolutely required.

One Response to “The Value of Post-Production”

  1. [...] a related note, he also has an article on the value of post-production work that details the time and investment made in making those captured images look that much [...]

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